Barcelona revisted

A few weeks ago I promised myself I would go back to explore Barcelona properly. Well, I did just that – hauling the Route79 clan over there for a few days – last Sunday through to Wednesday (3 and a half days). Like many, we’re not the sort of family who likes to go sit in the sun and read a book on holiday, so we set ourselves some objectives for this short break, and I am pleased to say that we accomplished all of them.

The grafitti in Barcelona’s Cuitat Vella (old city) is artistic.
(Taken in a dodgy street called Carrer de Valldonzella – looking for our cheap lunch venue.)

First and foremost we decided not to pack a reasonable quality camera; electing instead to use the camera in our mobile phones. The results of that mission can be viewed here. The camera is sub-1megapixel (i.e. a bit crap) so the images aren’t great, but they were “blogged” pretty much live, so that kind of justifies the lack of quality. In fact, I think given the context, the fuzziness sort of adds credence to it, but that’s a discussion for another day …

The second objective was to see as much work by famous local artist Antoni Gaudi as we possibly could, so that by the time we came home we’d be sick of it.

And last but not least, we wanted to make sure we sampled some real good, especially Catalan, and Spanish, food, all in that order of priority. So, we went out of our way to research places to have lunch and dinner, and booked everything by telephone in advance of our trip.

Oh and I forgot to say, all of this had to be done for a budget of less than £1200 for a family of four (two adults and two children) – all in – including flights, long-term parking, insurance, accommodation, food and pocket money. Anyone who’s researched flights from Heathrow to the major cities in Spain will know that BA and Iberia have got it all pretty much sown up and we would have busted the budget on the flight alone. The alternative was to go Easyjet from Luton, say, but I found what appeared to be an interesting deal for around £800 from Lastminute.com a couple of months ago – it was a combined flight and hotel deal that had quite some elements of choice in it; for example I managed to configure the package so that we flew from LHR (Iberia codeshare with BA) and the hotel we stayed at was actually an “Apartment Hotel” slap bang in the centre of town, right on Las Ramblas, which is the centre of all the action there. Apartment Hotels usually offer larger, family friendly, suites and a lot more by the way of privacy. We positively detest the idea of paying a premium for being fussed over and room service and all that, so that helped keep it within budget. I also found a relatively cheap valet parking service operating out of Heathrow, they took our car away at the terminal and brought it back on our arrival. Luxury eh? For a price not a great deal more that advanced booking at Pink Elephant for the duration. The rest of the budget was used on other expenses whilst there, specifically travel (Metro T10 prepaid “carnet” tickets – don’t buy any other travelcards as these are superb and all encompassing), food and other items like entrance fees to museums or attractions etc. Details of the “bill of materials” at the end of this posting if you are interested.

Anwyay – apart from Gaudi architecture and the really great food, the things about Barcelona that left me with lasting impressions:

1. I have never seen so much graffiti in my entire life! But unlike much of what you see in London, BCN graf really is art. Practically every metal shutter of every shop and restaurant on the narrow lanes of the old city around Las Ramblas is covered in very carefully sprayed graf, usually extremely colourful and often intricate. And care is taken not to spray or cover the stonework of the aincient facades – sticking to the metal shutter only. Of course, there is lots of more unsightly graf too, but it ‘s mostly out of town and in the usual places. There just seems to be a lot more “respect” for the important buildings.

2. I don’t know wether this is a Spanish trend, or strictly a Bareclonian one, but quite a high proportion of younger women (as in between teenage and middle-age) have a metal stud in their lip. It can’t just be me, because the other 79ers noticed this as well.

3. The pavements in Barcelona – even the out of town ones are not made using paving slabs of the size that you normally experience say in London. They are much smaller tiles – about the size of teacup footprint, and hexagonal. This makes me think of the amount of time it must take to lay these things. And on some streets (e.g. the prestigious Passeig de Gracia) the design on these Hexagonal paving tiles are quite intricate and kind of arranged so that the patterns connect over adjacent tiles.

Here’s how we spent our money if you’re interested:

Flights: red-eye flight from LHR to BCN – 6.20am Sunday, returned 14:30 Wednesday (return was operated by BA)
Accommodation: 3 nights at Aparthotel Citadines – Las Ramblas – fantastic place, very safe, very central, we booked a suite for four, but they didn’t have any left so they had prepared two 2pax suites and opened up the connecting door – which meant two bathrooms, two kitchens, and a lot more space! Total price for flight and hotel: £854 using Lastminute.com. Because we prepaid, the room was available for us before normal checkin time of 3pm – so we unloaded on arrival and used the best part of Sunday to explore.

Travel insurance from Travel Insurance Web – annual multi-trip for family of four £63 – excellent value – recommendation came from Which Online.
Valet Parking at Heathrow: MBW Valet Parking Ltd – £56 – very friendly folks, I only found out on the way back that the arrival was at T1, which was different to our departure from T2, but they had no problem with that at all.
Travel around BCN: We bought 4 prepaid T10 “carnet” tickets on arrival at BCN airport. These tickets can be “passed back” to others in your group and can be used pretty much everywhere you need to go – including trains, buses etc. For a three and half day stay we used less than 10 journey’s each (lots of places walking distance from where we stayed) so 4 T10s were enough. Total cost: 28 Euro.
Souvenirs: don’t buy souvenirs from stalls or shops on Las Ramblas – go to El Corte d’Ingles department store on Placa de Catalunya at the top end of Rambla, you get better quality chintz at a third of the price.
Food: DO NOT eat at the places on Las Ramblas – as these are extremely bad quality, and ridiculously priced. DO research and book restaurants in advance, especially for dinner. There are just too many great places to eat off the Rambla that are also fun to explore and get to. We ate at the following places:
Sunday night: Dinner at Set Portes – read my mini review here.
Monday: Lunch at L’Estevet – family-run Catalan in dodgy area popular with students, artists and journalists – read my review here.
Monday: Dinner at Txapela – Basque style tapas restaurant – read my mini-review here.
Tuesday: Breakfast of traditional Chocolate and Churros at La Pallaresa – the best Xocalatier in town!
Tuesday: Lunch: sushi, sashimi and teppan style Japanese (just had to do it!) at Nagano – read my mini-review here.
Tuesday: Dinner of Catalan-style Tapas as acclaimed Taller de Tapas restaurant – read my mini-review here.
Total restaurant bill for family of four 250 Euro – that’s around 85 Euro per head (if you count two kids as one adult) – which for 6 restaurant sit-downs comes to less than 15 Euro per sitting per head. Not bad given the quality and quantity of the food. Would have cost 2 to 3 times as much in London.

Grand total spent: a shade under 1200 UK Pounds!

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