This time last year, Alex and I went on holiday with our friends Louise and Jamie to Barcelona.
The holiday got off to a bad start when we realised that we had a day less there than we’d expected. About a week before our flight, someone double-checked the alteration that had been made to our flight schedule.
A badly-written email from the airline, Vueling, had made us all think our flights had been rescheduled by 10 minutes. Only on closer inspection about a week beforehand did Louise realise that it had actually been rescheduled by a day and 10 minutes.
(Incidentally, every Spaniard we spoke to wished us good luck for flying with Vueling. Seemingly their reputation lies somewhere even lower than Ryanair’s.)
This had trimmed our holiday from five nights to four.
We arrived at our Airbnb in Barcelona at 2am. Luckily, our host was quite accommodating about our late arrival, seemingly sympathetic to our suffering at the hands of Vueling.
The apartment itself was a little dated. But it hardly mattered, when it boasted a balcony view like this of the Sagrada Família. We knew we’d have a view, but nothing prepared me for how stunning it would be, even at 2am.
In the morning, Jamie planned our day while we made breakfast.
We went for a wander around the city, mildly aimlessly.
First stop was the Arc de Triomf, and the park it marks the entry to.
We continued walking until we reached Mercat del Born, a former market that is the largest covered square in Europe.
But what really makes it worth the visit is the ruins of the medieval city that are preserved here.
We stopped off at Restaurante La Vinya del Senyor, where we had some wine and miniature meats.
We couldn’t overindulge, however, because for the afternoon we had booked an e-bike tour! I had never ridden an e-bike before.
Our guide, Matthias, had taken us to an open promenade area where we could try it out for the first time. Just be careful not to run into any of the many pedestrians going about their business.
The feel of the power surprised me, and I immediately declared it to be cheating. Our guide did invite me to switch off the power if I wanted to. The only reason I didn’t is because the bike was so heavy, of course…
The tour took us up Montjuïc, the large hill that overlooks the city.
We enjoyed the cactus gardens.
We proceeded further up the hill to enjoy some stunning views of the city.
We continued round the hill, on to the Olympic venues.
I also enjoyed riding around the hill. Not just because it was fun in itself, but also because Montjuïc was a venue of the Spanish Grand Prix in the 1970s. It was taken off the calendar for being too dangerous, which is saying something for the 1970s.
We admired the views from the Palau Nacional.
Back down into the city, we went via Plaça de George Orwell and Plaça de Sant Jaume.
The tour was over, and we spent a little bit of time in the gothic quarter before looking for dinner.
Our guide had told us that the coolest place to go was not Las Ramblas, but Carrer de Blai.
There we could eat pinchos and drink red wine in tiny bars all night long.
I wasn’t terribly aware of pinchos before coming to Barcelona. They are a bit like tapas, but on a piece of bread with a toothpick through it. You know the price by the colour of the toothpick.
I loved it!
Of course, you can have red wine without pinchos too.
Then we went to this cocktail bar. My main memory of there is of forgetting my Monzo pin and sending a drunk video of myself to Monzo asking for my pin. I didn’t get my pin.
We got home in time for a late-night selfie at Sagrada Família, continuing one of the other themes of the holiday — selfies up our nostrils.
The next day we had a lazy morning. Not sure why. But I think Alex and I impressed/horrified Louise and Jamie with our breakfasting. Alex is very much a breakfast person. The others not so much — but we feasted!
After fuelling ourselves for the day, we went back to Montjuïc to visit the Fundació Joan Miró, a superb modern art museum in a cool modernist building.
There was a wonderful exhibition about bees called Beehave.
We stuck our heads in some rather 90s-looking spiky spheres filled with flowers.
We put on daft glasses to read hidden messages in this darkened room.
We lay down on vibrating wooden boards and listened to sounds transmitted from the beehive that was on the roof, set to some groovy glitchy techno music.
Then we enjoyed visiting the rest of the museum, with loads of modern art — particularly, of course, by Joan Miró.
I loved this mercury fountain.
In the adjacent park we found a bar where we could begin our libations again.
We visited the Palau Nacional once again, but this time walked down to the Magic Fountain.
But Alex was most interested in seeing the Barcelona Pavilion, Mies van der Rohe’s stunning building used as the official opening for the German section of the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition.
In the evening, we attempted to repeat the previous day’s performance.
We sat in a cool bar with lots of old motoring magazines pasted on the wall.
But somehow food was harder to come by. So we got a McDonald’s on the way home. Holiday fail.
This was Easter Sunday. So we kicked off the morning by introducing Louise and Jamie to another Oliver family tradition — an Easter egg hunt in the apartment.
Of course, we couldn’t stay opposite the Sagrada Família without going inside.
To understand how good Sagrada Família is, consider the following:
- I don’t like ornate architecture.
- I don’t like churches.
- I don’t like heights.
Sagrada Família ticks all three of those boxes — yet I was still absolutely stunned by the building.
The detail is undeniably impressive. For instance, the massive supporting pillars required to keep the building standing are designed to look like majestic tree trunks.
The light created by the stained glass windows is other-worldly.
We took a tour to the top. That was slightly scary, but it did put into perspective just how impressive this building us. The attention to detail and rich symbolism make this incredibly ambitious, and you can begin to understand why it has taken so long to build.
After that, we walked through town to our next destination, but not before Jamie had done some impromptu parkour.
Up the hill we went to visit another Antoni Gaudí masterpiece — Park Güell.
Unfortunately, a lot of Park Güell was under renovation when we visited. So we perhaps didn’t see it in its full splendour.
It’s certainly an interesting and eccentric place. But I was left feeling a little underwhelmed by it. Perhaps that was the result of seeing Sagrada Família shortly before. More than anything else, it reminded me of Portmeirion.
In the evening we went for dinner at La Mar Salada, a seafood restaurant at the waterfront.
The menu wasn’t translated very well, and the waiter didn’t speak very good English. That’s probably a good sign for the quality of the food. But it did make for some difficulties communicating with the waiter.
Jamie ordered a starter that was described as ‘3 anchovies’. But it wasn’t clear how it was prepared. So Jamie asked the waiter, who explained that an anchovy is a little fish. He held his index fingers up to indicate how little.
We already knew what an anchovy is, so Jamie tried asking again: how are the anchovies prepared? Is it just three anchovies, or do they come with something? The waiter disappeared for a few minutes, and returned with his iPhone displaying a picture of an anchovy.
Never mind. He ordered it anyway.
When it arrived, he was presented with three anchovies by themselves.
It caused us great hilarity. But I felt a bit bad, because I think the waiter thought we were making fun of him and his lack of English skills. That would have been a bit rich of us given our non-existent Spanish skills.
We only had a short amount of time left before we had to get our flight back home.
We had had a brilliant time with our e-bike tour guide Matthias on day 1. So we booked on to his other tour, which was a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter.
Among the highlights of the tour, we learned all about the history of chorizo.
Then we headed towards the Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya, and chatted politics a bit with Matthias.
Then it was time to go home.
We arrived at the airport in good time. But unfortunately, we went through security straight to a terminal that didn’t have any bars, or indeed anything except for a Burger King. So we played the world’s longest, geekiest and most frustrating game of I Spy.
Overall, I had a great holiday, although I felt a little underwhelmed by the city itself. Part of that was probably because we had less time than expected. But perhaps also it was because my previous holiday had been to New York.
Nevertheless, as always with great cities, I left Barcelona feeling like I hadn’t seen very much of it, and wishing I’d been able to do more. And I was definitely bowled over by Sagrada Família.