Barcelona June 2013 Trip Report

Old Jun 17th, 2013, 03:51 AM
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Barcelona June 2013 Trip Report

Just got back from a few days in Barcelona with a fellow Fodorite. Had a fab time and will post this trip report in instalments, (with pics if you are good).

Monday.

I don't like flying very much so opted to go by train. I'm only about half an hour from St Pancras, so was able to combine Eurostar with the overnight sleeper from Paris-Austerlitz. The journey was painless - had limited myself to a small leather weekend bag and no other luggage (apart from cross body bag for taking out and about once I got to Barcelona). Chatted to a lovely guy on Eurostar who was visiting his daughter in Paris - he told me she was an eternal student, flitting from one course to another, and just about to start a jewellery making one next, the fees for which he was slightly worried were going to bankrupt him. Charged all my devices (phone, camera and Kindle) using the on board plugs - probably needlessly as they all had a charge before leaving, but I do like to get my moneys worth.

At Gare Du Nord I caught the metro to Austerlitz, then had a couple of hours before boarding the sleeper, to get a sandwich and people watch. Managed to tick off a number of the standard Parisian stereotypes - couple rowing and a chain smoking older lady with yappy dog in a bag. No men on bikes with onions, garlic or berets though. I'd opted for a reclining seat rather than a couchette, though knew I probably wouldn't sleep very much. Ideally, I'd have started out earlier and taken the new daytime high speed service to Sants, but the timetabling and pricing of this was delayed such that I was more or less forced to go with the overnight option. Anyway, it was no big deal and I later found there was hardly any difference in the pricing, just the extra transit time. The train, Joan Miro, was ancient and well worn but served it's purpose. None of the staff spoke French which baffled me a bit because although I was travelling with RENFE, 80% of the journey was through France. But it didn't stop me getting all the essentials like tea and toast and marmalade. Sat next to a lovely lady who helped out with a ticketing cock-up (the concierge took my return journey ticket as well as the outbound one in error), and who insisted on giving me loads of tips for bars and tapas in Barcelona, hastily scribbled on my map to get to the apartment. In the unlikely event you are reading this thank you very much for your help you lovely person!

Best bit of the journey was the last 3-4 hours, through an area of salt water flats not unlike the Camargue, then into Spain through a gap in the Pyrnees, where Hispanic architecture abruptly took over, a lot of ochre stone and bell towers suddenly in evidence. Passed a magnificent old station with soaring ceilings, marble floors and a wood panelled tea room straight out of Brief Encounter. Arrived at Barcelona Estacio De Franca just before 10:00am.

Walked through the Parc de la Ciutadella to the apartment we'd rented on the edge of Born/ Vila Olympica. An easy 15 minute stroll even with luggage. Was met by my lovely host, Ignacio, who checked me into the flat, shown below:-

https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/431054

Great place on the 7th floor with a sunny terrace looking out over the city to the med, or, right, to Montjuic. Had pretty much everything you'd need including air con, not that we had it on, huge flatscreen, not that we stayed in enough to watch, and well positioned close to Marina metro, tram routes, bakers, supermarkets, newsagents and best of all a churreria!

After leaving Ignacio mailed me a list of recommended eateries and very kindly picked up a hair dryer for me which was delivered the same day. I nipped out to Lidl for some basic provisions and to await Tommy's arrival from Glasgow. (Stilldontknow/Weegie etc etc).
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Old Jun 18th, 2013, 12:33 PM
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Thanks to French air traffic controllers Mr M arrived 5 hours later than originally planned, close to midnight, so even allowing for the late hours the Spanish keep, getting out and about on the first night wasn't really an option. Beer on the terrace and an early(ish) night.

Wednesday.

We kicked off by walking through the Parc de la Ciutadella, a palm-filled oasis with fountains flanked by stone gryphons, glasshouses, a castellated palace, the zoological gardens, table tennis tables, parrakeets scratching for food on the lawn, and people generally enjoying both the heat and the shade.

First stop was Hofmann bakery for freshly ground coffee and croissants filled with mascarpone - these were excellent, with the lovely proprietress fussing around us. Next, we walked through the Borne and Barri Gotic areas, all narrow shady alleys and shuttered buildings. We stopped off in a church, all iron candelabra and tea lights, very tranquil and cool out of the heat.

Continuing on part way up La Rambla we turned off into La Boqueria, the covered market. This was a fab place to explore, with stalls overflowing with butchered meats, seafood, fruits, sweets, cured meats, spices, oils and wines. Numerous stalls had counters and stools, so you could grab a quick lunch. We had fresh seafood cooked to order (sea bass fillet, prawns, baby squid or octopus - we're not quite sure which, razor clams, scallops and probably a lot more creatures of the deep that escape my memory). All washed down with a glass of cava.

Carrying on up La Rambla we joined up with hop on hop off bus route and decided to give our legs a rest. This is not something I'd usually do, having visions of smoke-belching old routemasters takeing bedraggled tourists round in the pissing rain in London, but in 28 degree heat in Barcelona, this turned out to be a fab way of taking in the sights, resting our weary feet and getting a general sense of orientation round the city. We started off in Barceloneta, which has both the regenerated marina area, all yachts and cruise liners, and a lot of 80s architecture - Barca may be famous for modernism but it was interesting to see the array of modern high rises with microchip like surfaces, and even a knock-off of the gerkin. The tour then headed back into town and we passed several of the modernist buildings and the mosque, as well as the Sagrada Familia (more of this later).

After the bus tour we grabbed a mojito and a beer before heading home for quick showers, then out again to Quimet y Quimet - fab tapas in a shoe-box like room, with no seating, but full of bustle and atmosphere. Platters of cheese, meats such as partridge and venision, bread, beers and sangria came to about 25euro if I remember rightly, and went down a treat. We finished off with cocktails in Tribal Bar, decent caipirinhias downed while admiring the slightly creepy puppet display. Back home on the metro.

I have missed out attempted mugging (arrested by one of Tommy's HR stares) and incorrect billing for 2 Seagrams whiskies, these were our only near misses all week and didn't put any dampener on the preceedings whatsoever.

A few pics below for Day 1

http://www.flickr.com/photos/4945230...7634202507320/
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Old Jun 19th, 2013, 10:51 AM
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Thursday.

We started the day with churros sold from a kiosk with a red and white striped awning next to Marina metro. I thought 3 each would be enough but was overruled by Tommy, who said 4, and was secretly quite glad cos it turned out we could have easily eaten twice the amount. Sat on the steps near the metro dipping our churros into thick bittersweet hot chocolate while contemplating the day ahead.

Second task was the purchase of a T10 metro ticket for me. (Uber-organised Mr M had already bought one at the airport), then off we headed to Parc Guell. It was a fair walk from the metro and already a bit scorchio, but there's nothing quite like the incentive of a bit of world class architecture to keep you going and in no time at all we were there. The entrance was very impressive, wibbly wobbly Gaudi towers juxtaposed with ram-rod straight lamp posts, cool and shady caves, plus a vast hall of columns with intricate tiling. Mosaaic salamanders and cats spewing water from their mouths presented numerous photo opportunities for the rabble - we're British so obviously didn't indulge in any of that

We followed the paths round the park, which afforded spectacular views across the city to the sea as we rose ever higher, and took turns to carry the two litre water bottle and ooh and aaah at the various expansive vistas.

Leaving the park we heard singing and poked our heads over a wall to see school children rehearsing a performance. Considerably less hot and bothered than us despite their exertions.

We headed back to the Paral-lel metro area, specifically Carrera Blai, a long shady street full of bars and restaurants that we'd spotted the previous night. Tommy wanted to try pinchos, so we ducked into La Tasqueta de Blai where the bar was already groaning under the weight of multiple plates of food. It's a fab system - you help yourself to whatever you fancy, then the meal is costed based on the number of cocktail sticks on your plate at the end. 1 euro per pincho. We had mini burger sliders, ground beef in peppers, soft cheese topped with roasted courgette, red pepper tapenade with walnuts, a creamier version of gaspacho, mascarpone with bramble jelly and a load of other delectables all served on little slices of bread. Topped off with a great mojito made with Havana Gold, couple of beers for Tommy, and a Cuba Libre. Entertaining strop from the waitress who took a picture of the barman after a row and made a big show of sending it to a friend on her mobile provided the obligatory latin entertainment. Seriously, this was a great place and our find of the week.

We then headed off to Montjuic, taking first the funicular then the cable car. The views from the cable car were superb and a highlight of the day for me. We explored an old fort on top of the hill, and noticed for the first time a container port down by the waters edge. Abutted by a hotel modelled on that sail shaped one in Dubai. Both got the giggles at the thought of tourists paying an arm and a leg for the Barca Sail Hotel, then finding out they had a container port view room.

We walked back down the hill looking for the Olympic stadia, and en-route came across the Joan Miro Foundation, with a collection of his works, plus pieces donated by other artists, as well as a temporary exhibition space. The Miro works were incredible - including a huge tapestry that Tommy said reminded him of a climbing wall, such was the texture and depth, plus examples of his 'Savage' paintings produced during the Spanish civil war and WW2, as well as the mellower Constellation paintings that followed later. Two fab terraces had views out across the city though due to maintenance we couldn't actually go out on them. But this was a fab tranquil oasis and we loved it.

On down the hill a bit further we came across the Olympic athletics arena, which you could wander round for free, Olympic pool (closed, sadly), and the amazing hillside Olympic park, with water features, and yet more world class views.

We continued on down the hill past the museum of Catalunyean art, saw polo players on their ponies practising, then arrived at the magic fountains. We sat on the steps waiting for the light and music show, not realising it was two hours away, so ended up swapping sore feet for sore arses. It was worth it though, because the light show was absolutely spectacular (more giggling at cheesy europop accompanying it, plus a bit of red mist at gits taking pics and videos on their humungous ipads). Our camera batteries ran out as the light show reached its most intense, so we resolved to come back the next night fully charged.

Finished the evening with paella for Tommy, halibut for me, more booze for us both, sore everything and huge blisters. Tired but very happy.

More pics below:-

http://www.flickr.com/photos/4945230...7634213674839/
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Old Jun 19th, 2013, 11:30 AM
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Lovely reading Rose. Thanks for posting, and glad you had a great time!
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Old Jun 19th, 2013, 11:33 AM
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Thank you Julia. Btw, I saw you'd used Airbnb and that gave me the confidence to try it.
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Old Jun 19th, 2013, 12:02 PM
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Wonderful TR and shots. The apartment looks beautiful.
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Old Jun 19th, 2013, 12:41 PM
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Ty Tdudette. The apartment was great.
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Old Jun 19th, 2013, 01:22 PM
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I love your photos, especially the food at La Boqueria!! Thanks. I'll make sure to visit the place when we are in the area in October.

Looking forward to more of your TR!!
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Old Jun 19th, 2013, 01:29 PM
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Thank you Joy. I have a day and a bit to go
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Old Jun 19th, 2013, 01:51 PM
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PS You will love La Boqueria - make sure you try all the freebies like crème catalan...
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Old Jun 19th, 2013, 02:41 PM
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Really enjoying this, it's been too long since I went to Barcelona.
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Old Jun 19th, 2013, 03:01 PM
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I am really enjoying your report! your pictures are beautiful!
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Old Jun 19th, 2013, 03:12 PM
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Ty Nikki and Jane.
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Old Jun 20th, 2013, 12:36 AM
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Great report and photos, will definitely drop by La Tasqueta de Blai next time in Barcelona. Poble Sec is great, and I had my find on a recent trip about 200-300 meters away. Can highly recommend La Perla a bit up towards the Mercat de les Flors theaters: http://www.tripadvisor.in/Restaurant...a.html#REVIEWS
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Old Jun 20th, 2013, 01:12 AM
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Thanks for the recommendation Kimhe - will definitely try that next time
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Old Jun 20th, 2013, 06:37 AM
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Great report with some great tips for upcoming trip, so gracias. and the photos are great - now I can't wait. Hope there is more to come
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Old Jun 20th, 2013, 07:07 AM
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Thank you - there will be more tonight
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Old Jun 20th, 2013, 07:09 AM
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yes, great report, thanks for writing it. some bits [the ref to it being "scorchio" for example], could only have been written by a brit.

more please!
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Old Jun 20th, 2013, 07:35 AM
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Thanks Ann - I have a day and a bit to go, plus return travel info, and loads more pics, so will try to get some more up after I am fed and watered this evening. Btw, I'm glad 'scorchio' was appreciated.
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Old Jun 20th, 2013, 01:53 PM
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Friday.

Up at a decent hour, showered, elastoplastered to within an inch of our lives to protect yesterdays blisters, slathered in Tommy's factor 50, then off! Like the hobbits we favour two breakfasts - a cup of tea and yoghurt on the terrace, plus something involving pastry, frying, or ideally both on the move. Today was an empanada for Tommy, Danish for me and two decent coffees grabbed in the metro café.

We'd saved Gaudi for our last full day, and it would be fair to say were quite excited about it. I was close to bursting! We'd got our essentials pared down to a bare minimum by this time - 17mm lens on my camera so it would go in a handbag or pocket quite easily, Tommy helpfully ripping the map out of the Lonely Planet Guide so we wouldn't have to waste valuable space taking the whole book.

We got to Sagrada Familia by 10:00ish and were given false hope by the lack of queues at the Glory Façade - this turned out to be the group entrance. Even stuffed full of empanadas we doubted we'd pass for a group, so dutifully queued up. We probably didn't have to wait more than about 30 mins, and were entertained by the construction going on around us. In case you've been living on another planet, Gaudi's masterpiece is unfinished and work likely to continue till at least the 2020s.

What can I say about this magnificent piece of architecture that could possibly do it justice? Probably nothing. It's a wonderfully organic building, with columns soaring skyward like trees, leaves furled and birds swooping over the doorway. Biblical figures are represented in a cubist meets Lewis chessman sort of style. Windows blaze with technicolour stained glass, offset by clear portals alongside. An exhibition in an ante room cites honeycomb and crystalisation as influences.

Having taken a zillion pictures we exited the cathedral and continued on our way - Gaudi's La Pedrera (Casa Mila) next on our list. Another shortish queue and then into this marvel of art nouveau. You go straight up to the roof, which is undulating and peppered with sinister figural chimneys. We both wished we could have seen them at one of the night viewings. More spectacular views out across the city. Back down a level or two to the show flat - furnished as it would have been when the apartment block opened. The layout was very strange - appropriately meandering and organic, but highly impractical. Chandeliers glittered over tessellated parquet floors. A rocking horse sat lifeless below a netted window, and the kitchen was full of old glasses and bottles ready for a dinner party.

Continuing on down endless flights of stairs we exited the building and made for the next modernist building on our list - Casa Batllo. This we opted just to view from outside - our tired feet and hungry tummies dictating the pace, though we did have time for a brief ooh and aah at all the posh shops along Pasasge De Gracia, especially the red dress in Ferragamo's window and big blingy diamond earrings in a posh jewellers.

Back to Paral-lel to our favourite pinchos haunt and we both agreed a nice chilled afternoon was in order, so worked our way through various cocktails and nibbles. After a leisurely afternoon of guzzling, troughing and people watching we headed back to the flat for showers and a change of clothes and shoes.

We looked up restaurants on Trip Advisor, picked a local one and headed out for dinner. Unfortunately, we had trouble finding the place we'd picked - there was a bit of redevelopment going on in the Born area making access to some streets slightly tricky - however the upside was we came across a geleteria and I got treated to blue ice cream.

Eventually we found a suitable place to eat - I cannot remember the name, only that it was in a narrow, passagey part of the old town surrounded by posh wedding dress shops and couturiers. I had a fab roast lamb dish with pepper, potaoes and onions. Tommy had steak in a creamy mushroomy sauce and we shared a bottle of very very good rioja.

Back to the Plaza Espana for the light show, with cameras at the ready. More cheesy europop, and inexplicably, what seemed to be several amateur fashion shoots taking place round the fountains - a number of woman in skimpy lycra dresses or 70s pants suits complete with chain belts being posed by middle aged men in high waisted jeans. More giggling about tedious dinner parties where these photos would likely be passed round bored and long suffering guests barely suppressing yawns.

Snaps successfully snapped we headed back to the Tribal Bar and finished the night with cocktails. And a fight over who got to go to the loo first. Tommy gentlemanly crossed his legs and got the caipirinhias in while I bolted for the ladies. Had a great couple of hours reminiscing about the trip and getting a bit tipsy, then treated ourselves to a taxi home so we didn't have to rush for the last metro. Into bed and asleep in minutes.

Pics ici:-

http://www.flickr.com/photos/4945230...7634233032003/
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