Barcelona in Times of the Flu and Quests for Independence.

Barcelona Novembre 2017

We arrived to Barcelona from Rome…without my backpack. I honestly feel like I could write a whole entry about how horrible Vueling is (they make Ryan Air and United look like they have top-notch customer service), but I’d rather not waste energy being negative about this company and just say: DON’T EVER FLY VUELING. Llegamos a Barcelona desde Roma…sin mi mochila. Creo que podría escribir una entrada solo sobre lo malo que Vueling es (Ryan Air y United parece tener la mejor atención de cliente del mundo en comparación), pero prefiero no gastar energía en ser negativo sobre esta compañía y solo decir: NUNCA JAMÁS VOLAR CON VUELING. 

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Then we got to the hotel at 18:01. If we arrived after 18:00, we had to go to the hotel’s other location a few blocks away. My poor mom was exhausted, and of course, when I arrived, I had forgotten her passport, so I had to return and then go back to the other hotel. Después, llegamos al hotel a las 18.01. Si llegáramos después de las 18.00, tendriamos que ir a la otra oficina del hotel a unos manzanas del hotel. La pobre madre estaba agotada, y, desde luego, cuando llegué al otro, se me había olvidado su pasaporte, y tenía que volver y ir otra vez. 

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We also arrived the day of a massive protest about the current crisis (clusterf***) going on in Catalunya. I haven’t written about it as I know a lot of people need a political break, and the situation is so complicated that it would turn into another Quijote. It is the cumulation of centuries of political conflict, made worse by the prohibition of Catalán during the Franco dictatorship, the inequality of the current Spanish constitution (the Basque Country has more autonomy than Catalunya), and the ineptness and corruption of the current Spanish government. I would prefer a unified Spain, but I also understand the frustration of the Catalan people. The Catalan politicians and Spanish politicians have worked together to ensure that the complicated situation has got a million times worse. También, llegamos el mismo día de una manifestación gigante de la crisis catalana actual (un gran lío total). No he escrito de ella porque sé que a mucha gente les hace falta un descanso de política y la situación es tan complicado que la entrada sería tan largo como el Quijote. Es la cumulación de siglos de conflicto, empeoraba mucho durante los años de Franco cuando hablar catalán fue prohibido, la constitución española actual no se trata todas las CCAA igual (Euskadi tiene mas autonomía que Catalunya), y los ineptos y corruptos del gobierno español actual. Prefiero una España unificada, pero también entiendo la frustración del pueblo catalán. Los políticos catalanes y españoles han trabajado juntos para asegurar que la situación delicada sigue empeorando cada día. 

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The Barcelona portion of the trip was not off to a good start. La parte barcelonesa había empezado de mal pie. 

Sunday was better, as I returned to Montjuic for an afternoon of meandering the mountain. The mountain name comes from “Mount of the Jewish” and is 173 metres (567 feet) high. There is a famous castle that was one a prison, and it also is home of the Palau Sant Jordi, Olympic Stadium, an art museum, and various other activities and things to see and do. Domingo iba mejor. Volví a Montjuic para pasar una tarde de explorar el monte. El nombre del monte viene de “monte de los judíos” y tiene 173 metros de altura. Hay un castillo famoso que erase una vez una prisión, y también se encuentra el Palau Sant Jordi, el Estadio Olímpico, un museo de arte, y mucho más. 

Barcelona Novembre 2017

Monday I already wrote about here. That evening, however, while meandering the mean streets of Barcelona, I began to feel really cold. I got back to the hotel just before vomiting. Tuesday was spent unconscious. Wednesday, as we had to change hotels, I was at least mobile enough to take my mom to see the Sagrada Familia before checking into the new hotel and going to the doctor. The doctor said it was just a virus (what American doctors would say was the flu, but Spain always says “virus”, which the flu *is*) and would run its course. Ya he escrito sobre el lunes aquí. Este lunes por la tarde, sin embargo, mientras estaba caminando las calles barcelonesas, empecé a tener mucho pero mucho frío. Llegué al hotel justo a tiempo, porque empecé a vomitar. Pasé el martes durmiendo. El miércoles, como tuvimos que cambiar de hotel, estaba un poco mejor, suficiente para llevarle a mi madre a ver la Sagrada Familia antes de hacer check-in en el otro hotel y ir al médico. El médico me dijo que era un virus y iba a estar bien dentro de unos días. Era un virus del gripe, pero en España, siempre dicen “un virus”. 

Barcelona Novembre 2017

The Sagrada Familia is a minor basilica designed by architect Antoni Gaudí. Construction began in 1882 and is predicted to be finished between 2026 and 2028. I had never been inside, and I went inside Friday afternoon. I might be the only person on the planet to have this opinion, but I disappointed by the interior. It’s a far too expensive ticket (18€) for what it is. I think a lot of Catalans might agree with me about the price. Of course, the tickets contribute to the work, but I really am against paying to enter any house of God, no matter what the religion is. I’d feel the same about a mosque, a temple or any other place to worship. La Sagrada Familia es una basilica “menor”. El arquitecto de su diseño es Antoni Gaudí. Las obras empezaron en el año 1882, y dicen que acabarán entre 2026 y 2028. Nunca he entrado, y fui el viernes por la tarde. Puedo ser la única persona de la planeta que opino así, pero me decepcionó dentro. La entrada es demasiada cara por lo que es. (Quizás algunos catalanes estén de acuerdo conmigo sobre el precio.), Claro, las entradas contribuyen al precio de construir el edificio, pero estoy de contra pagar por entrar una casa de Dios, no importa la religión. Opino igual de una mezquita, un templo o cualquier otro casa de Dios. 

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Thursday my mom and I made it to the Picasso Museum, which has free entrance on Thursday afternoons. I had been in 2003, but I enjoyed it a bit more this time. They had a wheelchair so my mom didn’t have to walk. It was crowded, but a must for any fan of Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. El jueves por la tarde, mi madre y yo fuimos al Museo Picasso. No sabía, pero hay entrada gratis todos los jueves por la tarde. Había estado una vez antes, en 2003, pero me gustaba más esta vez. Dispuso de una silla de ruedas para mi madre, y ella estaba contenta de no tener que caminar. Había mucha gente, pero es algo que los fans del artista español Pablo Picasso tienen que ver. 

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Friday afternoon, after finally going inside the Sagrada Familia, I made my way to the Bunkers del Carmel to see the sunset. The view was made famous in the 2010 Spanish film A tres metros sobre cielo, and it was quite crowded with tourists. The views were worth it. El viernes por la tarde, después de entrar la Sagrada Familia por fin, fui a los Bunkers del Carmel para ver el atardecer. La vista se hizo famosa después de la película española de 2010 A tres metros sobre cielo, y había muchas turistas. Las vistas valen la pena. 

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Saturday morning, I was finally feeling completely better. I finally visited a place I wanted to see for YEARS, el Poble Espanyol. Poble Espanyol is an outdoor museum dedicated to the various regions of Spain and their culture and history. This was well worth the 14€ entry! It even had a part dedicated to the Camino del Santiago in the section for Galicia. I loved travelling through the various regions of Spain so quickly. It’s located on Montjuic and was built in 1929. It also has places that make wordworks from the region and shops where you can try and even purchase various foods from the region. I was quite content to have visited. Sábado por la mañana, por fin, estaba 100 por 100 mejor. Fui a un sitio que llevaba años queriendo ver, el Poble Espanyol. Poble Espanyol es un museo sin techo dedicado a las comunidades autónomas de España y su cultura y historia. Eso sí, valía la entrada de 14€. Incluso tenía una parte dedicada al Camino de Santiago en la parte de Galicia. Me encantó viajar por las CCAA españolas tan rápidamente. Está ubicado en Montjuic y fue construido en el año 1929. También tiene tallares de artesanía de la región y tiendas donde se puede probar y comprar comida típida de la región. Me alegro mucho haber visitado Poble Espanyol al final. 

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I had wanted to revisit and take my mom to Montserrat, Sitges and go to a village in the Pyrenees called Puigcerdà. I have a few visits to Barcelona planned in the next few weeks, so hopefully I can make it then. Being sick while travelling is no fun a’tall, but at least it happened in a city that I know so well, and I made the most of it. Quería visitar de nuevo y llevarle a mi madre a Montserrat, Sitges, e ir a un pueblo del Pirineo que se llama Puigcerdà. Tengo unas visitas pendientes a Barcelona en las próximas semanas, y espero poder ir. Estar malito mientras estás viajando no es nada divertido, pero al menos me lo pasó en una ciudad que conozco bien, y intente aprovechar lo que podía. 

I was fully recovered the next day for the first part of the road trip! Estaba recuperado para el próximo día para empezar el viaje de coche. 

A continuación…

Barcelona Novembre 2017

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Desert de les Palmes.

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Located near the popular tourist destination Benicàssim, the Desert de les Palmes (Desierto de las Palmas in Spanish) is a delightful surprise. A close friend took me there recently, and I wish it hadn’t been so hot so I could’ve taken advantage of the incredible hiking opportunties there. Situado a lado del destino turístico popular Benicàssim, el Desierto de los Palmas (Desert de les Palmes en valenciano) es una joya llena de sorpresas. Un amigo cercano me llevó allí. Ojalá no hiciera tanto calor para poder aprovechar las oportunidades increíbles de senderismo allí. 

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It has been a Natural Park since 1989. In 1985 and 1992 it unfortunately experienced two wildfires. There are some interesting ruins of a monastery near a beautiful lookout and a restaurant, where my friend and I had lunch with amazing views of the Palmes and Benicàssim below. Ha sido un Parque Natural desde 1989. En los años 1985 y 1992, lamentable sufrió dos incendios grandes. Hay unas ruinas interesantes de un monasterio cerca de un mirador bonito y un restaurante, donde mi amigo y yo comemos con las vistas impresionantes de las Palmas y Benicàssim. 

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The highest peak is Bartolo with 729 metres (2391 feet). The mountain range is 18.8 km (11.7 miles) long. The Prime Meridan crosses the park in the middle and on clear days, the Islas Columbretes can be seen. La pica más alta es Bartolo con 729 metros. Los montes tienen una extensión de 18,8 kilometros y el primer meridiano cruce el parque casí por el medio. En días claras, se puede ver las Islas Columbretes. 

It’s a place I would love to explore more. I will probably have a chance in September. Es un sitio me encantaría explorar aún más. Creo que tendré la oportunidad en septiembre. 

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Andorra. Es parla català.

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Andorra had been beckoning me for a while. Sitting there just north of Spain and south of France and one of the smaller countries in the world, it was calling my name. “Pablo. Pablo. Pablo.” I had to go just to say I had been to the one country in the world that has my  Catalan as its sole official language.

It was a last-minute trip. I had originally planned to go to Italia over Semana Santa with a pitstop in Barcelona. The year was 2012, and Spain was a bit miffed (as they still are) with the government. (I can state a fact without being fined, right? Tengo miedo de la ley mordaza…) So they decided to have a general strike on March 28, which cancelled my AVE high-speed train from Madrid to Barcelona, which meant even if I took the night bus after work, I would be hard pressed to catch my flight to Italia. Combined with some last-minute expenses (for those that read last week’s entry on bad flats and worse flatmates, it was when they decided the study would be a fourth bedroom), this was a sign that my trip to Italia would be better off postponed.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. So I found a cheap pensión in La Raval in Barcelona and decided to do a day trip to Andorra. I was at a point in my life where I just wanted to be in Barcelona, nothing else mattered. Now that the tourists have overtaken the city for good, my heart is back in Valencia, but I digress. So on my penultimate day in Barcelona for that trip, I caught a 6 a.m. bus to Andorra la Vella, the capital of Andorra. It was a 3 hour or so bus ride, and there wasn’t much of a border. The bus pulled into a bus station, and I got out to explore.

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Andorra la Vella is small (22,256 people and 40,000 in the urban area according to the latest statistics) but has beautiful views. It’s the highest capital in Europe at 1023 metres (3356 feet) and is a popular ski destination. Being there in late March, I just took advantage of the opportunity to practice Catalán (they mistook me for Portuguese for some reason!), though a lot people I encountered were happier to practice their Spanish than many Catalans. Still, when I ordered my café amb llet at the bar near the bus station, a rush of excitement went through me. I explored the city and went shopping, as Andorra is a tax haven. I’ll be honest and say I don’t understand what that means, nor can I give an opinion on Greece or anything to do with economics. I studied journalism and Hispanic Studies. Humanities. No maths for me. But I can conjugate three verbs in Basque so there.

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A day trip to Andorra does not do it justice. There is so much to see in the country located high in the Pyrenees. According to popular tradition, Charlemagne granted a charter to Andorra in return for their help against fighting the Moors. The Bishop of Urgell has run Andorra since 988, and today is a monarchy with two Co-princes, the Bishop of Urgell (in Catalunya/Spain) and the French President. Although not a part of the EU, they use the Euro, and the country itself is home to around 85,000 people. It is the sixth smallest country in Europe.

And of course…they have many wonders to see.

Set Meravelles

Andorra La Vella

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The capital city is a good base for exploring the small country and is located in the southwest part of the country where the Valira del Nord and Valira de l’Orient streams meet to form the Gran Valira River. It goes back to pre-Christian times. It has mild summer temps and snow winters. The old town, town hall and the Església de Sant Esteve and Santa Coloma Churches are the main sites (in addition to all the shopping).

Coma Pedrosa

The highest mountain in Andorra is 2,942 metres (9,652 ft) tall. Mountain climbers are naturally drawn to it, and there are many lakes on the western slopes. It’s located at the northwest corner of Andorra and has historically been a border between France and Andorra. It takes the shape of a pyramid. The trek to the summit begins at Arisnal, the closest town.

Los Lagos de Tristaina

Located in the parish of La Massana, the lakes of Tristaina are part of one of the most popular hiking trails in Andorra. The three lakes are situated near Coma Pedrosa near the French border.

Valle de Madriu

The Madriu Valley (Officially Vall del Madriu-Perafita-Claror) is a glacial valley that comprises 9% of Andorra and is found in the southeast part of the country. It’s Andorra’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered to be the heart and soul of the country. There are two summer-only settlements, and the valley can only be accessed by foot.

Santuario de Meritxell

Meritxell is the patron saint of Andorra, and the Sanctuary dedicated to her forms part of the Ruta Mariana, a route of five sanctuaries. The others are Pilar in Zaragoza, Torreciudad in Huesca, Lourdes in France and Montserrat near Barcelona. (I’ve seen 2/5!) It’s located in the village of Meritxell (hence the name), and the original statue dates back to the 12th Century. However, due to an unfortunate fire in 1972, the original was destroyed and the new one is a replica.

Pont de la Margineda

I have a thing for medieval bridges, I know. The Margineda Bridge is located in Santa Coloma near the capital Andorra la Vella. It was built around the 14th or 15 century and crosses the Gran Valira river and is registered in the Cultural Heritage of Andorra.

La Ruta de Hierro

The Iron Route is a short 4-kilometre long route that goes through the area historically known for its iron mines. It’s located near Ordino and is one of several “Rutas de Hierro” in the Pyrenees.

Bonus: For the skiers (not me, my ankle still hasn’t forgiven me for that 2014 attempt at snowboarding), check out Pas de la Casa, which was listened on International Business Time’s Best European Ski Resorts in 2011.

Barcelona. There is a province too.

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Whenever I travel to one of Spain’s province capitals and am able to stay the night, I try to ensure that I have adequate time to visit one of the villages of the province. One of the writers from the important literary movement Generación de ’98 (I believe it was Ortega and Gasset, but I am not 100% sure on this. I don’t want to attribute it to the wrong writer, but I do know it comes from the awesome Gen 98 writers.) said the True Spain can only be found in the villages. This is so true, not only in Spain but anywhere you go. I am a hardcore left-wing liberal guy, but I know all the Republicans and even most of us lefties would agree that would agree that New York City has very little to do with the rest of the state of New York, let alone the country. Barcelona is an incredible city, but there are so many more treasures to be found outside the hustle and bustle of the city. Some of the places I’ve already discovered. Others require a car and/or more time, money and patience with public transport (IE spending the night in the village as there is only one bus a day!) than I have. At any rate, without having actually LIVED in Barcelona, I have to say I’ve done a bang-up job of discovering the Set Meravelles. 

Set Meravelles

1. Montserrat

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The mountain, abbey and sanctuary have become as popular of a destination as the city of Barcelona itself. For those who want to be in touch with nature and avoid the tourists, this is not the place to go. However, it really is worth the hour train ride and the massive packs of people setting out to see this incredible place. Montserrat, Catalán for “saw” due to the edges that appear to have been sawed into the rock, is part of the Catalan Pre-Coastal Range and actually has three peaks, so it could be possible to go hiking and find solitude. Nevertheless, it is the abbey and sanctuary of the Virgin of Montserrat, reached by a funicular or the Montserrat Rack Railway. The train from Plaça de Catalunya in Barcelona will leave you near the funicular. For me, despite the tourists (we know I like my solitude to get in touch with nature!), it is perhaps one of the Set Meravelles of the entire Greatest Peninsula in the World.

2. Sitges

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Sitges, 35 kilometres (21 miles) from Barcelona, has a reputation of being a gay and lesbian vacation destination, but there is so much more than the nightlife here. It’s a picturesque village on the sea with white buildings and cobblestone streets that could actually find itself at home in Andalucía. However, the natives would much prefer to speak Catalán than here “Sevilla mi arma”. It has 17 beaches, and it is said that 35% of its 26.000 permanent residents come from outside the Greatest Peninsula in the World. I found myself here by coincidence during a Carnival parade in 2011. There are a few museums, and for me, it is easily to imagine artistic and creative types finding themselves a home here.

3. Vic

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Vic is a city of 41,000 people located 69 kilometres (41 miles) north of Barcelona and 60 kilometres (36 miles) from Girona. It is a crossroads of sorts in Catalunya. The Catalán film (and the first film in Catalán to be considered for the Best Foreign Film Oscar) Pa negre takes place here, and it was an important focus during the beginning of the War of Spanish Succession. It offers a glimpse of the Real Catalunya and is a quaint place worth exploring. It also has a lot of old Roman ruins as it was an important Roman city back in the day.

4. Arenys de Mar y su mar

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A small town of 15,000 people, Arenys de Mar is a small city on the sea. “Arenys” is Catalán for Sand (arena in Spanish), and “Mar” is sea in both of the official languages here. The woman in the tourist agency was impressed with my Catalán, and this town is a place to practice your Catalán. For me, the best part was the hike along the coast. The tide was coming in, and at one point I had a choice of taking the boring sidewalk/pavement along the train tunnel or jump across the rocks. The tide won, so I had a very wet trip back to Barcelona.

5. Cardona (to be discovered)

Cardona was almost my village daytrip destination during my November 2014 trip to Barcelona. Located 90 km/51 miles northwest of Barcelona, it has a castle and a Parador. It is also home of a major salt deposit. Located in the mountains, the town of 5000 people seems to be a perfect place for nature and to practice Catalán. One day, one day…

6. Rupit i Pruit (to be discovered)

Rupit was another major consideration for the recent trip. 98 km or 59 miles north of Barcelona, the village of 300 people is located 800 metres above sea level. It’s one of the northernmost villages of the provinces and is extremely hard to arrive without a car. It would be worth the effort due to its natural beauty, medieval streets and incredible views. The best places are often hard to get to!

7. Puente de Diablo/Pont de Diable de Martorell (to be discovered)

The bridge between Martorell and Castellbisbal over the Riu Llobregat is an old Roman bridge originally constructed around the year 10 BC. Destroyed by a river in the 12th century, it was reconstructed with Gothic architecture soon after and restored in the 18th century. The Republicans of the Spanish Civil War destroyed it in their retreat from the fascists, but it was reconstructed in 1963 with the Gothic design of 1283. According to a local legend, the Devil himself offered to build the bridge overnight for an elderly Señora who crossed the river by wading daily. Of course, the Devil being who he is, would do it only in exchange for the soul of the first person to cross the bridge. The bridge was built overnight, and Satan awaited the Señora to cross the bridge. She came around with her bucket to fetch the water, but instead of crossing the bridge right away, she let a cat cross it first. The Devil had to be satisfied with the cat’s soul, and to this day, the cat’s soul accompanies whoever crosses the bridge. I knew I was a dog person for a reason! (Meaning…the Devil has cat’s souls? The soulless creatures once had souls? xD)

Barcelona Part 3. Els viatjes 6-9.

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I will be returning to my favourite stomping ground for the amazing 10th visit from November 6-9 to see the indescribable Lady Gaga in concert for the third time. Barcelona is an incredible city with the world’s best fútbol team (Més que un club!) with a ton of history and culture and places to be discovered. To commemorate this remarkable occasion, I’ll be doing a series of blogs this week about my third favourite city in the world.

In the autumn of 2011, I was gung-ho on making Barcelona my home at anyway possible. They say that whatever you’re doing at midnight when the new year rings in will be what you’re doing for the first year. So I went to eat my grapes per the Spanish tradition of eating a grape for the first 12 chimes of the bell in the New Year in Plaça de Catalunya. You can’t get more Catalan than that.

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It didn’t work. I was sentenced to another year at a great school in a horrible (for me) city, Madrid. It was one of my best holidays, though, having experienced the beauty that is the province of Girona beforehand.

I tried booking a flight to Italia for my Semana Santa 2012 in Italia, il bel paese, from Barcelona. I had my AVE (High-speed train) booked to and from Madrid to arrive in plenty of time to catch the flight.

Guess what? There was a huge general strike in Spain the day my plane arrived, and by taking the bus after work, I would not be able to arrive in time to catch my flight. I was able to get my money refunded from RENFE, for the most part, but the plane was gone. I went ahead and went to Barcelona, somehow finding a pensión (though not one I’d recommend) with a free room that was at a decent price to spend a few days in Barcelona. I hiked Tibedabo and tried to avoid the massive hordes of tourists everywhere. Massive hordes of people give me panic attacks. It wa this trip when I began to realise that as much as I love Barcelona, perhaps it would not be the place for me.

I went back to the States for the first time in three years, catching a flight from Barcelona-Prat instead of Madrid so I could continue with the Christmas holiday tradition of going to Barcelona. I was sad I couldn’t find any “calendari de bombers” like Bilbao has and Valencia used to have. The trip to the States was uneventful, and I had my first of many last Starbucks EVER when I got back to Barcelona in 2013.

The next trip was to see Lady Gaga in concert in 2012. Lady Gaga is always amazing, even if at this show she was coming down with the flu and unbeknownst to spectators, was vomiting behind the stage.

Trip #9 was in September 2013. I remember finding myself at an event for Catalán literature near the Cathedral in Barri Gotic. They were so impressed with my Catalán abilities. This trip too was filled with too many tourists and not enough Catalans as my pensión was unfortuantely near the Rambles. Les Rambles is an awesome site and there’s a reason for the tourists, but when you’re wanting to practice your Catalán, Les Rambles is NOT the place to be. I was even greeted in ENGLISH when I entered a bar in the Barri Gotic. I then left the bar and found another close by that glared at people who spoke English or Spanish and was pretty damn Catalán-Only. I understand the need for English speakers in touristy places, but there are many tourists who are wanting to learn about YOUR culture and YOUR language.

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While there were some good parts of that trip, it was not one of my better trips to Barna. The city is changing quickly and I remember reading somehwere that it is currently the second most visited city in Europe after Paris, I believe. While the tourists provide a steady income to a country in crisis, this is creating quite a controversy amongst the citizens. While the rest of the comunidad autonoma is trying to find a way to make peace with Spain and become more autonomous and/or independent, Barcelona is in its own fight with itself. Should they welcome tourists and try to show their hospitable side, or do they withdraw to protect their strong culture and pride? It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the future, especially as they put some finishing touches on the Sagrada Familia. The tourists aren’t going to stop any time soon barring an ebola outbreak (One thing Madrid can boast is that they had ebola before Barcelona. Barcelona still has yet to have their first case of ebola! There should be a sarcasm font there for those who can’t detect it :))

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I’m excited to see how Trip Number 10 unfolds. Coming soon, the unfolding of this adventure, 7 Meravelles of Barcelona City and 7 Meravelles of Barcelona Province. Stay tuned!