Besòs and Badalona by bike: a blogger’s odyssey

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.


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!


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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