Barcelona and the Strait of Gibraltar
Yesterday, while having breakfast, I happened to look out the window and I saw land. We had come from Lisbon the night before and were returning to the Mediterranean from the Atlantic Sea. When I saw land, I quickly thought about the side of the ship I was on and figured the land was Africa, Morocco in fact. Sooooo, if Africa is on the starboard side of the ship, Europe must be on the port side. The one part of the coastline I particularly wanted to see was Gibraltar. The Strait of Gibraltar is only 14 km wide, and they say that on a clear day, Europe can see Africa and visa versa. If that’s the case and I am on a ship between the two, I must get a better view than either continents!
Well, I saw it. Funny thing is my bucket list pretty much only has Gibraltar on it. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of places I would like to see and experience, but Gibraltar has really caught my imagination. Disclaimer: I don’t particularly want to get there by plane. Have you seen the runway? It has the main street running through it. Traffic has to stop at the traffic lights so planes can land.
Anyway, like a mythical land rising above the haze was the majestic rock of Gibraltar that signals the start of the Mediterranean Sea. That made my day!
I woke up today to the sun rising over the Mediterranean. We weren’t docking in Barcelona until noon, so there was time for a leisurely breakfast and chat to the princess online.
Barcelona is special to me as it is where I consider this is where I became a solo traveller. Now, this is also the first of my return visits. The unpleasantness of the van attack at La Rambla a month or so ago hit home as it was quite clearly an attack on tourists. This attack had victims from all over the world. My home of Australia lost a young boy who was separated from his mother in the chaos of it all. After a few days it was confirmed that he was not among the survivors.
I wanted to pay my respects to the victims and the people of Catalonia. I looked for a ‘tribute’ somewhere along La Rambla but was unable to see one. Maybe the people of Catalonia felt this was best. Whatever the case, my heart is with the victims and Barcelona.
I had booked a shore excursion that was a bit of sightseeing and a trip to Barcelona’s aquarium. Our bus took off as planned but the microphone didn’t work, so although a trip to the scenic Mt Montjuic was on the agenda, an extended photo opportunity in front of the Archaeology Museum of Catalonia , (Museu d’Arqueologia de Catalunya, or MAC) while we waited for a replacement bus wasn’t. What a view it was too.
The guide had said that the aquarium was small; that it was more a research facility. I was actually really impressed. They had all the usual tanks (that sounds a little offhanded, doesn’t it?) Nemo and his mates, jelly fish, cuttlefish, etc, etc. What makes Barcelona different is a tank that has a couple of viewing tunnels with an amazing assortment of creatures including many sharks and stingrays where the viewers are on very slow moving conveyor belts enabling everyone to get an excellent view and not be rushed or left behind. Brilliant idea, Barcelona!
Shopping at the adjacent shopping centre was part of the suggested itinerary, but that’s no fun so after the aquarium, I walked along the wooden walkway to the Christopher Columbus monument, and up La Rambla. As I said, this place is special to me. It originally frightened me a bit as it has been named (along with Naples) as one of the most likely places in Europe to be pickpocketed or scammed. Getting to feel comfortable along La Rambla, and knowing a little more about the place has made a major change in my attitude to my solo travels.
In all honesty, I did have a bit of an alternative agenda. I bought some amazing clothes for my grandson last year in a particular shop. This year I have two grandsons! For those who know me, it is no surprise that the shop isn’t particularly expensive (actually, lets call a spade a spade, it is very inexpensive) but the kids clothes are awesome, really different and very hardwearing. I have been paying attention to the brands that Austin has been wearing over the last year and Palomino by C&A have been awesome.
And of course, a trip to La Rambla isn’t complete without a trip into the food market. It is amazing, a kaleidoscope of foods of all colours. It has everything, meat, seafood, fruit, vegetables, bars, cafes, fresh juices, jamon sliced in front of you, frozen treats, chocolates, lollies….. just everything.
I then went to find the ship’s shuttle bus, having been told it would be at the Christopher Columbus monument (which is located in a the middle of a large roundabout). After a trip to the information booth, (they directed me ‘behind the trees’….. there are trees on all merging streets at this roundabout) and finding a port bus that was not associated with the ship, I finally found the MSC shuttle 950 metres away in a spot not visible from the monument.
All good though, I made it on the second last shuttle back to the ship, only just in time for my sitting for dinner before going back to my cabin to pack ready for disembarking in the morning.
This coming weekend, the Catalonia people are holding a referendum. They are wanting their independence from Spain. The Catalonians have their own language and culture and Catalonia (capital, Barcelona) is currently an autonomous community. Barcelona is the second most populated city in Spain and indeed the second largest city in Europe not to be a capital city of a country. Spain has declared the referendum to be illegal and the Public Prosecutor’s Office has ordered for all voting paraphernalia to be seized including ballots, ballot boxes and promotional materials. On the 20th September, the Civil Guard mounted an operation to raid to offices of government ministries and detain officials involved in the referendum. This was met by large protests by independence supporters (some media outlets referred to the protests as riots)
If I could, I would vote. As I said, Catalonia holds a special part in my heart.