During our visit to Barcelona, we registered for a personalized night tour with a company called Rainbow Tours.
We wanted to meet some local people and get a sense of night life in this famously gay-friendly city.
Highlights of Our Tour
Our assigned tour guide, Marc, was in his mid-20s, about the same age as some of our own children.
Marc was from a nearby town in Catalunya and spoke Catalan as his native language. Like pretty much everybody in Catalunya, he was also fluent in Castilian (the language we in America call “Spanish”).
For our benefit, Marc also spoke very good English, having lived in England for a year.
We commenced our tour late in the evening. Everywhere in Spain, but most especially in the big cities, it is customary to have dinner no earlier than 10:00 PM. We began to cultivate the practice of late dining within a day or two after arriving in Barcelona.
At the suggestion of Eloi, the tour company’s owner, we booked a reservation at a trendy restaurant called Accés. As a matter of fact, the place was so trendy we found it a bit intimidating, until the end, when we mentioned Eloi’s name to the owner. He warmly greeted us once he realized we had been referred by his old friend.
Marc met us at the restaurant at 11:00 PM, just as we were finishing dinner.
The gay bars and clubs in Barcelona are concentrated in an section of the Eixample neighborhood affectionately called “Gaixample,” about a half mile west of our apartment.
Rest assured, our “Rainbow Night Tour” was quite tame. Marc was knowledgeable and friendly, and happily answered our questions about life in Barcelona. He was a competent and informative tour guide.
We visited a handful of bars. The bars in Spain are equivalent to the pubs in Ireland or England, meaning they mostly serve beer, and they close relatively early.
Marc also pointed out a few “clubs,” as they are known, which feature cocktails and dancing, but those places don’t open their doors until 1:00 AM, which was later than we were prepared to stay out.
Marc took us to a beautiful rooftop bar at the gay-friendly Axel Hotel. We didn’t stay long, but the views and the fresh air up there were very pleasant.
Most of the bars we visited were crowded and noisy, so it was difficult to have much conversation. They were vibrant, for sure, and people seemed friendly, but after one beer we were ready to move along to the next venue.
Eventually, we found our way to the one bar we liked best, a place called Versailles.
Versailles was not only opulently decorated, as the name suggests, but also quiet enough for us to talk more freely with Marc, our young friend and tour guide.
The bartender at Versailles, a friendly woman, was having a smoke outside when we arrived, and greeted us warmly. We felt instantly comfortable.
Versailles offered us a quiet refuge from the busy, noisy nightlife in Gaixample.
Volunteering to Help Refugees
As we chatted at Versailles, under our gentle questioning Marc began to reveal more about himself and his life in Barcelona.
Marc said he had recently taken a leave of absence from his job as a tour guide, to volunteer in a Syrian refugee camp in northern Greece. The camp, he explained, had spontaneously grown up next to a gasoline station and convenience store. It holds thousands of Syrian war refugees who had been trying to get to Germany and are now trapped in Greece.
Marc and his friends in Barcelona organized the volunteer effort themselves. They were not part of any established charitable or humanitarian organization. They solicited money from relatives and friends, and then traveled to Greece and spent a month living and working with the refugees and distributing the funds they had collected.
Marc said the people in the makeship camp are very needy and were grateful for any sort of help. We wondered whether the volunteers needed any particular skills. Marc said, no, there were endless jobs to be done, even things as simple as organizing games for the children. Although the refugees are in grave need of skilled professions, such as medical and dental care, Marc said there was also plenty for less skilled volunteers to do.
It was so interesting to realize the extent of Marc’s compassion, and at the same time to see how completely modest and unassuming he was about the kindness he and his friends had extended to the Syrian refugees in Greece.
In fact, compassion for the Middle Eastern war refugees now flooding Europe was evident during our visit to Catalunya, as well as other places we visited in Spain.
Perhaps it is their proximity to the places where the refugees are, but, whatever the reason, for Spanish people like Marc, the crisis is not just an abstraction.
We will not forget the sense of empathy we witnessed in Spain for the war refugees.
Spain’s got a heart.
The Secret of Plaça Sant Felip Neri
As we chatted in Versailles, our tour guide Marc also told us something about Barcelona history we would not have discovered on our own.
On 30 January 1938, during the Spanish Civil War, Italian war planes under the command of Mussolini’s military bombed the Plaça Sant Felip Neri, a quiet square near the cathedral in the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona.
A total of 42 people were killed in the bombing, a majority of them young school children.
To this day, the walls of the old church remain pock-marked. The walls were intentionally left this way as a way of remembering.
A couple of days later, we found our way to the Plaça Neri to see it for ourselves. It is an obscure little square tucked away in the Gothic Quarter that takes some searching to find.
Sure enough, just as Marc had told us, the bomb damage to the walls of the old church is still plainly visible, a testament to the terror that rained down from the skies in 1938.
There is a school there, and the children were playing in the square when we visited.
As Marc said, it is worthwhile to recall the victims of such violence. The remembering itself, he impressed upon us, is important.
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Because of the simple goodness of Marc, a kind and modest young citizen of Catalunya, we were rewarded with something very precious during our Rainbow Tour of Barcelona.