Catalonia’s declaration of independence is a good excuse to tell you about what happened when we visited Barcelona. Though it’s been a while and the telling of our adventure will start going back and forth chronologically, might as well get “back into action” by sharing our experience in those… interesting times.
Act I: Revolution!
When we reached the city we knew very little about the referendum and Catalonia’s plight. A flight from Pisa landed us in the middle of a very crowded city, full of tourists as usual, but also very busy in politics and activism. Because of the mess we couldn’t find a host to stay with, and any decent hostel was full to the brim. So we found ourselves spending our first night sleeping in the corridors of the university, the headquarters of the call for liberty.
While strongly voicing their intentions and will, it was quite impressive to see how the Catalans were keeping things civil and as non-violent as possible. Demonstrations were full of people, streets were blocked and speeches given, but there was no violence. It was really colorful, and inspiring too.
Now that the Spanish government cornered the Catalan president to declare independence things have escalated, and no one knows how it might end. But while we were there the question wasn’t one of independence, it was one of the right of the Catalans to vote about it. Many people among the demonstrators were against separation from Spain, but believed that in a democracy they have the right for a vote and an open discussion about it.
A friend from Israel joined us the next day, so we decided to rent a room for the rest of our stay. Finally, we could rest in a proper clean bed. Or could we? After waiting for one renter till the last moment for a reply which never came, the next place we managed to find was not what it seemed at first look. Our feet got filthy black from crossing our room barefoot, strangers’ hair decorated the shower, and things sat rotting in the fridge. But the caretaker was full of excuses and lies, and didn’t actually care. >_<
Act II: Meanwhile, Capitalism Goes On
As we wandered through the city we couldn’t ignore the stark contrasts. While Plaça Universitat roared with protest, other parts of the city were business as usual. The shops and restaurants of La Rambla were bustling with tourists, the lines to the exorbitant Casa Batlló were full of Chinese visitors, and La Sagrada Família kept being built.
But that did not last long. The day of the vote was followed with headlines of violence, finally catching the attention of global media (nothing like some bloody pictures to set them off). The following day also caught many tourists unprepared with a general strike going on. There was no public transportation and touristic sites were just closed. Since then tourism numbers have been dropping, and funnily enough, for many Barcelonians that is a blessing. Apparently, people in the city are actually trying to reduce tourism), lets see how they feel at the end of all this mess.
While tourism and activism raged in the city center, we took advantage of a sudden warm day and went to the beach. For such a big city it was surprisingly uncrowded. We found an almost-private corner on a nudists beach where we could take it easy, skinny dip, catch some sun and play with stones.
Act III: “Locked” in the City of the Dead
There’s nothing like a good cemetery to relax a bit when visiting a crowded city, at least for us. Cementiri de Montjuïc was a real treat with lots of stone angels and impressive tombstones. Though we visited one or two cemeteries during out trip, this one still surprised us in size and grandeur.
After a while of angel hunting in the gloomy light it started to rain. We had no umbrellas or rain coats, so we ended up hiding under a tree. Some nuts and a bottle of beer from our bag made for a surreal yet pleasant picnic experience. This poem by Charles Baudelaire came to mind, and our friend put it on his phone in a Hebrew version, as the empty cemetery in the rain was not surreal enough for him.
From there we decided to continue the climb up to Montjuïc Castle to get a view of the city. Google maps claimed we had to descend the whole cemetery, which is quite steep, and go around it. We decided to find a shortcut and kept going up. The cemetery wound up the hill and around confusing walls of vertical graves. It was getting late, and officially the cemetery was supposed to be closed by then. It got colder, and eerie.
Indeed, all the gates in those really tall walls were shut, and we thought we might have to do the even longer way down now (we saw that it wasn’t so fortified near the entrance). But just before we called it quits we found small one-way gate leading out. SUCCESS!
Barcelona gave us a strange feeling. We enjoyed the sights, foods and free attractions and there was plenty more we wanted to see and do. Yet, a strong sense of disconnection on the human level pretty much convinced us we won’t be returning. Maybe it was because of the unusual times, maybe bad luck or a cultural difference. Whatever it was, we felt very unwelcome, like never before on our travels.
After more than a week in the city it was time for a change of pace. We made our way went and north to the Camino de Santiago where it starts just across the French border. But more on that – in a future post…