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16 June 2014

Barcelona

After, what is far too long, my husband has written another guest post for my blog.  Here's his account of his recent visit to Barcelona. 


I recently returned to the UK to visit my children (who live with their mother in Birmingham) and decided to spend a few days with them in the city of Barcelona.  I’d never been (nor had they) and given other circumstances I thought a trip would be worthwhile.  So flights were booked (EasyJet from Gatwick to Barcelona’s main airport) and a request for desired activities issued.  My sons are 10 and 13, the younger one wanted to eat ice cream and go to the beach, the older one wanted to do the stadium tour at the Nou Camp, FC Barcelona’s home, I wanted to see a church.



Arriving on Monday morning at about 10am we made our way to our hotel in a taxi from the airport (approximately 35 Euros).  The hotel was called Hotel Oriente, situated on Las Ramblas.  It's a very central place to stay that throngs with tourists and locals alike, with many restaurants, cafes and ice cream joints.  The hotel was charming in an old world way (very unlike the purely functional  business hotels I use in Asia) with friendly and helpful staff.


Las Ramblas
Our hotel


As we were early we could not check in immediately, so we deposited our bags at left luggage (having made the youngest change his t-shirt which had an obvious hot chocolate stain from brekkie in Jamie Oliver’s Café in Gatwick) and headed out for a wander and a look-see of our environs.  We walked down Las Ramblas towards the port area of town, passing a statue of Christopher Columbus stood atop a tall column looking eastwards out to sea, the base of the column is guarded by a series of cast iron lions.  We passed old colonial type buildings, into a marina area with expensive looking boats and yachts, where we decided to have an early lunch and the week’s first Spanish ice cream (one or two had been consumed over the previous weekend in the UK), finding a bar / café overlooking the water.  Lunch was, of course, tapas of bread covered in tomato sauce (not popular with the youngest), calamari and spicy potatoes with paprika mayo and fries, washed down with water, sprite and a San Miguel.


Christopher Columbus








After lunch, and still being early for our hotel check-in, we checked out one of the street cafes on Las Ramblas and started to plan the rest of our time in Barca.  This included plans for a trip on the cable car that straddles the harbour from the beach at Platja de Saint Sebastia to Montjuic (or Miramar), a visit to the beach (and a wander around the Olympic Harbour), a trip to FC Barcelona to view their (mere) four European Cups and a look see of Segrada Familia (the huge Gaudi-design Gothic / modern cathedral).  In the café, there was a waiter that looked like Adolf Hitler, so the place became a week long favourite with the expression, ‘let’s have a drink in Adolf’s’, serving big lemonades and litre-sized beers.



Once we checked in we discovered that we were unable to charge our communication devices, so a quest for an appropriate adapter plug was necessary. Additionally the sunny weather necessitated a purchase of some high factor sun cream, to protect the fairer skinned amongst us.  On this quest we discovered Placa Reial, a beautiful square just off Las Ramblas with wonderful old buildings and covered walkways.  On the ground floor of all the buildings were a series of restaurants and bars with residential apartments on the higher floors.  In the square ice cream number two was consumed and a decision made to have pizza that evening in one of the other restaurants in the corner of the square, called Roma.  The pizza turned out to be enormous and very tasty.


Placa Reial


Our hotel room rate did not include breakfast, so Tuesday started with a search for something to eat.  We ended up in a place called Café Gaudi (he’s everywhere in the city, literally everywhere there is reference to this famed architect, from his buildings to museums to, like in this case, cafes), where we munched upon Catalan baguettes filled with ham and cheese, chorizo and cheese or bacon, washed down with orange and apple juices and a very strong coffee.  After breakfast, we walked towards the cable car base, around the harbour viewing obscenely large boats, the Museum of Catalonia and the beach. 

The cable car station sits on the edge of the dock, next to a super yacht building yard with the passengers (or victims) having to ascend the metal framed structure towards the windowless cars.  The attraction opens at 11am, however we arrived around 10:30am and were therefore close to the front of the ticket line, for the three of us it was approximately 35 Euros (the place does not accept cards, so take cash).  At the top of the tower the cars await the intrepid explorers.  I’d recommend that you aim to get in the car first and therefore secure a window slot for the obligatory photo opportunities.  We missed this chance and observed that certain nationalities don’t move once their prime position has been secured (relatives of the aforementioned waiter, perhaps).  As the car starts off, it drops on the cables, causing a few mild gasps but then continues to the halfway point, a relay tower (arriving with a bump and a sway) before continuing towards Miramar.  The views from the cable car across the harbour and the city are spectacular allowing the passenger to view the sights of the city, with Segrada Familia in the distance, Gaudi’s other cathedral in the Gothic quarter and the harbour itself.  Upon arrival at the terminus we went to the café for an ice cream to sooth the shattered nerves of a small boy. The café also has excellent views of the city and is on the edge of a tranquil park dotted with Gaudi statues, beneath the Miramar Hotel (that looked far to swanky for us reprobates). 

After a pleasant wander we walked down the hill towards Las Ramblas for some lunch (cheese pizza baguettes), before we decided to walk to a big church (it did not look far on the map).  We walked down a series of medieval streets and stumbled across Gaudi’s first church attempt but continued for the space-ship shaped place of worship.  It was hot (ish), we got lost so we got a cab to Segrada Familia.  I am sure we did three laps of the city and it really was not that far away from our initial point of confusion.  On arrival we discovered that the inside was closed for a private concert that day but would re-open the next day, so we had a look around the outside.  This was a little of a disappointment, the older aspect of the unfinished building looks fantastic, whereas the under-construction part looks like a pure after-thought where no effort had be made to make the new bits look old.  The building is also a lot more unfinished than I expected.  We vowed to return to look inside (another story).  We grabbed a taxi and headed back to Las Ramblas, and more ice cream (and a beer).

Gaudi Cathedral

Segrada Familia
Miramar

View from the cable car
View from the cable car


Views from the cable car



In the evening we were back in Placa Reial for paella.  One  of the great things about Barcelona is that the restaurants serve paella for one, as opposed to a minimum of two as in other parts of Spain.

paella

It was determined that the next morning would be beach morning, so we wandered back around the harbour after breakfast near the hotel.  The beach itself is sandy with a few pebbles with the Med being quite cold at this time of the year (therefore we only paddled).  There were deck-chairs and sun-loungers for rental (6 Euros each per day) with a series of chaps selling beers and cocktails wandering the sands.  However, as it was before eleven I politely declined the mojitos, (although the young-ish girls next to us did not) as well as the Asian ladies offering foot and back massages, turned down on the basis that it would be cheaper and more painful in Bangkok and I don’t go there either.  After a couple of hours paddling, skimming stones across the waves and watching a fruit loop practicing his flamenco on the beach we decided to wander towards a giant fish like sculpture at the Olympic Marina, where we observed old men playing domino's on beach-side tables (one looked like Fabio Capello, but was not, clearly) and got a drink in that area.  Unfortunately, due to an unfortunate seagull incident we had to return to the hotel for an impromptu shower for the smallest member of our party (as you can probably guess a seagull pooped on him).

After lunch we decided to head back to Segrada Familia to look at the interior of the church, however the line was long and as we reached the front we were informed that tickets were sold out until at least 7pm.  Additionally, we had seen the entrance fees and restrictions on photography inside the church, so decided to bin the idea as bad value.  The next adventure was to attempt to use Barcelona’s underground railway to get back to Las Ramblas, having to change at least once during the process.  Much to the amazement of my eldest son we achieved our objective and celebrated with a drink and eventually yet another ice cream.

Upon our return to the hotel we bought tickets for our trip to the Nou Camp and Barcelona the next day.  It is quite expensive, approximately 25 Euros each and is not open on match days which is why we did not go the day before as we thought the team was playing in the Copa Del Rey (the Spanish Cup) but the game was in Valencia, not Barcelona.

Dinner was tapas in one of the Las Ramblas cafes, with fried croquettes of meat and potato, calamari rings, feta salad, chorizo, spicy potatoes and a Spanish omelette.

Tapas



On the Thursday we headed to FC Barcelona and the Nou Camp, asking the hotel manager how to get there.  He was upset as Barca had been beaten by Real Madrid in the cup final the night before and banned from buying players for two transfer windows following a breaking of transfer rules in Brazil, this ban is suspended at present on appeal.  The taxi to the Nou Camp took approximately 20 minutes in the morning traffic and cost approximately 20 Euros (quite steep, as it cost 11 Euros to get back a couple of hours later).  

Upon arrival in the museum you are ushered into the trophy room that shows the cups that have been won over the years since the club was founded by an Englishman who wanted a team to play the newly popular game of football around the turn of the century.  This heritage is still shown on the club crest with one segment of the heart represented by the flag of St George.  Within the room there are examples of the Copa Del Rey (not this years, as the game was conceded), La Liga Trophy (this is so enormous one player surely cannot lift it up),  4 UEFA European Cups (or Champions League) trophies (we joked that there is one missing, Liverpool have won 5, AC Milan 6 and Real Madrid 9 – numbers are correct as of today) and finally an exhibit on the number of Ballon D’Or (or golden boots) won by Barca players.  Lionel Messi appears extensively in this section.  The tour then takes you around the stadium through the changing rooms (where there is a revolving display of opponents, none of which are in Real Madrid colours if it can be avoided), on to the edge of the pitch and up into the stands.  The final stop on the tour is the commentators box, high up in the Gods (not for the faint of heart or those suffering from vertigo) before directing people through to the gift shop.









On the Friday morning before flying back we wandered around the Gothic quarter, and had a look inside the original cathedral.






All in all, Barca is a great place.

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