Four bikeless days in Barcelona

PS to anyone receiving these by email, sorry about the absolute deluge. This is a rare occasion where I’ve had wifi good enough to post, and we will be saying goodbye to the Internet again tomorrow!

Tuesday 5th May

Day 1 in Barcelona

We took the train in the morning and were in sunny Barcelona by lunchtime. This was one of the cities which I have been most excited about visiting.

We had found an absolute bargain for accommodation on Airbnb, an apartment which included a kitchen, wifi and a washing machine, all for 21 euros per night! It almost sounded too good to be true… 

After lunch and a little exploring we headed to our apartment. We eventually found the estate agents who were going to take us to the flat. They expressed surprise at our arrival. This was a bit of a red flag. One of them led us to the flat a couple of streets away. 

The exterior looked neat, but once he opened the door a dismal, uncared-for and dirty flat was revealed. A lady was in the flat. She spoke to the man (in Spanish) also clearly expressing surprise at our arrival. From the tone of their discussion the situation was somewhat controversial. Me and Eric stood there giving each other very significant looks. 

Who was this lady? Did she live here? Had the flat been double-booked?

Eventually the man shook our hands and left. The lady, whose name was Helena, explained to us that the owner of the flat, Alexander, had hired her to clean the place. She had no idea that we would be here so soon, and the place was still in a bit of a state. She would need some time to clean it. 

“When shall we come back?” I asked. 

I thought she would say one hour. I was kind of hoping she would say “just sit in the living room for twenty minutes”. 

“Minimum… 3 hours,” she said. 

The time was 6PM at this point. 

So we left our bags at the apartment and went for a walk around the neighbourhood, which was quite nice. We found a dead cheap and non-touristy place for dinner.  
 We then took a very slow stroll around a supermarket, examining each aisle in great detail. Then it was back to the flat to see what Helena had been up to. 
We got in and to be perfectly honest the place didn’t look much different. At the time I kind of thought “What has she been doing for the past 3 hours?

Helena explained to us in a flustered mixture of English, Spanish and Russian that the flat had been filthy, there had been nothing in it (later I registered that she had gone out and bought bedsheets, washing up liquid, hand wash, and possibly even plates, cups and bowls – that’s what she had been doing!) Worst of all: there was no water. Helena didn’t know why, but she would try and find out tomorrow. 

She had bought us a large bottle of water which we could use to drink, wash with and… flush the toilet with. Great. 

After she left we had a good look around. Helena had tried her best, but it was really too much for one person to deal with. The place was still pretty filthy.
  
There was a washing machine, but it didn’t work, and obviously hadn’t for some time.
  
The cooker didn’t work at all. 
  
As you may have guessed, there was no wifi. And worst of all, no water! We had been walking around with heavy bags in the hot sun all day, and both of us had really wanted a shower. It was too late to call the estate agents and sort somewhere else, so we just had to put up with it! We went to bed feeling very grubby! 

I feel like there’s a life lesson somewhere in this. 


Wednesday 6th May

Day 2 in Barcelona

We were up and out the door by 10, leaving Helena, who had returned to keep on with the cleaning effort. 

We visited the estate agents and expressed our concerns about the flat. The estate agents essentially said that they had no idea that the owner had rented it out via AirBnb. At first I thought they were just passing the buck, but after listening to them I believed what they were saying. 

It sounded like the water wouldn’t be working any time soon, so me and Eric quickly decided to go and stay somewhere else (we managed to get a bit of a refund). The estate agents were quite helpful, they looked up hostels for us and we were soon on our way to a more reputable accommodation. 

We were a sorry sight, walking down the road in yesterday’s clothes, Eric swigging a litre bottle of full fat milk, me eating yogurts from the tubs without a spoon (as we now had no fridge all dairy products needed consuming ASAP! In the end we gave the yogurts to a homeless person). 

At least we could now get on and start actually seeing the sights of Barcelona! We were close to Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, so we popped there for a look. We took some photos of the exterior, but there was a 2 hour queue! We looked at each other and said “let’s come back!”
  
This church is pretty damn awesome, and more or less the main reason that I had been really excited about coming to Barcelona. 

We had a general wander around, just taking everything in. Barcelona is a very interesting looking city. It’s enormous, and a real mish-mash of modern and traditional, and ornate and functional styles. You can see from this picture how diverse the buildings are.
  
Contrary to this diversity, the city itself has a great infrastructure: the roads are set out into wide grid systems, there are spacious cycle lanes, wide pavements, frequent green spaces and benches, bins everywhere, water fountains and trees providing shade. The city is big and busy, but it feels spacious. Evidently a lot of it has been built recently enough to accommodate modern life. 

I tried to take a few photos of the streets in general to give an idea of how Barcelona looks.   
   There are little supermarkets everywhere. Unlike the places we’ve been in France, Barcelona is a city of convenience (great for us lazy British people). There’s also a tonne of places to eat out. Eating out away from the tourist traps is a lot cheaper than in the UK, and I think that Spanish people seem to eat out more often. 

Anyhoo… On our wanders we saw this cable car, and thought – that looks like fun. 
  
We were about to have our first experience of a Barcelona Tourist Trap. It was called the Barcelona Skyline or something like that. 

We got in the queue, which was not enormous, and proceeded to wait there for over an hour, as it moved painstakingly slowly. When we eventually got to the ticket desk there was a tiny sign saying “cash only”. Luckily we had some cash – but imagine if we hadn’t! We quite often don’t have a lot on us as we just use our card. We would have been sent away after queuing for all that time! It was 11 euros each for a one-way trip, which was not unreasonable. 

We took the lift up – finally – and then straight away got into ANOTHER queue for the cable car itself (another 20 minutes). Jeez. 

We finally got on the cart, squished in with a lot of other people (a bit unpleasant for all involved as we still hadn’t had the opportunity to take a shower). It set off. The views were lovely. We got the camera out: snap snap snap. 
   
   5 minutes, and that was it. All over. We arrived on the other side, and stepped out to see a beautiful panorama of the city…  
 Basically, there was not much need to wait an hour and a half for a cramped 5 minute cable car, when there was a perfectly good free view here. The cheekiest thing was, those who had bought a round trip ticket couldn’t just stay on the cable car, they had to get out and queue all over again on the other side! Not good. 

So if you ever go to Barcelona, don’t bother with the cable car! 

Don’t worry, we are about to start having a good time…

After this we visited the aquarium (Eric needed to see some fish). 

  
They had giant models of things.
   
 We strolled around a bit more. Here’s the harbour. 
  
Then it was back to the hostel for the long-awaited shower! 


Thursday 7th May

Day 3 in Barcelona

First thing in the morning we moved to another hostel, as the one we were in didn’t have a room available for the next night. We checked into “Serenity Gotica”, which was in the famous – and super touristy – gothic quarter of the city. 

Then it was off to take a look at the legacy left by the 1992 Olympics. We visited the Olympics museum, which was pretty interesting (Eric was in his happy place). We found a photograph of a Tour de France from the early 1900s:
  
And also saw this crazy bike hanging from the ceiling!
  
After that we took a stroll around the Olympic grounds, which were beautiful and very impressive. 
   
 We saw some more stunning panoramas of the city from our vantage point. 
    
 Then we visited the National Art Museum of Catalonia. 

  

First we looked at the Medieval/Romanesque art. I have to say, not my cup of tea! The colours were beautiful, but the subject matter was pretty much all hellfire and misery, and to be honest… They weren’t very good at drawing in those days… I’m sure Medieval art historians would slap me round the face with a wet fish for saying this. But I mean, look at Jesus in this picture:

  
The nose! 

We didn’t linger too much in the Medieval section. Upstairs there was an impressionist and modern art collection. This display was absolutely brilliant!  
 I loved a lot of the paintings, and the way the exhibition was set out was perfect for someone like me, who likes art, but doesn’t know much about it. Explanatory notes guide you through the evolution of western art from the 19th to the 20th century, and there was just the right amount of artwork so that you won’t get bored. 

Here’s the paintings we liked the best: 
    

  
Though by the end I found some of the artwork quite strange and alienating. For example, I think this one was called “Woman with a mirror” or something like that:

  
Hmm. 

After this we went to see the Gothic Quarter, and stood outside for some photographs of the cathedral. 
  
We tried to go in, but it turned out my shorts were too short for God, and I was turned away by the cathedral bouncer. (In my defence, I had asked our hostel owner if I should cover up for the cathedral, and he had told me shorts would be fine.)

We decided I eat out in the Gothic Quarter, and proceeded to fall into Tourist Trap number two! I took a restaurant’s special offer up on 7 tapas dishes for 15 euros, and basically got served the most half-arsed tapas you’ve ever seen! Imagine a secondary school cafeteria’s attempt at tapas and you’ve pretty much got it! It was quite a sad moment to be eating such rubbish tapas when I was actually in Spain, but maybe I should have known better. 

Eric’s meal was nice, luckily (seafood Paella):
  
There were so many things wrong with this restaurant, including borderline-rude staff, and a coca cola that cost almost 6 euros! I left semi-audibly muttering the word “ridiculous”. You can tell I was angry: it takes a lot to make any British person almost openly complain in a restaurant.  Oh I was mad alright. So mad that it’s possible one other restaurant customer may have almost heard me. Don’t mess with me. That’s all I’m saying.

It was such a contrast to the other places we had eaten out in (which were places that local Spanish people were eating). It’s well known enough that when you go abroad it’s better to look for the places where the locals go… something very well-illustrated by our experiences in Barcelona! 


Friday 8th May

Day 4 in Barcelona (last day)

We had an early rise, as we had booked tickets to see Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia at 9.15AM (we had tried to go in on Wednesday but blanched at the 2 hour queue).

The outside of this church is beautiful and bizarre. 

  
As you can see, it’s still being built. I had sort of assumed they were just doing the finishing touches, but once I got there I learned that they still haven’t built the main tower yet, or the front and back section of the church. It should be done in 2050 apparently. 

On one side there’s a tableau called “The Passion” – I think! Representing Jesus’ death, with an accordingly bleak style. 
  
Then on the other side is the Nativity Scene, which is completely different – and so beautiful. 
  
I was thinking, the outside is so amazing, will the inside really live up to it? It’s not super cheap to visit at 15 euros each (a lot when you consider that most churches and cathedrals are free).

We walked in and were absolutely stunned. It’s like a beautiful, gigantic, holy alien forest. I asked Eric to describe it for the blog as well, and he says: “it’s like a fossilised forest which has formed a cavern”. I could go on about the interior of this church for waay too long, so I will try and keep this fairly short and let the pictures do the talking. 
  
Gaudi used nature as his main inspiration in his work. The Interior of the Sagrada Familia is designed to look like trees. Gaudi thought it was apt to make the columns look like trees because he said that they were the original inspiration for columns. 
  
Facing the east are green stained glass windows, which, when the sun shines on them, turn the columns green, giving an even more of a forest-like feel. 
  
To the west are red stained glass windows. I imagine when the sun sets, these will turn the columns red instead.
  
Everything at eye-level is simple, the design is formed entirely to keep making you look up. 

  
Even Christ on the cross looks up into the sky, not down upon the congregation. 
  
We guessed that it is higher than a typical cathedral. Not only that, but it is a lot more open, giving you an incredible sense of light, space and scale. 
  
The patterns on the ceiling are inspired by shapes created by plants, but could just as easily be stars. 
  
I couldn’t recommend seeing this place enough, and would go as far to say that stepping into it was the best part of this entire trip so far! 
   
   After walking around the Sagrada Familia like awe-struck zombies for an hour, we departed for the train station to get our tickets back to Carcassonne sorted for the next day. We learnt that in Spain, you cannot buy a ticket with a connection at a station! So instead of buying a ticket to Carcassonne with one change, we had to buy a ticket to Narbonne. Then, at Narbonne we would have to buy our tickets to Carcassonne. Crazy! I suppose that this is something we have just taken for granted in England. 

Now that I was more properly attired, we went to see the interior of Barcelona Cathedral. It was very impressive, but we should have seen it before the Sagrada Familia… It was pretty hard to beat that! 
  
Then it was time for lunch. We took a chance with another restaurant just slightly outside the gothic quarter. It offered paella, salad and sangria for 15 euros each. This place, although obviously looking for the tourist trade, couldn’t have been more different from yesterday’s bad experience, with lovely staff and good value food. So I guess like anywhere there’s some pot luck involved!  

After lunch it was on to the Picasso Museum (no photos allowed in here, so no pictures I’m afraid). Having seen it I think I’m not a big fan of Picasso, his paintings left me a bit cold. The good thing was that there was also a temporary Salvador Dali exhibit going on, which I liked much more. I even got to see Dali’s portrait of Picasso, which I had studied during art GCSE, so it was really exciting to see the original.

We finished the day by visiting another of Gaudi’s creations, Casa Battlo, basically it was a very funky-looking house which he made! 
  
The theme of the house was water. 

  
Though there were also some other strange design elements going on! 

  
You got an “augmented reality” guide with your visit, which was quite cool. Basically, it was a little screen which you held up in each room, and it would show you through animations what Gaudi’s possible inspirations had been for aspects of the design. 

Here you can see the screen comparing a radiator to fish gills.
  
Pretty nifty! 

Everything was so thoughtfully designed, and very unique in style. I’m now a big Gaudi fan! 

Some more pictures from the house.
      

That was all we had time for. We returned to our hostel for dinner and watched SpongeBob SquarePants (Eric’s new favourite show since he watched a dubbed Spanish version: “Bob-ay Sponge-ay”). 

So that was our trip to Barcelona! There were many things I absolutely loved, and so much fantastic and exciting art and culture. However, as naive tourists we also had some negative experiences. We could easily have spent a whole week there, as there’s so much to do and see. I thought the place had a great atmosphere, and was big without feeling impersonal. We’ve decided that we’ll have to come back when the Sagrada Familia’s finished, if not before then.

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