The day after Genoa, my ship made an afternoon stop in the Catalan city of Barcelona. As with Genoa, I had previously visited Barcelona in the summer of 2008, during a cruise from the Western Mediterranean to Dover, England.
Because I had already seen major sites such as La Sagrida Familia and La Rambla, I thought it might be a good idea to see parts of the city I hadn’t visited yet. If you want to cover a lot of ground in a city, relatively easily, and in not very much time, you can buy a ticket for a Hop On/Hop Off tourist bus. For around 20 Euros, you can buy a ticket for a bus that will take you to most major points of interest in the city. You can get on and off however many times you like and explore each site, and the ticket will usually be valid for 24 hours. Many European cities have this.
I got one of these bus tickets, and hopped on for a ride. Unfortunately, I didn’t take into account a problem that would be plaguing me for much of this trip: jet lag. By the time I had boarded the bus, it was 2pm local time…but my body was convinced it was 4 in the morning.
As the bus pulled out from the first stop, I was barely able to stay awake. I sat towards the back on the upper deck, where I was exposed to a chilly wind. Within about fifteen minutes from the start of the ride, I realized that devoting two hours of my precious time here in Barcelona to a bus ride was probably not the best idea.
The bus did drive by many parts of the city I that I never knew existed. In between being dead tired, freezing, and actually asleep, I did manage to see some cool places.
Finally, two hours later, the bus reached its final destination: La Rambla.
In case you don’t know, La Rambla is a popular pedestrian walkway, and is probably one of Barcelona’s most famous attractions. It is lined with street performers, shop stalls selling everything from Spanish souvenirs to real live birds, and al fresco restaurants.
A walk down La Rambla is a fun way to spend your afternoon, and you’ll no doubt have plenty to see. But…it’s a walk I’ve done before. So this time, I decided to go off the beaten path and explore the surrounding neighborhoods.
The simple act of stepping off La Rambla and into a side street, made me feel as if I had entered a whole ‘nother area of town. The hustle and bustle noise of tourists slowly melted away. The only noise I’d hear were the footsteps and occasional chatter from the locals as they walked by.
It was very nice just being able to see normal Catalans going about their days.
Crossing over to the other side of La Rambla now. Busy busy busy:
The narrow streets and alleys on the eastern side of La Rambla appeared to be busier than the side I had crossed from. A lot of families and couples were strolling about.
Of course, there were streets that looked beautifully secluded, too.
Before long, I stumbled across this:
I’ve tried Spanish ham before…but never while IN Spain. I walked in to drool at their selection of gourmet ham, and walked out with this:
For locals and tourists like me who are on-the-go, this is one of the finest examples of street food you can get. 5€ gets you a cone of top-shelf ham. These ham cubes have the taste and texture of salted preserved meats. Emphasis on the ‘salted’ part…they’re salty enough that you’re given a free packet of plain crackers to balance out the strong flavoring.
Don’t let saltiness scare you away, though. The meat itself still tastes delicious, and the chunks of fat, which you can see in the pic above, just melt in your mouth.
It was, bar none, the best ham I’ve ever eaten…and I don’t use superlatives lightly. I’m spoiled now. Never again will I be able to eat Oscar Meyer without wishing for this:
I continued my walk.
Time was running out, but there was just one more spot I wanted to visit.
Here we go: Plaça Reial. It’s a city square just off of La Rambla, in the Gothic Quarter. It’s a very popular meeting spot for locals, and it’s packed with nightclubs and restaurants, hence my desire to check it out.
It wasn’t as lively as I had hoped, probably because of the cold weather and rain. Oh well, at least the architecture was pretty.
From here, I went straight back to my cruise ship.
While I do see HOHO buses as a viable way of touring a city, they aren’t very…fulfilling…if you have a very short amount of time (like less than half a day, as I did). I felt far more satisfied and engrossed in the local culture when I just wandering through the city’s little nooks and crannies on foot.
You may see less of the city as a whole when you’re just wandering through a street, shuffling past pizzerias, mini markets, and the people who live around and walk these streets every day of their lives. But, in a way, you much see more.