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Photo by Lee Woolcock
Ping pong home
Ping pong in the Parque Miró
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Photo by Lee Woolcock
Petanca at the Arc de Triomf
As months of brisk temperatures descend upon Barcelona, those relaxing summer days on the sands of Nova Icària or Barceloneta become a fading memory. For the sports-minded, attention often turns toward the mountains and the slopes this time of year. But there is solace for the citybound—for even during December, the month of least light in the calendar and with an average high temperature of 14-degrees Celsius (57 Fahrenheit), there are still plenty of opportunities to expend some calories. Tucked away around the city are several often overlooked prospects for fresh air, competition and a bit of exercise, each of them requiring no more capital investment than what was spent on the summer’s beach towel and sun block.
For a great cardiovascular workout, a good, fast-paced game of basketball is an ideal option. Thirty minutes of basketball burns several hundred more calories than playing ping pong (see below) for the same amount of time, so it’s an ideal way to keep in peak physical condition while waiting for the summer beach months.
Long a popular sport in Barcelona and Spain, and with an ever-growing fan base thanks to stars like Pau Gasol and Ricky Rubio and success for the national team on the world stage, many sports centres across the city, both public and private, have indoor basketball courts for hire, ideal for these cooler months of the year. For hardier souls, there are also several public outdoor courts and numerous stand-alone hoops in many of Barcelona’s parks. Of course, quality varies greatly. Some courts, such as those at Parc de Joan Miró, are a pleasure to play on—a paved surface with fences to help contain the occasional errant shot—while on others, the game is played on a dirt court amidst the chaos of children on bicycles and curious dogs.
In terms of indoor courts, typical are those at the Estació del Nord Poliesportiu Municipal. “Call us four or five days before you want to play,” suggested Marta Andrés, working on the information desk at the sports centre. “The cost to reserve a court for an hour is €57.85, and you can rent a basketball for €2.” This court rental is a flat fee, so it’s worth organising a large group to share the cost.
For the outdoor courts or stand-alone hoops, no reservations nor fees are necessary, only the luck to find them empty. Just buy a basketball—expect to pay €10-€20 for a decent one—and go put it to good use.
In the northeast corner of the Parc de la Ciutadella, just behind La Cascada, the fountain built for the 1888 Universal Exhibition of Barcelona, on which a young Gaudí assisted, stand four ping pong tables with metal nets. Not what you might expect to find in that particular spot, but their presence is no aberration. There are an estimated hundred outdoor ping pong tables scattered around Barcelona, located on the boardwalks of Bogatell, tucked away behind La Boqueria, in the places of Gràcia, and many spots in between.
For those who have never played ping pong, or table tennis as it is officially called, the rules are straightforward [see box below about where to find them] and it can be played as singles or doubles. The tables are deceptive: they can look like small territories to cover, but ping pong can be surprisingly strenuous, and a half hour’s play can provide an excellent workout.
Better yet, the equipment needed to play on Barcelona’s outdoor tables is downright inexpensive. The Very Cheap shop at Via Laietana 52, for example, sells a set including two paddles and three ping pong balls for €2.50. Decathlon is an alternative, but it will be pricier; €7 for a single paddle and €4 for a pack of nine balls. Once this simple equipment is in hand, check out the Ajuntament’s website [see box below] for the tables closest to you and go stake out your home table.
In the shadow of the Arc de Triomf, a group of 20 men are gathered around a dusty rectangle of ground surrounded by low wooden planks. Among them are Samuel, Luis, Mateo and Millán, and like the rest of the group, these four are playing petanca, known as boules in France and the UK, and bocce in Italy.
While official Fédération Internationale de Boules (FIB) competitions are played on a special court, any patch of beaten earth will do for the casual player; indeed, in Barcelona, any open piece of ground is liable to be used for petanca. “They’re equal, the same,” said Luis and Mateo when asked to compare the experience of playing at the Arc de Triomf spot to a location without a court. “We play tomorrow at the Plaça de Tetuan. There are no courts at Tetuan, and that’s fine.”
FIB rules dictate that teams may be of varying size, from one to four. The game itself consists of tossing metallic balls toward a marker ball called a jack, with only the team nearest to the jack able to score points each round. Luis, Mateo and Millán favor playing petanca in the tripleta style—three players per team, with each player throwing two balls until one team scores 13 points.
Tripleta is played in a best of three games format, and while Mateo has seen games last for two hours, he said that’s rare. “It’s hard to say how long a game will last—some go very fast, others...very slow. It all depends on the players.”
Even if the skills aren’t top-notch, and not too many calories will be expended, it’s easy to imagine how playing petanca might translate into a relaxing afternoon outside with friends. A set of eight petance balls may be purchased for as little as €15, although those who take their game seriously may opt to spend €50 or €60 on a well-machined, stainless steel set.
If you want to stretch your legs by doing some winter running, but need a nudge to get you out on a dark evening, try the running shoe shop Bikila located on Passeig Pujades, on the north side of Ciutadella Park. They have a free club that includes a number of experienced runners who will offer support to those trying to get motivated or to improve their styles. The captain is in the Ciutadella each night around 7pm—ask in the shop about where to find him.
Alternatively, why not make the most of being in a seaside town to roller blade your way along the seafront? Patinalia, close to the Port Olímpic, will rent you a pair of blades for just m2 an hour, meaning you don’t have to fork out for your own pair but can still enjoy this toning and warming outdoor sport.
Finally, if you’re a tennis fan, but don’t have a court near you or find them too expensive, you could try your hand at frontenis. Perhaps the best way to describe this is a hybrid between squash and tennis, although, if you know about such things, it also has elements of padel and racquetball about it. Basically, instead of your standard tennis court, where the ball is hit back and forward over a net, frontenis is played on a three-walled court with the ball hit against the backwall. The racquets are the same as for tennis (sometimes with an optional special double string), but the frontenis ball is smaller; they cost around m6 to m8 for two. Its sister sport, frontó is closely related to pelota basca, which both involve hitting the ball against the court walls using one’s hands instead of racquets. While various city sports clubs have frontó or frontenis courts, the Guinardó Parc de les Aigúes and the Parc de la Trinitat in Sant Andreu both house public outdoor courts.
For an online directory in English of Barcelona’s sporting facilities, visit www.bcn.cat/en and navigate to Sports > Sports Facilities.
In addition, each park lists its sporting facilities, including petanca courts, at: www.bcn.cat/parcsijardins
The city is full of outdoor ping pong tables. A couple of the nicest ones are those in the Parc Ciutadella, and the table that is up on Montjuïc, just beyond where the buses park for the MNAC, up the hill from the Poble Espanyol. For a full list of these tables, go to Table tennis in the Ajuntament’s facilities list (see above), then to the venues that start Jardins, Parcs and Taules.
The International Table Tennis Federation website has the rules of the game: www.ittf.com
Detailed information, including the rules of the game, may be found on the FIB’s website: www.fiboules.org.
To reserve a court at the Estació del Nord, call 93 265 0286 or visit them at Napóls 42 (Metro line 1: Arc de Triomf). In the sports facilities’ listings on bcn.cat, the stand-alone hoops are cistelles de bàsquet. The public outdoor courts are located at: Jardins de la Industria, Sant Antoni Maria Claret 148 (Sagrada Familia); Parc de l’Espanya Industrial, Muntadas 1 (Sants); Plaça la Farga 7 (Sants); Parc de Joan Miró, Aragó 2 (Eixample Esquerra).
Passeig Pujades 7, tel. 93 485 6299, www.bikila.com
Avda Icaria 180, tel. 93 221 1778, www.patinalia.com
Buy equipment, including balls (pelotas) at Miraqueta, Ronda General Mitre 150, tel. 93 201 3509, www.miraqueta.com