Barcelona - Spain 2001 by Heather Collins

(Click here for illustrated version)

Day 1:  Tuesday 29th May

We left home at 8am for the drive to Heathrow airport. The weather was delightful, warm and sunny. We got on the motorway and  were soon speeding along. Unfortunately, that didn't last too long. After a few miles the traffic began to slow and we were in a slow queue. Fortunately, David knew another route so we left the motorway and made our way via Windsor and the M4. We made it to the secure parking area, dropped the car off and got the courtesy bus to the Terminal in plenty of time. We spent a while looking at the airport shops before boarding the British Midland plane. The flight left on time and in less than two hours we were landing at Barcelona. We collected our bags and made our way to the train station where we boarded a train to the city centre. It was then a short taxi ride to the Hotel California. The hotel was basic but clean and functional and right in the city centre. After unpacking and changing into less clothes - it was very hot - we took a walk around the local area. We walked up and down Las Ramblas, which was lined with stalls selling flowers, small furry animals, birds ranging in size from budgerigars to baby emus and books and magazines.

We went into a large covered market where we saw the most amazing displays of fruit, vegetables and nuts. One end of the market was selling fish and meat but most of those stalls were finished for the day. We carried on to the end of Las Ramblas and could see the docks and Mediterranean Sea in front of us and the Parc de Montjuic to our right with its many cable cars criss-crossing upwards. We turned around and walked a little way back into the city and got on the Funicular to Parc de Montjuic and then a cable car to the top of the hill. The views across the city and along the coastline were spectacular. At the top of the hill there was a castle, which was now a Military Museum. We walked around the outside enjoying the views and warm sun. We saw our first real orange trees bearing ripe fruit. David reached up and picked one peeled it and took a bite. Urgh! It was bitter and sour. He found a bin to drop it in which was already full of half eaten oranges!

Back down to the city again by cable car and funicular and then a short walk to the hotel. It was now 8pm local time and we had been out and about for four hours and were in need of a rest. We relaxed for a while and then freshened up and went out once more to find somewhere to eat dinner. A friend of David's had recommended a restaurant, the Grand Café that was only a short walk away. It looked good and certainly lived up to its name. We felt decidedly underdressed in our shorts and tee shirts but went in anyway and had an excellent meal. I had Paella that was thick with seafood and David had Veal Entrecote with Blue Cheese sauce washed down with a fine bottle of Rioja. The place was delightful and the service was exceptional. The waiters were attentive and spoke good English and a guy played the piano charmingly at one end of the room. It was an excellent evening to round off an excellent day. We strolled back to the hotel through still warm and bustling streets at 11pm and collapsed, exhausted into bed.

Day 2:  Wednesday 30th May

We woke late after a good nights sleep and slowly got showered and dressed. Breakfast was at the hotel and consisted of an ample selection of bread rolls, toast, croissants, jam, tea, coffee and juice.

We left the hotel at 10am and as we turned into the main street we noticed a plume of black smoke billowing from one end. We walked up to take a look and were amazed to find the middle of the square was on fire with burning car tyres! There was a noisy demonstration taking place with much shouting, banner waving and whistle blowing, in front of a Government building. There was a large police presence but it was all good-natured the time we were there. We could see riot police in full gear hiding in the building in case things turned ugly.

We turned around and headed for the Metro and bought a card of ten tickets for the equivalent of about £3.50. The Metro was easy to understand and use and we were  soon at the Segrada Familia. What can I say? It was the most fantastic building David and I had ever seen and it mattered not at all that it was unfinished and work was going on around us. The beauty and grace of the towers and carvings was breathtaking as were the mosaics and decorations. We watched large slabs of marble being cut by massive machines and plaster models being delicately carved. We took a lift half way up one of the finished towers and walked across narrow walkways between the towers and looked down and across the city. The way down again was by a narrow spiral staircase of many, many steps that left us both with wobbly legs when we finally reached ground level! We got a cooling drink from a vending machine and sat and recovered for a while. The weather was glorious -clear blue sky and hot, hot, hot!

Back to the Metro and north to Parc Guell. We stopped at a bar for some lunch and a drink. I had an excellent chicken baguette and David had Tapas, which consisted of slices of sausage, meat, cheese and tomato served on a wooden board. It was very hot when we left the bar and climbed the hill to Parc Guell and we were exhausted when we finally reached it. It was worth the effort though; to see the fantastic "Gingerbread" houses designed by Gaudi and the colonnades made to look like trees. We admired the famous Gaudi mosaic lizard fountain and sat on the "longest bench in the world"- a curved, mosaic structure with views over the city. Gaudi had lived in Parc Guell in quite a small house for some years and we went inside and saw some of his furniture and designs - all very fascinating.

We wandered down the hill again to the Metro and back to the hotel at 4.30pm for a siesta for a couple of hours. We were both so tired we fell asleep and didn't wake up until 7.30pm! David stirred first and went out for a walk to wake himself up but I slumbered on for a while before changing and freshening up ready for the evening. David finally returned at 9pm - he had found an Irish Bar nearby and had got chatting (and drinking!) We went to a Tapas Bar and had a few interesting dishes - neither of us was very hungry - and a few drinks before walking around the local area window shopping and enjoying the warm evening. The streets were still very busy at 11.30pm when we returned to the hotel.

Day 3:  Thursday 31st May

Another late start after a reasonable nights sleep. I was up first at 9am and straight in the shower. We were in the breakfast room at 9.45am and ready for the day at 10.15am. We decided to get the train to Tibidabo as David had read about an old Tram that ran there and went part way up the mountain. Unfortunately, when we got there, it wasn't running as it only works when the Amusement Park is open on Fridays and weekends. There was a bus, though, so we took a short ride to the top of the hill and had a cooling drink in a bar and enjoyed yet another magnificent view overlooking the city.

Back down the hill in the bus to the Metro and then on to the waterfront area. Attractive bars and restaurants lined the whole area and we walked  around for a while before deciding on a place to eat lunch. Everywhere was reasonable quiet, not many tourists and we had a good lunch in a bar near the harbour. After lunch, we took the cable car from the beach area to Montjuic. The views of the beach and waterfront were stunning as the cable car crossed high above the marina. There were a couple of huge cruise ships in dock and we looked down on the passengers sunning themselves and swimming in the pool on the top deck. The far end of the cable car at Montjuic was a bit disappointing - not much there - so we took the trip back and then caught a bus to the hotel. It was 4.30pm and we were both feeling hot and tired so we took a short siesta until 6pm.

We wandered along Las Ramblas enjoying the street artists and eventually went in a Tapas Bar for drinks and eats. The menu was in Catalan so  our Spanish phrase book was useless but we managed to work out what most things were although we had one or two surprises! After we had eaten and drunk enough, we decided to walk to the Magic Fountain between Playa d'Espanya and Montjuic Parc. I had read about the fountain in a guidebook and it sounded interesting. It was quite a way and took about three quarters of an hour to walk there but the ground was flat and the temperature had cooled a little so it was a pleasant stroll. When we arrived at the area we were impressed with the many fountains lining the wide avenue from the square to the Magic Fountain and beyond. The whole area was immaculate and impressive and was thronged with people. The stone steps behind the Magic Fountain were filling up fast but we managed to find a place and sat down and waited. At 9.30pm just as it was getting dark, music played and the fountain danced and spouted with coloured lights. It was most spectacular and we had never seen anything like it before. The music was "pop" - Queen, Whitney Houston and Sting - not what we had expected at all. The show lasted about a quarter of an hour and we then wandered around admiring all the other fountains and cascades before the next show started at 10pm.  This time, the music was classical and as it was completely dark by now, the coloured lights were even brighter and more vivid. We were just leaving when "Barcelona" by Queen blared out. Sensational! Everyone cheered and clapped and sang along.

We made our way back to the Metro station and then back to the hotel. We stopped at the Irish Bar for a nightcap to find it was full of English men dressed as the Blues Brothers. We had seen them the day before and wondered who they were. It was a "stag" do and they were all having a great time!

Day 4:  Friday 1st June

We were up reasonably early and ready for breakfast just after 9am. We were both tired from walking so much over the past few days so decided to buy tickets for the Tourist Bus. This allowed us to get on and off open topped buses, which travelled on two circular routes covering the north and south of the city taking in all the most important sights. We walked to Playa Catalunya and got on the first one that came along which was on the northern circuit. First stop was the Segrada Familiar and we got some excellent views from the top deck. The bus then meandered past Parc Guell and onto Tibidabo where we got off. The Amusement Park was open but the elusive Blue Tram wasn't running so we decided to leave the park until later if there was time and got back on the next bus. The route wound round various sights including Barcelona Football Club (we didn't get off!) We swapped to the Southern Route at Diagonal and went past the Playa d'Espanya where we had been the night before. Then on to the Olympic Stadium at Montjuic and down a steep hill of hairpin bends through the Miramar Gardens. The gardens were crammed with exotic plants and large cactus, some with bright flowers, clinging to the side of the dry hill. Next stop was Port Vell after passing by Christopher Columbus' Column at the bottom of Las Ramblas.  The bus then passed through the area developed for the Olympic Village and which was now used for private housing and commercial properties. On back into the city. It was now 1.30pm and we were in need of refreshment. We got off the bus at La Pedrera, another building designed by Gaudi, and walked to the Tapas Bar we had eaten at the night before. We chose different dishes this time - some good and some not so nice - but all interesting. We decided to have one last attempt at Tibidabo and got back on yet another bus. This time we made it all the way and got on the Funicular, which took us right to the top of the mountain. We sat at the back and got the best view looking down as we trundled upwards. At the top was the Amusement Park set amongst trees and clinging to the steep terrain. There were very few people there at 4.15pm but the rides looked fun with modern ones like a Pirate Ship mixed in with older style carousels and roller coasters.

The view over Barcelona would have been spectacular but it was quite misty and a stiff breeze was blowing which made it almost cold! Back down the funicular and after a quick drink in a bar, caught the bus back to the city. We had another look around the market at Las Ramblas and bought some Turron for Kathryn before returning to the hotel. It was 7pm and the weather had cooled right down. I changed from shorts and sleeveless vest into jeans and tee shirt and after resting for a short while we went out in search of dinner. We ate in a very mediocre Chinese Restaurant where the chef was very heavy handed with the salt!

I decided I wanted to go to the Magic Fountain again, so we got the Metro to Playa d'Espanya and arrived just as "Barcelona" was being played - where we had left off the night before. We were surprised at how few people were around - the night before it had been packed. We sat and watched the 10.30pm performance and then made or way back to the hotel. We sorted and packed as much as we could ready for the morning and finally settled down for the night at 12.30am.

Day 5:  Saturday 2nd June

We were up early at 7.30am, finished packing, had breakfast and checked out of the hotel at 8.30am. We walked to the nearby Metro Station through almost deserted streets trundling our baggage along. We changed trains and were soon on our way to the airport. After checking in the baggage we browsed the smart shops for a while before boarding the plane for the flight home.

Impressions of Barcelona

Vibrant, colourful, cultural.
Palm trees, cactus plants, Bougainvillea spilling over railings.
Shady parks, beautiful fountains.
Wide, tree lined streets.
Chaotic traffic and mopeds.
Walking for miles.
Excellent integrated public transport - cheap and easy to use.
Cable cars and funiculars.
Magic Fountain at night.
Tapas Bars.
Segrada Familia.
Gaudi architecture.
Hot sun.


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