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La Merce: a weekend in Barcelona

Mik Scarlet was in Barcelona in September when the city came alive during its annual street party. He enjoyed himself even though he missed most of the festival.

Barcelona, a city famous for its architecture, is a city of contradictions. You can be surrounded by historic buildings which date back to medieval times but a few yards around the corner you can find yourself in the midst of ultra-modern towers of steel and glass, passing a myriad of Gaudi-inspired facades on the way. Normally this juxtaposition of styles can spell disaster for disabled travellers, especially those with mobility issues, but this just isn't the case in Barcelona.

That's not to say it's a wheelchair user's paradise, with it's uneven pavements, narrow streets and steep drop kerbs and ramps, but there is an obvious desire to include everyone in the city's day to day life which means the aforementioned kerbs and ramps are everywhere. Its this feeling that you are welcome, as long as you are prepared to muck in with the rest of the city's population that draws me back to Barcelona time and time again.

But to see the real Barcelona you need to visit during a festival. La Merce is the city's major festival, marking the feast day of its patron saint and the coming of the cooler weather, and Barcelona comes alive. La Merce provides for all tastes. Traditional Catalan exuberance with the Parades of the Giants (massive effigies of local historic figures and saints), teams of human towers and fire-breathing dragons and beasts jostle for your attention along with world-class music, everything from opera and flamenco to electronica and hip hop, street theatre and fireworks that are said to rival the Fourth of July celebrations in America.

Take my advice, if you do choose to visit Barcelona during La Merce - pace yourself. Not only does the city come alive but it taps into a secret well of energy that means there is something happening 24/7. A sense of anticipation was thick in the air throughout the teeming streets and shady tree-lined squares as the festival began. This already bustling city was bursting at the seams as evening fell on the first day. My wife and I decided to kick things off by taking in the delights of the BAM electronic music stage, after a dinner of paella. The music went on until dawn but we left the young crowd to party just after midnight, which is quite late for old differs like us!

After a lie in and some shopping the following day, we went off to dinner at Govinda, a hidden gem of a Hindu veggie restaurant that is so good it's one of the reasons why my wife loves Barcelona. Dressed in our new purchases and nicely full of yummy food, we wandered off to the beach to watch the first round in the annual fireworks competition. The city was fit to burst with revellers, so much so that at times I felt like I was being swept along in a sea of people, but I had to make it to see the fireworks as I LOVE FIREWORKS!

The side streets of Barceloneta, the district next to the beach which makes Barcelona the genetic splicing of London and Brighton, had been closed off, enchantingly decorated and turned into street party discos. Then it was off to the roof top bar of the Museum of Catalan History for a nightcap, with the city and Port Vell, with it's rows of luxury yachts, lit up like a firework before us.

We were kept awake all night by our neighbour who played such loud music that our apartment shook. But when we eventually emerged every street and alley was so full of people they were like a wall of human flesh. Unable to break through and get near the parades or human towers, we decided to take yet another coffee break to work out our options. But even this was thwarted as I fell off one of the super steep ramps I mentioned earlier and pulled something in my shoulder.

Limping back to the apartment I realised that Barcelona had become a 21st Century city with all the benefits, such as amazing access, and drawbacks, like the population explosion. My wife and I first came to La Merce more than five years ago and then it was the city's party, now the festival is the biggest in Europe and draws people from all over the world. It is something that everyone should experience once, just maybe not twice.

But Barcelona itself is still a stunning, enchanting place with wonderful people, loads to do and an attitude towards disability that makes it one of my favourite places in the world. I just like the city when it's a little quieter.

Things to see in Barcelona

La Perdrera is Gaudi's amazing apartment block which has been wheelchair accessible since it opened in 1907

Museum of Catalan History and its rooftop restaurant & where the view is to die for

Barceloneta Beach has wheelchair access

Mare Magnum has top class shops, 3D cinema and an aquarium all by the sea

Las Ramlas is the main street that joins the Placa de Catalania to the sea, and is the place to promenade

The Gothic Quarter has designer shopping in the most gorgeous historic surroundings

A breakfast of Hot Chocolate and Chocolate Donut - oh go on, try it once

Montjuic and the Olympic Park - is a great family day out, fully accessible and the reason why Barcelona became so accessible - London take note

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