Sunday, 31 July 2016

Un comiat a Barcelona

I think it's safe to say, now having been twice to Barcelona that it does not disappoint on food. Over the past few days we have done many wonderful things but ultimately as I walked back to the Plaza España to catch my bus to the airport, all I kept thinking was 'my goodness, we've eaten well.' I'm writing this at the airport (far too early as usual) sitting by a window watching planes take off and land with a tummy full of Iberico ham sandwich - bliss. Tempting as it is, I won't just write a food blog because actually, there are so many other lovely things to write about too.

Stranded in Bruges not so long ago when I forgot that mobile data isn't just available when abroad, this time I'd been smart and printed off directions to the accommodation. With Barcelona being made up of lots of long streets and blocks, I found it easily enough and was soon settled in and headed out for lunch (and Sangria).

The Hen Party was a jolly bunch, all distinguished by our sweet home-made 'Hen Party' badges. Once we were all safely gathered together, we ventured out for a glimpse at some of the sights; an introductory walking tour with our very own personal guide.

With the heat as intense as it was, we took a nice, leisurely stroll around the Gothic Quarter, along Las Ramblas and into the food market where we all cooled down with fresh fruit juices (I went for watermelon). Soon we found our way into the Plaça Reial where we enjoyed more Sangria in a stunning setting.

For dinner we decided to try a Tapas bar recommended by the hostess of the apartment we were renting. Sadly once we got there, the wait for a table was longer than any of us cared for but fortunately we found a very happy alternative not far away where we enjoyed a plethora of dishes and lashings of red wine.

Friday came around all too soon. Having had a whale of a time in Carrefour the previous evening, we were able to kick-start the day with a hearty breakfast of Nutella and banana on toast with a side of watermelon. We had decided to have a beach day so moved at a leisurely pace although still decided to take the scenic route to get there.

First we passed Gaudi's House which last time I had only seen briefly from an open-top bus tour (I absolutely love the skull-like balconies). Next we made our way to the Spanish Arc de Triomf which I must admit I preferred aesthetically to the one in Paris. From the Arc, we strolled along the avenue behind it and into thParc de la Ciutadella where we were greeted by the most beautiful fountain. Here we stayed a while, oohing and aahing at the base before ascending its steps to the top and back down the other side.

Just before we reached the beach, we stumbled upon an ice cream parlour offering lots of tasty flavours. I was a bit strange (as always) and just went for two flavours that I'd never tried before; licorice ice cream and pear sorbet; both seriously yum but not necessarily the cleverest combination, I admit. The beach was much busier than it had been when I visited before but we still found room for ten towels right on the water's edge. Sun, sea and sand. There really is nothing better.

Luckily we had made a dinner reservation at the restaurant next to the ice cream parlour so we had motivation to eventually tear ourselves away. We chose seafood and between us we really did try it all; padron peppers, cuttlefish, razor clams, fried fish (ie giant whitebait), calamari and anchovies to start before Arròs Negre of gigantic proportions.

After such a lot of food, we decided to walk it off and wandered home via the marina and along Las Ramblas again. The evening was spent in true style... well, admiring the all singing, all dancing Font Màgica while we enjoyed a few glasses of Cava (one of our Carrefour purchases at €2.60). There really is nothing more luxurious than sitting outside for the entirety of an evening when it's so blissfully warm.

The whole trip was over all too soon but we definitely made the most of the last morning. We kicked it off with the most amazing brunch ever at a little café out in the sunshine before we then made a visit to Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's masterpiece and another landmark I'd only seen from the atop the tour-bus before. I'm so glad that we decided to go in this time as it absolutely took my breath away. It had me oohing and aahing all over again; a seriously good way to bid farewell to Barcelona.

One more refreshing ice lolly and it was time for me to head home. I'm so glad to have been back to Barcelona as it's left a very different impression on me and definitely left me wanting more. I must say that it was an absolutely beautiful trip for an absolutely beautiful bride. 

Sunday, 3 July 2016

No deaths in Oxford

Yesterday I visited Oxford for the first time and had a truly glorious day (even if I didn't get caught up in any crime-solving or murder mystery).

As is my habit when visiting a new place, I did some research on the train to inform how our day would be spent. Pubs, towers, churches and of course the university colleges were on the agenda.

The first thing that surprised me was how small Oxford felt. Cambridge is small too but perhaps as I've become more familiar with it over time, I've ventured further afield so Oxford actually felt smaller even though I was expecting it to be larger (not sure why). A mere 5 minute walk from the station and we were in O'Neill's enjoying brunch / breakfast. Fuelled for the day we then headed straight to the first tourist attraction, Carfax Tower, to admire our first view over the city.

We withstood as much blowing about as we could to feel that we'd got value for money, then retreated back down the teeny tiny spiral staircase to the ground. From here we took to slightly aimless wandering, easily distracted as always by little nooks and crannies that looked interesting. There was another tower I had on my list but as there was some ceremony or another happening and the bells were therefore being rung, it was closed until they had finished. Here I drew parallels to the Carillon in Belgium where we had been totally deafened by bells in a bell tower. Us Brits are far too health and safety conscious.

Having taken in a few more of the tourist sights along our wander, we took a rest in a pub on an incredibly comfy sofa and spent time people watching and apparently sheltering from the rain as we discovered when the ground outside was wet upon our leaving.  

Perhaps not in the right frame of mind or body to climb another tower in the immediate future, we instead wandered on to Christ Church Meadow where we strolled around enjoying sunshine, punting mishaps, long grass and cows.

Having had food when we first arrived, we hadn't really thought about lunch but after walking such a long way we decided it was time. It was here that we encountered my first small criticism of Oxford; there are a) not enough food places for b) the number of tourists and c) the number of places to sit. In fact, there really is nowhere much to sit outside apart from in the meadow where we'd just been. Nevertheless, we eventually found a cute little tea-shop with lots of empty tables so it was here that we frequented and I enjoyed finger sandwiches with an 'Oxford rose' tea.

As we had been trying to find somewhere for lunch, we had stumbled upon one of the film locations for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (the cloisters at New College). Too hungry to go in before, we decided to return and were totally blown away by the gardens enclosed by the old city wall and the beautiful chapel where rehearsals for evensong were taking place.

In the end, it was a good job that we'd waited to climb the second tower as by this part of the day, the sun was truly shining and the sky was nothing but blue. I decided that the views from University Church of St Mary the Virgin were the best ones as the church sits nestled amongst some of the prettiest buildings in the city and the bird's eye view of them was gorgeous.

Always surprised in different places by how early everything closes (at least in comparison with London), we had no choice but to end the day in another pub. This time we chose to visit the Eagle and Child where CS Lewis and JR Tolkien amongst other authors ('The Inklings') met every Tuesday for several years to discuss the books they were writing. Good stout, more great people watching, it was a lovely place to end our visit before we made our way back to the station.

I'm very glad to have finally been to Oxford. Historically, I think it definitely had a lot more to offer than Cambridge but I think architecturally (and let's be honest, for the shopping), Cambridge definitely has my heart.