I have returned refreshed from Spain after a four day excursion to Barcelona with Lady Barton St Mary, The Sexton and Pen. Lady BSM and Pen had been to Barcelona before for a middle aged hen weekend, so they had some experience of the Catalan city, claiming to remember everything about their previous visit.
Obviously, I made some notes whilst visiting Barcelona in order to take the opportunity to write a smug travel blog.
We were fortunate enough to stay in one of Barcelona’s small luxury hotels – The Hotel Mirror, situated in the heart of Barcelona. This really was a treat, with its mirrors and padded walls – they must have heard about us. The whole design was Barbarella chic – a real version of those rooms of the future imagined when we were 8 years old. I half expected a visit from Captain Scarlet. Or, better still, Angel Melody or Barbarella herself.
Once settled, we ventured out into Barcelona, heading down to Passeig de Gràcia, to have a look at one of the Gaudi buildings and make sure we could find the chocolate shop so coveted by Lady BSM. Enough of both later. Being with The Sexton, it didn’t take long before we had to make a stop for food and a drink. Food was a big part of our stay in Barcelona, with several memorable experiences…
All the food we ate was very good. Our first meal, as we settled into the fact that we spoke no Spanish (or Catalan) led to a rather laboured conversation (Barcelona waiters and waitresses apologised for not speaking English very well).
The service for this meal, on a table on a busy Passeig de Gràcia, involved a waiter who had a very short attention span. You’d be half way through your order when he’d suddenly dash off to open a bottle of beer or lay another table or shout at some passers by. Which meant that our tapas only half arrived, being partly what we’d ordered, some of the adjoining table’s order and other stuff that never arrived. We tried to explain this to him, but naturally he couldn’t stay still long enough to understand, preferring to go and fold napkins or stare at the shiny cutlery. Eventually, Pen took matters into her own hands and collected her coffee and milk from the service counter. Our generous tip of 20 cents probably went unnoticed by our ADHD waiter, who by this time was trying to open a bottle of wine, lay a table and serve and take orders all at the same time.
The evening meal at Ignició, near the hotel on Carrer de Còrsega was another interesting experience. Eating late (after 10pm), we ordered starters and main course. We thought. Except that the starters arrived at the same time as the mains. But after the patatas bravas.
The waitress was a very sweet girl.
“Sorry for my English”, she explained, “we have no ensalada”, she apologised. Lady BSM told us that the Spanish regard salad as ‘poor people’s food’, so it’s not very popular amongst the Spanish in restaurants.
“You could always go to the supermacardo and get some,” I joked.
Five minutes later, a man was seeing scurrying to the kitchens with two carrier bags full of lettuce, cucumber, radishes, tomatoes and sheep’s cheese. Ten minutes later we were presented with a €17 bowl of Barcelona Supermacardo Salad.
By this time, The Sexton, Pen and Lady BSM had drunk a goldfish bowl sized glass of gin and tonic (a Barcelona speciality), so laughed it off. The Sexton studied the menu.
“Crunchy Rabbit Ears,” he read out loud. “What an earth could that be?”
Lady BSM consulted Google on her iPhone.
“It’s crunchy rabbit ears,” she explained, reading the recipe: skin ears, season with salt, pepper, deep fry. Comparable to pork scratchings apparently. The Sexton made a mental note under churros as to things he would eat on his stay in Barcelona.
Next day, a visit to Sagrada Familia, designed by Barcelona’s most famous architect, Antoni Gaudí. It was magnificent; like taking the wildest dreams of a completely
innovative designer and making them real. To add to the surreality, Gaudí never made any formal architectural drawings, just sketches and plaster models. What’s more, the building isn’t finished. Cranes and clattering and banging continue in this religious building, still working on Gaudí’s masterpiece. It’s not a cathedral, but a basilica. Barcelona already has a Cathedral, where the bishop has a throne (a cathedra, hence the word). Gaudí died in 1926 – run over by a tram. He was a scruffy so and so, which meant that the general public took him to be a tramp and didn’t hasten his journey to hospital, meaning that the creator of the most iconic and beautiful buildings in Barcelona died without heirs at the age of 74. Which reminded me of my mum’s advice to wear clean pants just in case I should ever be run down by a bus. I recommend the guided tour, which is why I’m now an authority on Sagrada Familia, all my information courtesy of a rather amusing and
pleasant guide, who looked like a Catalan version of Ned Flanders from El Simpsons.
We finished the day with more god bothering and a walk around
BarcelonaCathedral,another magnificent building, built in the medieval times but with a history stretching back to the 4th century.
The following day, we ventured back to Casa Batlló – tickets purchased in advance, like Sagrada Familia (a necessity) to gaze once more on Gaudí’s genius. This was definitely a tour of oceanic designs, with whale bones and fish scales being suggested in every room. The building is bright and bold and, well, gaudy… is that where the word comes from?
Nearing the end of the tour, a loud young Spanish girl beckoned Lady BSM and tried to shove her out onto a balcony one hundred feet above the thronging crowds in the street below. Lady BSM was having none of it, so I obliged.
“Camera! Take Photo! Smile!” bellowed the girl, shoving Lady BSM behind me. We complied before shelling out €12 for the result.
On Saturday, we took a trip to Parc Guell – a bus ride from downtown Barca, and home to more Gaudí designs. However, the queue was long and we couldn’t get in for several hours, so we strolled around the free park, looking at the flowers and listening to the musicians that were dotted around the pathways. The Sexton, a fan of digging and plants, was in his element.
We followed this with an open top bus tour around the city, something I would advise doing in any major city – it’s the best way to see it all.
That evening, we met Jez, cousin of Lady BSM and son of Uncle Robin, the wayward brother of The Marquis of Prestberries, with his partner Sophie, both residents of Barcelona.
“We have no stress at all here,” Jez explained, to an open mouthed foursome from England. Lucky people. He headed off early to see El Classico on TV, taking place up the road in Camp Nou, the biggest local derby match in Spain – Barcelona versus Real Madrid. The bars were full and vibrant, everybody keen to see the match. Barcelona lost, but there were no overturned cars, burning shops or mass brawls.
Sunday, we took the Metro to the beach, although we had been using The Metro all the time, despite my initial reticence (Lady BSM reminded me of this on several occasions. The Metro is the best and cheapest way to travel – you can buy a T10 ticket for €9.95 – it gives you ten trips around zone 1 of Barcelona (you never have to leave zone 1). The system is easy to use (easier than the London Underground), clean and efficient. The taxis are also reasonable, but any nervous passengers like Pen find it difficult to endure the Barcelona taxi drivers’ methods of traversing the city.
By this time, the weather had improved; we’d endured some awful weather relative to Barcelona, with lots of rain and wind. I’d tried taking a run from the hotel, but what with the torrential rain and our city centre location, it was akin to trying to run around Oxford Street, even at 7.30 am. No doubt, nearer to the beach, running would have been a more pleasant option.
After a leisurely lunch, staring at the phenomenally expensive yachts moored in the quay, we made our way back to the chocolate shop to buy several boxes of Amatller chocolate covered almonds, which Lady BSM instructed me to place in my hand luggage.
We returned to Hotel Mirror, collected our cases and climbed into the taxi taking us to the airport. Lady Barton St Mary, last to arrive at the vehicle and therefore condemned to my usual front seat place, gave me a withering look.
The Sexton looked wistfully out of the window as we passed Ignició restaurant, Pen clutching his arm in a nervous, vice-like grip.
“I never got to eat any churros,” he mused, “or crunchy rabbit ears.”