After an amazing six months, I was at my last stop of the trip. Barcelona. A city I’d been to a few times already, but this time I was here for a festival I’ve wanted to visit for years, and I was a mixed bag of emotions: excited, sad, tired, excited, happy, proud, oh and did I mention excited?
After a bit of a nightmare train journey from Tarragona, I arrived in Barcelona desperate to get rid of my bag, sit down and have a drink. Staying at the same hostel each time I’d been in Barcelona was paying off as the receptionist recognised me and gave me some beach recommendations that the locals go to. Making a note to check them out later, first stop was coffee.
The festival I’d come to see, La Merce, is spread over multiple days and across the whole city. Luckily, the big events I’d planned to go to were within walking distance of the hostel, so come evening I made my way down to the cathedral to check out some of the traditional dancing. Just a short walk from there to Plaça de Sant Jaume to watch the opening speeches, giants procession and mini correfoc display. Great way to end the day!
Next morning I was woken with a rumble. After six months, I’d finally managed to tick ‘express train snorer’ off on my hostel bingo! Thankfully he seemed to go to sleep about 8am, so it forced me to get up, ready and out to make the most of my time in Barcelona. With rain forecast for the day, it was a case of explore for as long as possible before hiding out in the nearest cafe. I didn’t get far, and ended up in cute little coffee shop close to the hotel I’d stayed in on my first ever visit to Barcelona.
The rain absolutely dropped, for hours. After sitting and enjoying a coffee and some lunch, I spotted a brief pause in the rain and made a dash for the hostel. The festival events couldn’t really happen in the rain so I wasn’t missing much, and just chilled out in the hostel bar for a while. Come evening, the rain had moved on and there were a few things I wanted to see: the famous correfoc, swing dancing and fireworks on the beach. The timings would overlap a little, but I’d rather see a bit of each than miss one.
Walking along Las Ramblas is a slow affair as there are so many tourists doing the tourist shuffle past the stalls. But, it’s the main walkway and the square I was heading to – Plaça Reial – is just off it so it was the quickest, though maybe most frustrating, way to get there. Plaça Reial is a lovely square at the best of times, filled with plenty of cafes and restaurants. The centre of the square was now playing host to a large group of swing dancers, and it was fun to watch them all freestyle. There was also a swing dance lesson, but as a solo traveller I figured I’d just stand and watch as I had no-one to partner with. Instead, a hand reached out and pulled me in, and there I had my first swing dance lesson. Spoiler alert: I was terrible, but it didn’t matter because it was so much fun!
Before I made a real fool of myself, it was time to head to the correfoc. An event which happens at most Catalan festivals, the correfoc is a ‘fire run’. Small fireworks are attached to a pole or mascot, and then run through the crowd spraying sparks over people. There’s music, people running everywhere and it’s a lot of fun! I’d been to a few smaller ones before, but this correfoc travels down Via Laietana, a main street in the city, and is huge. So many people, so many fireworks.
After enjoying the correfoc for a short time, I raced off to the beach for the fireworks display. If there’s one thing I love more than fireworks, it’s fireworks on the beach! Running a little late, I heard the thunderous bangs of the fireworks starting as I passed through the blocks of flats in Barceloneta. I caught most of the show, including the part where one of the fireworks boxes fell over and shot fireworks into the sea. The effect was actually really cool, but lucky it fell that way rather than towards the crowds on the beach!
It had been a great evening, and I was so happy to catch a bit of everything. Walking back to the hostel, I could still hear the sounds of crowds at the point where Via Laietana meets the harbour, and getting closer saw that the correfoc was still going strong. Of course I stopped to watch a bit more, and as it got more lively I didn’t manage to avoid one of the firework offshoots – when the sparks finish the little fireworks pops and shoots something out of the end – and it hit me on the arm. They do recommend wearing long sleeves, but it was hot and I hadn’t planned on getting so close. No harm done other than a quick ow! but I decided it was probably time for me to head back to the hostel.
After a late night, it was a lazy kind of morning. Eventually dragging myself out of bed, it was straight to Plaça Nova, the square in front of Barcelona Cathedral, to watch the sardanes. A traditional Catalan dance, the dancers stand in a circle facing inwards holding each others arms and gently dance in time with the upbeat music. It’s interesting to see another part of the Catalan culture, but once you’ve watched it for a while, it’s kind of the same.
Moving on to Plaça de Sant Jaume, the human towers display had started. There were so many people crammed in to the square and very little shade from the sun, that I started to feel really faint. The people were so tightly packed in that I probably wouldn’t have fallen, but after watching a few towers I had to make a super slow exit trying to navigate through the crowds to one of the exits.
After enduring the crowds for most of the day so far, there was only one thing for it: the beach! I wandered through the Gothic Quarter, along the harbour and on to Barceloneta beach. It was busy, but I still managed to find a spot to lay down and stick a podcast on. No sooner had I laid down and gotten comfy, someone decided they’d lay their towel inappropriately close to mine. It was busy, but not busy enough that they needed to be that close to me. I tried to just channel the relaxed vibes, but when they stretched out their legs their foot landed on my head. If there is one thing I hate the most in this world, it’s feet. If I come into contact with another persons feet, I feel like I need to wash. So to have a stranger’s foot essentially stroke my head, I was in unknown levels of ewwwwwwww!!!
Of course I moved because I couldn’t risk that happening again, and after a while headed back to the hostel to have a shower and wash my hair. Even now I feel a bit eurgh just thinking about it. Come evening the rain that had thankfully held off all day had now made an appearance. Any events I’d had my eye on were outside, so it was a quiet night in the hostel, ready to make the most of tomorrow.