Situated along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea between the Llobregat and Besòs River, lies Barcelona, Spain’s second-largest metropolis. It’s history goes back four thousand years.
The Gothic Quarter on the right side of La Rambla is my favorite. The artist Picasso occupied a residence here for some years.
And it’s not just the city that is great; there are wineries and historical sites within a short drive.
I arrived at the Montsarrat monastery on a great, sunny morning, resisted the lineup to see the Black Madonna and went for the mass instead. That was a good decision – the inside of this church high up in the mountains is the most beautiful I remember.
The finishes, the colors and the paintings are nothing short of phenomenal.
Unfortunately, someone with no sense of harmony and no sense of space replaced the original church organ with something that looks like it was lifted from IKEA.
Still, it is worth the hour drive from Barcelona, absolutely fantastic place.
Later I took my tour through the Sagrada Família basilica, whose original interior is as inviting and spiritual as a church can be.
Gaudi was a genius, I am convinced of that.
As for the exterior, my views are mixed, but since they’re still building it, I give them the benefit of doubt.
There is little doubt that Spain was once the Financial Capital of the West. Their conquest of America produced mountains of gold and silver to the point that they really impacted the European economy creating waves of inflation. Then, on one day in July 1715 the famous Spanish Fleet was sunk with a massive treasure that was long held in the New World precisely because of the risk of being attacked when bringing it home.
The British wanted to prevent the Spanish from funding themselves for the Succession War sinking ships trying to make it back to Spain. This fleet was 11 ships carrying not only gold and silver but also more than 1200 pieces of rare jewelry.
The war was critical in changing the European balance of power, and with the riches of the New World at stake, Spain was a major economic prize.
And Spain borrowed heavily in Europe for the war and, as it couldn’t bring its gold from America, they had become a serial defaulter ending in a 3rd world status, the loss of the treasure fleet in 1715 being the nail in the coffin.
The New World wealth that had made Spain a world power in the 16th and 17th Century now made it a fraction of what it once was.
The country never returned to its imperial status, in part because the rugged Pyreneesseparate itfrom the North European Plains, where most of the economic action is.
Later in the evening I was sitting on a small balcony of a boutique hotel called Pulitzer, just off the Plaça de Catalunya sipping Penedès wine, Catalonian flags displayed on several buildings around.
If you read the Spanish constitution, its very confusing because it will say in one breath that there is one unified Spanish nation and the government exists to protect that, and also there is a number of autonomous regions with their own nations that also need to be protected. And it goes back and forth between these two things. The Catalonian separatist movement goes back hundreds and hundreds of years – this region was always wealthier than the other parts of Spain, especially than the interior of the country. There is strong push towards independence here, but of course the businesses don’t want to loose ties to Madrid and letting Catalonia go independent is really an existential tread to Spain.
At over one trillion euros, the Spain GDP is nearly five times that of Greece, so they’re not easily disposable. If Spain fails, the euro fails, so Spain will not be allowed to fail.
If the euro goes first, watch for a new reality, Paradise City.
Tom Kubiak is the author of The Traveler