On a sunny August day in Barcelona, my unsuspecting husband and I wandered to the water’s edge, expecting a sand-and-sea experience much like we have in our home state. As residents of Florida, we’ve visited a lot of beaches and vacationed at our fair share of Caribbean islands. We’ve spent countless hours atop the sand with the sun baking our skin and the scent of sunscreen dizzying our senses. We thought we had seen it all…
Until we visited Barcelona. These beaches are their own breed. They’re filled to the brim with revelers, relaxers, and ramblers, as if the entire city has nowhere else to be. But the fact that beachgoers sit towel-to-towel without a hint of seclusion isn’t what shocked me. Instead, here are the six things that took me aback the first time I stepped foot on the grainy Barcelona sand:
- There are mojito men. Yes, mojito men. They’re exactly what they sound like–men walking around with boxes full of cold drinks, peddling minty-fresh mojitos on the beach. They roam the sand ceaselessly, weaving in and around the piles of flip-flops and picnic trash, ready to quench your thirst before you even realize you’re ready for a drink. Is it only 11 in the morning? I mean, if you insist…
- You can get a massage. Uncomfortable or convenient? You be the judge. Flag down one of the women wandering around offering their services, and you too can have a full-body rub-down right there on your sandy beach blanket. The (debatable) awkwardness of this fact is only amplified by the following one.
- Clothing is optional. I should have seen this coming, but I had forgotten that going topless at the beach is the cultural norm throughout most of Europe. What I really didn’t expect, however, is for men to take their own liberties as well… Let’s just say if full nudity bothers you, avoid the beach in Barcelona. It’s a free-for-all out there.
- They used to be home to the city’s poorest. One local described it to us as “shantytown.” Barcelona’s glittering waters and rocky alcoves weren’t always so glamorous–the coast used to be the most rundown and shady part of town, dominated by gypsies and fishermen. It wasn’t until the 1992 Olympic Games that the city decided to spruce the beaches up and make them appealing to tourists and locals alike.
- The sand is artificial. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the sad truth is that the beaches are entirely manmade. Trucks deliver the mixture of sand and concrete to the shore, and thus, it’s not the most pleasant thing to walk on. The beach’s origin may not be the unspoiled Mediterranean paradise it seems to be, but that’s no reason not to enjoy the uniquely Spanish vibe of Barcelona’s shimmering coastline.
- You can buy fresh donuts. From a singing, dancing donut man balancing a huge tower of donuts on his head while ringing a triangle, no less. The first time I spotted him, I thought I was seeing things: Could it be? Is that really a man walking around selling donuts from a pile perched on top of his head? The answer is yes, my friends. The donut man emerges in the late afternoon and roams the beach, shirtless and singing at the top of his lungs, peddling the most delightfully warm and sugary glazed donuts that have ever melted in your mouth. I don’t know why. I don’t know where he comes from or where he goes. I only know that by the time I emerged out of my golden carb reverie, the donut man was nowhere to be found and I NEEDED to buy the 27 donuts remaining in his hoard. Did he descend from the heavens? Was it all a dream? Planning to make daily pilgrimages to the beach until I reach a conclusive answer.
The wonderfully quirky beach culture of Barcelona makes sense; Barcelona is where Europe goes to vacation. An oceanfront gem, the city is as colorful as it is flavorful, and all of its vibrancy comes together to form one spirited, endless party on the beach. Its shore may shock a first-time visitor from the prudish and reserved United States, but that surprise quickly turns to delight with the first sip from a dirt-cheap, slightly sandy, hand-delivered mojito.