25 May 2012

Barceloneta and The Beach

Barceloneta and The Beach

           There comes a time in Barcelona, especially when the temperature creeps above 35 degrees, when you think enough!  Enough of fighting the crowds to see one more example of Gaudi’s genius. Enough of revelling in the flamboyance of yet more breathtaking modernist architecture. Enough of fruitlessly trying to relate the title of one of Joan Miro’s paintings to the seemingly random scribbles he stuck on the canvas in front of you. Enough!
          There is a time when all of us crave simpler, less taxing pleasures.
          This is the time for the Barceloneta and the beach.
          Barceloneta is partly interesting simply by its relative ordinariness which is a stark contrast to the rest of the city. It stands on a little isthmus of land no more than twenty five minute walk from Plaza Catalunya (or a five minute metro journey – Yellow line, Barceloneta) but feels like an entirely different place to the rest of the city. Apparently it was once where the fisherman lived and it still retains a distinctly maritime character – it is here where the majority of the seafood specialising restaurants are). The blocks of flats are lower, the streets are narrower, often smelly and lined with overhanging washing. Believe it or not, the washing is a big deal in Barcelona where it is against a civic order to hang washing in the street (honestly I’ve checked this) and it is only in the poorer areas of the city where it is tolerated. But the vast majority of visitors who go to Barceloneta don’t see any of this. And I can see you looking at your computer screen thinking why should I want to? Low, narrow, smelly plus dirty washing. You’re not exactly selling it, here, hombre.
          You make a fair point (although to be strictly honest I made it for you so don’t go round getting all smug). And it is possible to avoid the “real” Barceloneta entirely because if you walk down the main street Passaig de Joan Borbo from Barceloneta Metro directly to the sea which almost everybody does you will have the marina on your right full of posh yachts and on your left plenty of restaurants with waiters outside exhorting you to come in. You can follow it all the way to the beach.
          But it is so much more interesting to turn to the left off and wander through the narrow streets. I’ve never been anywhere where within fifty metres from a place that absolutely throngs with tourists suddenly there are virtually no tourists at all. Just go where you fancy – you’ll end up at the beach sooner or later. There are some funky, cool bars doing great tapas on occasional corners and there are lots more basic spit and sawdust bars where old ladies take their pet ferrets for a walk (I am not making this up). I’m not saying you should spend more than twenty minutes or so but it is worth a little detour before you eventually emerge at the beach.
          Do not expect much of Barcelona beach. It was artificially built for the Barcelona Olympics and it’s been having sand shovelled from lorries ever since. Paradise it is not.
          But it has got the sea and the BigBarcelonaBlog is very fond of the sea. It’s clean enough that you can swim – it shelves pretty rapidly so once you’ve taken more than three or four steps in you won’t really have much of a choice. Around there is always plenty going on. Joggers, cyclists, fisherman, masseurs, people hawking beer, sun-worshippers and some of the most violent games of dominoes that I’ve ever witnessed. There are heavyweight title fights that have had less aggression than that which old Catalan men bring to their dominoes. And there are pleasant enough bars all along the seafront where you can retire for a cerveza or two when the sun gets too fierce.
          While you are enjoying that virtual beer you are doubtless in a generous mood. The sort of mood in which one finds oneself hoping one can do a good turn for another person. What luck! Just click on an advert and you’ve done it. I bet that virtual beer tastes even better now. 
          The beach is at fullest on the night of San Juan when extraordinarily loud fireworks explode all over the city doing nothing for the BigBarcelonaBlog’s nerves.  It is said that it is traditional for Catalans to gather on the beach. This used to puzzle one of my many long-suffering Spanish teachers who pointed out that as the beach has only been there since 1992 so how much of a tradition can it be really? He maintained that it was just a myth put round to fool gullible young Italians. If that is so the myth has worked because it’s jam-packed.
          You can probably tell from the tone of this piece that I am not completely sold on the beach. If you came to Barcelona and missed it you wouldn’t need to kick yourself too hard (in fact I would advise you not to kick yourself at all – it’s much more difficult than it sounds). Nevertheless there are times and more importantly temperatures when only a beach and the sea will do. Those times and temperatures crop up frequently in the summer and then quibbles about artificial sand can all go out the window. I’m following the crowds to the sea.

Useful Spanish Words/Phrases

El mar – the sea
La playa – the beach
La arena – the sand
Hace muchísimo calor – It is really hot
Dos cañas, por favour – Two beers, please.

If you fancy chatting :

Mira! El camión que lleva la playa – Look! The lorry that brings the beach!
¡Que artificial la playa! – How artificial the beach is!
Cariño, hay un hurón a la mesa de al lado – Darling there’s a ferret at the next table.
Cuidado con las fichas de dominó, hombre – Careful with the domino tiles, tiger.


  1. So true about the long established "tradition" of fireworks on the (recently constructed) beach!
    I do think you undersell the beach a bit mind.
    A lot of foreigners who come here are completely blown away - though whether that is by the actual beach itself, the price of a sandwich at the chiringuitos or the large number of scantily clad bodies beutiful on it I can't say.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Andrew. I suppose it depends what you want from a beach. Coming from England, I'm more of a deserted, windswept, cold beach kind of guy where swimming is more of a moral challenge than a pleasure. As opposed to the packed and commercial though sunny with warm water seaside of Barcelona. You are right that those in search of scantily clad beauties will find them here. Though in fairness, it should be pointed out that the are a considerable number of scantily clad non-beauties too.