Monday, 16 April 2012

In the words of the late, great Freddie Mercury....


Until a few years ago I'd almost never travelled outside the UK. A few trips to Calais on the ferry, and that was it. Not because of any dislike or mistrust of travelling, simply because the opportunity had never arisen - growing up money was tight, and holidays were limited to occasionally, and within the UK - and then for a good few years my annual fortnight away was spent visiting the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which was an experience I loved, and would strongly recommend to anyone! Anyway, Ben travelled around Europe extensively when he was a student, and speaking with him about his trips left me feeling that I wanted some of that, so we've been visiting places as and when we've had the chance, over the last few years. Paris, Dublin, Germany and Poland have all been visited, and this year a rugby club trip gave us the opportunity to visit Barcelona (no singing, please!).

What a wonderful city! We had plenty of time to wander around on Saturday before the rugby match that was the excuse for the trip. Travel around the city is dead easy, and so cheap - a 10 journey ticket on the metro costs just €9.25, and that can not only be shared between multiple people if there is a group of you, but can also be used for travel to and from the airport - a complete bargain when you think that a cab for just that journey alone would cost you upwards of €30! If you can manage the London underground system, then you'll cope with the Barcelona Metro easily enough, although the signage within the stations isn't anything LIKE as good as in London so a bit more attention needs to be paid to where you are heading.
As were were visiting on a budget, we decided to stick to looking around the outside of attractions like the Sagrada Familia Cathedral - under construction since 1882 and still not completed, this is possibly the most famous Gaudi building, and looking at it, it must be said that the first thought was "If he'd made the design a bit simpler, it would be finished by now!"

Sagrada Familia - Catalonia

Close up of detail - Sagrada Familia
Food plays an important part of Catalan life, and nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the amazing markets. This is nothing like we think of a market in the UK, with a few fruit & veg stalls and maybe a van selling meat of uncertain provenance for alledged "knock down prices" jostling for position amongst clothes, household items and assorted tat - this is an entire huge market devoted entirely to food, with small bars and tapas places scattered here and there, and absolutely packed with people doing their food shopping for their families. Whole stalls with an array of seafood that you would never see for sale here - even though a good proportion of it is probably caught in our waters! Beautifully presented fruit and vegetables, and of course the Iberico and Serrano hams ready for people's high day and holiday family feasts. The very act of eating meals is treated with great respect - the tapas style of eating suits this well of course, being sociable in its nature, and we enjoyed a couple of fabulous meals in just that style - being adventurous and not afraid to try new things helps a lot in this regard!

Incredible displays of seafood....

....and of course the amazing Hams.....

Just after lunch on Saturday we had to break off from all this wandering around, enjoying the sunshine and marvelling at fab food markets to go and watch (and in my case photograph) the rugby match which had provided the excuse for the must be said, it contrasted sharply with our more usual British pitch-side conditions of light rain and a sharp wind.....the sea in the background, palm trees.....I could happily return there every week! Ben was injured a couple of weeks before so was unable to play - something which annoyed him hugely, but thank goodness he saw sense! It was a good fun match, although had the refereeing been a bit better it would have been even more so - we'll put the dubious interpretation of the rules of the game down to the language barrier, I think!

The hospitality of the host side meant that Saturday evening passed in a bit of a blur.....there was Sangria, and Spanish Lager, and a rather deliciously garlicky roast chicken dish with potato.....and then a slightly weaving-wander back to the hotel.......other carried on drinking, but as Ben had clearly reached capacity, we decided to call it a night. Probably a wise decision!

On the Sunday we met up with three of Ben's legion of cousins - Angela, Melanie and Andrew, and had a further guided tour of the city - they live a little further along the coast but it was a straightforward enough journey for them on the train, and it was great to see them - in fact, in my case to meet them, as we've never had the chance to meet up before. All in all we thoroughly enjoyed our time, have no regrets about using trains to get about rather than taxis (especially having heard tales from some of the group about rip-off drivers overcharging them). Some tips we would offer to others:
Very few Men resident in Barcelona wear shorts in other than the very hottest weather, therefore wearing them when it's cooler marks you out as a tourist and means you're more likely to get scammed.
Taxi's: find out the approximate cost for your journey ahead of taking it, then question why if the cost is rising above that.
Barcelona does have an issue with pickpockets - never leave bags unattended, even when waiting outside your hotel for transfer to the airport. Keep smaller valuables in zippable pockets, and spread your cash about your person so that if your wallet gets taken, you haven't lost everything.
Use the markets for food for lunches - it's easy to pick up some good bread, local cheese and ham, and perhaps a prepared fruit salad, and helps to keep costs down too!



P said...

My favourite city in the world! La Boqueria is just fantastic.

Robyn said...

Truly fabulous P - we seriously want to return!