So, as I come to the end of my time here in Barcelona, I thought now, as I sit in the departure lounge/on the plane on the way home to the UK, would be a good time to share some of my lasting impressions of the city they call…. Barcelona.
The first distinct impression I gained was that the Catalonian Capital was a city of ‘a lot.’ By the term ‘a lot’, I mean that it appears to be a city that offers much for people of all interests, whether that be architecture, greenery, food, culture, arts, bars etc. This I felt was particularly amplified in my particular visit for two reasons. First, I was only there for a weekend, thus I may have felt differently had I been there for a week, and second, the weather, which for significant portions of my stay was distinctly wet. Yet herein lies the rub. Because of the rather changeable weather, I think I may have got a particular sense of this latter quality, one minute I was strolling around in sweet smelling parks and taking in the architecture from outside, the next, due to the onset of rain, I was prancing like a gazelle around a museum dedicated to the works of renowned Catalan artist Joan Miro.
In saying this however, the three particular highlights of the trip are pursuits undeniably best enjoyed outdoors, La Rambla, Bari Gotic and Montjuic.
The first of these can best be described as a long street and area in the centre of the city, which showcases attractively authentic Catalonian ‘old school’ (hey, I’m no architect!) architecture, in the form of picturesque flats, shops and so on, whilst the second, translated as ‘Gothic quarter’, is a small area of ‘Las Ramblas’ especially Gothic in nature. As with most of these things, you can only get a real sense of what this area is like by visiting it in person, needless to say that it was a pleasure to walk around the brown/terracotta coloured landscape and be taken in by the associated ambience. Before moving on, one must also give a mention to the Cathedral (note, NOT the same as the Sagrada Familia), which is also situated in this area, which with its unmistakable Gothic style is also worth a gaze.
Moving onto ‘pastures green’ so to speak is my third highlight, Montjuic, a vast green expanse in the South West of the City. To me, this park is remarkable in many ways, from its lush, sweet smelling flora to the striking buildings that lie within it, most notably perhaps those encompassing the area of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. In a city as metropolitan and densely packed (in the centre at least) as Barcelona, Montjuic provides a fascinating and tranquil other side to the city, and one could quite easily spend a whole day meandering like a dazed goat around the well kept yet wholly natural appearing grounds. What is more, if you do happen to be at Montjuic at the appropriate time of the day, there’s also a rather pretty fountain display to enjoy, undoubtedly worth a watch and a few photos.
As far as my dwellings for the duration of my stay were concerned, I decided after much deliberative research to plump for the ‘Feetup Garden Hostel’ which can be found near the metro station of Valldaura, to the north of the city. My reasons for plumping with this particular accommodation were basically twofold. Firstly, it had an overall rating on Google of over 90%, with many people leaving overwhelmingly positive comments about the place, and secondly, for a rate of 25 odd euros per night, it represented what I considered at the time to be very good value for money for a private room.
Upon arrival (the hostel provided clear instructions via email) I was greeted by a friendly Australian girl, who promptly checked me in and showed me to my room, which she termed as ‘quite small.’ Indeed she was right. The space, although very bright and clean, was rather diminutive in size, if I had to describe it in a phrase, I would say ‘tropical prison cell.’ In addition, I was somewhat surprised to discover that instead of a conventional duvet (I assume duvets are conventional in Barcelona) I was provided with an orange towel like blanket and white sheet to keep me warm. A week earlier, when it was apparently much sunnier and warmer, this might not have been a problem, the week later when I was there however it did however leave me feeling a bit chillier (even with an extra orange blanket provided by the nice staff) than I would have liked. In addition, (and again thanks to the less than helpful weather) due to the room being ‘outside’ (think of it as having a similar vibe to a conservatory/posh shed attached to a house) it was particularly sensitive to noise, whether that be the rain, people talking (in fairness the hostel was on the whole pretty peaceful) or the annoying sound of the vending machine outside my room. Thus, this did prove more disruptive than was perhaps ideal. Apart from the room however, the wifi worked very well, the staff were friendly and helpful and it was in a very quiet neighbourhood, disturbed only by annoying vending machines. Overall then, my stay at the feetup hostel was a mixed experience.
The food on the other hand was certainly not a mixed experience. On the contrary, it was rather good, if on the expensive side. Having tried various tapas bars during my stay, I think the eating of tapas should be a practice which should be imported to the UK at the earliest possible opportunity. For those unaware of this ‘concept’, tapas are basically small dishes of meat, fish or vegetables of various flavours and textures and for those prone to indecision like me they provide a very tasty alternative to a single, larger main meal. Of all the tapas bars I visited (which were all pretty excellent), my pick was an Argentinean place in Caller de Ciutat, which although pricey, was very satisfying and enjoyable, my favourite dish being one that centred around Partridge (that’s the bird, not the comic figure Alan Partridge.)
If what I have described to you so far is the filling of my holiday sandwich, allow me to conclude by elucidating on the proverbial slices of bread. Starting at the beginning (as is conventional), I woke up at 4am on Thursday, and was out the door ready to catch my bus to the train station by 5. It was rather exciting actually, I felt like James Bond on a top secret mission to deliver some classified package, although I doubt whether Bond would use public transport to get to his destination, even if it as integrated as it is in London. I digress. The progress on the bus was swift, such that I was able to get on an earlier train to Stanstead airport, Bond would have been proud.
Upon arrival, there was no need to check in (thanks to compulsory check in with the good people of Ryanair) so I progressed onto security, which despite being slightly berated by a member of staff (with a good Essex smile it has to be said) for not taking off my belt, getting my laptop out etc, went rather smoothly. With plenty of time to spare, I then indulged in a Weatherspoon’s breakfast, feeling the need to share with Facebook a picture of the half eaten contents. Then came boarding, which again, was as smooth as a sausage. Being one of the first onto the aircraft, I managed to get a window seat and was then accompanied by a very pleasant South Korean couple; we chatted about many pressing issues, including the gospel of Jesus Christ, which was nice. Fast forward to the flight home and again, it was relatively pain free. Security was rapid (less than 10 minutes I reckon) and the nice Ryanair staff even let me take my slightly oversized Joan Miro art print as part of my hand luggage, Cashback! And on that note, and in a fun sort of way, we’re back where we were right at the beginning of the article, that being the end of my time in Barcelona.
In summing up, my time in Barcelona was enjoyable. My highlights were Montjuic, La Rambla and Bari Gotic, and the main lowlights were the weather and the hostel. Would I visit again? Quite possibly. Should you bother going? Yes!
Thanks very much for reading.
UPDATE: The following morning (after waxing lyrical about the food) I experienced what can only be described as ‘complete rectal failure’ (plus a malfunction ‘at the other end’) which may or not have been caused by the Partridge which seemed so pleasing just the day before. I’m willing to give the Partridge the benefit of the doubt on this occasion however, and put it down to a 24 hour stomach bug of some kind. For leaving you with that thought, I apologise.