As work colleagues and Twitter followers will have been long aware, I was in Barcelona the past weekend on a short break.
Last year, I took a short break over the first weekend in February in Manchester, and wanted to do the same this year, as something exciting to look forward to over the winter months.
I decided that I didn’t want to go to mainland UK, but instead to go to mainland Europe, and then I had the idea of going somewhere with a top class football team, and try to get to a match, but not to make a football match the focal point of the trip.
I narrowed the options down to Munich and Barcelona, before eventually settling on Barcelona, to be in the city for a few days around the time they play Atletico Madrid.
The airline I booked with cancelled their flights from Belfast during the winter months, but did give me the option of changing my departure of Dublin, which I took, despite the fact I would leaving Belfast in the wee small hours ahead of an early morning flight.
Having done some prior research, I headed to the Tourist Information Office in the airport to get a ticket for the match, which was one less thing to worry about, as I set about getting checked in.
As soon as I checked in and left my bags in the room, I set about exploring the city, blindly, with no tourist maps.
I find that the best way to get lost in a city is to, erm, get lost in a city.
What struck me most was how much love there is for Street Art in Barcelona. Where there was free wallspace, or a shutter, there would be something drawn or spraypainted on to it.
Regular readers will know how much I love Street Art.
I checked out the Marina on the Thursday. Beautiful place and very photographable, or just good if you want to laze about and watch the world pass by.
I managed to find the Nou Camp by fluke, partly because I got the wrong metro stop to the one I was staying at.
Despite it being teatime on a Thursday and a non-matchday, it was rammed with tourists and people just wanting to see one of the world’s most iconic football stadiums.
After a double-digit sleep on Thursday night, I headed to Estadi Cornella-El Prat, home of the city’s other La Liga side Espanyol, where I got a guided tour of the stadium, taking in the stands, press room and changing rooms, where a symbolic space is left for former player Dani Jarque, who died in 2009.
A memorial of shirts and flowers is place in one of the stands, and plans are in place to place the shirt Andres Iniesta wore after scoring in the 2010 World Cup Final, and he subsequently donated to the club.
The remainder of Friday, and early on Saturday was spent exploring the lively Las Ramblas area of the city centre, full of life and activity.
At about 5pm on the Saturday, I decided to head over to Nou Camp for the game between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, which kicked-off at 10pm local time.
There was me thinking that Linfield playing Setanta Cup matches at 5.30pm on a Saturday was odd.
I headed into the stadium and checked out my seat, three rows back in the second tier, unbelievable. It was great for amateur photography of portrait shots, rather than actual match action.
Barcelona won the match 3-0 with a hat-trick from Lionel Messi. Stating the obvious, but he is rather good. He was playing for fun at times, showing off as if was having a kickabout in the street.
Sunday was a lazy day, mostly spent watching football on TV and lazing at the marina before heading home on the Monday morning.
An excellent weekend well spent, and was well worth having as February’s STLFTEM.
Farewell Barcelona. If God is willing, we will meet again ……….. someday.