We had a total of 2 days in Barcelona. On the second day, we decided to break away from the group to explore Camp Nou and the city by our own. Though not avid fans of Futbol Club Barcelona, the soccer-loving mister felt a compelling need to pay a visit to legendary Camp Nou since we were in the very city. It meant that we had to forgo some of the sightseeing included in the package tour but between those places and the largest stadium in Europe, our choice was quite clear.
As the hotel we put up at (Hotel NH Sant Boi) is located in the outskirts, we had to brave the public bus to get ourselves to the city centre (Plaça d’Espanya) where we switched to the metro. It turned out to be less of a nightmare than we thought it would be. Moreover, we had a taste of how it was like to live like a typical Spaniard, even if it were just for one short day.
Plaça d’Espanya is one of the biggest and most important squares in Barcelona as the junction of several major thoroughfares. It also leads to the National Art Museum of Catalonia (in Spanish, ‘Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya‘), the national museum of Catalan visual art.
From afar, the museum building looked an imposing work inspired in the Spanish Renaissance. The lovely classicist facade especially the main dome crowned in roman style called out to us earnestly, especially to the photographer wannabe in me. Alas, with limited time to spare we simply couldn’t visit. Instead we made our way to the metro station, unable to contain our excitement at the prospect of visiting Camp Nou.
We don’t speak a word of Spanish but had little difficulty navigating our way at the metro station – from purchasing the tickets to boarding the correct train. The real challenge we faced came from asking for directions to Camp Nou after alighting at the correct metro station. As with most other major stadiums in Europe, Camp Nou was quite a walk from the metro station. When we initially asked the hotel staff for directions, they gave us precise instructions right up till the point of alighting at the correct metro station. Beyond that, they told us to ask for directions from passersby, who would be able to point us in the direction of Camp Nou.
They couldn’t be more wrong. To our (immense) surprise, the Spaniards we came by spoke little if no English at all. Many got frustrated at not understanding our repeated attempts asking for directions, and we ourselves got disheartened at not being understood. Eventually we approached a young lady manning a booth outside a mall, hoping that the younger generation spoke more of English than the officer workers. She did, but we were made to feel extremely patronised when she replied accompanied with a surly face.
As the saying goes, beggars can’t be choosers. In spite of the treatment we received, we listened attentively and managed to understand her instructions and gesturing. After politely thanking her, we were more than glad to go on our way.
It was not a short walk. We were not physically unfit so the walk was manageable, but I was getting annoyed by the scorching heat. We first came upon Camp Nou from its side, and I have to agree that it looked humongous just from the side profile (has to be, since it seats almost 100,000). We explored the stadium and were most impressed with the merchandise store. Perhaps it being our first visit to a world-class soccer stadium had something to do with our awe; our eyeballs almost popped out looking at the deluge of merchandise they sold. You name it, they probably sell it.
We had to wait several hours for the tour of the stadium because the home team was having their practice. Unfortunately we couldn’t identify any of them as they drove their flashy cars into the basement car park. Not the other visitors to the stadium though, because some of them were leaning half their bodies out of the ledge trying to catch the attention of the soccer players (I worried for their safety) and screaming at the same time. Fans they must be.
After traipsing parts of the stadium grounds opened to the public, we decided to make a move. The tour was available at too late a timing; we didn’t want to sit around and do nothing in the few hours prior to it. Naturally we headed towards Central Barcelona where the shopping district and La Rambla are situated.
As we were pottering around, we came upon another of Gaudí’s masterpiece – Casa Batlló. Locally it is known as House of Bones due to its visceral, skeletal organic quality. Once again we see the undulating facade that Gaudí seemed to favour very much. Remarkable design, and a total nightmare for the builders I presume.
By and by, we found ourselves strolling along La Rambla once again. This time, we spent lesser time on the street itself because our aim was to walk to the end of the street towards Port Vell. It was a weekday afternoon, but one most definitely couldn’t tell from the crowd along La Rambla.
We passed by the Maritime Museum (‘Museu Marítim‘ in Spanish), which I heard is one of the most interesting museums about. We gave it a miss, as with most museums we came by because I would probably take half a day just browsing one museum. I’ve said it more than once that time is not a luxury while on a package tour. it didn’t help that the decision to break away from the group for a day was quite an impromptu one, hence we didn’t do any of the requisite homework we should have. If we had, we might have better managed that one day in Barcelona.
The Columbus Monument (‘Monumento a Colón‘ in Spanish), a 60 m tall monument stands at the site where Christopher Columbus landed in Spain after his first voyage to the Americas. It doesn’t look very apparent from the photograph, but the statue of Columbus had his right hand outstretched pointing towards The New World (as believed). Many, many tourists were crowing around the monument so it was quite an arduous task trying to get near the monument at all. We gave up eventually and simply took a picture of it across the street.
Port Vell, a waterfront harbour and part of Port of Barcelona, was a short walk away. Once a run-down area of empty warehouses, railroad yards, and factories, it underwent an urban renewal program prior to the 1992 Summer Olympics. And this is the result. We totally loved the vibrancy of the harbour. The way the warm sea breeze gently caressed our faces and the sailboats easily cascaded to the waves… reminded us a lot of home. Could be the reason why we took to the harbour immediately. Fancy us being homesick on the 2nd day of our tour. 😆