Las Ramblas is a pedestrian street that runs through the heart of Barcelona. It starts (or ends, depending on the direction you’re headed, duh) at the harbour. At that end, a small square (“square” as in a public space; it’s oval-shaped) hosts a monument to Christopher Columbus. In case you’ve forgotten your history, he’s the guy who blazed a trail (except maybe for some Vikings) for European settlers to bring disease, massacres and alcoholism to the people who were already in the Americas. Then again, if it wasn’t for North America my ancestors probably would have died in pogroms in Russia or have been brutally murdered in the Holocaust.
Hmm. This post didn’t start off nearly as happy and hopeful as I wanted—not anywhere close. Let’s try to get back on track, shall we? How about this statement: If every city had a street like Las Ramblas they’d be a lot more fun and liveable.
Apparently, a lot of people agree with me on that. When I was there, the street was jam-packed with people (which is a good thing for a pedestrian street to be jam-packed with, as opposed to, say, crocodiles). They all seemed to be enjoying themselves. And, as far as I could tell, most of them were tourists. Being a tourist myself, I found it difficult to hold that against them, but I tried.
Rambling on Las Ramblas
If you start at the harbour end of Las Ramblas and ramble to its other end you’ll come to Plaça de Catalunya. “What’s that?”, you might ask. I’m glad you asked. Plaça de Catalunya is large, busy public square with fountains, trees and statues. At least, it was busy when I was there. I can’t vouch for its busyness when I’m not there, which is, by far, the vast majority of the time. (Yes, “busyness” is a real word.*)
My labelling of Las Ramblas as a pedestrian street is not entirely accurate. For most of its length from its start (or end depending on your direction§) there is generally one lane of traffic on either side of the wide walkway. For a large portion of that, there is also space for bicycles and curbside parking.
At the other end of Las Ramblas there is one lane of traffic in each direction, but both are on one side of Las Ramblas.
Despite these minor nods of the head to cars, the pedestrian portion of the boulevard is its much more dominant feature. In addition, throughout it’s length, there are only limited places where vehicles are allowed to cross it. In short, pedestrians rule.
Making the stroll down it more pleasant, Las Ramblas is tree-lined on both sides for most of its length, creating a beautiful green canopy.
Bustling and Buskers
As I mentioned above, when I was there, and I suspect always, the pedestrian thoroughfare was busy. However, in this paragraph I mean “busy” not just as in “teeming with people.” It was that, but not just that. By “busy” I also mean that there was a lot happening. I count that as a good thing.
Restaurants had tables out on the street. They seemed to cater primarily to tourists. The items on the menu looked overpriced to me. And the menu items appeared rather bland, but that’s an observation from afar. I didn’t try any of the restaurants on Las Ramblas as I—rightly or wrongly—thought I could do better on price and, particularly, quality elsewhere. (Aside: I loved the food in Barcelona.)
Flower sellers sold flowers from dedicated stalls.
There was also considerable activity that appeared somewhat less formally organized than the flower seller’s stalls and the restaurants with tables and chairs neatly aligned in the spaces allotted to them. For example, buskers busked. Caricaturists drew caricatures. Vendors sold knick-knacks willy-nilly. (According to posted signs, that sort of commerce was illegal. A couple of times, I saw vendors scurrying off when police officers approached.)
Lessons for the Yonge
On one of my walks along Los Ramblas (I walked along it a few times while I was in Barcelona†) there was a group of three or four English-speaking, young-adult tourists walking and talking almost next to me. (I’m terrible at guessing ages. In addition, I was 63 when I was there. Thus, for me, “young-adult” might mean anywhere from age 15 to 40.) Purely by coincidence, their pace was roughly equal to mine.
At one point, one of the tourists threw her arms open wide to take in the whole scene and declared in a voice loud enough that everyone in the immediate vicinity could hear, “This is wonderful! We need one of these in Toronto! They should turn Yonge Street into a pedestrian street!”
Upon hearing this from someone who was obviously from my hometown , as the Disney song “It’s a Small World After All‘ ear wormed into my head, I turned to her and said, in a not quite loud a voice, “You’re absolutely right.” To my mind, despite, or possibly because of it’s constant busyness and occasional craziness Las Ramblas is exactly the sort of people place that every city should have, preferably in abundance.
* (Yes, I have used way, way, way too many parenthetical comments in this post. I’ll try to cut down after this point, but no promises.)
- (Oops, sorry. I did it again. I’ll try harder to cut out the parenthetical comments. Honest.)
† Alright. I admit it. I’ve become addicted to parentheses.