Strolling Spain’s Most Famous City

Gaudi's unfinished Sagrada Familia is one of Barcelona's key attractions. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Gaudi’s unfinished Sagrada Familia is one of Barcelona’s key attractions. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

The two ladies sitting behind me on the flight have it all figured out.

I’m travelling from Canada to Barcelona, Spain to embark an old friend: Silversea’s ultra-luxurious Silver Spirit, for a six-day voyage through some of the most off-the-beaten-path ports in the Mediterranean. And on my Air Canada Rouge flight from Toronto – devoid of any entertainment options whatsoever – I’ve now tuned into the two ladies sitting behind me.

Unlike me, they’re not spending three days in Barcelona pre-cruise. Instead, they’re flying all the way to Europe, day-of, to embark a cruise on a ship I won’t mention, other than to say it holds thousands of guests and definitely isn’t Silversea.

The Hotel Condes de Barcelona, nestled comfortably on Passage de Gracia. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The Hotel Condes de Barcelona, nestled comfortably on Passage de Gracia. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The one lady is schooling her friend on what to do if they encounter any Captain Philips moments. Which seems unlikely; the only pirates you’ll find in the Mediterranean these days run the tourist shops. Either way, she continues to direct her friend on all aspects of their James Bondian maneuvers should the worst happen. I almost wish I was on their cruise, just to see these two kick into action.

After touchdown at Barcelona’s El Prat International Airport just before nine in the morning, I cleared immigration – a wordless and perfunctory stamp in the passport – and collected my luggage. Silversea’s excellent pre-cruise transfer service met me, and whisked met to the Hotel Condes Barcelona for my pre-cruise stay in this gorgeous city.

Barcelona's got the right idea when it comes to breakfast. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Barcelona’s got the right idea when it comes to breakfast. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

So it was that, by ten thirty, I found myself at the hotel, wondering what to do next. The classic long-haul traveller dilemma. You want to sleep, but can’t. You want to shower, but your room isn’t ready. What to do?

Long ago, I discovered walking was one of the best ways to stave off jetlag. So I set out to explore Barcelona on foot – and unwittingly ran smack into one of the cities busiest holidays.

A Rose On Every Corner; A Book On Every Street

On Saturday, booksellers were out on the streets of Barcelona to celebrate Sant Jordi Day, or St. George's Day. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

On Saturday, booksellers were out on the streets of Barcelona to celebrate Sant Jordi Day, or St. George’s Day. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

It’s called Sant Jordi’s Day, and it happens every April 23. Those of you from the UK might know it better as Saint George’s Day, which commemorates the death of Saint George in 303AD. But the Catalonians in Barcelona celebrate this day through books and roses.

Booksellers sweating it out under makeshift stalls line nearly every major thoroughfare in the city, from the busy shopping mecca of De Gracia street outside the Hotel Condes all the way south to Las Ramblas and beyond.

In between every bookseller: a rose shop, selling roses real and fake. The rose symbolises the ultimate gift among people who love each other, and – according to legend – symbolises the story of Montblanc. You know the one: the knight saves the princess from the clutches of a fearsome dragon.

Roses are also a huge part of Sant Jordi Day, so much so that even Gaudi's Casa Battlo was adorned with them. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Roses are also a huge part of Sant Jordi Day, so much so that even Gaudi’s Casa Battlo was adorned with them. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Don't forget to buy a rose for your sweetheart. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Don’t forget to buy a rose for your sweetheart. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The crowds are massive. After just a block, I’m in the thick of it, being jostled and pushed around as if I’m going to see World Cup Soccer. A busy day in July has got nothing on April 23; it’s pure bedlam.

And yet, as I fight my way towards the city’s Gothic Quarter, something odd dawns on me. In North America, crowds of this size would inspire petty fighting. Name calling. Some hot-headed moron might even throw a punch. But here, the crowd seems comfortable with their crushing proportions. People push and shove, but politely. No one seems to mind. In fact, no one is in much of a hurry to be anywhere at all.

Crowds - particularly when a marathon is utilizing the adjacent streets - can be an issue outside Sagrada Familia. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Holy crowds, Batman! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Because of the shuffling crowd, it took about twice as long to make the 2.1 kilometre walk to Placa Sant Jaume, in the heart of Barcelona’s old town, as it should have. But, with temperatures in the low 20’s (Celsius) and cloudless skies, who needs to rush?

Old Barcelona

A weekend in Barcelona? Why not! It's a great way to spend a few days pre-cruise. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

A weekend in Barcelona? Why not! It’s a great way to spend a few days pre-cruise. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Silversea’s Silver Spirt begins on Tuesday! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.

 

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