Friday, 25 July 2014

Barcelona






Of course we missed our airport bus. We had specifically been told to catch the Aerobus but after arriving to El Prat a little late, we walked outside to see the final bus of the night speeding off into the distance. Luckily for us, there are regular city night buses that we were able to jump onto so all was grand! Inevitably we got off at the wrong stop but, after about twenty minutes, finally found our street and apartment block and came face-to-face with our inanimate enemy – the twelve flights of stairs. Struggling up, we managed to drop just about everything and make a load of noise which was just what we were hoping to do at 3am. I guess it's needless to say that we conked out in no time.



When we woke on Thursday morning, it was all worthwhile. The sun was splitting stones outside and we had a great wee view from our terrace: we were looking across rooftops, checking out the mountains in the distance and trees lined the pavement below. After marvelling for a little while, we high-tailed it down the road, first for a delicious breakfast (big fan of Iberian ham and sausages) and then towards Plaça d'Espanya. Honestly, we were pretty content with just taking in our new surroundings but we just couldn't help fixating on the dodgy transaction happening beside us; the fella on a bike next to us unzipped a lunchbag, stuck his hand inside and was holding a parrot! A full-grown one, mind, definitely bigger than a pigeon. He must have been catching and selling them but we were pretty uncomfortable with the nonchalant cruelty.

Being your average pastey white Irish(wo)men, it wasn't long before the heat started catching up on us so we decided to keep our plans modest for our first day – try to adjust to the temperature and stick to exploring Montjuïc. Climbing our way upwards was picturesque; the fountains were beautiful and the view of Barcelona's landscape from the top was a bit of alright too! Not being quite sure of our bearings yet we walked aimlessly past the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya and, after being severely overcharged for a glass of orange juice (€3.50!!), stumbled across the old Olympic Stadium. I actually didn't know this at the time but it's interesting to learn that the Stadium was renamed after Lluís Companys, an elected anti-fascist who was murdered by Franco's administration in 1940.

One of the nicest things about our trip was that we were meeting our friend Evelyn for a few days! She's from Laois but is currently working as an au-pair in Madrid so she joined us for some sightseeing. Before heading anywhere, we stopped at a small tapas bar (I finally tried squid, yay) and ran into a – fairly drunk – Finnish guy who asked us where we were from. We told him we were from Ireland, clarifying that two of us were from the north, and he got very excited in knowing that “you have IRA?” He spoke a little bit about Russians and Spaniards before heading off to the sex shop next door, ne'er to be seen again.

We hit Barcelona's #1 tourist spot after that, the Sagrada Familia, which was beautiful although sullied a little by the crowds and the cranes. Next was Casa Batlló but, true to our nature, there was no such thing as a simple journey as we somehow ended up spiralling blocks and blocks out of the way. Despite the uphill slug though, it was definitely a welcome mistake because we wandered into Gràcia and found a lovely square called Plaça de la Virreina to rest in. We started back on our quest a while later and finally came to Casa Batlló only to find it covered in tarp! At this point we just needed some food so we gave up the ghost and happily made our way towards another tapas bar before calling it quits!


Our impromptu decision to take it easy on Barceloneta on Saturday was no more successful. Meeting Evelyn in the Gothic Quarter, we checked out the Catedral de Barcelona, gawked at a cool art installation which represented the intersecting of Catalan identities for a few minutes and then grabbed some
ready-made grub at Nostrum (which was greeeeeeaaat, by the way) before heading towards the beach. Of course the place was packed out, mostly with tourists, but we already knew that would be the case so it didn't bother us. As tempted as we were by the vendors walking around selling €1 beers, we've heard a few horror stories about how they're stored so we gave them a miss and went for a dip instead – crucial mistake as I almost drowned in the choppy waters and then flashed absolutely everyone on the waterfront, oops. Goes without saying that I ate my salmon burger with a side of shame that afternoon. On the bright side, I was beginning to notice a trend at this point: dogs. Everyone had dogs. There were so many dogs. I hereby christen Barcelona the Dog Capital of Europe.

As it got later, we decided that we'd finish our evening by going to see the Font Màgica display. If you don't know about it, the Font Màgica is the biggest of the fountains up on Montjuïc and every half hour from 9pm until midnight the fountain lights up in all kinds of colours and the water dances to a soundtrack. We were really feeling the 80s cheese pop.


We had heard that visitors should not miss Sunday mornings in Plaça de la Seu where an orchestra plays and local people join together in a traditional Catalan dance so we stopped in at Pastisseria La Colmena for some goodies before heading over to watch, and honestly this was one of the nicest parts of the trip! One wee man in particular was having so much fun and we fell in love with him instantly. Afterwards, we just decided to stroll leisurely a little through the Old Town and went to check out the Arc de Triomf – supposedly “less pretentious” than it's French counterpart. It definitely didn't hurt that we were able to kick back on the grass and parrot watch either! Considering the Museu Picasso is free on Sundays, we gave it a go too, although the line was killer – I'm still apologising to my poor feet!

Keeping Sunday lazy, we wandered toward the more central Plaça de Catalunya, treated ourselves to some lovely ice cream and just people watched for a few hours! A card game or three were played (am I the only person who is absolutely useless at Bullshit??) as the sun set around us.


Before we went our separate ways, we wanted to squeeze in one more tourist haunt and so made our first bus journey within the city to Park Güell, an urban masterpiece by Barcelona's favourite mate, Gaudí. To be honest, I thought the park was going to be a little over-hyped but the level of detail and craftsmanship really is breathtaking and I'm definitely glad we didn't overlook it. Hopefully the photos below do it some level of justice!

After Evelyn shuttled off into the distance, we were at a loss for what to do so we thought we'd re-visit Gràcia again – Shauneen's a vegetarian and we'd heard about a vegan hotdog shop around there called The Dog Is Hot so, why not? Top that with a lovely cold bottle of chocolate milk (have I mentioned that Barcelona has fully converted me to chocolate milk?) and we were set, sitting in our favourite little square (Plaça del Diamant) watching some kids play some football.


Pretty much everybody had told us that we couldn't leave Barcelona without taking a stroll down La Rambla so we were sure to hit it on our final day in the city. Personally, I didn't really see the appeal – you can hardly move for all the people (mostly tourists) and there wasn't much to see or do. We did check out La Boqueria market and they were selling some lovely fruit juices but otherwise we were left a bit underwhelmed. We did continue venturing however, and we happened across Raval by a nice coincidence! Through some twisting and turning we wound up in a left-wing bookshop, El Lokal, which also sold punk, hip hop and reggae CDs/t-shirts/etc. After a long nosey, we started back the way we came and stopped for a rest in Plaça de Sant Agustí, right beside the chapel. Not long after, a gaggle of people appeared dressed uniformly in black. We were starting to get pretty confused when they started massaging each other's shoulders but within a few minutes they were standing in formation and belting out gospel tunes – everyone was pretty impressed with this flashmob, including us!

With our stay coming to a close, we walked back towards the Gothic Quarter for our final little adventure. There's really little to tell about this; we wanted to soak up the last of the architecture, the graffiti, the people... After coming across Cat Bar, another vegan spot, we spent the last of our cash on some burgers and patatas bravas before making the sad, sorry trip back to our last night in the apartment (although there will be no nostalgia for the stairs – seriously, 125, we counted).


The trip home was fairly routine with two exceptions. Firstly, the one thing we were looking forward to was the relief of the Irish cold after a spending a week in what felt like unnatural heat – Dublin airport was bloody warmer than Barcelona's! This heatwave is disgusting, shame on nature! Secondly, shout-out to the group of five who refused to get off the Belfast bus even though there was no space for all of them, leaving both of us stranded for an extra two hours and the bus driver in a really awkward situation. Definite first world problem, I know, but I was TIRED, people!

In retrospect, it's a real shame that we didn't get to see the more political side of Barcelona which we were hoping to get more of an insight into! It would have been cool to talk to people about the Catalan independence movement, the Spanish Civil War, squat culture, etc. but I guess that's just another reason to return, right?
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