• Barcelona 2016 Day 4

    Nov 1, 2016

    Today was a national holiday so we hadn’t planned to see things in case they were closed, although many attractions were open for free on the special day.

    After a staggered breakfast we sat down to play boardgames. I made some grave errors in a game of Codenames, essentially ruining a couple of rounds by accidentally hinting, and on one occasion actually saying the wrong word aloud and picking the assassin. This was set to be the hottest day of the week. Naturally this meant it was prime time to head to the beach, yes, the first of November.

    We went through the Arc de Triomf and down the huge avenue leading to the park. You could walk right through it. Balloon sellers and bubble blowers lined the path, with the occasional Selfie Stick seller.

    There were some large slabs of rocks, labelled, part of the way down, outside several brick greenhouse structures (glass roofed). Sadly there was no english on the signs, so the purpose and contents remained a mystery to us. We reached the zoo, known to be home to some Red Pandas! Steph didn’t really want to go in, and Tom was set on the beach, so that’s where we went. The route that we took seemed to be a bit ‘off the beaten track’. But by going that way we had a better angle of a birds nest shaped building and we saw a different view of the city. The beach had plenty of people on, along with a few swimmers. I had taken my shoes off to walk across it and not get sand in my shoes. I regretted this not long into the walk when I saw the sheer amount of broken glass that was around, which I hoped wasn’t a constant problem, but a result of the holiday season.

    We hadn’t sat down for long before a lady touting a 5 Euro massage demonstrated on Chris just to let him know what he was missing out on by saying no. This turned out to be the first of many offers. Others sellers were quite enterprising in offering cocktails, soft drinks, and beers. There was quite a breeze, which meant I was a little cooler than comfortable in shorts and shirt. Tom went in for a swim (brave!). After a while I was quite hungry, thankfully not alone, we ventured back towards the city centre. We took a slightly different route and found a street café. Here Alex opted for some Bream, I had a chorizo baguette . We deliberately didn’t have a full meal here as Steph was planning to make a pasta dish when we got back to the apartment.

    The meal was delicious, and I’m very grateful to Steph for making it. We opened the bottle of Cava that the hosts provided us with. This went down a treat and went towards substantial merriment with plenty of Gin and Tonic, and beer. It turns out that the Estrella here is far nicer than back home. Surprising, huh!? Evidently the export we get isn’t the premium that they have! I went to bed with a slight headache, but very content. We had a lovely time playing games, but making sure we were very quiet as we were past the 10pm curfew for noise.

  • Barcelona 2016 Day 3

    Oct 31, 2016

    Today, the markets now being open, we went off to experience the crowds, sights, and various foods on offer at Mercat de Santa Caterina (1), and Mercat de la Boqueria (2). We were now more weary of thieves and so took minimal belongings with us. On the way to the first market there was an interesting brick building, where the different prick depths made up a tree within the walls, almost like a sketch. The first market we went to was quite easy to spot thanks to its beautifully colourful roof tiling. It wasn’t very busy, which gave us a nice time to savour the sights and gave us enough time to have a proper look at the foods on offer. There were a lot of large colourful fruit and vegetables on offer. A large stall of interesting looking Mushrooms. Alex bought some and was given a generous portion of fresh parsley as an accompaniment.

    Chris and I bought a ‘Meat Cone’ comprising of Serrano Ham and a couple of pieces of dried bread each. I found it amusing that they came in semi-grease-proof paper, which had a newspaper design printed on the outside, but not the inside, I guess they were trying to modernise the older packaging of an actual newspaper. The most intriguing item on offer to me was the Gin and Tonic Burger, but I didn’t purchase one as I wasn’t sure what meal plans were going to be. Chris bought us all some pork and cheese deep fried things, which looked a lot like tater tots. They weren’t hot, but went down a treat.

    Arriving at the second market I was pleased with the order that we had decided to visit them in. This place was incredibly busy with tourists and locals alike. It was very difficult to traverse the aisles with the sheer mass of people. There were a large selection of colourful fruit smoothies on offer, which Steph and Alex bought a couple of. Each time we reached the end of an aisle we stood aside for a moment to regroup, observe from the sidelines, and have a brief reprieve from the human crush before. Once we’d taken in enough of it we left with an aim to go to the museum of contemporary art - Barcelona’s equivalent of the Tate Modern.

    On the way we passed a lovely shop selling leather-bound note books, which wouldn’t have gone amiss in fantasy films or TV shows like Merlin. It’d be lovely to have one, but at the asking price of 80 Euros!? Another interesting shop was one with shelves full of rows up on rows of miniature rubber ducks. It was not far from here that we had our first taste of San Gria. Quite similar to mulled wine, but sweeter and not warm. Nice and refreshing in the sun.

    Just before reaching the Museum of Contemporary art we found an exhibition put on by the Museum of Culture. There was a huge central rug with signs on it saying not to proceed with shoes on. I just about managed to stop Tom from walking across it with his shoes on in time!

    When we arrived at the actual art museum the others were not keen on the entry fee so we didn’t go any further. It was good to see that there were a lot of skateboarders making good use of the super smooth paving stones around it. A bit further around the corner the main cultural centre exhibits were closed. But the shop was open. I saw a lot of lovely design books, and could see Kirsty getting absorbed in the selection if she ever visited. Some of the shelves had barcode readers, which gave the pries of the books rather than having stickers over each one. We found a book called ‘Tom’, which had homoerotic images throughout - perfect for a religious man like him! I picked up a couple of things here for Kirsty as a thank-you for the support in recent times, and some photos of what was for sale.

    Afterwards, we went off in search of food, heading towards the coast for a Tapas bar that we had found online. We passed several venues after passing this one as we were discovering almost all of them were closed. After another quick look on Google Trips we set off in the direction of a local friendly one. We arrived to see a completely full restaurant with several people outside, like Franco Manca at peak times. We had waited for 15 minutes and seen a couple leave, but being 5 of us we were aware that it was increasingly unlikely that we were going to get a seat ay time soon. They explicitly said on a sign that they didn’t speak English, so we were confident that it wouldn’t be a tourist trap. But we were very hungry and decided to leave it and search elsewhere. We ended up settling for a promenade restaurant with outdoor seating. The food here was mediocre and Alexa branded the salad ‘Tesco Express’ and was a bit disappointed in paying for it - it came for free as an accompaniment to my falafel and humous. Steph had a nice looking Mojito, which was rather strong!

    Now all rather tired we set off for the apartment again. On the way through the streets we heard a loud bang, which made me jump. Looking further ahead there was a large gathering of people next to a flaming monument. More bangs went of as we approached to see that there was a ‘bonfire boys’ display in full swing with plenty of drum beating. To our mild horror we saw that the square was full of children running around holding Catherine wheels on sticks above their heads and dancing around while they were lit. On closer inspection you could see that they wore visors to protect their faces. We saw a couple of police and an ambulance on standby. The proceedings were bought to an end with the children gathering their sticks into a point and an adult lighting them all with a flare. The square lit up in a frenzy of sparks and cacophony of bangs. A few unlit ones were then relit and their holders danced up close to the crowd edge, who visibly retreated - understandably!

  • Barcelona 2016 Day 2

    Oct 30, 2016

    I surfaced rather early after a relatively sleepless night to see that the shower was nice. However, I also started to note that the house wasn’t quite as nice as you could be lead to believe from the pictures, although perfectly adequate they had a bit of a damp problem in the bathroom, and some of the kitchen cupboard doors weren’t quite flush, but lovely all the same.

    It was lovely to sit in the sun trap room at the back of the apartment on the futon, complete with bolster cushions (thanks to Kirsty pointing it out!). As I sat there with a coffee reading my book, Goldenhand - The Old Kingdom Series by Garth Nix, I began to relax and really feel like I was on holiday. The coffee came from a mini hamper that the hosts provided us with, which also had some Champagne and a tube of Pringles, just right for snacking on after our flight. It was just right, I began to take in the rest of the flat décor and furnishings. It was minimalist with bold colours in contrast to the black and white of the majority of the furnishings. There were a number of ornaments with natural materials, wood and pebbles scattered around, but not feeling cluttered. It was relaxing in the short term, but I could see that it didn’t look like it would be cosy or have the sense of home without a bit more personality on show. It was good to see that a lot of it had actually come from IKEA, so I’ll probably be doing the same when I eventually land my own place to call home and am not renting. The sun trap/contemplation zone also had a giant Chinese lantern lamp on a bending pole. I felt like it went really well with the futons and completed the aesthetic.

    After a rather leisurely start we went in the direction of the main square en-route to Montserrat Abbey. We planned to stop for Coffee and brunch along the way. We stopped by a café called ‘Le Petit Pot’, which had lovely décor comprising of old luggage, ornaments hanging from ropes from the ceiling, and old cameras in old slat fruit boxes attached to the wall. Inadvertently I had chosen to have freshly squeezed orange juice at the grand price of €4! It was lovely and sweet, but with the exchange rate of the time being 91p to €1 it was quite steep!

    When a table was free we moved to order some food. Each of us asking for different things, I went for a Smoked Salmon bagel with avocado. Naturally, as it had just passed 12 and I had seen a local doing so I also ordered a beer, opting for a half pint of the local Barcelona Pilsner, which proved to be crisp and refreshing. There was a lovely fluffy brown dog in the café too, drawing al lot of attention to the clientele. Perhaps too much of ours too, as within a short space of time after that, Steph noticed that her bag was gone! Somehow, under all of our noses it had been taken from near the table! The staff were very helpful, apologetic, and friendly. One even offered Steph some pancakes in the hope that something sweet would help to lift her spirits. The explained that this was only the third time that it had happened in their café. They gave us the address of the police station, and Steph and Chris set off to it, having finished, while Alex and I finished our meals.

    I was glad of my Pixel (phone) to navigate us to the police station after making quick use of the free WiFi that the café offered. Unknowingly we walked down Las Ramblas a street market down the central reservation of a road, which was lined with Police. Despite this I was increasingly keeping an eye on my bag and making sure things in it weren’t going to be easily accessible. Evidently there was a fair bit of it nearby. I think I may have seen a couple of others who had been affected on the way as well as at the station itself.

    The police were helpful to Steph and wrote down the things she was lacking for the support including phone IMEI. We were instructed to go to a nearby café to get free WiFi in order to cancel all of Steph’s cards. Alex used some of his prepaid credit on a VOIP account after spending a little while to check the phone’s location on Google Maps history, but this sadly requires an internet connection, which the phone didn’t have without WiFi, and at this stage only two locations would’ve worked. When we entered the café Alex ordered a coffee and croissant, asking for a table for 4. Due to the wonders of translation, it turned out he’d actually asked for 4 servings of the refreshment, so all of us enjoyed them, it turned out they were less than €2 each. Considerably cheaper than even just a coffee in London.

    Determined not to let the event rain on our day we soon headed off in the direction of the train station to take us to Montserrat. After a bit of a hunt around the numerous station entrances around the square we found the correct one and bought return tickets that included the cable car up to Montserrat itself. The journey lasted around an hour. The route above the door had LEDs flashing to show which the next station was, and solid red for the stations we had passed. The temperature underground, much like the Bakerloo line in mid summer in London made me glad to be wearing shorts and T-shirt.

    On arrival we discovered that somewhere along the journey Chris had lost his ticket. Thankfully there were no barriers to disembark the other end, unlike the UK. We set off with the plan to originally walk up. But no thanks to the thief we were delayed and decided it’d be best to just take the cable car. While queuing we could see two dogs out behind a fence. One of which was pacing up and down, who we nicknamed Audrey as it seemed to be a dog version of him. Some tourists were certainly making a lot of use out of their selfie sticks. They took a shine to a young lady with a child and began to take photos of her, and posed with her for photos. This seemed a little alien to us with our more guarded culture. Chris decided that he’d try to blag his way through the cable car as he still had his receipt for the train fair, of which mine was the other half. Thankfully the guard stamped it and let us through, although was a little frustrated at first.

    The end of the cable car journey up reminded me of the swing in New Zealand, which drew rather close to the rock face. The other large group filmed the entire journey. When stepping out at the other end we were quite surprised to see just how long the queue was to get back down. There was a brisk wind that instantly made me regret my choice of attire. In passing other locals who were well equipped with thick coats and scarves I felt quite foolish!

    The Abbey was beautiful and an impressive feat to build at the altitude it was at. I lent Steph my camera, having lost hers in the bag the thief took. The peace and quiet within the Abbey was lovely. Large pieces of art were situated in the alcoves. There were large lanterns of varying origin hanging at the edges. These had been modernised slightly with lightbulbs instead of lit candles. Alex had become intrigued with the ‘Laser Bird’, a dove with rays of light (I’d interpret as hope) seeming to originate from its wings.

    Following on from this we went into a side door, which lead into tunnel of hundreds of coloured candles. In the low light I began to snap away and have a play with different shutter speeds on my phone. While listening to Alex explaining how to achieve an abstract blur by moving the camera as the shutter was open. Chris was more successful with his actual camera, but I was very pleased with my own results too. After a while here, made warm by the candles, we decided we needed to start making headway back to the city centre and joined the queue to descend in the cable car. The queue definitely grew behind us, full of people with nice warm looking coats while we stood there shivering in the biting cold wind. There was a well-behaved dog in the queue with us. We were aware at this point that we would be late in meeting Tom. It took us over an hour in the queue, then we had another half an hour wait for the train, which we managed to find shelter from the wind by huddling near a ticket machine.

    I was relieved to see that the train was not calling at every stop on the way back. I certainly needed the loo by this point, but I didn’t want to become separated from the group and have an hour long wait for the next train. When we reached the end we rushed to board the metro to get to Tom as fast as possible, now an hour late. He was visibly panicked but relieved when we arrived. He’d been trying to use the passing buses WiFi connections to get in contact, but unfortunately neither of the messages Chris tried to send were received, nor did Chris receive any from him whilst on the Train. He quickly forgave us and the University gang was back together again (apart from Audrey, Alex H).

  • Barcelona 2016 Day 1

    Oct 29, 2016

    Arrival in Spain, rather warm bus journey on Aerobus (pronounced - aye-row-booz). Then a very busy introduction to Barcelona followed when arriving at Plasa de Catalunya. There were a great many people there. Many with luggage. When walking to the apartment, although not far away, I was very glad to have a backpack hold-all rather than wheely luggage. The temperature difference was quite stark in comparison to back at home and the plane journey. So it wasn’t long before I was trying to find a place to put my hoodie, feeling especially like a backpacker with my hand luggage on my front like a baby.

    The building itself was a sharp introduction to Spanish layout, the central elevator was very similar to that of the one we had while in Rome - though significantly more sturdy. There is a ‘Principle’ floor before the first floor, which was where we were met by the person who had buzzed us in from the street. It was soon clear that his English was very limited and he had in fact been expecting to buzz in someone else. So after a brief and beffudling exchange we established that we needed to go further up. We were still a bit unsure as to whether or not that was the host, despite looking nothing like their picture.

    After some serious deliberation about which doorbell to ring - there appeared to be two close together, and one further away, all looking like light switches, so one was picked and we rang it. The Airbnb hosts were very friendly in greeting us, but with some surprise as they hadn’t actually let us in the building. They gave us a quick run through of the rooms. The place was much larger than it looked in the pictures online. The kitchen was just as lime green. There was going to be plenty of space to rattle around in for a week!

    After briefly unpacking our things we went to the local mini supermarket (Supermercat, from this point on always referenced as ‘Super meercat’ by myself!). We made sure to stock up on plenty of beer and Gin for the next couple of days. Chris was confidently saying that he had looked up that the Markets would be open on Sunday, however later on he was slightly ridiculed for this and was branded with having the reputation for saying the opposite of the truth.

    We didn’t really fancy cooking at all, so we had a skim of the plethora of food offerings that Barcelona had to offer on Google Trips, I settled on a Tapas bar called BETLEM - Miscelánea Gastronómica. We shared a bottle of wine and tried the Pork Dewlap, which is now the stuff of legend.

    After all of the travelling we all got an early night - grateful in our decision to buy some bottled water, the tap water had a very pungent scent of chlorine, although we looked up online - after a lengthy task of typing in a huge password to use the WiFi - that it was quite safe to drink. Being techy, Alex and myself were pleased to see that the download speed was ample for us.