Sunshine with only a few clouds. Light wind. 23C. Time to hit Barcelona’s beach. Or should I say:beaches. We started in Port Vell (Old Port) where the industrial waterfront was replaced by the Port Olympic (for the 1992 Summer Olympics) and kilometres of pristine, sandy beaches and boardwalk.
The marina in Port Vell abounds with enormous, mega-expensive crafts (some with the de-rigueur helicopter on the deck). Walking along the boardwalk, you can smell the ocean as soon as you clear the marina. Shortly after, bands of golden sand and quiet sea greet you to your right. To the left, each beach has its share of cafés and most importantly, free showers and toilets, which are quite clean, considering the traffic.
Further inland, another exploratory amble brought us to the Parc de la Ciutadella, a spot of green park in the middle of el Born quarter. The park takes its name from the ciutadella (citadel) Felipe V built on that spot as a means of defence for the city. But the Catalan hated everything that came from the Bourbon King and Madrid. The citadel was demolished in 1869 and turned into a park. It became the counterpoint to the Arc de Triomf, built at the end of a grand pedestrian avenue that leads to the Park. The Arc the Triomf, a brick-red, Mujedar-style structure was erected in 1888 for the Barcelona International Exhibition. It’s sort of plunked there, with nothing much around, and is pretty indicative of its function: the Ex was a flop, so you come to wonder what triumph the Arch celebrates.
The Park itself is typical of Spanish parks: wide, sandy paths (beware, the blowing wind) with little or no shade unless you slip under a tree where you can sit on the grass, have a picnic, and people-watch.
In the centre of the park you find a small lake where you can paddle a rented rowboat, although circling the lake won’t take you more than 10 minutes, if that. On one side, apart from the lake, is an immense “cascada” (fountain) that combines statues, rock, greenery and gushing water. It was built by Josep Fontserè with the help of a young Gaudi.
The beach and the park were a nice relief from the narrow, sometimes stifling – and definitely confusing– streets, squares, and alleys of the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter). Although they have their charm, being in open air and simply breathing, is wonderful.