When my wife first suggested that we celebrate our second anniversary in Barcelona, a city I had wanted to visit for some time, my thoughts immediately turned to whether the city’s premier football team would be at home on the Sunday evening (we were due to arrive in mid afternoon). And the initial signs were promising – FC Barcelona were hosting Real Mallorca on Sunday in the Camp Nou stadium.
So far, so good, although an initial scan of the seating plan indicated that, unsurprisingly, there were very few of the near 99,000 seats available, and those that were, tended to be single seats in the upper tiers. Having resigned myself to sitting adjacent to the flight path of incoming planes, I noticed that there was still a chance, less than a month before the game, that it might be rescheduled to Saturday evening when we would be at Gatwick Airport. Apparently, this is common practice in Spain, presumably dictated to by the broadcasters.
So an anxious wait ensued, until a fortnight before we were due to go, it was confirmed that the game was being brought forward to Saturday. To add insult to injury, with a performance described as “phenomenal”, the home side won 5-0 with the incomparable Lionel Messi “ending his goal drought” (three games!) by scoring a hat trick – and the official attendance was “only” 80,153, nearly 20,000 below capacity! The Argentinian World Player of the Year repeated the feat three days later, on our last evening in the city, as Barca won 4-0 away to 2011 Czech League winners, Viktoria Plzen, in the UEFA Champions League.
At least we had the consolation of having booked tickets for the stadium tour, the “Camp Nou Experience”, on our last morning. Now, the largely uncovered Camp Nou was completed in 1957 and does not possess, at least when empty, the beauty of many of the new and redeveloped stadia elsewhere in Europe. In fact, Janet, not unreasonably, described it as “tired”. But, with nearly 100,000 spectators on a balmy Champions League evening, there can be few venues to beat either the spectacle or atmosphere.
But the self-guided tour is excellent, including opportunities to visit pitch side as well as sit in some of the best seats in the house. The changing rooms, press box, shop, multi-media centre and museum are equally impressive, and I could not imagine that there could be so many trophies in one place on the planet! You can even hold the European Cup aloft and have your photo taken with your favourite player (superimposed of course) – if at a premium price.
We stayed at a new hotel in the adjoining city of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, a mere fifteen minute ride on the efficient metro to Plaça de Catalunya in the heart of the city. We were blessed with mild, dry weather for our three night stay, though heavy colds sapped our energy and restricted our sightseeing.
With this in mind, and in view of our unfamiliarity with Barcelona, we spent the first day, our anniversary, sat atop an official sightseeing bus. Or rather two – one exploring the west of the city and the other the east. Amounting to more than four hours and covering every major attraction in the greater city, this was outstanding value at €23 each.
We still managed to fit in some of the more celebrated sights. On the first evening we joined the strolling throngs on the length of La Rambla from Plaςa de Catalunya to the Mirador de Colom alongside the port. Touristy – yes, but fun and atmospheric nonetheless. We even ate passable tapas at one of the restaurants en route. Our anniversary meal – seafood paella – was taken at Costa Gallega on the fashionable shopping street of Passeig de Gràcia whilst, on the final evening, we had halibut and turbot respectively at an attractive restaurant at Port Vell.
I had not come to honour Lionel Messi alone (which, in retrospect, is just as well), but also to witness some of the astonishing Art Nouveau works of Antoni Gaudí, the architect / artist synonymous with Barcelona. Large queues outside the Basilica de la Sagrada Família and La Pedrera limited us to only exploring the interior of La Casa Battló, which was fantastical and enriching enough. The reality of the exteriors of the other works also surpassed the photographs and films I had seen in the past. Those other works, along with Park Güell, will certainly form the centrepiece of our next trip to the Catalan capital – along with a live game at Camp Nou of course.