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Trip Report Hit and Run: Our Quick View of Barcelona

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We used Barcelona as our landing and exit point for a recent cycling trip. Since our hours (and energy) were limited, our goal was to get some overview with the intention of coming back some day. I hope others in the same situation may find this report useful.

Our plan landed at around 8:30 a.m. Since we only do carry-on luggage, we just had to exit the airport, which takes a bit of walking. However, once out, nabbing a taxi into the city was simple.

Our cycling group would meet the next day down at a port hotel, an area we did not want to stay in because so much of the action was cruise ship flow. At the same time, we also did not want to be too far away from the port hotel for the following morning's gathering, given the sheer crush of traffic in Barcelona. I decided upon the Hotel DO: Plaça Reial for our short stay http://www.hoteldoreial.com/ This location would give us immediate access to a needed taxi rank, La Rambla, the Boquería market, etc.

We made our way to the hotel a little before 10 and were able to change clothes in the hotel's very large restroom and then store our luggage and husband's iPad. As we took turns changing, we each became fascinated by "cruise ship Americans" checking in. 8 out of ten asked if there was a senior citizen discount--I'm NOT kidding--a question which particularly stunned and mystified my husband, 69 years old.

Now dressed in much cooler clothing, we took a short walk around the block to check out the Boqueria, and returned to the Plaça Reial to meet our tour group.

We took our pre-booked 11 a.m.Runner Bean FREE Gaudi Tour http://www.runnerbeantours.com/barcelona-tours/free-walking-tour-gaudi/12 for several reasons. First, bus tours always put me to sleep after a long flight. And knowing our energy would be low, I had not wanted to book anything costly in the event we may need to and were able to hit the hay right away.

We actually were in pretty good shape, plus our particular room was not available until 2 pm, so the timing was PERFECT. This free tour (one pays the guide at the end for the amount one thinks it was worth) begins in the Plaça Reial and gives an overview of Gaudi's impact on the city. We first saw the nearby Palau Güell, then by Metro went on to the Casa Milà and Casa Batlló. A second Metro ride took us to the Sagrada Familia, where our guide took us on an exploration of each facade before saying goodbye.

A great benefit of taking this tour was learning the Metro system. One pays for one's own Metro ticket on the tour, but the guide showed us how to buy a multi-ride ticket that could be shared between the two of us, and we ended up with a good understanding of the various line connections. She also gave us some tips on how to spot the pickpockets, and where they were likely to be.

Note: We did NOT use money belts. It was so hot and humid, so we did what we always do: I have a small purse with an adjustable shoulder strap that can snuggle under my armpit. My husband puts rubber bands around his money, his card, and his passport and puts them in deep front pockets that have zippers.

After ending our trip at the Sagrada Familia in the early afternoon, we had a few beers and decided to eat before dropping off for a long sleep. We took the Metro back to Diagonal and got lost for a bit trying to find our goal: Botafumeiro at 81 Carrer Gran de Gracia. We had arrived just at the end of Spanish late lunch rush, so we were able to be seated right away. The maitre d was kind enough to ignore our tourist clothes in this immaculate, white table-clothed, old-time establishment.

We each selected fish, and we watched all the fabulous orders going past. Our service was to die for. The waiter recommended the perfect wine for our entrees, and he MADE THE BOTTLE LAST! There is a real skill to that. This was not a cheap restaurant, it was no bargain, but it was just right.

We walked down La Rambla back to our hotel, hoping to see a place to buy Spanish SIM cards for our tiny-but-trusty Nokia travel phones. Nothing jumped out at us, and while we happily and aimlessly wandered side streets, we had little luck. Finally we went back to the hotel and asked the desk clerk. She said, "You are not going to believe this--go to El Cortes Ingles(the department store) at Plaça Catalunya and visit their electronics section."

Thank goodness for our multi-ride Metro ticket, because our energy was certainly flagging by now. We found the store and floor, and sure enough, a clerk helped us out. We bought a SIM for 10 Euros each, 9 of which could be used as phone credit. Since we just planned on texting each other and our cycling leaders (SMS costs pennies), we knew we would not even have to top the card off within the upcoming week. In addition, we were planning another trip to Spain in the coming year, so we'd top the card off when we returned.

We returned to the hotel, and sat on the Plaça Reial to watch the crowd gather for the evening. Again, we watched with wonder "cruise ship Americans" in action--many of whom were now expecting the local waiters to be instinctively aware of all of their dietary restrictions--and again we heard the relentless refrain of "Is there a senior citizen discount?" Maybe Spain has become a part of Disney World and no one told us.

After a great night's sleep and a nice breakfast, we readied ourselves to meet our group at a port hotel. We had had such a lovely stay that we asked if we could have the same room in a week. Originally we had booked another hotel in another good location, but we had felt so comfy here. Success--it was available.

The porter walked us to the taxi rank on La Rambla and saw us off.

A week later, we returned to Barcelona and our hotel home in late afternoon. Having asked our fellow cycling trip guests on the trip who had spent a few days in the city about how to best use our very few hours left, most recommended "Sagrada Familia", although there were a few votes for the Picasso Museum, also one of our goals. So we decided we'd do the Sagrada Familia first, and if we still had energy, we'd visit the Picasso, which closed at 8 pm.

NOTE: Because of our Gaudi tour, we had found out the best way to get into the cathedral. I made internet reservations on my husband's iPad from our last Costa Brava hotel on the Spanish TicketMaster http://ayuda.ticketmaster.es for visit-plus-audio guide (we skipped the towers). Our Barcelona hotel clerk kindly printed out the confirmation once we arrived, and we went to the nearest Caixa http://ayuda.ticketmaster.es/help/faq/ticket-collection-at-servicaixa-terminals-from-la-caixa/ to get printed tickets. I probably could have used the "print" link and forwarded it to the hotel, but I was unsure of the steps needed, and just getting the confirmation seemed to be a safe way of getting the job done. I also could have bought the tickets at the Caixa, but we were worried that our time slot would be sold out.

As a result of this ordering method, once we used our multi-ride Metro ticket up to the cathedral, our only job was to find the right entrance. And instead of waiting in for an hour, our only line was a short one to get our audio guides.

We were certainly happy with our sightseeing choice. We had reached the point in travel where cathedrals were generally blending together in memory, but this one was and will always be unique. The vaulting and filtered light are simply stunning. I wish I could have been there for a choral program--I would have loved to have heard the acoustics.

With enough time to make it there, we headed for the Picasso. Somehow, though, exhaustion caught up with us and we got lost in the surrounding blocks. We agreed we had reached the point where the need to eat and sleep had overtaken our want and our ability to see anything else.

Still lost, we spotted a nearby restaurant with inviting tables. We asked if they were serving, thinking we'd just get some tapas. The waiter kindly gave us a nice table, and we settled in.

Turns out we had accidentally ended up at one of the restaurants our cycling guides had recommended--1932 (Placa San Agusti Vell 13)which we did not even realize until we left the place. It's Italian, and it may have the best eggplant Parmesan I ever ate. Among other dishes, we also had the deep-fried asparagus (amazing), the Parmesan potatoes, and roasted vegetables. We ordered repeats of everything we liked.

Now a bit more coherent, we happily wandered back to our hotel and again sat on the square to watch the evening crowd gather.

And the next morning, when we left our hotel, we were serious when we told the staff that we SHALL be back.

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