Besòs and Badalona by bike: a blogger’s odyssey

February 13, 2019

My rented six-speed whizzes and clicks down the beach and past the Casino, on the way out of Barcelona proper.

Soon I’m in Besòs.

I’ve considered heading up to Sagrada Familia, but decided against it.

Dusty overrated wreck.

Suck it, Gaudí.

Instead, I’m headed to the next town, to Badalona.

Weeks ago, I asked a friend if it was possible to cycle from Barcelona to Badalona along the coast.

“Don’t do it,” he said. “You’ll have to pass through Besòs, and it can be really dangerous.”

But Google said it was possible, so I figured I’d try anyway.

(Europeans have a funny idea of “dangerous”. The most dangerous person I’ve met in over a decade in Spain tried to rob me by pointing a cigarette lighter at me. Scary.)

On the bridge across the Besòs river, though, a junkie tries to stop me on my bike. He’s got “a question”.

“No, sorry”, I say, swerving around him and not slowing down.

¡¿Cómo que sorry?! he shouts after me.

But I’m already speeding down the other side of the bridge.

I hope they serve beer in Besòs

Across the river, I’m quickly in an industrial park – all razor wire and graffiti and cracked streets.

A huge building supply store has day-laborers loitering outside, squatting on their heels and waiting for work. Just like back home.

Further on, a dead cat is sprawled across the bike lane, open mouth gaping with maggots.

Smokestacks. Junkyards.

besòs smokestacks barcelona
These smokestacks are Besòs icons. Which tells you something about Besòs.

In the middle of the industrial park there are several huge warehouses with signs in Spanish and Chinese, and in the middle of them a Chinese restaurant and bar.

That’s enough to make me stop the bike. What if the best Chinese food in Barcelona – or maybe all of Catalonia – turns out to be served in a Besòs warehouse? What if I’m the first blogger to discover it?

I could be a hero to my people!

(And by “my people”, I mean the dozen or so friends who read this blog.)

I quickly pull out my phone to check Google maps for reviews.

Restaurante Xinès: 3.8 stars. No way.

Several junkyards later, there’s suddenly a lot of new construction. Some savvy promoter predicting the next real-estate boom. Smokestack Vista Estates. The Manor at Junkton.

This isn’t what people think about when they envision coming to Spain.

And on to Badalona…

A few blocks of cranes and concrete skeletons later, I’m in Badalona.

I’ve been here before, came by train.

There’s a seaside promenade with nice palm trees, cute old buildings, and several bars with outdoor seating. A statue of Vicente Roca y Pi, a wealthy merchant who left his fortune to the city’s poor a couple of centuries ago.

I suppose Badalona is closer to the tourist ideal… but without tourists, at this time of year.

badalona spain
The seaside promenade in Badalona.

The beach is almost empty, and the ocean glistens blue in the warm February sun.

I have two-euro beer on the promenade, then lunch at a restaurant called La Tortuga.

The menu has something called esqueixada, which I find out is “sometimes referred to as the Catalan ceviche”.

Okay, well… I wouldn’t really compare it to ceviche. But I try it, and it’s good.

Nothing much to do around here.

I consider taking the train back – bikes are allowed any time of day – but decide against it.

What else have I got to do? I’m a digital nomad, and it’s a Wednesday. I can take as long as I want.

(I don’t have a Four Hour Work Week yet, but it’s close.)

badalona beach spain
Boats on the beach in Badalona.

I have another beer and then start to pedal back. The way home always seems faster.

I go past housing projects from the 60s, halal butchers, internet cafés… still, in 2019. A few Catalan flags, “Independència” stenciled on the sidewalk in a couple of places.

Soon I’m back at the Casino, and a minute later, in Barceloneta.

As I pedal slowly through the barrio, a middle-aged woman glares at me and shouts, in Spanish and to no-one in particular, “These tourists! Riding around everywhere, like they’re in their own fucking country!”

Well, hon, I sort of am.

Yours,

Mr Chorizo.

P.S. Just another day in my life. For more like this, check out London Edition, Writer’s Block and Adventures Without Running Water. Or if you’d like to know more about Barcelona, I’ve got some pros and cons here.

P.P.D. Do people ever shout obscenities at you based solely on your appearing to be a tourist? Does it happen to you less than a block from home? How do you feel about it? Let me know, right here in the comments. Thanks!

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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  1. Hi Daniel! I did the same bike ride a few weeks ago. I passed by a camp town (like 4/5 tents) in a little spot on the beach that I’d love to move to if only I didn’t have my fab apartment in Barceloneta. When I did that bike ride, I made the mistake of asking someone about the beach route on bike…of course they thought I was a tourist because I rented a bike that day. They were like “Welcome to Barcelona!” I was with my French friends and just laughed, because we’ve all been here for several years.
    Do you find that people here speak to you more in English than Spanish as compared to Madrid? I speak Spanish really well, but they refuse to answer me back in Spanish. I think once I start learning Catalan this next month, people will stop treating me like a tourist as much.

    Maybe I will see you around the barrio!

    1. Hey Emily, yeah, people speak more English to me here… But since I go to the same places all the time, they know I’m not a tourist by now. See you around the barrio!

  2. Hi Daniel!
    I ended up in your blog doing some reserch abput what do northamericans know about our cultur / history for a wine project and I’ve been chain-reading your articles until I’ve found this one, talking about Badalona, my hometown.

    It’s really curious to read your experiance with the eye of someone who visit Badalona for the firs time. By the way you can came with metro as well, coming out at the last station in L2 (Badalona – Pompeu Fabra).

    Let me tell you a few places to go the next time you come to Badalona:
    – First of all, the “seaside promenade” you talk about is la Rambla. It’s the only rambla that goes parallel to the see, not perpendicul.
    – If you want to eat around this area you can go to TAPAS RIVEIRO (Carrer de la Mercè, 2). It’s a gallego restaurant with lots of marisco and chuletón. It’s what we call a BBB (Bueno Bonito Barato).
    – If you want something more sofisticated and a marvelous see sight while having lunch you can go to La Donzella de la Costa (it’s the fist building in Passeig Maritim, the one with a mermeid in the facade). Their specialities: all types of rice and fish!
    – Then you can go to the Museu de Badalona where you will find ones of the most ancient roman rests found (Plaça de l’Assemblea de Catalunya, 1).
    – If you’re not into museus and you’re more into “nature”, you can visit Ca l’Arnús (Carrer Sant Bru, 190 or Carrer de la Seu d’Urgell, 26 – there are another two entries to the parc but these are the ones that most people use).
    – If you stay all day long and need a place to have diner you can try Ca la Tina (Carrer Magatzem, 73). It’s a simple restaurant where you can eat sandwiches made with pa de coca… typical catalan!
    – If you’re not into sandwiches you can try teh Pantaibèric, with lots of delicious embutidos… That’s always a win!

    That’s all, hope you enjoy your next visit to Badalona!

    1. Hey Maria, I’ve actually been back to Badalona several times since writing this. Some friends took me to a place that serves natural cava and giant butifarra sandwiches, which were pretty good. Anyway, thanks for commenting. My question for you is: What did you find out about North Americans?

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