Ok, am a bit more settled now, and can write about our time away 🙂
We arrived on Saturday evening to a drizzly day, but warm, with palm trees swaying in the breeze at the airport 🙂 and caught the airport bus to 2 mins walk from our hotel, off Rambla de la Catalunya. The original hotel booking had fallen through, and it was bank holiday weekend for the Spaniards, so the only place we could get centrally was a 4* hotel, and we expected a LOT for our extra money. We certainly got it 😀 Hotel Calderon (wait for it, the names get better :D) was fantastic, and we had a wide balcony outside with a view of the Rambla DL Catalunya (a wide road with a central reservation full of cafe seating and big leafy trees), and a gorgeous little room complete with 70% choccy and hotel sponsored Smints 😀 No tea or coffee making facilities though 🙁 For our first evening we just wandered around a little, and went to a tapas place nearby (the lush Cata 1.81 – not cheap, but very very good), and accidentally found Casa Batllo on our way there. I love it when that happens – you don’t plan to see something yet, but you just happen upon it and the impact is so much greater! It was a bit dusky and busy, but it is such a stunning building, with so much to see on the outside alone – if you visit the city, I can’t recommend it enough. After a lazy evening with the tapas being brought out a plate at a time (which is definitely not the way it is served here, so it surprised me), and a gorgeous dessert of ‘crispy bombs’ (a filo pastry bomb with yoghurt and honey in which you pop in your mouth in one go and it just pops as you bite on it. Mmmm), and a long glass of wine, we wandered back to the hotel.
Next morning, and it is absolutely pissing it down. Warm and humid, but you just know you are going to get soaked! We weren’t sure where to start so we went to find breakfast and went the easy route with a nearby Starbucks. While we were working out what to do, DB spotted a guy outside with a tv camera, and a team of sports guys walking past with a few kids running up for autographs. They turned out to be a Spanish football team who were due to play Barcelona that night (thanks for the research Sarah! Can you remember their name? It was something like Ludavante UD). Rather funkily, they were staying at our hotel 😀 We may not have got breakfast, but clearly we were officially in the upper classes… Although apparently they lost as they were at the bottom of the same league, so not that upper class 😉 We figured that once the rain died down a bit we’d go and have a proper look around near where we were staying, so we strolled towards Placa de Catalunya and down past the gothic cathedral, which was covered in scaffolding. A trip down to the port to see the sculptures on the sea front, and an afternoon exhausting ourselves climbing Montjuic (yup, we climbed like the idiots we are instead of taking the funicular) and wandering around the castle on top enjoying the views, and an evening of eating and drinking again and we were happy 😀
Monday we decided to have a Gaudi day as the weather was stunning and scorching, so we went back to Casa Batllo and Casa Amatllo next door (the chocolate house, designed by another modernista architect and stunning stained glasswork inside) and saw Casa Mila, and for a walk round the Sagrada Familia. The queues to get in were massive and full of Spaniards, so we figured we could go back and look after the weekend when it would be quieter, and head up to Parc Guell in the afternoon. Not to be I’m afraid. On the bus on the way up to the park, it was heaving, and this guy who was wandering around the bus and arousing my suspicions leaned on my hand on the post with his rucksack, pushed past me and an elderly man who was trying to get off the bus and shouted at him as he walked off, and my bag was suddenly open 🙁 I’d been so careful too! My handbag is an over the shoulder/cross the body one, with the zip opening from the inside of the body rather than the outside, and I’d been holding it to my front so when he pushed past me, he must have pulled it round and opened it in one move 🙁 Feeling pretty miserable we caught the bus back so I could phone from the hotel and cancel my bank card. Who should we see on the way back but the same guy I’d been worried about! I pointed him out to DB as the guy was getting off the bus, and DB said he saw him passing something to a dumpy round woman and walking in the opposite direction. Sure enough 30 secs later a Spanish woman is banging on the bus in distress, and her purse has gone. We went and phoned Visa International and cancelled my card, pretty sure that they were just taking it for the cash but going on the safe side (and luckily didn’t have that much cash in it – we were only taking enough for each day and leaving the rest in the safe in our room), and went to report it to the police. The first police station we went to on recommendation from the hotel as it dealt with public transport issues, and they said that we would have to wait 3 hours. Then they said that the bus service isn’t something they deal with and we would have to go to one of two other stations. The nearest was off La Rambla, so we headed for that one, only to be told that we should be speaking to the police at the first station. The policeman phoned up the Placa station with a weary look on his face and after speaking to them, pulled a face at the translator with him, and then explained that as we had been incorrectly referred they would take our report, but they may not have the same photos of known criminals who would work the bus line. Luckily we didn’t have to wait very long, but our poor policewoman had to call in another translater and rush out mid-report to deal with some dodgy geezers out in the hall. When she brought up the database, our description of someone athletic in their mid 40s-50s brought up a pile of 90 year old wrinkled geezers 😀 At least we were laughing at that point. We had no luck finding the thief, and we had wasted a gorgeous afternoon traipsing between places, so we went back to the hotel and felt a bit miserable, then went for a thai meal which was gorgeous, but had the worst service at the restaurant from a cocky skinny little guy (so if you ever visit Thai Studio in Barcelona, be prepared).
Tuesday was our last day together before DB had to start work, so we went back up Montjuic via Paral-lel in the drizzle to see the Miro museum and MNAC. MNAC is a gorgeous old building surrounded by botanical gardens, but with these stark silver escalators leading up the steps to it! Very good service for those with mobility problems on that side of the hill, but very very surreal. There are some pics on the Flickr site which are worth a looksie. Sadly when we got to the top, it was closed for Labour Day. Miro was open, but as everyone else had come for both museums and found the first closed, and didn’t fancy walking around in the rain, the queue was MASSIVE. And I mean massive. We were nearly at the funicular again before the queue ended. We had to change hotels that day too, as the conference gave a huge discount to speakers and was another 4* place, so we headed back to do the move (within walking distance again, opposite the gothic cathedral) to Hotel Colon. Please note that it is supposed to be pronounced a bit like Cologne… 😀 Another gorgeous hotel, but rather old fashioned and floral. Once we had settled, we needed to get ready for a conference related meal at 4 Gats, the place where the modernistas used to hang out. If you get the chance, go there! It isn’t cheap but it is a grand theatrical experience eating there. The food is fantastic, the music from the pianist and violinist is lovely, and the waiters perform comedy while serving you 😀 There is this tiny little balcony where couples eat above the main floor, and there are lots of accidents on the rickety old wooden stairs leading up there, with many a mopping up as the waiters rush around. If you choose a fish dish, you sometimes get to see the whole cooked fish filleted on the central stand by the waiters. The maitre’d was a guy who deserved a tv show of his own – he did fish too, and danced to the music and cracked jokes as he took orders and served people, and implied at the beginning of the meal that we had no table for our party of 20 or so (so don’t be surprised ;D). It was a wonderful night, and the perfect antidote to the last day and a half of mishaps.
Wednesday, we went for a walk near the zoo and the harbour, then DB had to go to the conference opening, so I went out to the Sagrada Familia and went inside seeing as there was no queue whatsoever 😀 I can’t recommend this place enough. It has about 30 years of building left, but what is there is incredible. I went up the towers on the far side of the building (rather than the crucifixion facade side), not without a little fear, but it was a lovely sunny day again, so I figured it wouldn’t be bad up there. We went up in a lift 6 at a time (hence long queues for about 90 mins at the front facade! If there are queues there, try the rear one as it only took about 20-25 mins for me to get up to the lift. The lift climbs at the rear towers for 55m, then you climb up a few stairs to reach just over 60m up the towers. That is only halfway up them. There was a breeze, and no fencing – just a stone wall, admittedly thick, but I was scared of dropping the camera over it if a gust of wind came up! The view is incredible, but not for the feint hearted. I’m not bad with heights looking down, but if I look up, I get nauseous, even if I’m just on a step ladder a couple of steps up, so I had problems taking pictures of the towers above me, and could only look through the camera, not at the actual towers for very long. The towers are stunning, with so much detail and colour and the cranes where the builders work from are so high above the top of them, it makes you feel very ill indeed! The crane operators have to climb a ladder up the centre of the crane scaffold (you can see it on the photo) – I know it is their job and they are used to it, but blimey I wouldn’t want to do it myself… There are photos of that too if you can stomach it! Climbing down I thought would be easy, but the design of the stair way is like a snail shell below you, and there are only little railings on the outside, so again I thought I’d lose the camera! It really is worth it though if you are feeling brave! And please don’t be fooled by what appears to be a locked grill at the bottom of the stairs 😀 I thought for a moment I had to climb the 273 stairs again to go a different route (you cross between different towers as you descend), but the latch was just stiff and heavily sprung 😀 After that, I went back to Casa Batllo to go inside. Gorgeous. I loved it there. The audio guide is really really cheesy and kisses the backside of Gaudi a lot, but you can easily see something new everytime you visit, and the guide points out things I would have missed on my own so it is worth taking with you (and it is included in the price, unlike the Sagrada Familia one, also worth getting). In the evening DB had arranged a meal at, frankly, the best Italian place outside of Italy I’ve ever been to – Montello. Cheap and cheerful, so don’t expect anything pretty, but it makes the best pizza 😀 Don’t get starters – you won’t need any, and the main course will arrive before you finish them…
Thursday was my only full day to myself, so I went back to the Miro and MNAC. MNAC is amazing, and worth every penny of the entrance fee. Keep your ticket in your pocket tho – you need to show it regularly as you go into each branch. I saw Goya and Picasso and Dali, and a pile of wonderful gothic religious art, and some stunning photography. Some kind of do was going on in the main hall, so some parts of the building were closed (does anyone know what might have been held there? It was the 3rd of May, and there were tv cameras and lighting there for a huge meal with a podium, and huge letters C and H stood around). Miro was a bit mad, naturally, but was also full of school children on visits, so it made it a bit harder to enjoy peacefully. It was mainly really good though 🙂 When I got back, it was about 2.30 so I figured I’d have some lunch, a nap and then visit the Dali exhibit nearby. Next thing I know, I’m still dozy and DB is knocking on the door 🙂 We had another conference meal to attend at the Brasserie Flo (another lovely place), and then to bed.
Friday, our last full day, so I went to the Dali exhibit (lots of Dali prints and art and sculptures, but nowhere near as good as visiting the foundation would have been I think), then wandered around the markets at Santa Maria. Then we took some friends to Montello again and went back to the hotel for the strongest brandy ever 😀 Saturday morning was spent around the market again, and at Xocolateria La Xicra for the world’s best hot chocolate. I’m not kidding you. We had to eat it with a spoon it was so thick, it was impossible to drink it. And dark. There is a pic on Flickr of the empty mug after ‘drinking’ it. You could tip it up and nothing would drip out 🙂 We bought some cheese, chocolate and tea from the market, and then headed for the hotel to check out. First bad thing about going home – the suitcase had been damaged by the bellboy with the stand being broken off, and as it is a hard case, it left holes to the inner lining and shell. The bus to the airport was fab again. The airport was fine, if a little eerie and quiet where our gate was, but we got some good duty free (lipbalm in the prettiest little old fashioned tins, a litre of Peach Absolute, and 75cl of Limoncello to replace our sad final consumption a few weeks ago of the Italian stuff) and I had the most expensive take away sushi ever. We arrived at Leeds Bradford early, picked up the luggage and went to catch the bus to the train station. BUT, it had left 5 mins before we got to the stop, and there was only one an hour. I asked a taxi driver how much it would cost – £16!!! No ta. I bought a cup of tea, and we got ready for a looooong wait. While we were sat there, two asian men walking from the airport were stopped by two policemen, who proceeded to go through a full frisking and check their bags and shoes over the course of about 15 mins. They were sent off free (please note that the asian population in Leeds and Bradford is very high, so it is hardly unusual to see a couple of lads with darker skin there). On the bus the driver pulled into a bus stop to answer his mobile phone. 1hr 45 mins after landing we reach the train station with 3 mins to run to the stopping train, or we could wait 40mins for the fast one and get something to eat. We went the latter route, and sat with chips on the walkway over the lines, only to be stared at by the world’s biggest man with an idiot smirk on his face, and listen to idiot drunkards and deal with trying to get past ignorant locals on a night out with our bags and cases. We get on the train, only the selfish gits push the people getting off out the way as they get on, and try to push me out the way as I climb on with a heavy case and bag on my back. But, we get back home safe and sound, taking as long to get from the airport at Leeds to our door as we did to get from the hotel to Leeds. Plus two parcels I was expecting when I got home hadn’t arrived, with no sign of them in the garden or any cards for collection at the post office. I think our postie may be on his holiday too… Not the best arrival home, but I am glad to be back in our bed, with our couch, and the garden in full bloom, with the Great Tits still nesting 🙂
Photos are here so go look, comment, and don’t feel too jealous after all the fun and games we had 😉 If you’ve made it this far through the post, well done! In spite of everything, I’d go back tomorrow!