As I’m due to have a major surgical operation soon – a total knee replacement (TKR) (sadly unavoidable at this stage as steroid injections are no longer working), after which both travelling and dancing will be on hold for several months – I want to celebrate my recent joyous experiences of visiting the blissfully sunny and charming cities of Barcelona and Porto, and recap the dancing fun of the CoBeatParty Live (15–17 September 2022) and the Porto Salsa Weekend (7–9 October 2022) (see separate article here – in line with plans to write shorter posts).
I chose to travel to both events sustainably – to Barcelona by train, with a return stopover in Paris and ferry journey back from Dieppe, and a return coach journey from Porto–London (also with a brief stop in sunny Paris) – which I have described elsewhere; this made both trips more ethically/ecologically viable, as well as greater adventures.
With so many competing European salsa events on every weekend, it’s impossible to attend all of them, but I chose these two because for one thing, the warmer locations would make dancing easier on my knee, and because both are vibrant cities with much to offer culture-wise beyond the dancing fun.
I’ll start with Barcelona: city of Gaudi, Modernista (Catalan-style Art Nouveau) architecture and Frank Gehry, the famed Gothic Quarter, long sandy beaches at Barceloneta – and exquisite food!
Barcelona-ahh, ahh, ahh!
I travelled to Barcelona to attend the CoBeatParty Live event – a live celebration with many of the online DJs and people familiar from the online CoBeat chat. After nearly two years of sharing and chatting online during the Covid lockdowns, it was a great opportunity to meet many of those only known online from the chat section, as well as to honour those DJs whose amazing free sets kept us all going during an otherwise bleak and salsa-free period who were there to celebrate with us and/or play for us (Dimitri Matalka, Ieva Minis Dadurkaite, Hong Kwon, Ricardo Linnell, Kamiel Piek, Xander Cage, Emilio Penaloza, Amos de Roover, Michael Gyapong, Oseyeman Edeko, Jeremy Castex, Muustafa Omar, Oswaldo Hernandez and others).
I chose to travel there entirely by train from London, spending 5 days in the city before meeting my husband for a brief stopover in Paris before heading to Dieppe for the ferry; considering the event hotel (Barcelona Expo Hotel) was only a 3-minute walk from Barcelona Sants train station, this was a very sensible choice. It was also very near to the Barcelona City Tour hop-on, hop-off tourist bus stop, which made sightseeing in the city much more doable.
The hotel closest to the venue, which most of those attending booked at, not only supplied an ample buffet breakfast, but also had a sizeable rooftop terrace bar, cafe and pool, which was where many of us – particularly DJ Minis from Lithuania and her pal Renata – chose to hang out, drink and chat. It was great to get to know these fun-loving women better, as well as to discover from Minis that she’d also had the TKR op and was back to dancing only three weeks post-surgery, which sounds amazing and possibly unusual, but at least gave me some hope and encouragement of what to aim for!
The actual event venue was a bar/restaurant around the corner, which had a covered outdoor cafe that made a convenient meeting place for many of our CoBeat familia in between/during the afternoon dance socials, a lively daily discussion and sharing spot where we could get to know each other better over food (the venue’s food service wasn’t always the fastest or best, but at least was inexpensive; thankfully, Barcelona is known for its exquisite tapas restaurants, which I was pleased to experience many of [see TripAdvisor and Forbes for recommendations of some of the best current restaurants]).
Since I didn’t know how well my knee would cope – and also because I do really enjoy sketching people’s portraits – I had brought my sketching materials with me and made it known I was available to draw anyone who would be willing to sit and hold a pose for me for 15 minutes or so; sitting outside in this cafe meant I did manage to do a few portrait sketches, including of DJs Hong Kwon (Philadelphia) and Amos de Roover (Manchester – pictured with my drawing of him).
We soon discovered that not only were the daily and nightly parties at this venue – as well as the nightly afterparties at other salsa clubs nearby, such as Antilla – attended by many of our loyal and familiar online CoBeatParty faces, but also by several other salseros/as from all across Europe, the US and further afield, including many promoters and regular attendees of similar salsa events elsewhere.
This gave the event a somewhat bigger ‘congress’/marathon vibe (I put congress in brackets as there were no workshops or performances, just dancing 2–3 times a day/night at the afternoon socials, evening parties and afterparties, with the ‘chill’ socialising and party vibe often carrying on before/after on the hotel’s pool terrace) while still managing to retain the more ‘intimate’ feel of a being a true social meet-up of close friends – and indeed we did feel like that after Covid, despite only meeting for the first time here!
At times, this ‘mixed’ nature felt a little strange – almost as if the event wasn’t quite sure what it wanted to be, either a bigger event or an intimate one – but ultimately, it was fun, friendly and exciting; whether it will be held at the same venue and with the same crew next year remains to be seen, so we’ll see what the main organisers DJ Xander Cage, Adamski London and DJ Dmitri come up with.
As I didn’t quite manage to see and do everything on my tourist list (see below) – and Barcelona is always a draw for its splendid art, architecture, sandy beaches and fab food – I would certainly be interested in returning for a future event or visit here. For anyone who is an artist or a culture buff, the city is surely a must-visit!
Fortunately for me, having taken a longer trip by train with plans to extend in Paris and France on my return, I’d booked to stay in the hotel for five nights, which gave me little extra time to get some proper sightseeing in before my three-night-only room-sharer Liana arrived and the event proper started.
I decided to go off on my own sightseeing using the hop-on/hop-off bus, which was about €30 for a day’s sightseeing, and included different loops/route variations taking in most of the city’s most famous sights with a map + headphones detailing each stop destination.
Despite my plan to sightsee on my lonesome, I soon met Kuki (above), a friendly solo female traveller from Thailand, and we decided to explore the city together, stopping for a leisurely (and very tasty!) lunch during a brief rain shower at the Gaudí site La Perdrera (aka Casa Mila).
Although we didn’t go in to check out the beautiful, Gaudí-esque Art Nouveau interior, we enjoyed viewing its uniquely designed exterior over lunch, then taking in views of his famous church, Sagrada Familia, shown below (I had visited it in a previous art trip to Barcelona, so regrettably didn’t choose to revisit it on this trip – but at least it was no longer covered in scaffolding as it had been on that trip, only a noticeable crane on top).
We then carried on to Parc Güell – a high, large (17-hectare) green space sited on Carmel Hill in the mountain range of Colisera, with unbeatable views over the sea and the Plain of Barcelona – which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The park is a significant landmark showcasing the work of Catalan nationalist and architect Antonio Gaudí, the foremost proponent of the Catalan Modernist school. While providing an ample home for its biodiverse wildlife, the Gaudí-designed park also features abundant lively sculptures and buildings created by Gaudí. These make this a premier tourist attraction for any visit to the city – along with other famous Gaudí landmarks – the Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlló, Casa Mila/La Perdrera and Casa Vicens.
As you can see from the wealth of pics below, visiting the park in late afternoon/early evening affords stunning natural lighting effects, with pink-tinged sunset clouds amplifying the subdued yet vibrantly eclectic, multi-hued mosaics in the buildings, walls and gates – not to omit the famous fountain lizard that guards the entrance to the park. It may be quite a schlepp from where the tourist bus drops you, but it is indeed worth it!
Alas, I didn’t have time for the many other additional architectural, etc attractions also accessible via the hop-on/hop-off bus, such as the stunning Palau de la Musica Catlana, Barcelona Cathedral and the famous nearby Gothic quarter (Barri Gòtic), FC Barcelona football HQ Camp Nou, Barcelona Zoo with its 4,000+ animals/400+ species, the World of Banksy museum featuring 100+ of the celebrated agent provocateur’s works and the Poble Español museum, which showcases works by some of Spain’s finest artists – Picasso, Miro, Dali and others – and celebrates traditional Spanish culture.
However, I did enjoy stop off briefly at the exquisite Casa Batlló to visit its tourist shop, and viewed Frank Gehry’s amazing golden fish sculpture, El Peix, while en route to Barceloneta Beach and the harbour (you can also use a cable car here for an excellent view of the city, which I regret I did not do). There, while perusing this long stretch of coast, I also enjoyed some excellent seafood tapas and cocktails after a relaxing swim and chill time on the sandy beach, and a further stroll along its scenic promenade.
Ah, Barcelona! Such a colourful mix of fantastic architecture, food, fun and scenery! The perfect place for a longer-weekend salsa party, or an even longer trip
Further afield/slightly out of city centre (but still reachable via one of the hop-on/hop-off buses, and definitely on my list for my next trip to Barcelona) are scenic Montjuic (Jewish Mountain – a former home of the city’s Jewish population) with its castle and extensive grounds 173m above sea level providing great views over the city, also visible by cable car. I’d also love to take a day trip out to the stunning holy monastery of Montserrat, embedded in cliffs and rock spires, with its Benedictine Abbey and collection of paintings by Caravaggio, Picasso and Dali.
So clearly, there’s loads more to see and do in Barcelona, and ample reasons for a return trip for another future edition of the Barcelona CoBeatParty Live – watch this space!