From our trip to Cadaqués, the return route to Barcelona took us a different way. Up at 7am, checked out by 8am, with breakfast wrapped in napkins, the hotel director dropped us at the bus station in his jeep. Adiós. On the Sarfa bus we went up and around the mountain roads again, bus swaying left to right to left, perilously close to the barriers and sheer drops, shades of the Lesvos tour bus we’d been on. Sounds of kids getting travel sick in the back left us listening to the “500 days of summer” soundtrack. We were on our way to Figueres; the bus arrived late, and we had a mad dash sprint to the train, luggage in tow. Sam bought the tickets, I used the loo. Then down the steps, under the platform, up again and onto the train, a full 30 seconds to spare.
Two more hours going south, past Girona, to Barcelona–shut eye opportunity impeded by a Spanish woman that liked to talk, a lot. From Sants Estació we took the metro to Hospital Clinic, then through the afternoon heat to Hotel Center, hotel number two. Hello Barcelona!
In the cool, air conditioned room, with its dark brown wooden décor, tiled and glistening bathroom, thick curtains and huge beds, we recovered, in four star luxury.
Soon enough, Sam was tired of relaxing and wanted to do something. “Can we try out this Lonely Planet walking tour?”. Why not. Not wanting to waste any more of the day, we grabbed some lunch from El Fornet and took the metro down to Plaça de Catalunya, the tour started with Las Ramblas.
Las Ramblas is packed with shopping stalls, pet stalls and street performers; from terrible Zorros and painted silver statues (chatting during their break), to perfectly executed floating genies that left crowds gasping. Dodgy looking men sold squeaky plastic mouthpieces and paranoid for our valuables, we hugged our bags and pockets tightly.
First stop, Palau Güell, an early Gaudí project, closed for renovations. Then to Plaça de Sant Jaume a large open square with central fountain and surrounding eateries. Now in the Barri Gòtic quarter we meandered through thin streets, round to the catedral (not the only cathedral in BCN under scaffolding) and Iglesia Santa María del Mar. We didn’t go in, a wedding was going on, we instead sat on the wall nearby, watching the smartly dressed passers by, and the quirky artist that appeared to be a misanthrope. We stopped again at the Plaça del Rei, a quiet enclosed square with steps perfectly placed for seating–here I strained to photograph those sitting near us in an artistic way.
Round the back of the cathedral we paused for strawberry and raspberry ice creams, as another performer created huge soapy bubbles, leaving the air smelling of washing up liquid.
The tour continued, taking us past the Museo de Picasso, we didn’t go in, then up to the spectacular Palau de la Música Catalana. We took a small detour to a tea shop (how could we not?), I think we were there for about 45 minutes, smelling and trying different blends. Only Sam could go on holiday to Spain and come back with three bags of freshly packed tea. Oolong and Jasmine, apple and green tea, and another one that smelt rather horrible, so I’ve apparently forgotten what it’s called.
By the Picasso museum we stopped at the BCN design hub, dHUB, for their free wallpaper exhibition. Sounds dull, certainly wasn’t. Exhibits included a post-it note wall, a rucked up roll of solid paper which formed a stylish shelf, textured papers, paper that changed based on temperature and designs that flowed around wall objects, like sockets and lamps.
Our hotel sat very close to the excellent and widely recommended tapas bar and restaurant, Cerveceria Catalana, which I can neither spell nor pronounce. It is always busy. You can either sit at a table, with a menu, and order dishes as and when you please, or more excitingly, sit at the bar where all the freshly prepared food is laid out in front of you. Then you just point, and keep eating and ordering until your bellies are full or your wallets empty. On this occasion we did a bit of both, while waiting for our table we ordered from the seafood bar; yummy razor clams in garlic, before going to our table. Plate after plate kept coming, as we drank our jug of Sangria. The fried baby squids, complete with cute tentacles, were delicious, not to mention the date, bacon and cheese flute, that I managed to get Sam tasting AND liking.
We shared tips on menu choices and Barca trips with the tables either side; a slightly drunken (three jugs of Sangria?) American-Asian now living in China, trying to chat up some Japanese girls on one side, and two English girls on a long girly weekend of sightseeing and good food, on the other.