Not so long ago, I was quite rude about Barcelona. It had been a favourite haunt of mine, just a few pounds and a couple of hours away via budget airline, but a series of events seriously soured my love for the city.
Last month I returned after a year’s absence – the first time for a week to knuckle down and write, the second time to celebrate my first wedding anniversary. Had anything changed? I think so. Barcelona certainly felt more accommodating. There was a higher police presence in the city centre and along La Rambla, and despite inclement weather there were plenty of people enjoying the streets.
El Ravel, the slums of the old city that have been gentrified in the last decade, is finally enjoying a trickle of curious tourists – the redevelopment of La Rambla Del Raval is drawing people through and into the neighbourhood. That’s not to say there weren’t some characters still hanging about outside Bar Marcella. While writing I’d stopped in Sant Antoni, the neighbourhood to the west of El Ravel, very working class with few attractions for the tourists. Again, the streets were quiet and safe after dusk.
Whether the authorities have dealt with the issue of gang crime and prostitution or simply moved it along, is another story. It’s a problem that Barcelona has never seemed to solve satisfactorily, but at least now it’s not so blatantly obvious as it was when it made front page news in Spain last year. I didn’t like that Barcelona very much.
That said, you still need to stick to the rules. Leave everything you can in the hotel – if you don’t need a handbag or backpack, don’t take it. If an opportunist doesn’t try and mug you, they may slash the bottom of the bag to steal. Wallets, phones, purses – inside a jacket that’s zipped up, or front trouser pockets only. You get the idea.
I didn’t stray too far from the city centre on the second occasion, but discovered loads of new treats such as Carrer de Josep Anselm Clave in the Old Town, a narrow street away from the base of La Rambla and running parallel to the sea front. It’s chock full of restaurants and bars, including the delectable Margarita Blue, which promises live trapeze acts through the week. Nearby Carrer Ample and Carrer de la Merce have an abundance of stops, too. In fact there’s a whole night out waiting for you in just these three streets.
And this, by the way, was what happened when I asked for a reccommendation from the locals in an El Born restaurant. Ladies and gentlemen, horse pizza. I’ll try anything once. But not necessarily twice.
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