Wednesday 26 February 2014

City break: Barcelona

One autumn evening, after a particularly difficult day at work, I was brought out of my zombie like stupor by the following words:
"Fancy going to Barcelona for a weekend?"
" Err what now?"
"No not now. You booked time off for the Valentine's right?"
A nod from me.

A short while later, courtesy of BA website, our trip was all set. Unfortunately that meant that I had way too much time to do "research" both into the hotel that was already booked and also into horror stories of tourists being pick pocketed and so on. Being of impressionable nature and blessed with vivid imagination I resolved to be prepared for any number of plausible and implausible situations.

Before the trip:

As we where only going for a very short trips (two nights, one and a half days), I found a small pocket guide from lonely planet, that would be easy to carry around. A small pop out map (one side has the whole of Barcelona and the other side has a detailed map of the old city, as well as the metro map on the back). And of course a small Spanish phrasebook to see us through the trip.

I was also making good use of the free duolingo app, in hopes of impressing taxi drivers with tidbits like: "elephant is grey" and "cat sleeps among the penguins".

After pouring  over tripadvisor about different tourist attractions that Barcelona had to offer, to the point that I was seeing double, I came to the conclusion that I want to make my own map, where I could mark down the sights we wanted to visit and connect them to each other, in a sense creating our own walk about tour. Being extremely lazy I though to try and find a sort of blank template map of Barcelona, and as luck would have it, I found exactly what I was looking for with A la cart maps. It is a really cool concept of create your own map.

The map is already drawn up by an artist in a watercolour style, it is made of this sturdy, laminated type paper. There are blank spaces for your own artwork or notes as you please, and you can write on it with permanent markers (your favourite shops, restaurants, whatever you find useful) and it also comes with a pack of stickers that you could use to mark places of interest.

 One side of the map has a more detailed outline of the areas of interest like Barri Gotic, Al raval, Gracia; but the over side has the grid but not the names of all the streets, so it does pay to do a little comparison with google maps in case your interests lead to those areas (but it's your map after all so you can write them in).

As I couldn't help myself I kept going over and over the bad experiences of other people, to the point that I was driving my husband crazy. In fairness I would suggest reading this once and stopping at that (it is good to be informed but there is no need to obsess).

As we decided to only take hand luggage, packing was a challenge for me. First of all everything had to fit in into this bag

(and I tend to always over pack as I like to have options). And secondly there is a restriction on the amount of liquids, so I really had to think about what beauty products I needed, and what I could leave behind.

This was one of those times that I was super pleased about all those sample sashes of tried and tested products that I have been hoarding.

I decided on Aurelia night moisturiser and Revitalise and glow serum. La bella figura renewal serum and Barcelona perfume (I just couldn't resist). Oskia eye wonder. Osmia deodorant and spot treatment. Lotus wei energy spray and a selection of perfumes. Organic pharmacy rose water and hand and nail cream. Tata Harper tinted lip balm. S.W. basics cocoa lip balm. Jane Iredale liquid eyeliner. Vapour blush and lipstick samples. John Master's blood orange body cream. 100% pure concealer. Avril mascara. Ilia crimson and clover, in paradise and cosmic dancer. Rahua shampoo. Caudalie divine oil.

I also brought some non liquids in my tili bag.

I am so happy I had one from the autumn/winter a beautiful world box, as it turned out to be perfect for travel, and it is not something I would have ever thought of getting myself.

In here I had my Jane Iredale mitt for makeup removal. Osmia rose facial soap, to wash my mitt and just in case my face got a bit oily. Osmia evergreen shea soap for the body. And my trusted pink Konjac sponge, for daily face cleansing.

In Barcelona:

The flight was thankfully uneventful. Barcelona airport is so well organised (we landed in Terminal 1). There is sign for "Taxis only", and that is exactly where we headed. We where originally planning to get a transfer through BA, but a taxi turned out to be cheaper (just under 29 euros). I even got to practise my Spanish (which is pretty bad, but better than my non existent Catalan).

The hotel we where staying at was H10 Marina Barcelona which is a four star, we where staying in one of their standard doubles and opted in to include breakfast (this was a low budget trip, we got a pretty good deal when we booked flights and accommodation through BA).

I have to say I was impressed by the size of the room and the hotel in general. The only odd thing was there was no complimentary water in the room. The tiny water in the mini bar cost 2.10 euros. Thankfully I noticed a Farmacia right across from the hotel when the taxi dropped us off, they have 1.5l bottles for about a euro.

Also something to keep in mind is the overnight tax charge (it was 1.21 euro per person per night), I think most hotels in Barcelona charge it once you are there, even though the room was already paid for this was extra (from what I understood you have to pay when you check in).

As it was around valentines the restaurant in the hotel had a special set tasting menu that was available over four days (not just the valentine's itself). The menu was 29 euros per person (which included what was effectively a 5 course meal, a bottle of wine, a bottle of water and tea or coffee), simply unheard of in London.

The food was beyond delicious (and even my husband agreed, that hardly ever happens, he is more of a home cooked meal kind of guy), the portions however were bigger than expected, so even despite taking forever with our food (about two hours in total to be exact), by the time it came to desert

 we couldn't really eat any more.

The morning treated us with one of the largest buffet spreads I have ever encountered. Cold meats, cheeses, cooked breakfast, pastries, fruit, some extremely delicious olives. Yet we were still sort of full from the evening meal, so we hardly ate anything.

After spending some time pouring over the maps (which turned out to be beneficial, as we only occasionally needed to use them when we were out), the course of action was decided.

The hotel is about 5-10 minute walk away from the Parc de la Ciutadella and that is where we headed. The park is absolutely beautiful, I could easily spend the whole day there drawing and painting.

 As we walked through we crossed a gentleman feeding seagulls (somehow I think that isn't unusual for Barcelona). The lake in the park has trees growing in it, right out of the water, just breathtakingly beautiful.

Afterwards we headed to the El Born area, with its cool shops and the main point of interest for us church of Santa Maria del Mar. Now after we came back I realised that we didn't take any of the pictures outside the church (we decided not to take photos inside the churches and cathedral, it just felt weird to us, although other people did). Actually we didn't take pictures of a lot of things, but you know, I think its good to be in the moment and not only on the other side of the camera. From the outside the Esglesia looked deceptively small, but once you are in, you get a whole new perspective on high ceilings.

From El Born we carried on into Barri Gotic and the Museum of History of Barcelona. This has to  be my favourite museum I have ever visited. It is just so unbelievably cool. First you go in and it looks like any other museum, with most of the exhibits behind the glass.

 And then you take an elevator down into the unknown (seriously, as you go down there is a countdown in centuries, like you are in a time machine or something). You end up in the level that they call Archaeological subsoil, there is a series of bridges suspended above what essentially is an archaeological dig of a Roman settlement, parts of the bridge are made out of glass (which freaked me out a little, but you can totally walk on it, and it is just amazing to be able to see what's under your feet).

Just around the corner is La Cathedral, such a beautiful but imposing building. The placa right in front of it was pretty crowded, with lots of people taking photos, more so than other parts of the city that we had a chance to visit.

Down through a maze of somewhat deserted streets (the ones I would avoid at night time) we come out on to the Placa de Sant Felip Neri, with its quirky fountain and a little church.

From there, through another maize largely devoid of people, we come out on to the Placa de Sant Josep Oriol. There was nothing going on there that day, but the neighbouring Placa del Pi had a wonderful artisanal food market. There is also another wonderful church here, Esglesia de Santa Maria del Pi. 

On the other side of the placa there is carrer del Petritxol, a narrow street full of chocolate shops, little cafes and a natural beauty shop called Living Stone (trust me to find one).

Now I can't vouch for how clean the ingredient list is for every product in the store, as I didn't spend that much time in there, but the soaps and the body oil I picked up were definitely good. I just loved the presentation of the oils, some of them had dried oranges inside, others sea shells and I think my one has material that is cut to look like flowers.  I was a little distracted and ended up buying the Rose body oil instead of the Lemon and Rosemary (I just kept picking up end putting down different bottles, only realised that I took the wrong one to the counter in the hotel).

I really like the oil despite the fact that it wasn't my first choice, it leaves my skin super soft and smells like one of the stronger rose waters. And at 7 something euros for 100ml it is a pretty good bargain. The soaps where presents (as I had to limit the amount of liquids for the hand luggage), so I don't know how good they where, but they smelled nice, and felt like buttery, so hopefully lovely and moisturising.

When we left the shop it was only coming up to one, and we both were sort of hungry (probably because of the smaller breakfast, and the fact that we tend to graze rather than have big meals in one sitting). The little restaurant that we were planning on going to would be only open for lunch after 2 (that is in Barcelona lunch is considered to be from 2-4.30 unlike in UK from 12-2, and dinner from 8 onwards, so keep that in mind).

We popped in to Irati, which is both a taverna basca and a pintxos bar (basically there is an array of tapas, you are given a plate, choose what you like and pay by the amount of toothpicks you have amassed). The part of the establishment with the tapas doesn't have chairs, and the restaurant area is separate, so you have to remain standing while you eat.

All the tapas looked delicious, however out of the five that I chose 2 were really good, 1 was ok, and the other 2 were really not to my taste at all. Each toothpick was 1.95 euros, which I think is reasonable, but I am not sure that we would visit again (well I would at least ask for a recommendation if we did).

At this point we were still full of energy and deceived by the fact of how close everything seemed to be to each other (since we are used to crazy London distances). We decided to walk back to the Parc de la Ciutadella and hang out some more there, but we though we would take a different route to the way we came the first time.

By the time we reached Carrera de la Princesa, we were both regretting not sitting down for lunch, but as we were about five minutes away from the park we just had to carry on. The street itself was full of juice bars and ice cream vendors, and places that made delicious looking sandwiches (basically you are spoilt for choice in the food department in Barcelona, so no need to go in into the first place you come across).

When we came back to the hotel for a little rest I discovered that I had a blister on the sole of my foot, so an evening stroll to the marina wasn't happening. Instead we chilled out in the hotel. As dinner would have been served at 8, we had a little meal in the hotel bar ( I had a Spanish omelette with yummy tomato bread, which was lovely but not on the same level as the previous nights dinner).

In the end we decided to cancel our dinner reservation, as the meal turned out to be more filling than previously anticipated.

The next morning I loaded my plate with as much fruit, cheese, olives and hams as I could handle (hey breakfast is supposed to be the biggest meal of the day).

On the way back we used the airport drop off service provided by the hotel (35 euros fixed charge, its a mini van so if you are a group of people it is very reasonable), we could've used a taxi just as easily though, there were loads outside the hotel.

Everything was going so smoothly, I should have suspected something amiss, when we got to the check in desk at the airport (we checked in the night before, but the self service machine wouldn't print out our boarding passes that we where meant to collect), it turned out that our flight was cancelled. We were booked on to the flight to Madrid. In the end the wonderful lady at the desk managed to get us on an earlier flight to London (which due to all the delays ended up leaving exactly the same time as our original flight).

All the delays were because of the storm from the night before in London, and of course we were completely clueless of how bad it got until we came home (in Barcelona it was sunny and warm, so warm that we encountered a few English people in shorts and flip flops, yet funnily enough locals still wore coats).

Anyway I was glad for the fact that I picked up a Porter magazine

(a brand new glossy backed up by Net-a-porter, with really awesome interviews, and beautiful, somewhat out of my reach, fashion) in Heathrow on the way to Barcelona, I would have been very bored sitting for an hour in a plane without taking off.

In retrospect.

Looking back I really wish I brought an extra pair of socks. Scratch that, I should have brought some thinner socks, and instead of my Ash trainers I should have worn my Geox ones. I went with the shoes that are so well worn that they have taken the shape of my feet, not taking into account that it was a lot warmer in Barcelona. Geox trainers have breathable soles, which would have prevented my feet from overheating, so I wouldn't have got that annoying blister.

I also found a map of public toilets which despite printing of, I left behind in the hotel and it would have come in handy.

From the maps we took, we used the pop out one the most in conjunction, with the more detailed ones inside the travel guide, those two items really came in rather handy on the day.

From all the beauty stuff I took, I didn't use most of the makeup. In the day time I used Tata Harper's tinted lip balm, and in the evening Ilia Crimson and Clover. I also didn't need to use the Labella Figura serum as it only works for me in colder weather.

Despite the fact that my Spanish was rather awful, people were very friendly and it wasn't hard to reach an understanding.

Even though I read a lot of advice about keeping my travel guide and map hidden, not to flash my valuables, and not to have a camera around my neck, other tourists clearly did not, I even saw a few taking photos with their ipads. I felt pretty safe walking around, and apart from other tourists no one really came all that close to us.

It is surprising how much you can do in Barcelona in a day, and the city is truly beautiful. I left it recharged and inspired. I also can't help but start planning my next trip, there is just so much left to explore.


  1. Wish I could go to Barcelona :(
    Anyway, these photos are wonderful.Food looks soo delicious
    Good job!

    1. Hopefully you will get to go soon :) Thank you so much for yoyr comment, it means a lot xx