Information and Tips about Barcelona
Although Barcelona can be fully enjoyed by only loafing through the alleyways of the oldtown and the famous promenades or by experiencing some other famous sightseeings, a city tour is much more fun by having some background information about the city itself, the city history, the population and the development of the city.
For example the view from the castle to the Montjuic is breathtaking; but by knowing the reason why the castle has been built at all, one looks down to the city with completely different thoughts. The buildings of Gaudi are equallyimpressive. By knowing something more about the times when they were constructed and the phase in which the city and the population was at that time when Gaudi expressed himself, one will look at each of the monument with different eyes.
As in my case, the background information as also some detailed information about a world city never helped me so much as it is the case in Barcelona, I take so much space and time for the background information, indications and the historicl retrospective.
The City and the Population
It sounds paradox but Barcelona is located in the north of Spain; A view over the map shows that Barcelona is located more at the north than the capital Madrid. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, one of the three independent parts of the Spanish mainland. The former capital of an own kingdom counts today more than 1,5 million inhabitants and is therewith in the range between the cities Munich and Hamburg. But within the whole centre of population, much more than 3 million people live. Therewith, Barcelona is the second biggest population centre of Spain.
At which height is Barcelona actually located? The major part of the city is a few metres above the sea level; its highest point, the Tibidabo, is located at 532 m over the sea level. The city is limited at the the north and the east by the beginning of the high mountain landscapes. Although the surface extends on a surface of approximately 100 km², one recognizes during the view to the city from above how closely the buildings are arranged.
Barcelona is administrated in 10 districts; as a tourist, one is mainly in the districts Ciutat Vella (oldtown, numerous sightseeings, cathedral), Eixample (shopping streets, promenades), Sant Martí (beaches) and Sants-Montjuic (Olympic Complex, Poble Espanyol, Kastell).
The Catalan Language
In Spain, people speak spanish - this is right and also logical. But as a foreigner, what one does understand under the Spanish language and/or learns, the Spanish people call the official language Castellano. In Barcelona and Catalonia there is mainly Catalan spoken - a Roman language of its own that includes some French elements.
Now, one might say that in Germany, a person of Bavaria speaks differently than another person from Berlin and that as a foreigner, one can also eke out a living in Bavaria if one speaks german. While Bavarian is a dialect of the German language, Catalan is a language of its own that is not immediately understandable by speaking Spanish. Even a person from Madrid needs at least one month intensive lessons in order to get introduced to the familiar Catalan language.
In Barcelona and Catalonia, either Catalan as also Castilian are the official languages. A Spaniard that wants to work in a public utility of Catalonia has to certify that he dominates the Catalan language. In Barcelona, most of the road signs,information boards and indications are written in Catalan language. Some knowledge of the Spanish language is only a limited help.
But most of the inhabitants of the Catalan capital are bilingual. If one talks to a Catalan person in Castilian, this person will automatically answer in Castilian. If a Catalan person speaks high Spanish, he is normally very well understandable as normally the high speech tempo decreases and the words are are spoken in a very clearly and understandable way.
Catalan is not only the common parlance but also the written language. There is some Catalan literature, daily newspapers and TV programs . In schools and universities, the lessons in Catalan language continuously increase. Barely 10 million people in Catalonia, on the Balearic Islands, in parts of Valencia and at the French side of the Pyreneés speak the Catalan language.
Streets and Traffic
Although I recommend everybody not to explore Barcelona by car, I will anyway write about the streets and traffic ways, as this matter is also interesting for pedestrians. One can imagine that as it is the way in all other big cities, also in Barcelona, one gets forward by car at a snail's pace; The parking places are very curt, wrong parking is expensively charged. And if it was not enough annoying to stand at a red light, one is permanently molested by young blokes who want to clean the front screen and insist on getting a tip.
But the road network of Barcelona is very fascinating and simple - apart from the chaos in the oldtown. The Eixample is checkered, that means, all streets run parallel and/or vertically to the coast. Thus, one can orientate very easily: downwards it always goes into sea direction, upwards is always to the mountainuous hinterland. The streets that are denominated as Ronda are always a kind of ring road. Thus, the Ronda Litoral runs alongside the beaches; the core of the oldtown is surrounded by several Rondas. The width of the traffic streets in the newer city areas is impressive. Some streets offer space for 6-10 tracks and additional space for the pedestrian areas that are surrounded by trees.
But now we get to some prominent streets that I have drawed into the map. Normally, the maps of Barcelona are structured in a way that the sea is at the lower edge of the map, and the parallel running streets are arranged at the horizontal and vertical edges of the map. By drawing a conventional map as this one here, that means the northern direction upwards, one gets a completely different picture of the city.
Suddenly, two streets are outstanding: the Meridiana and the Parallel are somehow vertically to each other and parallel to the map edges. In fact, the Meridiana is located on a longitude while the Parallel is on a latitude. The three most important streets for the tourists are the Via Laietana, the Ramblas and the Passeig de Grácia. But for the city itself, two other streets have a very important and have great significance: the Avinguda Diagonal and the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanas.
The Gran Via is a kind of main axis across the city; it can be also seen as the most important thoroughfare through Barcelona. It nicely follows the checker-board pattern of most of the streets; With approximately 10 lanes and 4 pedestrian zones, each between the lanes, it is the widest and most frequented road of the city. The Diagonal is a kind of hallmark of the city. It runs straightaway amidst the systematically arranged streets, as if once somebody fought his own way through the residential district. Where do we know such thing from? Of course, from New York City: the Broadway loops across the avenues and streets and does not follow any "rule".
The map of Barcelona that is applied here is only an additive in order to present some streets; neither it is exact nor complete; the parallel and vertical streets are only drafted by myself.
Public Means of Transport
Barcelona is best explored on foot. But in order not to strain the legs too much, one needs - more frequently than one might think - the public means of transport. For a tourist, in the first instance this is the subway with its 5 lines. With the subway, one gets (nearly) everywhere where the tourists have a business. The subway of Barcelona is indeed loud and abrasive, but therefore it is fast and reliable.
The tickets are available at the selling counters of each subway station. Without a ticket, one cannot access to the platforms as only with a ticket one can pass the barriers. Compared to the german standard, the subway of Barcelona is very cheap, specially by buying a book of ten tickets. A book of ten tickets can be shared with other people, that means, two persons can cancel to tickets of the book of ten tickets.
The book of 50 tickets T-50/30 is valid for 50 trips within 30 days, but only for one person, this means, two persons cannot be on the way with this ticket at the same time. The day tickets and the refering tickets for several days are valid for as many trips as wanted within the first zone; As a tourist, one is always in the first zone; the first zone covers the whole area of the city centre. But what is important to know is that with one ticket, one can also change, also from the subway to a bus.
For the bus trips, the same tickets are used as for the subway; in the buses, the tickets have to be put into a stamping machine, also if one has a day ticket. By arriving straight from the subway, the machine does not cancel a further trip from the multi-trip card; Respectively, one can also change from a bus into another one.
One can partly get from A to B much faster with the bus than with the subway, as they often take the straight route. At each bus station, there is a detailed bus schedule that is also available at each of the subway stations for free. While most of the times, the change from one bus to the other is rapidly and comfortably done, during the change between two subway lines, one partly has to walk up to one kilometre through the subterranean corridors and stairs.
What comes now is unbelievable: in a city where people do not dine before 09.00 a.m., where in the afternoon people have a siesta and and remain awaken until the next day, one expects that also the buses and the subway work respectively longer. Far form this! At midnight, and/or already at 11.00 p.m., some lines do not work any more. This is even not understood by the inhabitants of Barcelona itself. After all, the subways work at the week-ends (Friday and Saturday night) until after to 02.00 a.m.
As a tourist, one seldom gets in touch with the real railway and/or with trains that we would rather call rapid transit railways. In Barcelona, there is beside the subway some other lines of other providers that almost run subterraneously. To the fun park and the view point of the Tibidabo for example, one takes from the Plaza de Catalunya the line U7 of the FGC (Ferrocarril de la Generalitat de Catalunya). The station is not easy to find in the huge Plaza de Catalunya, as there are barely signpostings that guide to there. One rather has to leave the subway station ans descend to an own tunnel of the FGC. Also for those lines the same tickets are valid (including changing) as for the subways and the buses.
In Barcelona, there are swarms of taxis. One simply waves at the yellow-black (actually ugly) cars so that they come to the roadside, as far as they show with the signpost "libre" that they are free. Specially at a late night hour, when the subway does not work any more, they are a cheap way to get home. It can be generally said that using taxis in Barcelona is considerably cheaper as in Germany.
Being on the way by taxi it is advantageous that it is easy to see through the checkered streets of the city. Therewith, there is barely room the taxi drivers for driving their famous loop ways.
But anyway, I have no good word for the taxis of Barcelona, as on my way back to the airport, I have been ripped off mercessly. Normally, a taxi trip from the airport to the city centre costs 20-25 €. During my return, the same trip for which I paid 23 € at my arrival, suddenly cost 38 €.
How is such a thing possible? Of course, there are different tariffs in Barcelona, depending on the day time and day of the week. And as a tourist, one unfortunately does not have the possibility to determine if the driver programed the weekday tariff or the sunday night tariff.
Another possibility to explore Barcelona are the opened tourist buses on which roof one cam have a panorama trip in the truest sense of the word. These tourist buses work the whole day through; a ticket for one person costs approximately 20 € per day. The tourist buses are mainly appropriate for those who are short of time and stilk wants to discover comfortably the most important sightseeings of the city.
Safety and Crime
When travelling to southern countries as Spain, France or Italy, one previously hears or reads about car burglaries, pickpockets and small-time criminals. And somehow, one always thinks: it won't be so bad by being a little carefully.
In fact, Barcelona is one of the most criminal places I have ever seen. On the Rambla, the pickpockets and rucksack thiefs swarm. One often has a bad feeling when in the crowd of people, suddenly somebody closely walks behind one for a longer time. There is not only to be careful in the shopping streets but also on the beach, in the restaurants or in the internet-cafés.
Myself, I got away quite harmlessly: "only" my credit card was duplicated with which another person tried to go shopping. Fortunately, in such cases, the bank and/or the credit card company takes over the responsibility and not the client.
Much worse was the case of an American lady that I met in Barcelona: in an internet-café, her rucksack was stolen including the camera and her purse; she could not follow the thief. Another person from south Germany, after having had a short bath in the sea and returning to his place, he did not find anything from his things at his place on the beach except his towel and his clothes.
I do not want to panic the people but in Barcelona, there is really maximum care to be taken. It is a matter of course that one should not leave the car with a foreign name plate at night on the street. But also during the day time, one should take care on his purse and his rucksack, no matter if one is on the way as a pedestrian, sits in the subway or lies on the beach.
The Catalan cuisine is considered to be one of the best of Spain. There are some specialities that are very recommendable and that should be tried in any case. Of course, Spain is the country of the Paella; Everybody should have a paella at least once. A Catalan speciality is the Fideuà, a pasta paella gratinated in the oven wit lots of fish on the top. A very bizarre speciality is the Arròs negre, a black rice that reminds on a paella. The rice gets its black colour from the ink of the calamari that are also included in the dish. The ink not only colours the rice but also gives it a specific taste.
Oftenly, Allioli is served with fish or meat dishes, it is a mayonnaise-sauce with a lot of garlic and olive oil. This sauce gives meat, rice or bread a very piquant taste, but the gourmet a very long lasting after taste...
A great and variegated speciality are the Catalan salami-sausages (embotits); there are in all variants available. Oftenly, one gets some slices salami with bread in the restaurants, or one orders a Amanida catalana, thus a salad garnished with slices of salami. As a starter, one often does not get normal bread but a tomato bread (Pa amb tomàquet). Thereby, tomatoes and garlic are put on some black bread so that the bread is very juicy and tasty.
And then there is also the famous Crema catalana, thus a sweet dessert; Normally, the Catalan cream is served in a small bowls of potter's clay. Underneath, there is a yellow egg liqueur cream and on the top there is a thin layer of caramel. The Crema Catalana is unbelievable sweet; one can not eat much of it.
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Copyright: Patrick Wagner, www.tourist-guide.biz