A Tale of Two Cities
If you travel you most likely know the thrill of going to a new city. Before you go you do lots of research and you figure out what to see, what to do, and even what types of food you want to try. I think planning the trip is sometimes as much fun as actually getting to explore a location.
Barcelona recently came onto our radar as we transitioned from Croatia to Spain since the city of Barcelona is the favored port of the Grimaldi Line ferry which we used to get from one country to another. Based on Mike’s research prior to our arriving we planned to spend 5 nights exploring Barcelona.
Prior to our visit we had also met a young film maker from Barcelona who is currently living in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is living there and filming the activities and attending the referendums’ leading up to the vote for Scottish Independence that will happen later this year. Barcelona sees this issue for independence in a different light from others in the world; they feel that if Scotland can successfully gain their independence from England, Barcelona, and the rest of the Catalan region should be able to gain theirs from Spain.
Mike and I have been traveling for over two years now and have stayed in some beautiful countries; cities and places. None of this however will prepare you for the wealth that is Barcelona. It is something that you see and feel and acknowledge as you walk the streets or sit in cafes or venture to museums and parks. Barcelona is also a city torn in two. Look around and you begin to see the hundreds, if not thousands of flags of the Catalan province being flown on many of the balconies throughout the city. The number of flags being flown in support of this referendum has increased over time and it is believed that more than half of the population in Barcelona alone supports this movement for an autonomous nation.
The Catalan province, where Barcelona is the capital, has a population base of 7.5 million people. The main focus of its economy, as in Scotland, is tourism. Also, as in Scotland, Barcelona adds millions to the budget of the Spanish government by way of taxes and other income streams. Barcelona is the banking, fashion, and mercantile industry center of Spain. Indeed, Scotland and Barcelona are very similar in their roles; they each financially support the larger country they are a part of.
What is different however is that the referendum in Scotland does not have the support of the people based on the projected leadership who would take over in Scotland if they succeed in voting for independence. The people whom we spoke with during our time in Scotland do not trust nor like the man who would be their leader and many people stated that if the vote passes they will leave Scotland and go elsewhere. This says that the desire for independence in Scotland is not as strong as it is in Barcelona. If the people truly wanted independence from England it wouldn’t matter who their leader was; leaders can be changed.
The history of Barcelona dates back over 2000 years but one would be hard pressed to see this history or even to find it. There are almost no buildings, ruins or markers dating back to the Spain of ages past. After exploring this city for several days I feel justified in saying that if it wasn’t for the architecture and work of Anton Gaudi there wouldn’t be anything to entertain visitors here. Tourists come here literally by the boat load. Barcelona’s port welcomed over 2.29 million cruise passengers during the first 10 months of 2013 arriving on over 700 cruise ships. Which has to beg the question; if the cruise ships stop coming how many of the people who get counted in visiting Barcelona will come here on their own and how tenuous is an economy based on tourism?
Sightseeing around the city is incredibly expensive. For example; getting inside Sagrada Familia, arguably Barcelona’s most famous and most visited attraction, costs 14.80 Euros a person. If you wish to ride the elevators up the towers it costs 19.80 Euros a person. Want a guided tour the cost is 31 Euros a person. Now to be fair they are using some of the money to help build the cathedral, so the money is being put to good use. It was still a chunk of change that needed to come out of our travel budget and I haven’t even spoken about the high costs of food and lodging. Barcelona is not for the budget conscience backpacker.
Where I’m leading to is this; if the votes for independence fails in Scotland, (and it is expected to fail) will this derail, delay or detour those in Barcelona? What will independence from Spain actually mean in the long term to any tourist and does the casual tourist care that Barcelona seeks its autonomy from Spain? And how does an economy whose main base is tourism guarantee that tourists will continue to come and financially support this area?
I do not know; what I do know was that five days was too long to spend in Barcelona. We could have seen everything they have to offer in three days. I also feel that once visited Barcelona is no longer a place I would want to re-visit, no matter who leads it or which government it belongs too; been there, done that.