Barcelona is pretty much a walkable city especially when exploring the neighboring barrios within the old town. The advantage of having accommodation in the historic center is quite obvious: every attraction is just within reach by walking although there’s also the disadvantage of having to deal with the noise and the crowd particularly in this very touristy city. Luckily for us, we found a small hostel in a quiet side street off La Rambla at Carrer Nou de la Rambla in the neighborhood of El Raval. Although some reviews about our lodging were negative, it didn’t discourage me to make a reservation. Practicality is a travel virtue. Without risking it, there would be no adventure. At least, it turned out that the location wasn’t bad after all. Yes, it was close to the red-light district but it wasn’t exactly right THERE. It was long strip of exotic markets, internet cafés, souvenir shops, the 100-year old London Bar where Dalí, Hemingway and Picasso would frequently go (Picasso used to live just around the corner) and of course, the most prominent attraction on the street by Gaudí, the Palau Güell.
As we continued with our walking tours around the city, we visited our “own” barrio after our trip to Montjuïc and Poble Espanyol. El Raval may be a grimy neighborhood some people would rather avoid going to particularly at night but it may also be rather amusing and interesting for curious travelers. Some scenes in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona were shot here. But aside from being a haven for call girls, the barrio also keeps the oldest Romanesque church, (Sant Pau del Camp) in the city and the somewhat incoherently designed Museum for Contemporary Art (which is also quite logic for its name)
The small streets around El Raval eventually led us to La Rambla, a long, shaded promenade that extends from Placa Catalunya down to the port. I wouldn’t consider it a dangerous place for tourists because pickpockets could be lurking in any crowded place. La Rambla just happens to be overly touristy. If one would keep an eye on his belongings then everything will be fine. I would always make sure that I had my passport and money attached to my body where I could feel them. I must admit, however, that I never really felt unsafe walking along this grand avenue– Except that I felt robbed by some restaurants that charged me €10 for a drink! Though it happened to me when I was a newbie in town in 2007, I learned my lesson to ask for the price beforehand.
With a wide variety of things to see at La Rambla (markets, more shops, restaurants, cafés, etc.), we kept ourselves busy by looking at the sights on both sides of the street. Some of the most notable landmarks include: (1) Mercat de Sant Josep or famously known as La Boquería was built beyond the shadows of the former patio of the Church of Saint Joseph. It is not only famous among tourists but also well-loved by the locals. Despite its expensive prices, one would still be tempted to buy any typical product from Catalonia to try it out and it’s worth strolling inside this wet and dry market. (2) Neoclassic Gran Teatre de Liceu is considered as one of the most significant opera ouses in Europe and also the largest in Barcelona. After suffering from great damages by fire in 1861 and 1994, the theater was faithfully restored and inaugurated in 1999. (3) Another neoclassical building from 1880, the Compañía General de Tabacos de Filipinas used to be an important trading point of goods not only of tobacco but also of sugar and local products from the Philippines that were exported to Spain and the rest of Europe as well as the Asian and Australian markets. As the Philippines was one of the last three colonies of Spain, the building now houses a hotel named after the year of the country’s independence, Hotel 1898. (4) Going further down towards Drassanes we found another palace that was quite hidden from the crowd, Museu de Cera, a wax museum just like the one by Madame Tussaud’s. We didn’t enter the museum as I wasn’t particularly into wax figures.
As we reached the end of La Rambla, it was time for us to explore the esplanade at Port Vell which will be featured in the next post of the series.