Warm autumn evenings on Barceloneta Beach, tucking into paella on La Rambla, seeing Messi’s magic in the Nou Camp... what could possibly go wrong on a long weekend in Barcelona? As it turns out, just about everything.
My friend Tav and I have been FC Barcelona fans for many years, having grown up watching matches together on television. For Tav’s birthday back in 2017 I decided it was about time we went one step further – so I bought us tickets to travel to the Catalan capital and see a game in Barcelona’s famous Nou Camp stadium. I can still recall the excitement as we chose our seats for the match and then booked our hotel and flights.
Like many, we were enticed by Ryanair’s low prices, and all was going well until the moment I stepped on the plane and was told by the flight attendant that my bag was too big to go in the overhead lockers. I tried to protest – after all, I had used this bag multiple times before, even on Ryanair flights – but it became apparent that it was a losing battle, so I begrudgingly retrieved my novel and allowed the flight attendant to put my bag in the hold.
Arriving in Spain, I was hit by the sudden realisation that my passport was still in my bag, which was now in luggage reclaim on the other side of the border. After much panicking and pleading, the border agents eventually allowed Tav to go through and retrieve my passport. After what seemed like an interminable wait (Tav spent 10 minutes at the wrong baggage carousel), I safely entered Spain.
But my problems were just getting started. When I pulled out my wallet to buy a ticket for the metro to the city centre, I found that €700 in cash had been stolen from it (why the thieves left the passport, I'm not so sure). In retrospect it was foolish of me to be carrying so much cash, and I was only doing so because my Italian grandma had recently passed away and I had inherited the money, which I was going to put to good use on my trip. I’m not sure at what point the money was taken but it was most likely when it was unattended in baggage claim. All I hope is that whoever stole it at least put my grandma’s money to good use.
Our trip happened to coincide with the weekend that Catalunya decided to hold their politically divisive independence election. World television services beamed images of baton-wielding Spanish police using physical force to break up the locals’ attempts to vote. We saw none of this violence, but the effects would very soon catch up with us.
We made our way to the Nou Camp full of excitement at seeing our hero Lionel Messi in the flesh and experiencing the atmosphere of our first Barca match together. We arrived at the stadium only to be greeted with the site of padlocked metal gates. Hundreds of people were wandering around looking confused; rumours spread that the Barca team were threatening to refuse to play due to the political unrest. Only 25 minutes before kick-off came the official news: the match would go ahead, but with no fans allowed. I'm not sure I've ever been more crestfallen. Tav and I returned to our hotel room and watched the last 30 minutes of the game on our phones, in complete silence.
The remaining time passed without incident until it came to flying home. This time we were not flying with Ryanair but with British carrier Monarch Airlines – on the day that they went out of business.
At this point so much had gone wrong we just found it funny. We arrived at the airport more in hope than expectation to find that the UK government was providing ‘rescue flights’ for those citizens affected. With a delay of three hours all the British people were put into a corner of Barcelona airport completely devoid of staff. Perhaps predictably, all rules went out the window – people were even smoking in the toilets; Tav and I made the most of our time by playing hide and seek and table tennis around the airport. Truth be told it was an oddly enjoyable experience.
Despite several attempts, I was only able to claim back £200 and a refund on the football tickets from all the money I had lost. Both the Spanish police and credit card companies couldn’t have seemed less interested when I explained the theft and plane issues. These days I ensure I have a travel credit card and don’t let another soul touch my bag on the plane.
A small piece of good news to end this tale of bad luck is that Tav and I attempted the trip again a couple of years later and not only did nothing go wrong but we even saw Messi score a magisterial hat-trick. We were certainly owed some luck.