Barcelona Day 1January 25, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C
We awoke to a grey and tired looking day. On the approach to Barcelona, the urban sprawl engulfed us. Motorway lanes multiplied and buildings grew taller as we neared the hub. The air was cloudy with pollution; digital information boards informed us some sections of the road were reserved for vehicles carrying 2+ people and we noticed several signs for a low emission zone. We weren't aware of the need to get an emissions pass in Barcelona so we quickly searched the internet and to our relief, found it only applied to vehicles over 20 years old from 2019. No fine for us today!
A terraced bank led up the hill to our right. When we identified the objects atop the stepped walls as stone crosses, we realised it was a huge graveyard, with burial plots stacked up to form the structure of the terrace. It continued for several kilometres and was unlike any cemetery we'd seen before.
On our left we looked down to the industrial port, where huge cruise liners were docked. Despite the number of roundabouts and dual carriagway sliproads we managed to find our way in relatively easily, perhaps due in part to the updated sat nav maps. Pulling in at the car park we'd picked out, we were met by the attendant and directed to a place alongside a Belgian and a French van. It was €30 a night and there were no facilities but it was only a couple of miles away from the centre and importantly, it had 24 hour supervision. We'd heard Barcelona was particularly beset by thieves who targeted tourists, so by leaving the van here, we could have peace of mind that it would be safe.
The attendant gave us a map and directions and after taking Poppy out, we began to make our way in. Walking down the tree lined hill, the streets were clean and parakeets squawked overhead. Vicky downloaded the TMB city transport app which turned out to be excellent. It told us what buses and metro lines to use and had an interactive map to help us get to the stops and stations. We used a machine to buy 48 hour 'Hola BCN' integrated travel cards for €15 each. The process was straightforward and they took us everywhere we wanted to go. The metro tunnels were uncomfortably warm but the trains themselves were air conditioned and we never needed to wait more than 3 minutes for one.
The first port of call was the Mercat de la Boqueria, a market hall selling top quality fruit, nuts, veg, smoothies, chocolates, meat, fish, herbs and spices. As Will was perusing the stalls on the periphery, he was approached by a woman wearing a short skirt and stockings, who hailed him lasciviously and insistently. He swiftly turned and walked in the opposite direction. At times like this we often turn to humour as a coping mechanism and thought that at least when Vicky had been propositioned a few weeks ago, the person had been willing to pay her!
Back inside, there were stalls where you could sit, eat and drink. We chose a tapas bar for a plate of battered whitebait, squid rings, baby octopus and chilli peppers, accompanied by a glass of white wine for Will and cava for Vicky. We wanted to indulge ourselves over the two days as a belated treat for Will's birthday!
After lunch we wandered towards La Rambla, the mainstreet of Barcelona. There were so many distinctive buildings it was difficult to focus; a turret sticking out from behind a row of townhouses, a peach coloured 3 storey corner building whose walls were decorated with oldfashioned umbrellas, patterns painted around tall windows with decorative cast iron railings... we could go on. While Vicky was photographing
a gothic style cathedral two people suddenly appeared and said 'Hi, do you remember us?'. The answer was yes, of course! We'd met Rhea and Gareth just over a year ago at Krka National Park in Croatia. They'd been on a 6 month tour of europe in their van, so we'd invited them in and got to know them over a cuppa. What an amazing coincidence that we were not only in Barcelona on the same day, but we came within a few metres of each other and they spotted us! After convincing a performance artist that we didn't want to pay to take photos with her, we found a street café and caught up on what we'd all been doing for the last year. We couldn't stop grinning after we parted; we'd really enjoying chatting with them and kept marvelling at the chance encounter.
There was one more place we wanted to visit before returning to the van; the Basìllica de la Sagrada Famìlia. This colossal church, designed by Gaudi, was a masterpiece, despite still being under construction. Eight out of twelve bell towers rose to a height that seemed to defy gravity, while arched columns of decreasing sizes splayed out to the sides of the main entrance. Like the roofs of the spires, the entry price was exceedingly steep at €18 per person. Vicky chose to go in while Will had a look around the nearby shops. After she'd bought a ticket, trekked round to the back entrance, put her belongings through a scanner and stepped through a metal detector, she finally entered one of the most incredible indoor spaces she'd ever seen. Every wall and pillar was made of light coloured stone and each of the tall windows lining the nave was bright stained glass. Large decorative oval lights adorned the columns high up, after which they split like tree trunks to support a ceiling inset with more lights and button shaped details that burst forth from stars of stone. With so many different shapes, it seemed to encompass an element of nature, a feeling that was helped by the fact it exuded light and air. It was a shame a large portion of the floorbspace was boarded off for building works, which were accompanied by the clank and roar of power tools.
Time was getting on so we took the Metro and bus back to Poppy. We spent some time with her and had a couple of crackers before taking to the streets once again, this time in search of cava bars! Catalonia is the region that cava comes from and we'd read about two bars specifically devoted to this sparkling wine. As we made our way towards them, smells of sugar and dope drifted through the air. We passed by some hippy clothing shops that were still open and arrived at the first of the two bars, only to read a notice saying it was closed for renovation. Oh well, there was still the other one! After at least half an hour of going in circles we finally found a small symbol on a glass door saying 'xampany' (Catalan for cava). This was accompanied by an A4 piece of paper informing us that the staff were on their holidays! It was nearing 9pm and without any substantial sustenance, Vicky was about to tear someone's head off. In an act of self preservation, Will quickly escorted her to the nearest bar, sat her down and ordered tapas pronto! She had wanted to try rosé cava, a speciality in the region. The waiter told us they didn't have any, but at this stage a regular cava went down very well! The night improved as we got some food inside us; Will came up trumps and pointed out to the waiter the half bottle of pink cava sitting in the fridge and Vicky spotted a dish of pig's ear, another regional speciality, on the menu. We are sure the two were never meant to go together but we enjoyed trying each and even Vicky even persuaded Will to leave a bit for Poppy (the pig's ear that is, not the cava)!Read more