Barcelona

Olympic venues in Barcelona

This time last year, Alex and I went on holiday with our friends Louise and Jamie to Barcelona.

Day 0

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.

Sagrada Família at night

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.

Day 1

Jamie planning on our apartment balcony with Sagrada Família in view

In the morning, Jamie planned our day while we made breakfast.

Garage Splendit

Fountain and building

We went for a wander around the city, mildly aimlessly.

Arc de Triomf

First stop was the Arc de Triomf, and the park it marks the entry to.

Mercat del Born

We continued walking until we reached Mercat del Born, a former market that is the largest covered square in Europe.

Medieval ruins at Mercat del Born

But what really makes it worth the visit is the ruins of the medieval city that are preserved here.

Louise, Alex and Jamie eating tapas and drinking wine

We stopped off at Restaurante La Vinya del Senyor, where we had some wine and miniature meats.

Louise, Jamie and Alex riding e-bikes in the sunshine

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 tour guide and Jamie on an e-bike

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.

Tour guide Matthias

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…

Me looking back while riding an e-bike

The tour took us up Montjuïc, the large hill that overlooks the city.

All of us at the cactus garden

We enjoyed the cactus gardens.

Cable car above Barcelona

Barcelona cityscape

We proceeded further up the hill to enjoy some stunning views of the city.

Me and Alex in the Olympic stadium

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.

Jamie and Louise having fun in front of Palau Nacional

View from the Magic Fountain

We admired the views from the Palau Nacional.

Jamie at Plaça de George Orwell

Back down into the city, we went via Plaça de George Orwell and Plaça de Sant Jaume.

Gothic Cathedral

The tour was over, and we spent a little bit of time in the gothic quarter before looking for dinner.

Alex, me and Jamie drinking some beer

Our guide had told us that the coolest place to go was not Las Ramblas, but Carrer de Blai.

Louise, Alex, me and Jamie eating pinxos and drinking wine from tumblers

There we could eat pinchos and drink red wine in tiny bars all night long.

Selection of pinxos

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.

Me looking happy with pinxos and wine

I loved it!

Us all in a wine bar

Of course, you can have red wine without pinchos too.

Jamie and me drinking in a cocktail bar

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.

A selfie of us all in front of Sagrada Família

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.

Day 2

Us all having breakfast in front of Sagrada Família

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!

Fundació Joan Miró

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.

Beehave exhibition

We stuck our heads in some rather 90s-looking spiky spheres filled with flowers.

Me at the Beehave exhibition

We put on daft glasses to read hidden messages in this darkened room.

Alex, Louise and Jamie at the Beehave exhibition

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.

Me taking a selfie in front of mirrored artwork saying "You are still here"

Then we enjoyed visiting the rest of the museum, with loads of modern art — particularly, of course, by Joan Miró.

Mercury fountain

I loved this mercury fountain.

Us all at an outdoor bar in the sunshine

In the adjacent park we found a bar where we could begin our libations again.

All of us a the Magic Fountain

We visited the Palau Nacional once again, but this time walked down to the Magic Fountain.

Statue in the Barcelona Pavilion

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.

Jamie and Alex at Barcelona Pavilion

In the evening, we attempted to repeat the previous day’s performance.

Motoring magazines used as wallpaper in a bar

We sat in a cool bar with lots of old motoring magazines pasted on the wall.

Posing with our late-night McDonald's

But somehow food was harder to come by. So we got a McDonald’s on the way home. Holiday fail.

Day 3

Easter figurines in front of Sagrada Família

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.

Breakfast on the balcony

Of course, we couldn’t stay opposite the Sagrada Família without going inside.

Sagrada Família detail

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.

Staircase in Sagrada Família

Sagrada Família ticks all three of those boxes — yet I was still absolutely stunned by the building.

Sagrada Família interior

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.

Light projected by stained glass windows in Sagrada Família

The light created by the stained glass windows is other-worldly.

All of us a the top of Sagrada Família

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.

Jamie sliding down a diagonal wall

After that, we walked through town to our next destination, but not before Jamie had done some impromptu parkour.

Park Güell

Up the hill we went to visit another Antoni Gaudí masterpiece — Park Güell.

Me at 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.

Park Güell

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.

Jamie with his anchovies

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.

Day 4

We only had a short amount of time left before we had to get our flight back home.

Gothic quarter

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.

Gothic quarter

Among the highlights of the tour, we learned all about the history of chorizo.

Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya

Then we headed towards the Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya, and chatted politics a bit with Matthias.

Catalonia independence flags

Then it was time to go home.

Me at the airport

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.

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