When planning our trip to Barcelona, I was ready to be a full on tourist. I had my bathing suite packed and couldn’t wait to swim in the Mediterranean Sea or drink overpriced fruity mojitos on the beach. I had my prepaid ticket for Park Güell, the architectural masterpiece of Antoni Gaudi, which is one of Barcelona’s most famous tourist hotspots. And when my friend told me about the must-see Magic Fountain of Montjuïc (or Font màgica de Montjuïc), and the half hour light show that takes place there every night Thursday through Sunday, it quickly became my top priority. All I needed was an oversized map, a bulky camera around my neck, and a fanny pack, and I’d be set.
After completing our two-hour plane ride and familiarizing ourselves with the amazing Generator Hostel, Friday night’s agenda consisted of eating empanada’s and churros (get caramel churros), and scouting out a nightclub. While the most popular clubs, we later discovered, were huddled together on the beach, lighting up the sand with their enormous backlit signs, we found ourselves in a quieter, more industrial looking area. We were on the lookout for Razzmatazz, a club that came highly recommended from the Internet and which we were drawn to for its name alone. Other than a few other study abroad students we met on the metro-also searching for the party scene-and a group of young men playing soccer in the street, the blocks were empty.
At last reached a street with some nightlife. We passed a bar that had the same warehouse feel as the rest of the street, and two men outside asked us something in Spanish. The one girl in our group who had any understanding of the language thought they were indicating that this was Razzmatazz, so she nodded and we were let in. The bar was dark except for a few green strips of light lining the walls, casting an eerie shadow on everyone there. We realized quickly that it wasn’t the bar we were looking for, but they served cheap alcohol, so we stayed.
I ordered a shot of something called ‘The Ana’ and stood with my four friends as familiar top 40s American music blasted from the speakers. As we surveyed the group of young adults inhabiting the dance floor, we saw that everyone there had name tags on.
One of my friends asked one of the guys what the name tags were for and was told that we could get ours from a guy named Antonio.
“You know him, right?”
We smiled, nodded, and headed towards the bathroom before they could ask us anything else.
On line for the bathroom, we met two more girls who apparently had already met Antonio. Josefina and Laura, I read from their name tags. We learned from them that this was an event for International freshmen at a nearby college. After the bar, they were planning on going to a disco and invited us to join. “You guys are my friends,” Josefina said. “So stick with me. I can get you free drinks.”
We were more than happy to stick with her (someone from the school even took our picture), for at least the first part of the night, and learn more about the city as we did.
“Barcelona is the party city, we just jump into everything here.” She told us, recounting a story about how she walked passed a fiesta in the street and ended up dancing there throughout the night.
I thought this night of impersonating a student at a Spanish college would be our group’s only crazy Barcelona adventure, and was prepared to slip back into my role of American Tourist the next day.
And so we spent a day on the beach and exploring Park Güell. We blended in well with the other tourists, taking picture after picture of the mosaic benches and ceilings, the rock columns, and the large mosaic lizard statue.
We then headed for the nature trails on the outskirts of the park. These trails seemed to attract mostly locals going for a morning jog or walking their dogs.
As we exited the park and headed for the trail, we passed a group of street musicians. A semicircle of onlookers formed, and in the center a mustached man in a flannel shirt and red Bose headphones around his neck stood was dancing in the sand. As we paused to watch the scene, he threw an imaginary lasso at my friend Toni. She hesitated only for a minute before letting him pull her in. The band bounced around them as they danced, never missing a beat of their music. After the song ended, Toni’s partner grabbed her hands and told her that destiny would bring them together again.
As it turned out, destiny (or poor researching skills) brought us to the Magic fountain that night, but an hour after the magic had ended. We missed the last show by an hour (the last show is at 11pm) and the fountains were turned off for the night. Beyond the waterless fountains, however, was an impressive building with colored lights flashing from the windows. Curious, we went to investigate.
The escalators to the building were turned off, and the stairs were more than a little intimidating. Two massive flights of stairs brought you to the main fountain, and then another set led to a platform holding four large columns, standing tall as if protecting the mysterious building beyond. It was still another two steep flights after that to the entrance. But, with nothing better to do, we took on the challenge.
There were a few people gathered outside the building, dressed in ballroom gowns and suits. Inside, we could see people salsa dancing under the lights. We learned from one of the well-dressed men that we were at the National Art Museum of Catalunya, and it was currently hosting a party for a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses. 150 of them had come from all over the world attend, our new Norwegian friend informed us.
Although we considered it, trying to pass off as a Jehovah’s witness in our jeans and t-shirts seemed a bit less doable than passing off as a college freshman at a bar, so we just enjoyed the view from outside the party. And it really was an incredible view.
And, if I do get to come back someday, I’ll hit up some of the touristy spots I missed this time around, such as the La Sagrada Familia , but I’ll definitely be on the lookout for other adventures as well. I learned pretty quickly that no matter where you go in Barcelona, there always seems to be something to get wrapped up in. And, if you embrace it and allow yourself to jump in, it is definitely a city that will catch you.