I spent the last few days in Barcelona, a city half-remembered from visits in previous lives, like the Reading Week R n’ R I self-prescribed during my first year at University. This was a four-day exercise in being thoroughly over-excited that culminated in following a trail of rose petals along La Rambla in search of a friend, after she employed a bouquet as weapon of choice in a fight with a prostitute. Then, Barcelona seemed like a most lascivious city, a playground and enabler for the nineteen year-old waifs and strays that rolled in via Barcelona Sants Estacion to wear shorts in November and drink little tinnies of Estrella Damm until 10am, then squeeze in a bit o’ culture before retiring to their hostel bunks. A rather different place to the one I visited on a school trip at fourteen, where we followed our Spanish teacher’s itinerary, comprising a morning at El Corte Inglés – “Europe’s largest department store”! – and an afternoon spent touring a Royal Navy battleship moored in the harbour.
Barcelona appears to be cleaning up its act, however. The residents of the city have had enough of idiots like me ricocheting up and down the shady lanes of at all hours powered by the local brew and have put their feet down. Banners declaring “Volem un Barri Digne” (We Want a Decent Neighbourhood, opposing public boozing, sex and urination found on Barcelona’s streets – yes, generally at the same time – appeared first in el Raval, and then in other neighbourhoods like Barri Gotic and Poble Sec. Though the merriment doesn’t seem to have abated. On my first evening, lolling on the fountain at Placa Real supping a beer and feeling fairly nonchalant about the first drip-drips of rain that later formed a 48-hour torrential downpour that only abated on the morning of my departure, I met a pub crawl tout from Sheffield, a slightly desperate former Butlin’s bluecoat with a leatherette tan acquired from three weeks working the backpacker beat. He had a pat line in personal tragedy, said he’s split with his girlfriend whilst on holiday here (“She said we’re breaking up. I said, I can hear you perfectly fine, love”), cadged a summer job and was now having A Really Great Time All The Time (Honestly!) pressing the flesh in as many ways as he could muster.
The beach at Barceloneta is still full of dudes shilling henna tattoos, cerveza, then, after a sizing-you-up beat, hash and they’ll always be a gargantuan group of German schoolchildren in the hostel room next door providing a chorus of hurling all night long. The Barcelona Pipa Club, ostensibly a members-only pipe smoking enthusiast’s joint, is still patronised by ex-pats frazzled on something more than booze. You’ll still get lost in the higgledy piggledy lanes of the Barri Gotic, but always find your way home via the wide, planned boulevards of L’Eixample. Either way, I’m happy anywhere with a decent number of supermarkets (for anthropological thrills: live lobsters! inexplicable vegetables!), that gives good streetlife and has an urban spread that encourages walking so much your legs start easing out of their hip sockets.