Day 3: Wednesday, August 17, 2011
8:30 am - Woke up this morning to the same incredible view of the Mediterranean Sea. I don’t think this view can ever get old. Let me just tell you the beds in W Hotel are the most comfortable beds ever. I spent a lot of money on my mattress and these here just wrap you in extreme comfort. Whenever I hit the mattress, I am out and sleeping great in five minutes. Time to get ready for the day in just 20 minutes.
8:50 am – I need breakfast before the bus arrives at 9:15. Still hungry from my missed meal the night before. Spanish-style buffet here I come. I ate the same thing as yesterday but tried a yogurt and granola mixture too. Not my favorite – a little to tart for me.
9:15 am – The bus arrived to take about 20 ESPN Deportes employees and guests (like myself) on a quick tour (and shopping tour) on Las Ramblas.
We got to see an arc just like the Arc d’triumph in France. We saw a lot of old and popular buildings too, such as the Ave Maria Church, the Gaudi Church, Muscia Hall, Opera Theater, Picasso Museum, and Chocolate Museum. We didn’t go in any on the tour, but just walked by and looked in. Las Ramblas is known for its shopping so that’s what I set out to do. How can I shop for my children and nieces and nephews in one hour? Everything here was expensive because of the weak value of the dollar. If I bought something for 10 Euros, it is really like spending $15.
After a while all the souvenir shops all seemed the same except some had better variety of T-shirts. In any other city souvenir T-shirts are pretty cheap but not here. Expect to pay about $20 for one! The good news is you can haggle – I found this out after I bought two T-shirts. I told one of the store clerks that I thought his stuff was expensive so I was leaving. Just like that he went from 35 Euros to 25 Euros. If you are a good negotiator you can grab some real bargains. I ran out of time. Seriously who can shop for 6 people in an hour?
The best part about shopping today was not only did we have guides walking us on the streets, but we also had a security team of four watching us at all times so we didn’t have to worry about pickpockets or anything else. If someone came too close to the group, security would talk to them and have them step away from us. We also had a professional photographer taking pictures of us the whole tour. People must have been wondering who we were with a security team and private photographer. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone took some pictures just in case we ended up being famous.
2:00 pm – We all went to a restaurant called Barcelonetta for lunch. It is a beautiful place right in the middle of a dockyard? The food was wonderful. I had grilled lobster. Of course the lunch started with tomato bread, croquettes and thinly sliced Spanish cured ham. My lunch ended with a coconut ice cream in a mango cream sauce. Exquisite!
8:30 pm – We were supposed to leave for the game but unfortunately a few people were late, so we did not leave until 9:15. As we got closer to the stadium my excitement began to increase. I could see a lot more people in the street and a lot of traffic. We parked the bus and walked two blocks to the stadium. ESPN Deportes wanted to ensure everyone’s safety and had five security guys with us. We were escorted to the stadium and rushed in through the gates and then to the VIP section. There was no time to stop for souvenirs or really even to take pictures.
10:20 pm – I finally arrived in the VIP area. It was different than I expected. It was a large open area for all the VIPs to share. You had your choice of drinks and a small buffet. We had not eaten dinner and I was really looking forward to the buffet but they were only serving three items; yellow rice with some vegetables in it, a mixed salad and cheese raviolis in a cheese sauce. They served them on little plates and they were basically out of food by the time we got there. Everyone seemed disappointed and hungry.
10:50 pm - The game kicked off. Who could have asked for a better game? Goals by Messi and Ronaldo and you got two of the best players in the world strutting their stuff. A fight on the field, some beautiful one-touch soccer and many incredible moves.
1:00 am - Everyone went back to the VIP room to get securely in place. Upon arrival we are greeted with cava drinks (local Catalonian mixture of wine and champagne). We stayed for a few minutes, noticed the food situation wasn’t any better and leave.
1:15 am – Security escorts us back to our bus, not letting us stop to get souvenirs. Safety first. That actually is a good model but now what am I getting for my two year old son as a souvenir? ESPN Deportes staff were smart. They packed water and potato chips for everyone in case anyone would be hungry after the game. It didn’t replace dinner but we knew that by the time we got back to the hotel, nothing would be open.
2:15 am - We arrived back at the hotel. Everyone said their goodbyes and we journalists rush to the Wifi access point to write our stories.
3:25 am - This traveling journalist is done and it is time for bed. I will b leaving the hotel at 7:45am to get to the airport on time.
There are some distinct differences between a game in the U.S. and a game abroad that I wanted to share;
- Ten minutes before the game starts they shut off alcohol consumption and you are not able to buy any more alcohol until the end of the game. That’s the thing that is great about soccer games in the U.S.. You can drink throughout the whole game!
- I am not sure if the Barca fans weren’t loud or if we were just so high up, but the the noise level was much lower than I expected. In one respect that was awesome but on the other hand being part of a wild crowd adds to the excitement of the game.
- No tailgate parties. A lot of people walk to the stadium or people who live a little further out of town take buses and the parking garage seemed to be underground. I can’t help it. I love tailgate parties.
Now if I really need to give you any reasons why going to a see Barcelona vs. Real Madrdid is an incredible experience, here are a few if you are on the fence:
- World class players – Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas, Ronaldo, or should I name everyone from both teams?
- Culture baby. Soccer in Spain is the whole way of life. The citizens grew up with the passion and excitement since birth practically.
- Stadiums are amazing and the environment of passionate soccer fans filled inside of a stadium is extremely hard to find in the US.
So there you have it. My tour to Barcelona is over and I’m heading back to the United States today. I have 12 hours of travel time ahead of me and another hour of drive-time after I arrive at Miami International Airport, but the whole experience has been worth it. I visited Spain for the first time and attended my first game in person between two La Liga teams. And what two teams they were!
The journey for you isn’t over, though. Keep on coming back to La Liga Talk over the next few days for photographs from my trip as well as audio and interviews with Mario Kempes and others. And don’t forget to visit La Liga Talk throughout the season for coverage of one of the best leagues in the world.