Thursday, 12 June 2014

Barcelona

Over half term, a spontaneous trip was made to Barcelona. It's a city I've been wanting to visit for a while, and it was a lot of fun, but it wasn't quite what I expected!

When ma and pa had paid a visit and returned with relatively mediocre reviews, my response was that it must be a city more suited to 'young people', and I'd say that's probably quite accurate; the issue is that as 'young people' go I'm not all that young, at least not in the mind so in terms of my likes. Barcelona was fun, really fun, but it's not exactly the most attractive place in general.

If Gaudi does it for you then you might disagree, but my argument would be that beyond his quirky creations, there isn't a lot else that stands out to the eye. I admit I was a pretty huge cynic when it came to Le Sagrada - not only did it not blow me away, but I then found myself to be concerned about the cost of it all, and less than impressed to think that by the time one side is 'complete', the scaffolding will probably still remain in order to repair the crumbling mess that the other side will become. Admitedly, we didn't go inside (so there's reason number 1 to go back), so maybe I missed a trick.

Now I've seen a lot of it (mainly from the comfort of an open-top bus), it's good to know where I would return to if I were to go back. This time I feel that there was a lot of weeding through the rubbish in order to find some nice bits.

Barcelona was beautiful for the fact that it is a city with a proper beach (although for some reason (please don't judge me) I did not know this), which is something I don't think I've really experienced before. Unfortunately the weather wasn't on our side and most of the time the rain came down, but we did manage one morning and one evening on the beach and both were lovely (and the morning even resulted in tanlines - YES skin)!

Another place I could happily spend a sunny day was Park Güell, one of Gaudi's designs. The view was pretty spectacular, and it was nice to see greenery and colour (perhaps it was just because of the rain, but Barcelona seemed to be lacking in grass, in exchange for an abundance of grey)!

I'm not entirely sure how or where to begin, as before we had even taken off, there was drama aplenty caused by a case of 'mistaken suitcase identity', which meant enlisting most of the staff at the Duty Free and the security at Gatwick to track down an elderly lady (actually it turned out she wasn't even that elderly, so we're not entirely sure what her excuse was) who was clearly very confused (to put it nicely). I must say, they were pretty on point and managed to track how down in next to no time. Once she had sloped back, head hung in shame, to return the suitcase, we headed for the champagne and caviar bar to calm the nerves and delighted in seafood platters. It's times like these that I totally condone being at the airport in plenty of time!

We were staying in a hostel in Barcelona, in a girls dorm because we thought it would be quite fun... upon our arrival at about 11pm, the room was in darkness and EVERYONE WAS IN BED!? So we snuck around, making our beds, trying to figure out under-bed lockers, and getting ready to venture out to meet a friend who happened to be in Barcelona at the same time as us (that was pretty exciting) to drink gin a-plenty.

Our first morning was spent on the beach, soaking up rays and trying not to get swept over by the current in the freezing cold sea! Once our tummies started to rumble and the sun went behind the clouds, we headed inland to a tapas bar that had been recommended to us by a friend of my friend. We were advised to get there as close to opening as possible, as it was very popular. It was also a little tricky to find, but thankfully we made it in what felt like perfect time, as although it was indeed already buzzing with people, there was a small space at the counter for us to prop ourselves up. We both marvelled at the selection of tapas, the atmosphere and the price of cava, and tried to imagine the existence of such a place in Hoxton. We couldn't. When the bill came, we were even more enthralled, as a bottle and two extra glasses of cava and several plates of AMAZING tapas had come to a mere €20! Obviously we made the unanimous decision that we would return!



From the tapas bar, we moved on to do a little sight-seeing. We had been invited to a DJ set in a location nearby that evening, so we decided first to scout out where we might have to head back to. We didn't find the exact location, but we found the general area, and figured it wouldn't be too hard to find later... oh how I laugh now.

We wandered the streets relatively aimlessly. By this point it was trying to rain, and we had to head back out quite early so didn't have long before we'd need to return to the hostel to make attempts at sprucing up so we wouldn't stick out like sore thumbs at a Marc Jacobs party. Of course, real rain always has marvellous timing, and on our way back the heavens really opened! The Brit in me was armed with a waterproof sports jacket (yep, I own one of those), but the lashings of horizontal rain were still enough to soak through my bottom half. With such a tiny luggage allowance, 'evening outfits' had been left behind (although I had managed to squeeze in one pair of heels, which I would later regret), and at this point I feared that my ploy of turning day into night was not going to be appropriate if I was still soggy. [Un]fortunately, during the day we had had decided to go shopping anyway, as we weren't entirely sure that 'day to night' outfits were going to be quite enough for us to blend in... I hope my sarcasm is quite clear enough!

Shopping in Barcelona, home of Zara and Bershka was not at all bad. H&M, as always, provided plenty to choose from, but it was new shoes from Stradavarius (had to make a purchase, it's a shop named after a violin!?) that turned a day-time outfit into something a little more classy (that was until we were drenched having wandered around in the rain for an hour... more on that later). Thankfully, when in Europe, rain and warmth happen at the same time, so by the time I awoke from the nap that I just seemed to fall into as soon as I was on a bed, I was relatively dry!

It was recommended to me that while in Barcelona, squid ink paella had to be consumed. So we chose this evening to give it a go before funds ran too low! We found ourselves in a restaurant by the marina and close to the venue, where in addition to our squid ink paella (which, by the way, actually stains your mouth!), we also drank sangria and received complimentary champagne in flutes with insanely long stems; stems so long, in fact, that they had to be placed in a jar to stand up, and were not at all easy to drink from, as you (I) kept knocking the table and each time were (was) struck with fear that they would smash at any moment. The waiter really didn't seem to want us to leave, but we'd been advised to make a pretty early appearance at this party to benefit from the open bar, and were already an hour later than suggested.


Eventually we escaped his not so evil clutches, and went in pursuit of the party. I'm not entirely sure how to explain the debacle that prevailed. All I know is that Barcelona squares are confusing, and even the locals had no idea where we needed to be. So, we wandered the streets for AN HOUR, getting more and more bedraggled in the rain (which refused to stop, but instead turned into a pretty ferocious storm) and me feeling less and less like I wanted to make an appearance, in a desperate attempt to locate where we were meant to be. Extreme frustration thankfully subsided to masses of relief when at last we landed ourselves at the door (by which point most people were leaving, not arriving), and when faced with a mirror it transpired that I didn't even look anywhere near as bad as I felt, so that was quite a comfort. The venue in question was some sort of office space with pop-up bars and a roof terrace with beautiful views across the marina (well, we'd already got soaked through, why not continue the trend in the open air?). The footage of the advertising campaign on a big screen lit up the entire dance-floor, which was less satisfying, but it was a great set as always, and we made the most of it having finally arrived!

Before home we found ourselves in a bar for another 'foreign exchange', shall we say? This one was more short-lived; a taxi was hailed and bed happened.

The next morning saw our last full day in the city, and we decided we'd go in for the hop-on-hop-off open-top bus tour. I think we may have been slightly more fatigued than we realised, as although we were expecting to be leaping on and off, never mind hopping, we actually end up sat on the bus for about 5 hours, alighting once. Impressive - we certainly got value for money!

Our stop was at Park Güell, which I'm glad we did! Honestly, beyond La Sagrada, I'm not entirely sure where else we should have stopped... the view of everywhere from the bus was perfectly adequate, at least when the roof wasn't up to shelter us from the rain - red tarpaulin isn't so interesting, it has to be said.




By the time we got off for our final stop, our legs weren't entirely convinced they could remember how to work, but we did manage to wander back to the hostel, this time to find the lights on and loud American teens in the room... suddenly the dark and sleeping people didn't seem so bad.


Once the initial shock had subsided and we began to grow accustomed to the accents (I'm not saying we enjoyed them, I think it was just a case of them becoming easier to drown out somehow), we actually decided that we would accompany them and some more amenable Canadians on a night out organised by the hostel. Once suited and booted, down to the bar we went for our free shots to kick-start ourselves into going-out-mode (as I like to call it). The club in question was on the beach, and had such a good atmosphere. We had arrived at a time I would consider super early, so were a little concerned that it would be pretty dead, but in fact it turned out to be quite the opposite. We made a beeline for the bar upon our arrival (not to return as drinks were so expensive), and as soon as our drinks were finished, the dancefloor was packed and we were sorted for the rest of the night! Though they may have been expensive, drinks were also pretty (very) good value for money, as my Tequila Tonic was a lot Tequila, and very very little tonic, so the night is a bit of a blur, but I can definitely say that it was a lot of fun. Made me realise I literally couldn't (and still can't) remember the last time I had been out just for a club night as opposed to for an event. I think I'd reached the point of thinking I'd 'out-grown' club nights, but since my return have wanted another one to occur very soon!

Check-out of the hostel was at 10am, which having been the last stragglers the night before, was a pretty massive struggle. Nevertheless, we heaved ourselves up and out for one final day of exploration before bidding farewell to Barcelona. I had a huge intrigue for the 'Barcelona Gherkin', as I decided to call it, so we began our exploration at the base of the city to discover what the building really was. From there, we had a closer look at La Sagrada, and along the way passed some other interesting buildings and sights.
Unfortunately, with the weather at its worst, it seemed that by lunchtime, everyone had decided to shelter in the market off La Rambla, so we were unable to stop there for tapas. Perhaps it was the hangovers, or tiredness, or by this point hunger, or the persistent rain, but we then struggled to find somewhere else to eat and sort of aimlessly wandered, unsuccessfully, for what felt like forever. We did manage tapas, but not the tapas we'd wanted, so I guess that's something to go back for?


I think the overall verdict is probably that Barcelona would be a very different place in the sunshine. It was, as I began with, a very fun place to spend a few days, and I'm sure I'll return in the future. Let's see!