What was it like to be a tourist during the Barcelona Terror Attack? Witnessing first hand the shock of a city in unexpected and brutal circumstances.
The Barcelona Terror Attack – 17th August 2017
This was to be a post on gluten free Barcelona. But on 17th August 2017 the Barcelona Terror Attack happened in the city. I was there. And I wanted to share an experience of the horrific and the unexpected which should never be forgotten. The other post can wait……
In August 2017, we took a family holiday to Barcelona. It was a city I had long-wished to visit. Why? Because it has to be one of the most interesting, welcoming, beautiful and diverse cities in Europe.
But While we were there, the unexpected and terrible happened. Our visit coincided with the Barcelona Terror Attack, when a van was deliberately driven into Las Ramblas with the intention of murder. Being one of the busiest thoroughfares of the city, the attack left 13 people dead.
Lucky, but not unscathed
We were lucky. Although close to the incident at its time of unfolding, we were not so close as to witness the full horror. Nonetheless, a terror incident (wherever it takes place) impacts far and wide. And it leaves an indelible mark.
Caught within the awfulness that followed, the fear and panic visibly transferred from person to person in our presence. It was an act which was utterly unfathomable. But it has changed my sense of awareness and risk forever.
No longer so calm and relaxed in crowded places, I noticed just how much impact had been wrought a couple of years layer. Visiting Budapest and having the joy of attending an annual festival with fireworks among thousands of people, I was aware of an invisible tension and anxiety within me. A need to walk quickly and watch carefully at those around me for anything that might signal danger.
It is the same worry now felt wherever there are crowds and uncertainty. It isn’t (for me) about mental health. But perhaps, is a natural and valid response to a modern world where conflict is openly enacted.
Observations of the unfolding of the Barcelona Terror Attack
Within an instant of the Barcelona Terror Attack, the Catalonian police were on the scene. The response was definitive and executed with the precision of a well-oiled machine. The evacuation of thousands from the streets to the safety of homes and hotels was swift and effective. And like hundreds of armed and protective ants, police remained on the streets across the city for days… With the fugitive driver of the attack and his accomplices missing, they searched…
As we sat in the confines of our secured hotel garden, the loud and somewhat unnerving helicopters hovered late into the evening.
The Barcelona Terror Attack was a frightening experience. Like concentric circles rippling outwards from a pool of water when a stone is dropped, the fear spread road by road, across the city. As people fled from the scene, confusion reigned. Faces scanned the streets… Not knowing whether the danger lay behind them, or might reappear somewhere else.
Screaming, with fear etched across faces as they ran up the hill towards us, it was clear something utterly terrible was happening. Instinctively joining the exodus away from the centre, we walked as quickly as we could towards the safety of the backstreets… A meandering route that would take us to hotel refuge. And all the time, we tried to remain calm and in control for the sake of our daughter.
As the route took us further away from the city centre, the news spread physically and visibly outward. Families, tourists and locals enjoying an evening drink outside bars and restaurants, watched the movement of people as they realised the gravity of the situation. And with this, the smiling, social faces changed in an instant, becoming marked with worry. They reached for phones to anxiously check social media and contact loved ones.
Into the evening – strange and surreal
Back at the hotel, the only tourist sources of information were the World News and Twitter. Indeed, trying to understand the progressing mayhem was not easy. As a helicopter clattered overhead, armed officers were stationed at the hotel entrance. The Barcelona Terror Attack was not over and the police were moving across the city in a search for terrorists.
As we remained unable to leave the confines of our sanctuary, the reflection began. Indeed, being so close to such an event brings the fragility of safety into sharp focus. Although we had intended to go out earlier than we had that evening, there had been a delay… The dawdling may have saved our lives… Ten minutes earlier and we could have been less fortunate.
Showing solidarity against the Barcelona Terror Attack
The morning following the Barcelona Terror Attack, the mood was sombre. But having persuaded our daughter the streets were safe to venture, we left the hotel. Compelled by an act of solidarity and support and making towards the Placa de Catalunya, we joined thousands of Catalonians for a rally. The mood was defiant… A chant of “No tinc por!” (I am not afraid) rhythmically repeated in the hot sun, against spontaneous clapping from saddened, but determined hands. As silent thoughts and tears were shed for those lost and harmed, we joined the mourning.
Tributes to lost souls
Over the next few hours and days, the scene of the Barcelona Terror Attack became a street-long shrine. Candles, flowers and messages of love gathered in patches of tragedy. Las Ramblas became a place for thoughtful reflection, remembrance and respect.
As the international press gathered in a circus of reporting, the memorials grew and stretched outwards and questions were asked.
What makes it reasonable in the minds of terrorists to deliberately seek to harm and kill innocent people? I will never understand. But a piece of my heart will always remain in Barcelona and in sorrow for those less fortunate than ourselves on 17th August 2017.