There were two things I wanted to achieve on my birthday in Barcelona. The first was to ride the Transbordador Aéreo del Port cable car from the port to Torre de Miramar on Montjuic Mountain. The second was to seek out an absinthe bar that, according to the guide book, was the haunt of transsexuals, prostitutes and circus midgets. Any bar that comes with a description like that deserves a visit.
Then first was easy enough to find and achieve…even if it did result in a few squeaky bum moments. My idea of a cable car ride is that you step into a cabin at pretty much ground level and then are transported to somewhere on high. Barcelona’s port cable car doesn’t quite fit that image.
I didn’t expect to have to ascend a vertigo sufferer’s nightmare of a tower before I could begin the aerial trip across the city. Despite it being on my birthday wish list there were a few moments of hesitation at the base of the imposing tower before we were able to work up the courage to surrender ourselves to head skywards. Climbing the rickety walkway on Sigirya in Sri Lanka somehow seemed less risky. Funnily once we were in the small-ish cabin I felt much happier than on the tower. The cabin holds around twenty people but on a fresh late-December day there were only a handful, leaving us free to wander from side to side to enjoy views over the city’s landmarks that lived up to the promise of being spectacular.
The second part to my birthday wish list proved more tricky. The guidebook was a bit vague about the location of the absinthe bar with the colourful clientèle; tucked away on C/Sant Pau off La Rambla was about as specific as it got.
During the day, the little alleys spreading out like arteries from La Rambla offer enticing places ripe for exploration; after dark it can be a different matter. Within metres of leaving the bustling safety of the restaurants and pavement cafés on La Rambla the atmosphere changed. The street felt so dimly lit that the darkness seemed to close in all around us. There were no shops or lively cafés only shabby looking buildings. The further we progressed, the darker it became and it seemed as though shadowy figures lounged against walls and in doorways. I’d fancied trying absinthe ever since seeing Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge and this bar sounded as though it was exactly the place that Kylie Minogue’s green fairy might put in an appearance. But I’d also seen enough instances of petty crime on the streets of Barcelona to know that the city had a dark and dangerous underbelly.
After a couple of hundred metres of finding nothing that remotely resembled a bar and having been convinced I saw the flash of steel in one of the doorways (the product of an over active imagination) our bottle went and we skedaddled back to the people friendly La Rambla, crossed it and ensconced ourselves at a table in the Art & Schilling Bar on C/de Ferran. We consoled ourselves for failing in the mission to enjoy absinthe with circus performers and ladies of the night with a few glasses of cava standing in for the bright green stuff.
We’d convinced ourselves that the street wasn’t the sort of place we’d find an absinthe bar. In retrospect it was exactly the sort of place you might expect to find an absinthe bar where Gaudi and Picasso were said to have patronised.
I’ve since heard that the bar is definitely there and is a lively place to seek out the green fairy that’s popular with students and adventurous visitors. Whether it’s clientèle includes transsexuals and circus performers I don’t know. In some ways I’m glad we didn’t find it; it could never have lived up to the image in my head.
Buzz Factor: The cable car runs approximatively every 15 minutes but it’s worth checking times of opening as these can vary between seasons. Tickets cost €9 one way, €12.50 return trip.
The absinthe bar is called Bar Marsella, C/Sant Pau 65 and is open between 10am and 2am.