Barcelona October 2-3, 2017
October 2 Monday: Nice, France – Barcelona, Spain
My flight to Nice was scheduled for departure at 9:30am. But the first regular bus from the railway to the airport (bus 99) would not be running till 8am. As a result, I had to take a taxi which charges a flat rate of €35 for a short ride of several kilometres. A rip off! But as I had a big suitcase, I had no choice.
The driver picked me up at 7am. On the way, he told me that it would cost €45 as it was outside the normal hours. I was dismayed as the hotel had told me the fare would be €35. He was annoyed too and called the hotel to seek an explanation. At the end, he charged me €35 and the hotel which had given the wrong information would pay him €10. The young driver is Moroccan who looks educated and speaks good English. Once we understand each other’s standpoint, we become friends. He is sympathetic with my bad experience in Madrid. I arrived in Barcelona an hour later.
The Tourist Office at the airport suggested me take the metro to Baceloneta (Line (L) 9 to Collblanc, L5 to Verdaguer and L4 to Barceloneta) followed by a short walk to Hostal Orlean on Av Marques de l’Argentera opposite the Estacio de Franca. The fare is €4,50. I checked in the hostal before 1pm. As the room was not ready, I went out to see Barcelona following the referendum on independence the day before.
Barcelona, founded as a Roman city, is the capital and largest city of the autonomous region of Catalan and the second largest city in Spain with a population of around 5 million. It has a rich cultural heritage and world famous for the architectural works by Antoni Gaudi and Lluis Domènech i Montaner which have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Today it is one of the world’s leading tourist, cultural and commerical centre. The top attractions include La Sagrada Familia (an unfinished church by Gaudi), Parc Guell, Picasso Museum, Las Ramblas, Barrio Gotico (Gothic Quarter- the medieval city and the oldest area of Barcelona which grew around the ancient Roman town of Barcino)
I was in Barcelona once in the 1980s . I decided to spend my short time in the city explorating the Ciutat Vella (the old town) on foot. Museums are any often closed on Monday. After leaving the hostal, I walked through the El Born neighbourhood and soon arrived at the BornCultural Centre which was converted from an old market. Closebby is the city park and the Arco de Triunfo (1888).
Here I turned west heading to Placa de Catalunya.It was a sunny day but the streets were relatively quiet. When I reached the city’s largest square, I saw the red and yellow Catalan flags everywhere and a crowd of about 150 people (mostly young people) chanting in front of a stage surrounded by reporters covering the referendum. But the atmosphere was relative calm still. (But the situation changed rapidly and a general strike took place the following day)
It was almost 3pm. I went to Nuria on the Las Ramblas and had a 3-course lunch with beer for €12. Unbelievably cheap and delicious!
After lunch, I crossed the road to the Gothic Quarter. I simply forgot to return to the Mercat de Boqeria which I had a fun time on my first visit to Barcelona.
Walking through the Gothic Quartar is like travelling in a time tunnel of 2000 years. The ruins of the Roman Walls bring memories of the Roman days. The medieval Palau Reial Major (The Grand Royal Palace) located in Plaça del Relai, built in the 14 to 16th centuries, reminds visitors of the glories of the days under the Kings of Aragon. Most buidings in this area are several hundred years old.
Grandiose buildings of note include the Palau de la Generalitat (the offices of the Presidency and the government of Catalonia), Ajuntament (City Council), the Cathedral (which can only be visited with a ticket) and those managed by the Barcelona City History Museum (including some archaeological sites, Palau Reial Major and other sites related to Gaudi and the Spanish War).
I find the whole area an atmospheric open air museum. I am happy to wander around soaking in the atmosphere and losing myself in the forest of stone buildings of age. There are numerous churches. I found the door of the small Church of St Just open and went in to spend time on self-reflection.
Next, I arrived at the imposing Sta Maria del Mar (Church of Saint Mary of the Sea) built between 1329 and 1383. I was struck by both its exterior and interior. The towering columns in a semi circle around the alter is unusal and awesome. The spacing of the columns is the widest of any Gothic church in Europe – about 43ft apart, centre to centre. The rose window and stained-glass windows are beautiful and fine.
I was thrilled to rediscover the oldest part of Barcelona which is much more interesting and beautiful than I had realised. To celebrate the end of my eventful two month-long journey, I had a beer in a bar before having dinner in another small tapas restaurant.
When I got back to the hostal, the receptionist told me about a general strike where the metro and bus services would be cancelled. The train service would be affected and it would be difficult to find a taxi. I went to the railway station immediately and was told there would still be a train at 11:17am to Barcelona Sant station for connection to the airport on L2. I was desperate to return to Hong Kong to get a new passport and prayed the general strike would not mess up by travel plan. As expected, I did not sleep well.
October 3 Tuesday: Barcelona – Doha – Hong Kong
I got up early in order to see the old city once more. Owing to the strike, the place was dead with a few cafes open for business. Few cars were running though I saw a bus occasionally. What was happening? I did not know/
This morning, I walked as far as the Roman Walls and the Cathedral. Ialso discovered the Square of Sant Felipe Neri which is said to be the most romantic square in the city. Surrounded by Renaissance style buildings and with a beautiful fountain in the centre, it is truely atmospheric in an autumn morning. The Japanese must be in love with this smal corner of Barcelona. I watched a Japanese young couple posing for 15 minutes. I gathered they must be taking photos for their wedding. After they left, another Japanese family with two young daughters arrived with their photographer. Unfortunately I could not visit the church which was closed owing to the strike.
Outside the Picasso Museum I saw several groups of disgruntled tourists. I headed to the Mercat Santa Catrina and hope it might be open. But I was disappointed. I saw a few ladies were still working inside and they looked at me with curiosity. They let me in to take an unusal photo of an empty market. Then I went to a bakery opposite the market and had a fresh orange juice and two croissants. I returned to the hostal and waited for my train before 11am. I was anxious to get to the airport.
The train was running as scheduled and I was at the airport around 12 noon. But the railway station is about 400-500m from the domestic airport. I had to take a shuttle to the international airport which is far away! My flight to Doha was after 5pm. But when I finally found my way to the counter which would not open till 2pm, I found over 100 passengers were lining up in front of the counters. I supposed all passengers were anxious to get to the airport just in case. The check-in service was slow. I was relieved when I checked in my luggage and spent over two hours at the gate. When I went through the immigration, I showed the police report to the officer. He looked sympathetic.
I had an uneventful flight to Doha followed by a smooth flight to Hong Kong. I was first assigned an aisle seat. As the old man from the other row moved away, I had three seats to myself. As a result, I could lie down and had a decent sleep. A nice way to end my most eventful journey in Europe.
I arrived in Hong Kong after 4:30pm on October 4, the Moon Festival. Luckily I still had an Octopus Card with me and was able to take a bus home though I had no Hong Kong dollars with me.
Epilogue (to add)