05.11.22 — Travel


Once Rhea had left, I’d another week of work to undergo before I was back off again for the next installation of my crazy October plans. This time I was leaving Madrid once more bound for the northeastern region of Catalonia, with my first stop being Barcelona.

I took the high speed train up to Spain’s other big city in order to meet up with Danni, who was to join me for a few days riding the rides and watching the parades in Spain’s principal theme park, PortAventura! With recent trips to Madrid’s two parks, Parque Warner and the Parque de Atracciones, it was shaping up to be quite the month for my rollercoaster obsession.

After arriving in Barcelona’s Sants train station, I found Danni waiting for me there after she’d flown in from Manchester in the morning. The two of us then headed out to a bar next to the station to kill some time, having a drink and a bite to eat to keep us going for the next leg of our journey. This then took us down to Salou, the seaside town that PortAventura forms part of and where we’d grabbed a flat for the duration of our stay.

The next day was our first day in the park, so we were up bright and early to grab some breakfast and take the fifteen minute walk up to the park gates. Once inside, we headed straight for the two biggest coasters at the back of the park, Dragon Khan and Shambhala. Despite some serious wait times, we grabbed a ride on them both and then had some lunch next to Shambhala, the undisputed king of the coasters within the park.

Lunch over, we wandered around some more of the park and stumbled upon the Wild West area, which was home to another of the park’s famous rides, Stampida. Before bringing our noodles back up on this duelling wooden beast, we hopped onto its smaller sibling, Tomahawk, which was located just alongside and with a track that interacts beautifully with its much larger and scarier sister.

It turns out that this smaller of the two wooden roller coasters actually still packed quite a punch! The most scandalous thing about it was the placement of the on-ride photo section, which came just after a curving drop which caught me completely off guard. This made for a hilarious photo which made us feel obliged to spend the ridiculous price to grab a copy. Worth it.

With Tomahawk ridden, it was time to head over to the main event. The queue for Stampida was another long one, and it was already dark when we actually made it into the station building and the final bit of the wait before boarding. There was panic when an announcement informed us of a breakdown, but they soon had the coaster back up and running, much to the delight of the waiting crowds that cheered as another train left the station.

It was then our turn to experience the crazy hills and turns of Stampida, which has to be up there with some of my favourite other wooden rollercoasters. Our on-ride photo didn’t turn out so funny as on Tomahawk, but I did manage to sneak a photo of the station under the night sky as we waited to head back in from the break run.

From here, we nabbed a ride on a few flat rights around the park and then one last run on Dragon Khan before we had to head back towards the park entrance for our evening plans. We’d to be back around the entrance lake for 11pm, when the evening Halloween parade was to began. We arrived about halfway through, catching a mere glimpse of some of the floats from far back, and so resolved that we’d have to stay and watch it properly another day.

The next day we were exhausted from our first, and so took it easy in the morning, having some breakfast and coffee at a local café before engaging in a spot of reading and relaxation around the flat. Once back in the park, we were once again confronted by some pretty long queues, and so hopped on some of the smaller offerings which had shorter wait times.

One of these easier rides was the train, which had a small queue but then took ages to actually show up. We were then informed that we could only go one stop before having to get off, so at the next stop we’d to get off, run back into the queue, and then jump back on. It was a bit absurd!

We then went on to find part of the park that we’d not passed through until that point, jumping for a quick (and mercifully pretty dry) ride on the rapids before heading back to Stampida for a go on the other track. It’s a duelling coaster with two unconnected tracks, so technically it’s two separarte coasters in one!

I then piped up that I wanted to re-ride Shambhala, my favourite coaster at the park. Danni was feeling a bit under the weather and so sat this evening ride out, but that meant I could hop in the single rider queue and get on in a slightly more reasonable time.

The evening ride on this huge coaster was an absolute blast. I’m one for putting my hands up on coasters, but my first ride on the beast had shocked me so much that I’d held on for dear life for the first few drops. This time I emptied my pockets to ensure that the restraint was snug and tight, which then gave me the confidence to go for it and allow myself to experience all the g-forces as we traversed the awesome layout!

By the time I was off Shambhala, it was already very late, and so we headed back to the apartment after yet another late night of rides and Nutella crepes. It had quickly become a habit for us to pick up one of these sweet treats every evening: even after only two days the staff were already recognising us!

When the staff at the crepe stall are recognising you after only two days, you may have a problem…

The next day was our third and last at the park, and we’d decided to start it off with a visit to the second and substantially smaller park, Ferrari Land. The main attraction in this park is Red Force, Europe’s tallest (880 m or 2,890 ft) and fastest (180 km/h or 112 mph) coaster that’s meant to replicate the sensation of being in an F1 car.

We were then pretty shocked to see the queue for the coaster stretched around pretty much half of the park. The signs were quoting two hours of wait, but given the excessive length and the slow throughput, we knew that we’d not much chance of getting on it for at least four hours. We thus decided to head back to PortAventura, the main park, and return to Ferrari Land later on to grab a ride on Red Force.

Back in the main park, we joined the queue for Furius Baco, a launched coaster with trains which sit on either side of the track instead of on top of it. The already long wait for this ride was then made longer by a breakdown, which meant that by the time we’d ridden, Ferrari Land was already closing. You can bet I’m currently arguing with PortAventura to try and get our money back for the wasted entry to Ferrari Land!

To keep our spirits up, we headed off into the other side of the park to grab some time on our favourite flat rides. This included a spin on the carrousel that we’d seen and heard so much of but not been on. After this, we headed to the kids area to have a go on a water ride that allowed you to drift out from a central hub over the water as it span at a pretty high speed. It was a lot of fun!

That evening we made sure to secure ourselves a good spot to watch the parade go past, which we did to the dulcet tones of the PortAventura Halloween song that they had on loop. It really stuck in our head – check it out on YouTube if you want to listen to the cheesy earworm for yourself.

Once the parade floats had all gone past, we joined in the parade and danced our way out of the park for the last time. We’d made sure to be near the entrance in order to make a swift exit and get in bed as early as possible – three days on our feet in theme parks really can take its toll!

The next day we’d a relaxed morning of packing and eating some breakfast at the flat before we’d to check out at midday. We left the key and headed down to the seafront, where we wound up in a McDonald’s after the rest of the restaurants were either closed or the typical tourist offerings of overpriced imported food for British visitors. At least the McDonald’s in Spain have beer as an option with their meals!

Once we’d had some lunch, we rang for a taxi to take us back to Salou train station ready for our ride back up to Barcelona. This chilled train journey gave us some time to listen to the cheesy parade music and check out some of my creations on RollerCoaster Tycoon.

Back in Barcelona, we’d a few hours before Danni had to go to the airport to catch her flight back to the UK. We thus grabbed the metro over to Barceloneta, an area of the city I really like with its small streets which lead to the city’s main beach. We found a little terrace in a calm square and had a couple of drinks and a good chat there before Danni had to head off.

I then had a couple more hours to kill by myself, so I headed down to the beach to watch the sun set over the sea. Once this had happened, the cold descended and began to bite, and so I headed back into the little streets of Barceloneta to find somewhere to grab a bite to eat.

I wound up installing myself in a cute little bar, where I grabbed a very nice beer, some good cheese, and the best tomaca (bread with tomato) that I’ve ever had in my life. I don’t know how such a simple dish can taste so good, but it did. I was thus distraught when I dropped a piece of it, which also somehow managed to stain my shirt, my jeans, and my backpack on the way to the floor. Just my luck!

After reading some more of my book in my very obviously tomato-stained white shirt, I battled against the small size of the bar’s toilet to get changed into another shirt and wash the tomato and oil from my jeans. With this just about managed, I headed back to the metro station where I boarded two trains that never left on time. Frustrated, I wound up hailing a taxi back to Barcelona Sants such as not to miss my train onwards to Madrid.

In the end I didn’t miss my train, which was just as well as it was the last one of the day back to the capital. I arrived just after midnight and wound up walking back home as I was still rather cross that I’d had to pay for a taxi back up in Barcelona just two and a half hours before: the train link between Madrid and Barcelona is fast!

Despite the dramas and long wait times, I had an absolutely fabulous long weekend with Danni up in Barcelona and PortAventura. We commented that we’ll have to come back at some point to further explore Salou and make sure we get on Red Force. Heck, maybe we’ll come in the summer in order to brave the very wet looking log flume!