My first ever visit to Barcelona at the age of 41 was a memorable one for many reasons.  I got here by TGV from Paris and arrived at Barcelona Sants station mid-afternoon.  My apartment was a 10 minute walk away towards the Camp Nou (home of Barcelona FC) but next to a Metro station so I could get to the main sights quickly.

08028 Apartments were lovely, I had a large room with a patio, there was a roof terrace with a pool and a tapas bar on the ground floor.  You can’t ask for much more than that.  And its location was especially useful to me after my brainwave on the train down from Paris.

When I’d booked the trip I checked without much hope to see if Barcelona were at home during my visit (midweek in September 2017), which they weren’t.  I thought I’d probably go and have a tour of the stadium while I was there instead.  But on the train I was reading a football website and saw that the Champions League was on that week, and realised that when I’d checked the fixtures it was before the Champions League draw had been made.  Barcelona were at home to Juventus, the previous years finalists that night!

I didn’t hold out much hope of getting a ticket (by legitimate means anyway), but to my surprise I was able to buy an e-ticket for a good seat behind the goal for £80.  So that evening I could be found wandering along the road from my hotel to the stadium with a throng of Barca fans and a smattering of Italians.

There were plenty of bars and fast food stalls on the way and I stopped for a couple of beers and soaked up the atmosphere.  The Camp Nou doesn’t look that big from the outside, but that’s because the pitch and lower tier is at a lower level – so when I got to my top-tier seat I was as impressed as I thought I’d be at the sheer size of the place.

The game itself was a walk in the park for Barcelona and the best player in the world Lionel Messi.  It was a privilege to watch him score two goals right below me as Barca ended up winning comfortably 3-0 amid a jubilant atmosphere.  As a football fan this was probably my most memorable game and a chance to see Messi live.  After a great evening I had a last beer and some patatas bravas sat outside the bar under my hotel before crashing out.

The weather during my stay was perfect – very hot but with a sea breeze, apart from a brief and welcome shower on the final day.  It was especially warm when I visited the beach, surprisingly long and wide and so close to the city centre – just at the bottom of the most famous street La Rambla.  Impressive yachts were moored in the marina and plenty of people were soaking up the rays on the beach or enjoying an ice-cream or a beer at one of the many beach shacks.

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Yachts in the marina
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Barcelona beach

After a stroll North up the beach you find yourself in the ramshackle old area of Barcelonetta, a maze of narrow streets between tall buildings, with people’s washing hanging off lines to dry.  Wonderfully atmospheric and I spent some time here wandering about, eventually sitting down with a glass of wine and some tapas in a square next to an indoor market.

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Barcelonetta

Wandering around with occasional stops for wine, beer and tapas was the theme of the trip, I didn’t have a “proper” meal once.  As a solo traveller this felt like an ideal way to see the city and eat and drink, plenty of walking with stops at interesting looking bars for refreshment and small plates.

I caught the cable car up to the Castell de Montjuic, the famous castle overlooking the city.  The castle itself is well worth a look and the lush grounds and park surrounding it are so relaxing – but it was the views from the top that were the most breath-taking, from one side over the city towards the mountains, and on the other towards the marina and beach.  I watched a huge cruise ship drift out to sea before making my way back down by foot, with a stop to look around the Olympic Stadium.

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View from Montjuic
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Montjuic castle
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Cruise liner seen from Montjuic
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Olympic stadium

I’d read mixed reviews of La Rambla and having had a brief wander up and down it on my second evening I decided that it was far too much of a tourist trap, and found the area west of it to be much more “authentic”.  Passing the huge indoor market the Mercat de la Boqueira which I wandered around enjoying the sights, sounds and smells I headed in the direction of the Poble Sec area, and was rewarded with a much more relaxed atmosphere than La Rambla – with quiet tree-lines streets and neighbourhood bars to enjoy the wine and tapas at.  One bar I particularly liked was Mercat Café-Bar which featured live jazz, I came here two nights in a row.

La Sagrada Familia – Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece – is one of Barcelona’s most famous sights and I went to have a look.  It’s fairly unimpressive from the outside, with scaffolding aplenty and the area overrun by huge groups of tourists, with coaches parked everywhere so it was hard to get a good view of the place.  The queue to get inside was enormous so I’m to admit I fell into the trap of the typical holidaymaker and retired to a nearby Irish pub instead.

 

Much more enjoyable was my walk around the Gothic Quarter, narrow lanes, rickety old buildings and the stunning Cathedral at the centre of it.  I climbed the tower of the cathedral and admired the view, just as it started to rain, so I made my way to the cloisters and was surprised to be confronted by several geese, who apparently live there!  I got lost serval times wandering around the narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter afterwards, and was delighted to do so as it’s such a beautiful place to get lost in.

I had such a great time in Barcelona – the once in a lifetime football experience, the wine and tapas lifestyle, the relaxed and cheerful nature of the locals, the beautiful buildings, and of course the weather.  Perfect.

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