Some time in 2014 the idea of an Under The Cosh football mini-tour of Europe was conceived. 18 months of planning and one Canadian passport for Mohaned later (you try several countries in ten days with Egyptian documents), we were on our way to London, Manchester, Barcelona, Rome and Berlin. The following is Rishay’s account of our travels, with additions from the others here and there. Enjoy:
Mohaned and Alex had remained back in London for the extra day since the Arsenal vs Crystal Palace game had been rescheduled to the Sunday (April 17th), the same day as the Barcelona game. Unfortunate, to say the least.
Bernie and I got in to Barcelona and took a cab to our AirBnb location. We were a bit early and so the plan was to post up at a coffee shop around the corner before checking in. We did not realize that our location was literally across the street from the Camp Nou. That was a treat, as we were going to see Barcelona play Valencia later that evening.
The Camp Nou was an absolute spectacle and we had seats just behind the corner flag, which was unbelievable. The field was so close, the Barcelona players were warming up right in front of us. We got our first glimpse of the famous “MSN” at this point and the fans around us were going nuts. The game started, and Valencia somehow against the odds had themselves in a 2-0 lead by half time, completely against the run of play. Barcelona were wasteful with their chances and were frustrated by Valencia, who had set up to waste time and scrap to a result.
Finally, midway through the second half Messi scored his 500th goal and the stadium erupted. It wasn’t enough ultimately and Barcelona crashed to a 1-2 defeat at home. The fans were not pleased but in general we were impressed with them and the overall atmosphere and considered it to be much better and more raucous compared to what we had experienced at Old Trafford.
That evening we indulged in some paella (which Bernie enjoyed and I did not – too fiddly), and called it an early night to get some much needed rest before Alex and Mohaned arrived late the next morning.
Upon their arrival, the four of us walked around the streets of Barcelona and had lunch at a local establishment called “Vienna”, enjoying some burgers, coffee, and croissants – one of which I tried to eat with a spoon. I’m sure that video will surface at some point.
The weather was spectacular and we were dining outdoors in our t-shirts. After our excellent meal, we walked back to the Camp Nou for a stadium tour, including the trophy room, which contained every trophy won since the 1900s and also had some interesting artifacts like Hristo Stoichkov’s boots and a signed Maradona shirt. It was interesting to watch the markings on the Copa del Ray change over the years in correlation with Spanish politics. During Franco’s reign for example, it was called the Copa del Generalisimo.
Also on display were Messi’s individual achievements, Golden Boots and Ballons D’or aplenty. After the stadium tour and going through the megastore (a behemoth of a shop in which someone tried to sell us Camp Nou grass seeds…“seeds from Pep Guardiola grass…seeds from Tito Villanova grass…” – utterly bizarre) we headed back to our place to rest.
That evening, Bernie had a phone interview, Stoke were taking on Spurs and we had a restaurant recommendation to fulfill – a tapas joint called Ciudad Condal. So, Mohaned, Alex and I went to The Philharmonic, a British bar in the heart of Barcelona that was playing the Stoke – Tottenham game. Tottenham were legitimately impressive, and won the game 4-0, though it could have been eight.
Bernie joined us and we strolled to Ciudad Condal. The food was very good, but the tapas were no match for our massive appetites and we ended up ordering two or three rounds of dishes we enjoyed, to the slight bemusement and amusement of the wait staff.
The next morning we had a quick breakfast of croissants and coffee before heading – via a parkette where the neighbourhood’s elder statesmen played bocce ball – to the Sagrada Familia. The sight was spectacular and there were tourists everywhere, but we were limited on time due to our evening flight to Rome, and the next tour of Gaudi’s masterpiece didn’t start for another few hours. We decided instead to explore the neighbourhood, picking up some fruit and juice from a local store (incredibly good – a different breed to the crap we get in North America) before sitting on a bench and discussing the lifestyle differences we’d noticed between Toronto, London and Barcelona.
Upon returning to our apartment we grabbed our bags and went downstairs to a rubbish but conveniently located eatery outside our building to get lunch before heading to the airport on Barcelona’s efficient and gloriously clean Metro. This also included a slightly dodgy check-out procedure with our host, who forced us to meet him on the street corner rather than joining us at the restaurant, claiming that the place “makes trouble for me”. Interesting.