Thursday 21st of November
London to Barcelona:
I was in a pub in London Bridge, waiting for my friend Mel, suitcase ready, beer in hand thinking about the journey we were about to start. It was not the first time, nor the second, nor the third…that I was going to Barcelona. But it is always an exciting place to go. It is the most multicultural city in Spain, a bit like London but it still maintains all its Spanish roots. It is the best place if you want to do the tourism trail of museums, churches & monuments or go to the beach, have typical Spanish tapas and enjoy the Spanish “marcha” in the night in the same city.
Mel arrived at the bar, she too was very excited, and this was her first trip to Barcelona with Spanish as her second language. Our journey started hap-hazardly – it was 5pm, our flight from Gatwick was at 7:20pm, we had to be checked in by 6pm. A station guard told us where to get the train and that is would arrive at Gatwick at 6pm. Having just 3 minutes to catch the train we were still in a long queue to purchase out tickets. We decided live life dangerously, Mel grabbed my hand and with determination we charged through the barrier flashing an out of date travel card under the ticket inspectors nose – he was not concentrating and let us through. Now that we were on the train, we discussed the fastest route from train to terminal – deep in conversation and 20 minutes down the line we arrived at Gatwick. We were there, at Gatwick, ahead of time, check-in completed and even time for some shopping.
It was already dark when the plane took off from London, however as we flew over Barcelona you could see the street lights, monuments and other great sights lit up in this beautiful city. As we looked out the window admiring the city that lay beneath us, we could see a beautiful full moon, casting an immaculate light over the beach of Barcelona. It truly was a welcoming sight
Arriving & Driving in Barcelona:
Eager to get out of the airport and see Barcelona for ourselves, we rushed through passport control and over to the baggage reclaim – to our delight our bags were the first off. We grabbed out luggage and headed straight to the car hire desk. The formalities seemed to take forever, we didn’t want to be in the sterile airport, we wanted to be out in the city of Barcelona. Once we’d signed on the dotted line we ran out to our little blue Toyota Yaris. This little car was the key to all our adventures. When you are used to driving in England, like my friend Mel is it takes a few minutes to get used to driving on the right hand side. It is not very difficult when you are following the rest of the cars on the road, the problem comes when you find a roundabout and you have to remember to turn to the right whilst looking for oncoming traffic to the left. It was really funny to see us approaching to a “rotonda” and singing ” a la derecha, a la derecha, bien!” (on the right, on the right, goooood).
The remainder of the drive was uneventful and we admired the sights of Barcelona from the motorway as we headed towards the surrounding hills. I had chosen to stay with my family in a village 20-km from the city. Mel is not only my friend but also a student of Spanish and I wanted her to get the most out her time in Barcelona. The opportunity to fit into the culture of a Spanish family and to speak Spanish would provide not only great experience for my friend but great memories too.
Friday 22nd of November:
We got up on Friday ready for a full day’s shopping in Barcelona. After a good Spanish breakfast of dipped in coffee and a shower we were ready to drive to the city, not without a detour to the airport first! In my haste to leave the airport I took the wrong case – it was an easy mistake to make, as both cases were green. As with all our driving experiences something happened along the way – we got lost for first (and not last) time, ending up in the port instead of the airport. Going back looking for the airport two guys told us to follow a plane, so we did and as you’d expect, we found the airport.
Driving in the city is not too difficult as it is basically a grid system with a couple of large roads going into and out-of the city centre. The most difficult thing to get used to was stopping at the yellow traffic lights. In Spain you have to stop at a yellow traffic light, because it means that it will become red in seconds, this especially applies to pedestrian crossings. We used to stop on top of white stripes pretending to be pedestrians in a car, we though it was amusing but the pedestrians did not! Parking is a different story – although expensive it is better to park in a dedicated car park as roadside parking can be difficult and have extremely limited times. We left our car in an undercover parking facility just off Las Ramblas for the whole day. Our shopping started in earnest.
The best place to shop is in the two main streets around the Placa de Catalunya: Puerto del Angel and calle Pelai. Concentrated in these two main streets you’ll find all kind of shops ranging from chic boutiques, department stores, high street fashion (MNGO & Zara) and quirky individual clothing, music and bric-a-brac shops. But if it is “alta costura” that you’re looking for, Passeig the Gracia is the equivalent to Sloane Street in London. It is not only famous for designer boutiques (Burberry, Armani) but it’s home to some of the most popular tourist sights in Barcelona. If you don’t find what you are looking for in the streets or you are tired of walking, take a browse around El Corte Ingles just in the centre of the placa. It is the biggest national department store, you can find anything in there but you will pay a bit more for the convenience.
When you are in the Placa de Catalunya you cannot miss the opportunity to go for a walk down one of the most famous streets in Barcelona: Las Ramblas. Walking down Las Ramblas you will find on the right the most important food market in the city called: La Boqueria. It is tradition for most of the locals to go on Saturdays and do their weekly shopping in la Boqueria. You can find everything there, fresh fruit and veg, fresh meat and fish brought straight from the port. As this is a specialist market you may think the prices could a little high but not at la Boqueria, the quality of produce/products here is very high and the prices very reasonable. However, you will need to spend time browsing at the prices, as the price in every stand will vary. There is a general rule that the stands nearer the entrance is more expensive than the ones at the back of the market.
Driving back to the village wasn’t as easy as we thought. Coming out from the car park we had to find the biggest street in Barcelona: Avenida de Diagonal. However, with so many one way streets it took us half an hour to get to the street, which was just round the corner. Asking locals was fine but they forgot we are driving and they were giving us the directions of a pedestrian, anyway we arrived a little late but safe in my sister’s village.
Saturday: Tourism around Barcelona
Saturday was our day for tourism. We would be spending the whole day in the city and as the transport in Barcelona is quite good we decided to leave little Yaris in the village and go by bus. We met my friend Xavi (very typical Catalonian name) for lunch, which consisted of typical Catalonian dishes and a nice bottle of Roja (of course). During lunch we discussed taking one of the marvelous tourist buses around the city – the kind you can jump on and off at any time. Xavi knows Barcelona very well as he was born there so he offered to be our private tour guide.
Before visiting Barcelona, try and read some literature on Gaudi, knowing about him and his work will give you more of an insight into the architecture of Barcelona. Gaudi is one of the most important personalities in Catalonian history, he was the most revolutionary architect, applying infinity of originalities to his works. He was a very religious person and he was happy to do great works related with God and the Catholic faith, his biggest work is La Sagrada Familia (the Holy Family). It is the main cathedral of the city and even though it remains unfinished you can appreciate the magnificence of his work. His protector was Eusebi Guell, most of Gaudi’s work contain some reference to the name of Guell like the parque Guell (Guell Park), palau guell (The palace where Guell used to live), colonia guell.…………. all of them are worth visiting.
With Xavi as our private guide, we opted to see the sights of Barcelona on foot and using the Metro – we purchased a 10-journey ticket, which is valid on buses and the Metro system. Each journey is valid for an hour, this proves great value as you can hop on & off the bus/metro after one validation as many times as you like within an hour. For the most striking examples of Gaudi’s “houses” take a walk down the street Passeig de Gracia: Casa Mila (also called La Pedrera) and Casa Batlo. We visited the La Sagrada Familia, walked along Passeig de Gracia, then continued to the gothic quarter and all of this was done with the occasional cerveza (beer) at one of the many outdoor bars. It is impossible to see Barcelona in one or two days however enjoying the architecture of Gaudi and simply wandering the streets gives you a real flavour for Barcelona……………… and hopefully the incentive to return!
After all the sightseeing and beers in the local pubs we decided to have some tapas for dinner. The 23rd of November – Barcelona came alive as they played host to the biggest “local” football derby, Real Madrid vs. F.C.Barcelona. All the bars in the centre were completely crowded, so Mel and I decided to go a bit further south of Barcelona. The best tapas bars in every city in Spain are those where the locals go regularly, they are much cheaper and better quality. If you like prawns the best of the best is the “Gambas a la plancha” (grilled prawns), we ordered at least 3 raciones (plates). And in Barcelona all the fish is good: squid, octopus. pescaito (little fish)…everything. And, of course our tapas were washed down with a jar of Sangria! And then: MARCHA!
We met Xavi again at 11pm, a normal time to meet up in Spain to go out for the evening. Be warned, for 18 year-olds this is considered early! And after a few beers in the pubs we went to “La Paloma”. It is a nightclub where if you go before 1am you will find an orchestra playing old songs for “middle aged” bachelors and singles of the area, but at 1am it transforms into one of the most popular nightclubs for the young people.
Barcelona, unlikely most of the cities in Spain, doesn’t have just a zone of Marcha but lots. If you want to be near the sea you can go to the port (in the summer) or the Maremagnum. If you go to the Poble espanyol (Spanish village) you can do some tourism and see miniatures from all over Spain like the Giralda of Sevilla, have some tapas and then go to the night clubs which are quite popular in the city.
Sunday 24th of November:
We bid farewell to La Paloma at 7:30 Sunday morning. After a few hours sleep, we got up at 11:30, we had planned to visit some tourist sites outside the city with my family. If you have the opportunity of going outside the city you cannot miss going to “La colonia Guell”. Mr Guell, Gaudi’s protector was an important figure in the industrial sector and wanted Gaudi to build a little village for his staff working in his cotton factory. There are characteristic houses and a school, all around the factory. But the most important building is the Church, called “la cripta de Gaudi”. Definitely you cannot see anything alike in the world. This work includes all the innovations Gaudi used throughout all his works.
As usual, after a good session of sightseeing comes a good session of food. And now we were out of the city we knew it wouldn’t be difficult to find a good restaurant. The trick is to find a Meson or any typical Catalan restaurant. Driving through the mountains we arrived at Las torrets where you can see “catalunya en miniatura” (little Catalonia) and enjoyed a great lunch in the restaurant. If you want to have the typical Catalonian meal, you can order a “botifarra con mungetas”,a big sausage with white beans. And as a dessert the “crema catalana”, it is creme brulee with caramel on the top and it is wonderful!
But what we loved the most was the calcons. Calcons is a seasonal dish that you can experience in the autumn. They are bigger than spring onions and similar shape as leeks. You have to wear a baby napkin, dip then in a sauce and eat them from the tip, they are gorgeous!!!
With wonderful memories, a full stomach and a heavy heart, we left my family and Barcelona for the drive back to the airport.
Helpful Hints for travelling to Barcelona.
How to get there:
Easyjet offers the best fares and flight times for a short break. We took the 7:20pm flight from Gatwick which arrives at 10:15pm Barcelona. For our return journey we took the 10pm flight from Barcelona, this arrives in Gatwick at 12:15pm. This allows you to have three full days in Barcelona without having to take too much time off work.
If you want to be a bit more adventurous Buzz flies into Papiogn, which is in France but it’s only a very scenic hour drive over the Pyrenesse to Barcelona. The fares are under £100 (depending on date & time of travel)
We chose our car from the Internet – Holiday Auto’s, their agent in Barcelona is Europcar. Both companies offer highly competitive rates, good quality cars and as they’re based at the airport you can land, collect and go. A word of warning — all Spanish rental companies expect the car to come back with a full tank of petrol, there are NO petrol stations at the airport and very few in close proximity. So DON’T leave it until 1 or 2 miles out from the airport to get petrol, as you won’t be able too.
If you intended to pay for any purchases, whether it be food, clothing or tickets with a card you MUST have your passport with you One of the most important things in Spain is your passport, you’ll need to take it with you everywhere as they will ask to see it as ID with all card/travelers cheque purchases.
Places to Stay:
Barcelona is full of hotels and self-catering rooms, which are reasonably priced. If you want to save money and experience a more Spanish way of life it is better to stay outside of Barcelona – Sitges for example is a lovely place to stay, only 20 minutes on the Metro. You can find apartments here for as little as €40 per day (off peak). The Catalonian Tourist website has some very good links for accommodation.
There is a general misconception that the people of Barcelona will only speak Catalonian to you – this is incorrect, although their language is Catalan everybody can speak and understand Castillano (the official language of Spain). The people of Barcelona are very friendly and will happily help you with your Spanish or many places the staff are happy to converse in English too.
On a whole Barcelona is a safe, clean and vibrant city. Pick Pockets and bag snatchers hang around the main shopping street (Las Ramblas) – so much like any other big city you need to be sensible with your belongings and cautious.