Walking to Barcelona

I have walked to many cities in my life, but I have never walked to Barcelona. What I mean is that I have never found myself in some outlying town, like Sant Cugat or Montcada, and from there set out on foot in the direction of the big city, continuing all the way to the centre of town (which I interpret as Bar Zurich). I would not be surprised to hear that only a handful of Barcelonans have walked here either, if that is what’s meant by the phrase.

When I was a teen, on a few occasions, I left the suburb where I grew up, walked across the long suspension bridge over the inlet, continued through the massive park of cedars and firs, then pushed through the residential downtown all the way to the shoddy pedestrian mall where me and my friends would find ways to get into trouble. That is what happens when you are young, still can’t drive, live in a bedroom suburb, have a lust for adventure—and are probably a little high.

Now I’m older, drive a ’99 Civic, prefer safety to risk and don’t even drink—but most importantly I live a 10-minute walk from the Rambles. Walking to Barcelona would be an entirely unnatural endeavour for me: I’d have to make a special effort to do it. Following local customs, I’d throw some ham into a tomato-smeared baguette and wrap it in foil, take a train a few kilometres out of town, and then amble back to Plaça Catalunya, where I’d have a coffee before heading home. I am not sure what good that would do.

Being eminently unqualified to talk about it, and too lazy to actually do it, the idea still has its allure. Perhaps it reminds us of when people really did such things, sometimes because they wanted to, others because they had to. There was a time (I’m just guessing) when French pilgrims walked to Barcelona, checking out the cathedral before heading off to Montserrat for more spiritual exercises. Just as some farmers from El Prat, maybe as recently as the 1950s, would stuff large woven sacks full of artichokes and trudge expectantly into town, selling their produce on the street.

Being eminently unqualified to talk about it, and too lazy to actually do it, the idea still has its allure.

As recently as the mid-20th century the walk to Barcelona was probably not as unpleasant as it would be now; you would not be barraged by endless grey warehouse walls, the deadening noise of traffic, the shocking dearth of green space. It would not be so monotone. You could probably pick a path along modest vegetable gardens mixed in amongst new housing blocks; every so often there would be an old-style bodega, with a few porrons outside on a wooden table with vino rancio or muscatel. Without even realizing it, you could have been following the lines of the old Roman roads: from the Llobregat, along Santa Eulàlia and Bordeta across Plaça Espanya, through the Sant Antoni market and into the centre along Hospital; from the Besòs, the line defined by the Carretera de Ribes, which eventually leads through Fort Pienc and Arc de Triomf, entering the old city from that corner.

If you think about it, the Romans walked to Barcelona, though when they got here it did not yet exist: they founded it quite a while afterwards, in 14 BC. When Hannibal set off with his elephants from New Carthage (Cartagena, in Murcia) to conquer Italy, in the 3rd century BC, he avoided the area of Barcelona, turning inland, due to the resistance of Iberian tribes in alliance with Rome: it is too bad really. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to say that those magnificent African pachyderms had walked into Barcelona, across what is now the Eixample, on their way to the snowy Alps?

The Romans walked to Barcelona, then, it’s true. Then they built roads to it, so that others could do the same. Think about it: the Romans never discovered anything new by walking along a Roman road, which sounds like the kind of phrase you’d hear in a Ted Talk on entrepreneurial innovation.

For all my inexperience in actually doing it (or maybe because of it), walking to Barcelona, as we’ve said, still sounds like a charming idea. “Walking to Barcelona”, like the Yeats’ poem Sailing to Byzantium, has a certain poetical ring about it, conjuring something grand yet mysterious: the final stage of a great adventure, or the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Yet I really would not know, as I have never done it.

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