Barcelonaaaaa! Is it just me or does everyone feel the need to impersonate Freddie Mercury whenever they say Barcelona?
A few days in Madrid were plenty for me to relax, and then it was back to Barcelona for the second time on this epic trip. Actually getting to the train station in Madrid with time to spare, I was worried I’d forgotten to do something…I’m never that early! I even had time to grab a coffee and chill out before boarding the train. A quick and comfortable journey later, I’d made friends with the lady sat next to me who seemed to love saying things in English to me.
A quick connection from Barcelona Sants to the city centre and I was at the central hostel to check in. Following the trend of being early, I hung out in the bar and got a bite to eat until it was time to check in. Once my bag was safely put away in the dorm, it was time to get out and about.
Down Las Ramblas, dodging the crowds of tourists milling about, I made my way to the Mare shopping centre in the harbour. I did a bit of shopping, before making my way back through the Gothic Quarter and towards a little place I’d seen do takeout paella. I had a rice craving, and this was my fix! Armed with a box of steaming hot paella, I took a seat in Place de Catalunya and watched people going about their day while I enjoyed my dinner.
Tired from my early start, I made my way back to the hostel to have an early night. The joys of staying in a dorm room with loud girls prevented that. By late evening I decided I couldn’t put up with the loud chats about how amazing each girls boyfriend was, and took myself back to the square for an ice cream. By the time I got back, they’d progressed to listening to things on their phones with no earphones, before eventually realising they were in a dorm in the early hours of the morning. So rude!
Best. Day. Ever.
Despite the late night, I was still up early. Today was a day for exploring! The plan was to head to Montjuic castle and check out the area there. It’s easy to reach by public transport, but I decided to walk part of the way then catch the funicular up the hill. Wandering through the neighbourhood of El Raval, tables were being set up and huge paella dishes were being prepped for the evening street parties. I stopped for a coffee to consult Google and see what the occasion was. I quickly found that it was a neighbourhood festival, and there’d be castellers – human towers – in one of the squares that afternoon. I’d always wanted to see that, so made a note to make it back in time!
Continuing through the neighbourhoods, it was nice to see a side of Barcelona most people skip when rushing from sight to sight. Really cool street art, people going about their day to day lives, small neighbourhood cafes, I even saw a seagull trying to eat a parakeet…don’t see that every day!
A quick trip in the funicular, I was on top of Montjuic. I’d somehow never visited, despite having been to Barcelona three times before. Better late than never! I popped my head in at the swimming pool where the Olympics were held in 1992 to check out the amazing panoramic views of the city. Next stop was the mirador, where even more stunning views awaited of the harbour and out to sea. After climbing a ton of steps looking around the park there, I sat for a bit in the shade.
It was so hilly, and so warm that I was quickly losing all energy. Deciding that Montjuic Castle would be too much for today, I made my way back to the funicular through a park. Halfway through, I realised I didn’t actually know where I would end up, but as I was going downhill I hoped for the best. Eventually arriving at the funicular – woo! – I made my way back to the hostel by metro, even getting mistaken for a Spanish person on the way!
A quick coffee and doughnut stop to refuel, then I was back El Raval in search of the castellers. Finding the gathering in Placa de Sant Josep behind La Boqueria, I was unbelievably happy to finally be able to watch the human towers in person. Three teams competed through different rounds, having to assemble different kinds of towers. Watching adults and kids scrambling up and down to signal the tower complete, it was definitely one of those experiences that made me so grateful in that moment.
As I stood in the crowd, some American voices came to my attention discussing a correfoc, which is a ‘fire run’. Having wanted to see that for years, I didn’t realise it would take place as part of the neighbourhood celebrations and quickly asked them for details. A couple of hours later, as advised, I made my way to a small square that was teeming with people, music playing and a small pop up bar. Quickly grabbing a drink that I hadn’t heard of and soon realising wasn’t great, I waited patiently before the drums started to sound. The atmosphere quickly became electric as everyone got involved, before people dressed in dark outfits with devil horns lit small fireworks on stop of sticks and ran through the streets, with the crowd following while also trying not to get hit with the sparks.
Someone came through the crowds in a large bull costume, with pyrotechnics attached to the horns and rear, catching myself and others in doorways as we tried to avoid the sparks. In smaller correfocs such as the neighbourhood ones, you’re able to run through the sparks relatively easily, while also trying to make sure you don’t get burnt. The correfoc wound through the streets of El Raval, followed by a clean up team, before ending up in another small square, where it culminated with pyrotechnics popping and whizzing left, right and centre. It was so much fun, and I couldn’t believe my luck to have just heard about it hours before.
As it wound down, people started making their way for the other street parties still in full swing. As I wandered back towards the hostel, I stopped at a few street parties to enjoy the music or watch the entertainment. Honestly the best day of my trip so far, I went to bed so happy!
Delightful Spanish Weather
Waking for my last full day in Barcelona, there was only one thing for it – beach day! The weather, however, had other ideas. As clouds loomed, it seemed more sensible to just take a walk along the beach instead of settling in for a sunbathing / cloud bathing session. In an attempt to avoid the tourist crowds on Las Ramblas, I wandered through the back streets of El Raval, saw the end of a Giants Parade which I was gutted to have missed, and ended up at the harbour.
It’s a really calming place to sit and watch the boats come and go, and I ended up sitting for a while having a chat with a friend at home, before a couple of dodgy characters neared and I felt it best to move on before possibly getting mugged. As I got up to carry on to the beach, I saw lightning in the distance and decided to scrap the beach plan and instead head back to the hostel, hopefully before the storm hit.
Didn’t make it in time. Instead, I ended up walking barefoot through the streets as my sandals were too slippery, everything about me drenched in the absolute downpour. When it rains in Barcelona, it really rains. Back at the hostel I dried off before heading next door for a coffee, then back to the hostel to pack ready for heading back to England the next day.
Come evening, everything had dried up and the closing party of the neighbourhood festival drew me in. It was a much more subdued affair than the previous night, and not quite what I’d expected, so I made my way to get some dinner before turning in for the night.
Another Last Day
All too soon, another leg of the trip was over and it was time to head back to England for a few days to celebrate a milestone birthday in the family. After being woken up by someone in the dorm ‘entertaining’, it was a grumpy start to the day. My luck kicked in however as I arrived at the bus stop just as the bus was leaving for the airport. It was a quick journey and there were barely any other people in the smaller terminal of Barcelona airport. Smooth flight back to Gatwick, where I caught a train to my parents house with 2 minutes to spare. If I had to come back, at least it was a smooth and pleasant journey! Now to plan the next bit…