The problem with making friends with people who are on limited visas to stay in the UK is that, inevitably, they have to leave.
My general rule therefore is not to emotionally invest too much in people who aren't going to be around longer than two years, however my housemate Ming turned out to be an exception to this rule.
We met through my water polo club, bonded over dumplings and movies, and before I knew it he'd moved into my spare room and we were housemates and best friends.
None of that changed his visa situation however and, as the months progressed, Ming's time in the UK was inexorably ending. We decided on a mini-break to Barcelona for one last blast at hanging out in Europe together.
This was my first visit to the Catalonian capital but it quickly became apparent why everybody raves about it.
An easy EasyJet flight from London's Southend airport and a quick train to our hotel which was literally on top of the central Estacio Sants station which made it easy for us to catch the subway everywhere.
Barcelona is a beautiful city, with plenty of historic and culturally important sites to occupy the visitor - however we were here to make the most of some precious beach time, it was the end of June, it was hot, and Barcelona has a great beach in the heart of the city that seems to set the easy rhythm and relaxed pace for its inhabitants.
While effectively the Barcelona beach is one long strip of sand, it is notionally divided into different sections - after a bit of experimenting and exploring our favorite part of the beach was the area known as San Sebastian, an interesting and sexy crowd, a bit clothing optional and short walk from the W Hotel's beach bar where there was a DJ and great cocktails to be had when the sun got a bit too extreme.
If you fancy trying some alternative beach action while in the Barcelona area, the resort town of Sitges is only a short 20 minute train journey away which makes it an ideal day-trip destination. Although one of the world's best known gay beach resorts, Sitges is also surprisingly family-friendly and delivers great beaches with all the bars and cafes that you'd expect from an established Spanish holiday hotspot. If people watching is your thing then grab a table at the iconic Parrot Bar, sit back with an enormous mojito, and watch the world go by.
Barcelona is justifiably famous for its food - tapas is the local specialty. One of the best food experiences I've had recently was wandering around the huge Boqueria food market (just off Las Ramblas), interspersed amongst the endless stalls of fresh produce are busy cafes where you have to muscle your way in for a seat at the bar to order tasty snacks. For something a bit more relaxed, Taller de Tapas is a well-known restaurant that takes the traditional tapas favorites but delivers them at outstanding restaurant quality.
One of the potential downsides of Barcelona is that the city's nightlife doesn't start and finish until quite late (by my standards at least). Each night, after a late dinner, we hit the party district of Eixample - we drank at People Lounge, Atame, and Black Bull, and then headed to clubs Metro and Arena for dancing. There's no better way to recover from a late night than a lazy day on the beach, so our stay in Barcelona quickly developed a fairly familiar pattern.
Barcelona has quite a bad but well deserved reputation for pickpockets. I'd been well-warned but I took no notice, being an experienced traveller I laughed at the idea of being taken advantage of in an unfamiliar city. It was only the second night of our stay and my wallet was taken from my pocket while we were jostling for drinks at a bar. I felt like a fool.
A fantastic and memorable adventure in a great city, with a fantastic and memorable friend.
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