What would your reaction be if you were a non-English speaker on your first visit to New York and you found none of the street signs in the language you’d learned? Say in Dutch or Finish? This was my reaction as we drove through Barcelona and found the billboards and street signs not in Spanish. But rather what appeared to be a mixture of French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, and something else, maybe Visigoth or Phoenician.
Weren’t we still in Spain?
This city, Barcelona is the capital of the semi-autonomous state of Catalunya, the language is Catalan, the children learn to read and write in both languages in school, and a substantial percentage of the population wants to tell Spain, “Bye Bye.”
Spain is disinclined to do so as Barcelona is their largest city on the Mediterranean and a major transportation hub with sea, air, and rail connections. Our guide told us the city is a major financial center and a tourist destination for European visitors and folks from the rest of the world. She gave us a short lesson in the local language sharing the hello, thank you, and where is the bathroom, most of which we promptly forgot. She leaned toward the Catalan side in her presentation.
As we made a coach tour of the neighborhoods, we saw various historical influences. Barcelona and the surrounding area has a long history of being ruled by someone else—Rome, Hispania of the Visigoths, the Arabs, and an Arab-French coalition. When Isabella and Ferdinand became an item, influence shifted to Madrid, and the Catalan separatist movement began. Subsequent rulers included the French era started by Napoleon, being committed republicans during the Spanish Civil war, and enduring the reactionary era of the Franco regime.
Graceful columned buildings decked by grace with a classical influence, home with French balconies and grillwork, and those with the curved arches and tilework which reflect Moorish influence. We stopped by the Olympic Stadium built for the 1992 Summer Games. The IOC awarding the games caused a huge renovation and change in the adjoining area so the industrial buildings which once covered the waterfront now are restaurants, pubs, hotels, beachfront plus the stadium and Olympic Museum, both well designed modern structures. We walked a section of La Rambla, a popular pedestrian walkway for locals and tourists, which was targeted in 2017 by terrorists. This incident makes security and police presence clear to even the most careless of observers.
The highlight if the day was the visit to La Sagrada Family, the cathedral designed by local architect and eccentric Antoni Gaudi. He designed other well-known buildings, but locals consider this cathedral his masterpiece although unfinished due to his untimely death by tram. Our guide shared that Gaudi dressed like a vagabond and sleep on the street hence his body was unidentified for some weeks. Today it rests in a crypt in the cathedral. Plans are to finish it by 2026, the one-hundredth anniversary. No one in the group would put money on this being accomplished in the time frame.
I would share without reservation that this was the more bizarre church I’ve seen. The walls wear colored fruit, animals and human figures, et cetera. Inside Jesus descends in a parachute. The colors strike your eye with fierce force. There is one service conducted each week with tours and queues the rest of the day and week. An artist or architects could spend a day there marveling and tsk-tsking what they see.
A brief stop for beer or sangria with tapas on a stick and a late lunch completed our day and so to sea.