We retired 5 years ago, and since then, we have had some fantastic trips. About 3 years ago, I was staying with some friends, and I was asked what I would do if I won the lottery. I replied that I already felt like we had won the lottery. My husband and I have enough money to live on, we have the health and the time to be able to do what we want, travel when and where we want to, and never have to work again, unless we specifically want to. So I was pushed a bit more, what would you really like to do? My answer came without really thinking about it – Spend one or two months each year in a different European city.
After articulating it, I realised that it was something I really wanted to do. It inspired me. So off I went to do something about it. We had the time, we had the money, we had our health, so why not?
Spring 2015, found us in Nice, France. We rented an apartment near the harbour, and generally had a ball. (Post still to be written!) After we returned from there, we started discussing where we would go in 2016. While we had been in France, I had been watching the Southern Europe weather forecast, and while Nice was pleasant, we thought we would like to go somewhere a little warmer. Barcelona always showed a few degrees warmer than Nice. So that seemed a good opportunity.
Barcelona – it was agreed, in our usual casual fashion. The weather should be good, it’s by the sea, cost of living should be OK. Everyone we spoke to said it was a lovely city, with plenty to do.
Stage 1 – Find an apartment
When we had stayed in Nice, we had booked through Homeaway. It had worked well, so that was where we started, but couldnt get just what we wanted. At some stage I got pointed towards Barcelona.com, which gives a huge range of information for visitors to the city. We eventually found an apartment provided by Friendly Rentals. They could not have been more helpful. Even better their staff spoke excellent English. It was a little more than we intended, but places to stay in the centre of Barcelona are quite expensive, and this was in a fantastic location, very close to the Cathedral. We also wanted a 2 bedroom apartment, as we had plans for friends and family to come and stay a few times. Easter was early last year, towards the end of March, so we decided to go for 6 weeks, from mid-March to end April. Fantastic.
Stage 2 – Organise the Travel, Get organised
By the time we booked it was nearing the end of December, however we still got reasonably priced flights with Ryanair. Two of us, return trip with 2 bags < £300. It is a 3 or 4 hour flight and Ryanair seats aren’t notably spacious, so we upgraded the seats (They still weren’t roomy!) We had some Euros left from our Nice trip. We budgetted our spend based on our 4 weeks in Nice, got the Euros at a reasonable rate etc. Neither my husband nor I speak Spanish, which we weren’t too bothered about given that Barcelona is a tourist city. However the week before I left, a friend introduced me to a free online language course. Duolingo So I decided to introduce myself to some Spanish. I thoroughly enjoyed it, immersed myself in it for the week before we set off, and felt very pleased to be able to at least understand very basic Spanish, even if my favourite phrase was likely to be ‘Yo no hablo espanol’ (I don’t speak Spanish). While my guidebook had mentioned that a lot of Catalan was spoken, I had not realised that everything is in Catalan, so my Spanish wasn’t much good, my French was probably more useful! Ah well!
A friend would be staying in our home most of the time we would be away. Her house was to be sold at the end of March, and she would be staying with us until the end of May, so she even took us to the airport and collected us again!
Stage 3 – GO
So the week before Easter, we set off….
Top Travel Tip – The easiest way from the Airport to the City Centre is by Airport bus A1 or A2. If you are arriving at Barcelona Airport T2, you’ll take the A2 bus into the centre of the city. Terminal T1 – you get the A1. It costs ∈5.90 one-way, runs every few minutes, and you are in the city in about 25 minutes. Taxis in the City Centre are plentiful and pretty reasonable. There is a taxi rank just near where the airport bus stops in Catalunya Square.
Our directions from Friendly Rentals were spot on, someone from the agency was waiting at the front door for us.We got a good grounding on the basics of life in Barcelona, shown on the map where the nearest market was, and told the basics of getting round on public transport. Our agency lady left, and then the fun started! We had a quick wander through the apartment, but we really wanted to get out and about.
We discovered our local Santa Caterina Market, where we found the most amazing fish, meat, cheese, vegetables. There is a supermarket there as well, but no bakery, so we had to wander to sample some of the fantastic local breads on offer.
Then we went for some food, and a walk along Barceloneta beach.
We felt at home immediately, everyone was so friendly. Great food, lovely wine, tapas, fresh air, great scenery. Our adventure awaited.
Stage 4 – Enjoy
Well we did. For our first two weeks, we walked everywhere around the city, got to know the city. Every day was different. The weather wasn’t great to start with, but it didn’t put us off. Our immediate challenge was to get to know our way around before our first set of guests arrived in 10 days. As the days went by, we found ourselves getting into a routine. My husband who had some work to do, found it worked best if he out a few hours in, in the morning. I would do a bit of tidying up, washing, do some Spanish. Then we would either go out for lunch, or wander to a market to buy some provisions. We ate a meal out every other day, and cooked the other day. Compared to Nice, it was a lot cheaper than we expected, and we realised we had probably brought too much money – what a problem to have?
What we have discovered with spending an extended time in a city, we have time to behave like a local. Time to wander aimlessly among hidden squares and lanes, sit in the sun with a coffee and generally relax and enter into the experience. A luxury indeed.
Walking was our main method for the first two weeks. We walked for miles each day, around all the main areas. We saw endless Gaudi buildings, walked along the beaches, investigated the markets, went to Parc Guell, found the Sagrada Familia (The full viewing was on the agenda to see with friends who were coming in early April). We also researched the most economical way to travel on public transport. The answer was a 1 month ticket T-MES, so we bought that on 30th March, to cover the last 4 weeks of our trip. It allowed us to travel on metro, bus and train within Zone 1, which is a pretty large area. We made the most of that ticket! We considered it a waste if we hadn’t used the ticket one day. We researched the different bus routes – Barcelona has a really simple route map, Horizontal, (H) vertical (V) and Diagonal (D) bus routes. A joy to use. For our friends who were only staying a short time, we purchased T-10 tickets which allowed 10 single journeys. (Several people can use 1 ticket). Even better a single journey is one lasting 70 minutes or less, regardless whether it is multiple buses, it even allows changes between tram, metro and train.
There were so many, it’s hard to pick them out
- Finding out that on the first Sunday in the month entry into many museums and galleries is free all day, also some are free from 3pm every Sunday.
- Good Friday processions around the Cathedral. I had never seen processions like these. We followed this float to its home church about 11pm. It took hours to progress a short distance, with a lot of stops to enable the men carrying it, to have a rest. The good side effect of this was that we stumbled upon a stunning restaurant, which looked really inviting. Hostal el Pintor. We went to it with my cousin and his wife towards the end of April. It lived up to its looks!
- Sagrada Familia – I had last seen this in 2004. It had changed out of all recognition. It now has a roof!.However the work wont be complete until about 2030, although they had been hoping to have it completed by the anniversary of Gaudi’s death in 2026. Book in advance. Unfortunately, the day we were there, the towers were closed because of the rain. Apparently the stairs get slippy. Go around 3-4pm and you will get the most amazing light coming through the window.
- Montserrat – this was also a bit of an adventure as we had to take a train from a different station, then a rack railway to get there. We arrived in plenty of time for the midday boys choir. There are also sometimes guest choirs. On the day we were there, an amazing South Korean children’s choir sang. To be honest they outshone the Montserrat boys. There was also an amateur choir from Austria but they were not of the same calibre.
- The Friday & Saturday evening musical fountains all lit up at the Font Magica at the Palau Nacional
- Colonia Guell – This is out of town (Zone 2), but easy to get to, and when we were there, virtually empty, unlike all the Guell buildings in the city centre.
- Our little local cafe, La Catedra, where we got a great 3 course lunch, bread and 1/2 litre wine for 10 Eur each. (It may have changed hands, because it got great write-ups when we were there, but dreadful ones a few weeks ago.) Generally daily lunch menus were great across the city and in the region of 9-12 Euro each for several courses.
The Spring Speciality – Calcotts (Like baby leeks), cooked on hot tiles
- The Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, on Sant Antoni Marie Claret just up the road from Sagrada Familia. Sant Pau was a hospital for more than 100 years, but it has not been used for about 10 years. Since then they have been continually restoring it. Built by Lluis Domench i Montaner, it is just amazing. We spent about 2 hours there and could easily have spent more, but we hit closing time. I can thoroughly recommend it. It was fascinating. It was a very innovative hospital when it was built with underground passages between the buildings, High ceilings, beautifully tiled roofs, a stunning main building, every corner brings something to see.
- Park Guell It is best to book your time. We didn’t have access to a printer, so we walked up there and booked a ticket for later in the day. Generally there is no queue if you go around 17:30 or 18:00. What they don’t tell you, is you can wander around the park immediately behind Park Guell, free and you get a pretty good view of the park itself. So if the queues are bad and you have limited time, you will be able to see much of it from here. You wont be able to sit on the famous seats though.
- The Markets. They all do really fresh fish, veg and meat, but not usually bread. Santa Caterina mentioned above, Market Boqueria on Las Rambla, which is a bit of a challenge because it is so full of tourists with selfie sticks!. Also Barceloneta Market (there’s a couple of cafes in the square where you can sit and enjoy the sun) There’s a great bakery nearby, Baluards. There’s always a queue, but the choice of bread is fantastic.
I could go on for at least another 3 blog posts. But I wont. Suffice to say we had a great time in Barcelona. Now the challenge is to work out where to go in 2017. Our trip is likely to be in September this year because of other commitments.