Image courtesy of Jordi Touza
After a beautiful, sunny summer’s day in Barcelona, my family and I were worn out but thoroughly enamoured with the Catalonian capital. We had shopped until we dropped on Las Ramblas, toured Camp Nou stadium, and transported ourselves into the wonderful world of Gaudi architecture at Park Guell. Time, we decided, to head back to our car and drive back to our campsite at Sagunto, three hours south along the coast.
We had given ourselves plenty of time for the drive back, and sauntered over to the car park at around 6pm, pausing briefly on the way to buy souvenirs of our day out. We arrived at the car park a few minutes before the stroke of 6pm, only to find the shutters were down and nobody was around. We read the opening times and the car park was definitely due to close at 6pm, but it wasn’t quite that time yet and here we were, locked out!
With not a soul in sight, we called a phone number that was printed on a scruffy looking sticker on the car park shutter that read ‘Call This Number to Release Your Car’. After trying to communicate with a non-English speaker on a very crackly phone line and failing miserably, we gave up on that option – not that it appeared particularly legitimate anyway! We had found a great deal on travel insurance through moneysupermarket.com but we were fairly sure it wouldn’t cover us for enlisting someone to illegally break into a car park!
Passers-by gave us shrugs of our shoulders when we explained our situation and, after an hour or so of floundering, we accepted our fate and went in search of accommodation for the night.
In a great, sprawling tourist city like Barcelona, we felt assured that finding a couple of rooms for the night would be no problem whatsoever, and set about taking our pick of the hotels.
There were plenty to choose from in the area near where we were parked, just by the University of Barcelona and Jardins de la Reina Victoria, but our first enquiry, at a hotel just opposite Barcelona City Hall, was flatly rejected as the hotel was full. We got the same response at the second hotel, and the third, the fourth and the fifth. We could barely believe our ears as each receptionist delivered the news and, after a good 15 attempts, we were still out on the street with nowhere to go, and the time was after 11pm.
After bumping into a friendly crowd of tourists, we were offered the suggestion of sleeping on the beach – something that many tourists resort to for a cheap night’s rest during the balmy summer months. I personally was open to this idea, if a little cautious of incurring the wrath of the Spanish authorities should beach camping turn out to be frowned upon. But anyway, my parents were having none of it and we grimly resigned ourselves to our ongoing hotel hunt.
Feeling a little lost after much walking around, my father flagged down a taxi. We explained our situation to the driver, who listened intently and then confidently told us he knew where we would be assured of a room for the night. Off we sped, excitedly looking forward to a good night’s rest after a rather longer day than anticipated!
We pulled up at a rather nice looking, glass-fronted hotel and the taxi driver hopped out of his cab and talked to the concierge. From the taxi, we could see some shaking of heads, followed by some pointing. Were we to be denied again?
The driver returned with the news that the hotel was full, but the place next door had just two rooms left. We looked at the building next door; an innocuous looking block of flats with yellow light coming from its entrance hallway.
To our surprise and relief, the accommodation we had finally found was perfectly pleasant and we sent the cabby away with a handshake and a substantial tip for his efforts.
That night we slept better than ever, and enjoyed a safe journey back to our campsite the following day. The lesson learned: don’t be late, or even borderline late, for anything when travelling in Spain. Especially car parks closing. And don’t be afraid put your faith in the knowledge of a good Catalonian taxi driver – it could save you a lot of walking!