Posted: 8/24/2007


       There canīt be more pleasant ways of spending your time in Barcelona than strolling down Las Ramblas, the avenue that starts at Plaza Catalunya in the heart of the city and wanders down to the monument to Christopher Columbus by the sea.  I had to use my umbrella in the morning, but by noon the sun was shining. Its actually 5 streets joined together so they use the plural.  To Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorcan, its "the only street in the world that I wish would never end."

     If you ignore the vast BurgerKing, there are lots of small and large restaurants, cafes, snack bars on either side of the tree lined avenue to grab a bite and a coffee fix for those so inclined. Then stroll down the centre pedestrian area with souvenir and newspaper stands, flower sellers and dozens of creative mime artists. However, it was the dozens of exotic bird and small animal stands that attracted my attention.  I could buy a hamster for 3 Euros, periqueto for 10, a small fish in a plastic sandwich bag for 1.5, iguanos, ardillo de korea, a big green parrot for 15, small mice for 1, rabbits for 3, small turtles for 2 and lots more. They seemed well cared for with the stall holders constantly feeding and watering them, and cleaning their cages. There is also a terrific covered fresh food market off to one side which specializes in fruits, meats, cheeses,fish, nuts etc.  I had a fresh squeezed glass of peach juice and then a rasberry one.

    In 1992 Barcelona, capital of Catalunya, hosted the summer Olympic Games, and the ports and beach area were transformed. I spent 90 minutes on a cruise along the coast and harbour with 3 kilometers of artificial beach and lots of new hotels and condos and entertainment areas. The city has 2 La Liga Premier League clubs, the world famous FC Barcelona (BlauGranes)-blue maroon, who play at Camp Nou,with 86,000 capacity, and the less well known RCD Espanyol, based at the Olympic Stadium at Montjuc with 55,000 capacity. In fact Camp Nou and its museum is the biggest single tourist attraction in the city.   Barca, was started by a Swiss immigrant Joan Gamper  and were founder members of La Liga in 1928  and have won 18 La Liga titles to Real Madridīs 30 and trailed them by 7 points last season. RCD Espanyol The Parakeets, are a no-names club and were considered Royalists, while Barca have such names a Ronaldinho, Thierry Henri, Edmilson, Lionel Messi, Lilian Thuron, Samuel Etoó, Puyot, and coached by Frank Rijkaard and his fellow Dutch assistant Johan Neeskens, both fornmer world class players.  Barcelona are unique in that their shirts display the name and logo of UNICEF in a 5 year deal that gives the UN organizatin about $2 million a year. They do have commercial sponsors, such as Nike, Bwin, Coca-Cola, Audi-but not on their jerseys.  In a few days Barca hosts Inter Milan in the Joan Gamper Trophy, to show off their new signings to their fans.

    Johan Crujff starred for them in the ī70's and he not only won La Liga and helped beat Real Madrid 5-0 but named his only son JORDI, catalan for John. Jordi went on to play for a number of clubs, including Manchester United, and for Holland.  In 1988 Johan Crujff returned to the club as manager and had a great team including Ronald Koeman, Michael Landrup, Romario and Hristo Stochkov. Their club motto is MES QUE UN CLUB- more than just a club- since the whole of Catalunya is proud of them.  During the civil war the stadium was the only place you could speak catalan without fear of arrest, and the stadium had in fact been closed for 3 years, and its President gunned down and murdered.

    In the evening I went with friends to a packed English pub on Las Ramblas, The Jules Verne, to join hundreds of fans from England, Germany and everywhere to watch England vs Germany live from Wembley Stadium. Germany were without 10 players including Ballack, Klose, Schweinsteiger, Frings and Podolski, but after an early Frank Lampard goal, the visitors took command.  Paul Robinson let in a howler before  Christian Pander scored with a scorcher. Caught off the line by a Bernd Schneider cross, Robinson could only paddle it out to Kevin Kuranyi to tuck it home. 

Robinson was replaced by David James at the half and the always ineffective Allan Smith and Michael Owen were replaced by Dyer and Peter Crouch. At 19 in France 98 Owen was a revelation, but now at 28 he is very ordinary.  Steve McClarren the England boss, looking like somebody who has spent too much time in places like Middlesborough  was a contrast to German coach Joaquim Low a native of The Black Forest, dressed in a beatle haircut and a long college style scarf, looking like a try out for the role of Peter Pan, or Cabaret.