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Barcelona, Proud Capital of Catalunya (5:53)

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, the proud center of Catalunya, has a long history (dating from Roman times), great sights, and vibrant street life, from its grand squares and long boulevards to its markets and tangled old-town lanes. Its rejuvenated waterfront provides more outdoor fun.

Complete Video Script

Barcelona has a rich history: Roman colony, Dark Age Visigothic capital, and 14th-century maritime power. And beyond all its great sights be sure to appreciate its elegant sense of style and its Mediterranean knack for good living.

The city's main square, Plaça Catalunya, is the center of the world for 7 million Catalan people. It's a lively people scene throughout the day. The square is decorated with statues honoring important Catalans. Catalunya has its own distinct language, history, and flag, which locals fly proudly — next to Spain's flags on government buildings…and all alone from their apartments.

Catalunya has often been at odds with the central Spanish government in Madrid. During the 1930s this area was one of the last pockets of resistance against the Fascist dictator Francisco Franco. When he finally took power, he punished the region with four decades of repression. During this period, the people were forbidden to fly the Catalunyan flag. Instead to show their national spirit, they flew this — the flag of the Barcelona soccer team.

Catalans consider themselves not part of a "region" — that's what Spain calls them — but a "nation without a state."

Kids: Viva Catalunya!

The Catalan language is irrevocably tied to the spirit and history of the Catalan people. Sure, everyone speaks Spanish, but these kids speak Catalan first.

Barcelona's ever-popular strolling boulevard is the Ramblas. While souvenir shops and crowds of tourists have diluted its former elegance, it still offers an entertaining introduction to the city.

The Ramblas bird market is a hit with kids. Traditionally, children bring their parents here to buy pets. Apartment-dwellers find birds, fish, and bunnies easier to handle than dogs and cats.

La Boqueria, just steps off the busy boulevard, is Barcelona's lively fish and produce market. Locals shop in the morning for the best and freshest selection. They say if you can't find it at the Boqueria…it's not worth eating.

Where ever I travel, I enjoy the cafés and little eateries in the markets. Here at the Pinotxo Bar, even while he and his family are busy feeding shoppers, flamboyant Juan is happy to flash his trademark smile.

Back on the Ramblas, the carnival of Barcelona life continues. A variety of street entertainers vie creatively for your attention…and your coins.

The bottom of the Ramblas is marked by the Columbus Monument. It was here in Barcelona that the Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel welcomed Columbus home after his first trip to America.

It's ironic that Barcelona would honor the man whose discoveries opened up new trade routes that actually shifted the focus of European trade away from here on the Mediterranean and out to the Atlantic…and in doing so, actually contributed to the downfall of this city as a great trading power.

But thriving Barcelona has clearly recovered. Just beyond the Columbus Monument, a modern wave-like extension of the boulevard, called the Rambla del Mar, stretches into the harbor. It leads to a popular mall of shops and eateries.

A generation ago, Barcelona's waterfront was an industrial wasteland. With impetus provided by the 1992 Olympics, it's been completely transformed. The former Olympic village — which now houses locals rather than athletes — is marked by Frank Gehry's eye-catching fish. The man-made beaches — a series of crescents that stretch for miles — are a huge hit. Each comes with lively cafés and bars and all are laced together by inviting promenades — much appreciated by strollers, joggers, and bikers.

Surprisingly nearby is Barcelona's gritty old center — the Gothic Quarter. It's a tangled-yet-inviting grab-bag of charming squares, rowdy schoolyards, rich cultural treasures, and other surprises.

Street musicians take advantage of the stony acoustics.

And the old town is truly old. Two bold towers date back to the Roman era. These were part of the old Roman wall that protected the city in ancient times. The big stones at the base were laid in the fourth century. And tucked away in a courtyard — embedded in a non-descript office building — is a bit of the temple which once crowned Roman Barcelona, still standing tall.