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The portion of Barcelonas harbor to the north of Montjuīc, unlike the shipping-intensive portion to the south, is
largely devoted to the personal enjoyment of tourists and private citizens. Its called Port Vell (old harbor in
Catalan), and has a number of small peninsulas jutting out into it. One of these peninsulas has a shopping mall, an
IMAX theater and Europes largest aquarium on it. Another is the home of the Barcelona World Trade Center. Much of
the harbor itself is a parking lot for peoples personal watercraft. The northern shore of Port Vell is a neighborhood
known as La Barceloneta which features numerous restaurants and nightclubs. The ocean-facing side of the
Barceloneta features a large, sandy beach which is considered one of the best in Europe.
But the northern harbor of Barcelona was once a very different place, as recently as the 1980s. During that decade,
none of the above-mentioned structures existed. Much of the waterfront was covered with run-down warehouses. The
Barceloneta was home to a community of fishermen (they still have a diminished presence), and the beach was poorly
maintained. But when Barcelona was awarded the 1992 Olympic Games, powerful forces were set into motion which
continued through and beyond the games to make the Barcelona waterfront a popular tourist destination.
One often unjustly overlooked attraction of Barcelonas waterfront is the Port Vell Aerial Tramway, a ride that carries
bucket-shaped, cable-suspended gondolas all the way from Montjuīc to the Barceloneta (or vice-versa, depending). The
Montjuīc station is located about 200 feet up the hill, and the Barceloneta station is at the top of a 280-foot tower
called the Torre Sant Sebastiā. In the middle the tramway passes through a 350-foot tower called the Torre Jaume I,
which is situated next to the World Trade Center. Since the tramway travels as the crow flies (almost literally),
the length of the entire route is only about eight-tenths of a mile. But the view is amazing.
Jaume I and Sant Sebastiā Towers with World Trade Center
The tramway was plagued by problems from the beginning. It was first built for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition,
but due to some overly rosy estimates as to degree of difficulty, it wasnt completed until 1931. It saw poor business
because of the worldwide Depression in progress at the time, and closed during the Spanish Civil War, during which the Torre
Jaume I saw duty as a lookout station and machine gun post. The tramway eventually reopened in 1963 and saw some good years,
but after some years of neglect it was closed again due to technical problems and inadequate ridership. In 1996 it was
decided to reopen it as part of a project to include the construction of the World Trade Center, and it finally reopened in
2000, using two of the original 1931-vintage gondolas.
Returning to our narrative: As we walked down Montjuīc from the castle, we were thinking in terms of returning to La Rambla
via the funicular and Metro, as wed come. We paused at the Montjuīc station of the tramway, gazing out over the harbor.
On looking at the tramway itself, we decided it looked kind of cool (dangling hundreds of feet above the harbor
in a Depression-era gondola
what could go wrong?), and it was approaching dinnertime, and there were supposed
to be restaurants in the Barceloneta. Anyway, the pieces fit together for us, so we walked over to the ticket
booth and purchased tickets for the last trip of the day. We walked down the steps to the boarding platform and
entered the gondola (there was a sign saying it could fit 20 people; this seemed highly optimistic), and we were
soon airborne and moving at a steady 10 feet per second.
As it turned out, our gondola only had a few other people in it, so we were pretty free to walk around and take
pictures in different directions. Which we did. There was much to see, in the harbor itself and on the
mainland. At one point we could see up the tree-covered La Rambla, easily identifiable by the large Columbus
monument at the point where La Rambla hits the harbor.
Eventually we reached the Torre Sant Sebastiā, where we got out of the gondola and had a nice view of the Barceloneta
and its beach.
We took the elevator down to ground level and headed toward the restaurants.
We found a restaurant and ate dinner, and then discovered that the Metro doesnt go to the Barceloneta. But we found a
bus stop that promised a bus that could take us as far as the end of La Rambla.
Wed really had enough walking for one day by this time, so we waited for the bus, took it to La Rambla, and
returned to our hotel. We had another ambitious adventure planned for the next day: an excursion out of town
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