Europe '96: Barcelona, from Mar to Montaña

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The last few days I learned very much what the Barcelonans mean by "al mar" and "a la montaña."

Sunday I walked a long stretch of the Mediterranean beach, from Barceloneta to Poble Nou. Along the way, you pass the excess of the Olympic Village, with a Planet Hollywood, an imitation Hard Rock called "Tarda Rock" (trademark laws must be weak here!), and lots of expensive shops and restaurants which could be in any wealthy waterfront strip in the world. Some OK architecture, but all of it the sort which seems more concerned to announce how expensive it was to build than to achieve any other aesthetic criterion. The only concession to the person of ordinary means is the presence of a McDonalds.

[Addendum 2002: The selection of waterfront restaurants has gotten steadily better: Barcelona's basically good taste in food is killing off most of the really bad places. Can't do much about the ridiculous neo-LA architecture, though. If you want a good meal in this part of town, it's best to head just a little east of the Olympic Village, and even then you'd better be prepared to pay. Or continue on to Poble Nou, go inland a little, and find bargains.]

Past the Olympic Village, it mellows out. The beach itself is really nice—just like the rich folks' beach—and the restaurants start to be the kind where normal mortals can afford to eat there and would have a reason to want to. I'm not sure how far the beach goes. I contented myself with a couple of miles, and it showed no sign of ending.

I walked up the Rambla de Poble Nou, a rather pleasant main street of a working class neighborhood. As it happened, I wandered into the tail end of a small street fair, which seemed to center around these two fire-breathing dragon things obviously built to be used in parades and known as the Dracs de Poble Nou. There was also a stage, where marimba music was playing as I went by. [Addendum 2002: Poble Nou is gentrifying a little, and they are building some big mixed commercial/resideetial buildings just north of it, but it remains a good place to get thoroughly out of tourist Barcelona but still stay within (a) walking distance and (b) an interesting place.]

The next day, Monday, I checked out the other end of town, walking from the Plaça John Kennedy clear up to the peak of Tibidado. Apparently, just about no one walks this route, at least the part beyond the Mirablau - where the funicular starts - and/or not during the week. The exercise buffs take mountain bikes. Everyone else takes a tram and a funicular railway. The tram thing is really lazy. For two bucks, you save yourself a 15 minute walk on a maybe 5% grade, but since you have to wait for the tram it takes just as long. The funicular I sure understand now that I've walked it: 6 minutes of train ride instead of an hour of hiking with about 200 meters elevation gain, maybe a little more, and the lower half isn't even very interesting (although I think some of the views on the upper half beat the views from the top).

I cheated and took the funicular down.

As it happens, I didn't pick the best day to go to the top. The tendency for museums in Barcelona to close on Monday also applies to the amusement park, the bar, and the restaurant atop Tibidabo (maybe that also contributed to the lack of other hikers). I had to content myself with the views and the (gothic revival) church, and a salad at a bar a little way down. That's fine: it was the view and the exercise I'd come for, though the amusement park looked like it would have been fun, especially some of the aerial rides, which (obviously) have really cool views.

Actually, Tibidabo is one of those places which is so high up that the view begins to take on some of the characteristics of looking from an airplane: unlike the view from Montjüic, it's hard to make out any but the biggest individual buildings: Sagrada Familia certainly screams out at you, but even the green swath of the Ramblas kind of get lost in the shuffle. The Mediterranean seems to stretch off forever. I'm told you can actually see the Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza) but, if so, I didn't spot them.

By the way, the neighborhood you pass through below Tibidabo has some of the most pointlessly excessive turn-of-the-century residential architecture I've ever seen. You know those Victorian houses with towers and all? Think of the gaudiest one you know. Now imagine a street full. (I guess if you live in San Francisco you don't have to imagine, but it really stands out in a city where at the same time the modernistas were doing equally bold but really exquisite buildings.)

[Addendum 2002: From the Plaça John Kennedy you can walk down Carrer Balmes the whole way back into the center of town. It's a pleasant walk, especially if you do it on the way back, which makes it a downhill walk.]

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Originally written: 1996

Last modified: 26 February 2021

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