Barcelona is one of the world’s top destinations for a city-break holiday. It’s renowned for architecture, culture, nightlife, and weather. This is clearly a city that ticks a lot of boxes.
Despite having lived in London for ten years, somehow, I had never made it to Barcelona. When my housemate, Ming, suggested that we take a few days off work to go to Barcelona to work on our tans, I jumped at the opportunity without hesitation.
Ming did all of the organizing and I was happily telling everyone that I saw that we would soon be off to get some summer sun.
I quickly began to feel like I was the last person in the world to have visited Barcelona. Everyone had lots of advice and recommendations of where to go, what to see, and which part of the beach was best. But above all, the one piece of advice that everyone offered was,
“Watch out for pickpockets”.
I hadn’t really heard this before, but it quickly became apparent that Barcelona had a pretty bad reputation as a hunting ground for pickpockets. Everyone that I spoke with had a pickpocketing story to tell. I tried to sympathize, but honestly — who would be stupid enough to let themselves be pickpocketed? I’m an experienced traveller; I know how to travel; I know how to look after myself. It was hard not to feel a little contemptuous of people too naive to know how not to get pickpocketed.
Our flights were EasyJet out of London’s Southend airport. You sometimes forget about Southend airport but it’s surprisingly useful. There’s a direct train from Liverpool Street station and it’s a small operation so everything is quick and painless. Before we knew it, we were touching down at Barcelona airport and catching the train to the busy Estacio Sants train station. Our hotel was the Hotel Barcelo Sants, which was literally right on top of the Estacio Sants station. At first, it seemed out of the way of the main action of the city, but it turned out to be a surprisingly good location: taxis, subway, and train connections all right on our doorstep. Recently renovated, the rooms were clean and white, not enormous but designed to maximize space and light. For some reason they had opted for a space theme which totally works for a Star Trek geek like me.
If you are into your culture, then obviously Barcelona is all about its famous Gaudi architecture. However, we weren’t there for culture — we were there for sunshine. We headed straight to the beach that sets the pace for this laid-back city.
While Barcelona’s beach is effectively one long strip of sand, it is divided up into zones. Our favourite part of the beach was the area known as San Sebastian, clothing optional which appealed to the exhibitionist side of me. It’s a short walk from the W Hotel which had a great beach bar where the bartenders served up cocktails and the DJ served up relaxed summer tunes.
Las Ramblas is the main street or hub of the city — packed with tourists and locals all wandering slowly along. I kept my wallet deep inside my pocket as it was clear that this would be prime pickpocket territory where you could be jostled or bumped to distract you while someone whisked away your valuables. Just off Las Ramblas is the massive Boqueria food market where you can hustle your way up to the counters of many cafes for a drink and snack.
Our nights were spent in the bars and clubs of the nightlife district of Eixample. No one goes out quite late (by my standards) so we would kick off with some drinks in bars such as People Lounge, Bubble Boys, Atame, or Black Bull, before heading on to the dance clubs, Metro or Arena.
On our final night out we were in the Arena club getting our groove on. It was really late by this stage and undoubtedly I probably had a bit too much to drink. Arena is a big club and attracts a mostly gay crowd. Like many gay clubs in Europe, near the back there was a dark room where you can go if you fancy some quick, anonymous sex.
“I’ll go to the bar and get us some drinks!”shouted Ming. I nodded and gave him the thumbs up.
“Meet you back here!”I mimed, my shouting drowned out by the pumping music. The queues at the bar were enormous so I knew he would be a while. I decided to check out the dark room.
When you’re in a new city, and especially if you’ve had a few drinks, there’s something incredibly exciting about entering a dark room – it takes a little while for your eyes to adjust and even then you can just make out shapes, you really need to rely on your other senses to guide you. I was only in there for a few minutes but it was thrilling – hands and tongues exploring anonymous bodies. I didn’t stay long, I knew I had to get back to where I had arranged to meet Ming. I stumbled back out into the lights of the club and adjusted by clothes – it was then that I realized that my wallet was missing.
Ming arrived soon after with drinks — he could see I was looking panicked.
“What’s wrong?”he asked.
“I’ve lost my wallet,”I replied dejectedly.
“Where?”he asked incredulous. I pointed towards the dark room. He handed me the drinks and marched towards the dark room, I followed quickly behind. Ming whipped out his phone and turned it on to full illumination, lighting up this little corner of the club that was designed for the discretion of darkness. The sudden light caused the occupants of the dark room to hurriedly pull their trousers up – most of them scrambled out the door and back into the club.
“Who’s got his wallet!?”demanded Ming angrily. Unsurprisingly no one answered. Ming swept the light over the few guys that had remained in the dark room. “Have you got it?”he demanded, pushing his face up to a cute looking Spanish guy.
“No – but you can search me if you like?”replied the Spanish guy helpfully. Ming clearly considered it for a second, before replying snappily:
“I will come and find you later!”And with that he turned on his heel and we left the dark room empty handed.
Ming tried to console me but I felt pretty stupid. I’m an experienced traveler; I know how to travel; I know how to look after myself. There were going to be a lot of people back in London ready to say “I told you so!”
Ming handed me his drink.
“Here, you can have my drink,”he said, clearly feeling sorry for me. “I’m going to see if I can find that Spanish guy, see if he still wants me to search him.”
Barcelona. Good times.
By Gareth Johnson