I have just returned from the fantastic birthday weekend which I was treated to by the best boyfriend ever and now I am going to tell you all about it before I forget what we did as usual.
We flew out from Gatwick on Friday at the very sensible time of 10:40am, so got the 7:45 train there and had some breakfast at Jamie’s Italian – there is basically no where else in the North Terminal other than Spoons, although I did discover much to my excitement that there is in fact a Harry Potter shop there, which is fun.
Flight was turbulent thanks to some pesky tailwind, but we soon landed, having had stunning views of the Pyrenees mountains which was very cool.
We found and queued for the bus which takes you into the middle of the city, which was rather popular and we managed to get on the third bus that arrived, which isn’t as bad as it sounds as they were every 10 mins and a return ticket was only 10.20 Euros. I was very excited by everything as this was my first ever trip to Mainland Spain – I went to Mallorca on my first holiday abroad when I was about 6 – so I was eager to see as much of the city as I could.
We hopped off the bus and made the 15 minute journey to our hotel, the Barcelona Hotel Colonial, which was situated in the Gothic Quarter. It was a perfectly comfy 4 star place with a cute little balcony, which it was too cold to make use of in the evenings when we popped back to get changed sadly, and a pretty great walk in shower.
The Gothic Quarter
Having ditched our bags, we headed to the Placa Reial for a spot of lunch. Sadly the place Craig had been before and enjoyed was the only place in the square which was closed, so we had to pick a place at random. All of them had pretty similar menus anyway, so we ordered some tapas plates, some of which were very average, although great garlic potatoes and cheese selections were the highlight. I also decided to rediscover my love of lemon beer after having lots in Croatia which was great.
Annoyingly this square was in the shade mostly, and it actually got a bit chilly just sitting out late afternoon, and I realised I may have been wildly over ambitious by only bringing dresses and skirts.
We decided to go for a good wander around, visiting Las Ramblas and checking out the market, then getting lost around the gothic quarter, because that place is a maze and thank god for google maps!
Exploring Las Ramblas
We found the coolest little arcade full of nerdy shops like a Harry Potter one, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, you name it! Obviously I sat on the Iron Throne they had. I also stopped by the ever trusty H&M to grab some jeans because packing fail.
We stopped in a bar for a drink as it promised us happy hour cocktails and was called the travel bar so it seemed like our kind of place. The mojitos we got were pretty tasty and it ran a random but apparently very busy cooking class, however the bathrooms were pretty awful, so we headed off in search of a different bar on the way back to the hotel.
We found a little hipster looking place that made us some tasty white sangria, which had some weird ingredient choices like cointreau but that was to be a theme of the trip and certainly not the strangest sangria we came across…
After hanging out there people watching for a bit, we headed back to the hotel, with some tinnies, because we are super classy, and got ready for dinner. We wandered around for a while looking for an authentic tapas place to go which was Rhonna friendly in its selections and settled on a tiny place which looked decent.
We don’t know if the waitress didn’t speak english or thought we were spanish, but we managed to only speak spanish to her the whole time so go us. I tried some calamari, which I was pretty proud of and it was actually alright so keen to try it again soon to see if I like it or it was just great from being in Spain haha.
We had some actual non-suspect sangria there too, as well as some tasty stuffed peppers and more manchego. I helpfully took a picture of the sign so I would know the name, but its so bright I can’t read it and I can’t seem to find it on google maps so we will never know.
We then headed in search of some beverages and came across a place called Las Clevas de los Rajas, which was a seriously cool bar with live music and games downstairs, and a funky travel vibe upstairs. I ordered what was basically a big alcoholic milkshake that came with rainbow coloured popcorn on the top because I am a big kid and you can’t be sensible all the time.
Then, just when I thought I couldn’t be anymore excited, one of the most awesome husky-like dogs I have ever seen came into the bar (accompanied by several humans) and stayed for a bit and I think I am still a bit in love.
The dog left though and we finished our drinks and complimentary popcorn and headed on back into the night. We saw another fun looking tropical bar called Lorros and headed there for more cocktails, this time with a focus on rum, because we have to prepare ourselves for Cuba clearly. After theses, we were pretty tired after our long day and thought we should head back and get some sleep before another day of adventure on Saturday.
Saturday started with a nice lie in, before getting up and having the hotel get us a taxi to Park Guell. Lazy, I hear you say. Well it is at the top of a big ass hill and was a few miles from the hotel, so we decided to taxi there then spend the day making our way back.
You have to buy tickets for a half hour entry time slot, and we were 10 minutes early to ours, having pre-booked to avoid any sort of ticket queues (apparently they can be up to 2 hours in Summer!). We were mildly entertained by the group of Americans behind us who had not all booked tickets for the same time and were trying to decide what to do, and also complained a lot about how cold it was (it was at least 16 degrees at this point).
We got in and the place was so beautiful, although there were lots and lots of tourists. Part of the buildings in the park are being renovated too, which means people are a bit more crowded than usual. The architecture is frankly quite wacky, but the mosaics gave it a distinct Mediterranean feel despite the unusual shapes cast. I honestly don’t know how some of it was being held up with such wonky looking pillars!
We sat on a bench to soak in the sun in the quieter garden area, and saw some actual parrots which was pretty cool! Then we went up to the awesome viewing point for the views of the city. It was the instagram money shot though, and as a large part of it was roped off there were some pretty big queues for the best photo shots. We even tried to go sit further away to chill and basically people just come and sit down right by you even if there is no space for them… tourists eh? Would recommend going in the morning, as it was already getting crowded at 11 but apparently is mad in the afternoon. We like sleep to much to get up early on holiday though.
After wandering around the park and being sat on by loud tourists, we began our wander to the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s famous, still unfinished Cathedral.
The city edges seem much like other Western European cities, and we had a chilled wander while I got overexcited about how many dogs we saw on the way. We wanted to stop and have lunch somewhere away from the square, and sit in the sun, because as Brits we need sun. Sadly we didn’t pass a huge amount and all the places were so small they didn’t have many seats so the outdoor ones were often taken, but in the end we found a tasty looking burger place, called Bocca di Bonifacio, which turned out to be amazing, and the Aperol spritz they gave for that cost less than a fiver was as big as my head.
We wandered down to the church and I was pretty amazed to be honest, I have definitely never seen anything like it! It is ridiculously tall with odd shaped towers jutting out all over the place. We walked around a bit as we were still early for our ticket time, and found a random party of some sort which we think was a political thing but it was hard to tell. They had a big open bonfire and for some reason there were people dressed up in very strange gear, including a Roman Emperor and Fred Flinstone – not entirely sure what the theme was there… We actually saw a lot of people. both children and adults, in costumes over the weekend, to the point we weren’t sure if it was for an event or if people just liked to dress like that. Who knows.
Now, if I thought the facade was something special, which it really is, the inside was just spectacular. From the outside, I was not expecting to go in and it to be as tall as it was, or to be so colourful inside thanks to the most beautiful stained glass windows I have ever seen. And I used to be in several choirs so I have seen my fair chair of grand churches, I have seen many a stained glass window. It was so incredible the way the light poured in in different colours. There were lots of enormous pillars, which branched out as they led up, supporting what almost looked like a tree canopy – apparently Gaudi wanted the visitor to feel at one with nature, and I have to say the effect is really quite remarkable.
With all the beautiful windows, light patterns, spiral stair cases into the towers, it felt like an odd combination of an underwater city and Rivendell from Middle Earth. Just my opinion. Also a big fan of the giant symbols on the four main pillars of a winged lion, winged boar, winged human, and winged hawk. Yes you read that correctly. We had a good walk round looking at all the windows and the crypt and other displays of amazing architecture, including pieces of interior design by Gaudi.
We left and headed back in the direction of the gothic quarter, however were rather thirsty after all that walking so stopped for a beer at a cafe with a big wind proof seating area – it was rather windy but we wanted to make the most of the afternoon before the sun went in. We spotted a few buildings we thought could be Gaudi on the way back, and eventually made it to the main shopping street.
We walked all the way down to the Plaza Espana, where we stopped for a quick look at the fountains in the centre, before heading back into the now familiar territory of the Gothic Quarter. Craig wanted to go to El Quatre Gats (The 4 cats), a restaurant and bar where it is rumoured that Picasso himself frequented. We went in and after admiring the dining room, sat in the bar and ordered some sangria. Now, what we did not realise, because we did not read the sign, the sangria came hot. Ok, we thought, that is rather unconventional, sort of like a Spanish mulled wine, but we will give it a go. Well turns out that wasn’t the weird part – it contained brandy and ABSINTHE. Yes, absinthe. I cannot stand aniseed flavour, and I avoid absinthe (and sambucca for that matter) at all costs. And us genius’ had ordered a whole jug of the stuff. Which, as we know from mulled wine drinking for years, it would only taste worse as it got cold. Quite the challenge. I should mention it was only about 5pm at this point.
We ordered some hummus too, thinking this would be a safe order to help soak up the booze. Well we were mostly right, however we got a bit more than we bargained for, in that we got 3 bowls of hummus – regular, and red pepper, which were both really nice, and then chocolate. It took us a little while to place the flavouring but the brown hummus was definitely chocolate. So this was quite the random taste experience for us, but that is the fun of travelling – experiencing the unexpected that you won’t forget any time soon!
One mostly empty jug of absinthe sangria later and we headed off to a bar recommended to us by friends who had been before called Bollocks bar. It is a rock bar that has amp cases for tables and graffiti decor. We got some ciders and set about playing on the pinball machines that they had, I obviously went for the Star Wars one, which was Episode 1 themed ha. Craig wasn’t bad at it, I was really quite terrible. We then chilled with some really great free popcorn – so salty and delicious (I see what you are doing here, bars of Barcelona, trying to make us buy more drinks, but I love salt popcorn so whatever), before heading back to change for the evening.
Craig had made a reservation at a little place called Pla, which was well reviewed. The decor was really quite cool, although the food wasn’t super Rhonna friendly (I am pretty fussy), but I had some smoked aubergine and Craig had a seafood paella, which we of course followed with a cheese plate, which was very tasty.
In the restaurant I was hit by the absinthe and had to drink water the entire meal to try and counteract the deadly sangria, however I felt much better by the end of the meal and ready to party.
We went to Manchester bar, another one we had heard good stuff about from friends. Predictably it was another rock bar, although more indie than the previous one. The vibe in there was pretty cool and we stayed for a good while admiring the random tickets and all sorts that were contained in the glass topped table we had perched at.
As it got later, we headed in the direction of the hotel but stopped off at another small dive type bar which was pretty busy and decorated crazily, which was fun. By about 2 am though I was certainly ready for bed, thanks to being killed off by the sangria. Don’t drink absinthe kids.
Sunday rolled around and it was our last day booo. I woke up with a slightly sore head as we packed up, left our bags at the hotel, and headed for the Picasso museum. Annoyingly it was sold out all day, so would recommend getting tickets in advance, as even off season it was clearly very popular. We got some coffee to bring me back to life, and wandered over to the cathedral, but it was closed for actual worship which is fair enough, so instead we went and walked around the cathedral square, which had geese and fish in the centre and religious artefacts aplenty.
Then it was time to go to the harbour, which somewhere near was my surprise brunch location. We walked around admiring the boats, before going to the restaurant. It was Cecconis bottomless brunch, which was a lovely surprise, I loved Cecconis in London, and I will write about this separately or this post will be even longer and I am sure you don’t want that. In summary, it was incredible and afterwards I was so full I thought I may explode.
To walk off all the delicious food we had just consumed, we walked down to the beach, in between all the random street sellers trying to sell you everything from ‘gap year style’ wall hangings, to fake North Face rucksacks to designer belts. It was pretty chaotic around there, although we passed some lovely harbour-side restaurants that we would like to go and check out some day although they are no doubt pricey.
The beach was rather windy but the sun was so nice so we sat and admired the view for a while, and of course did some people watching, whilst people tried to sell us mojitos and massages (funnily enough we didn’t go for it). The people selling the wall hangings were onto something here though, as loads of people seemed to have bought them to sit on. We just sat on the sand though, it was nice to feel sand on my skin for the first time since October!
We walked up to the big hotel at the end of the beach, intending to go and have a cocktail at their sky lounge overlooking the beach and city as a last drink before we left. However, turns out it didn’t open until 5pm, so we went and found a beach bar in the sun with cocktails instead. I opted for a nice mojito and Craig got a nice big pink Tequila sunrise with a bendy straw, and I wasn’t jealous at all.
Reluctantly, we headed back to the hotel to grab the bags, then back to the Plaza Espana to get the airport bus. We were in terminal 2, which is a bit rubbish but we found a place to chill with a beer before the gate opened and we had to head home. Will never understand how people manage to sit in the wrong seats on planes and think they are correct but of course it happened to us. On the upside, when we reached Gatwick, we were through security, on the train (which we ran for admittedly) and home within an hour, which is pretty good going if you ask me!
I had such a great time exploring all the little streets of the Gothic Quarter and visiting the incredible Gaudi architecture sights across the city. Would definitely recommend it to anyone considering a City break in Europe, and would also advise planning activities ahead, as they were already pretty busy even in the first weekend of March. The weather was not bad, it got up to 18 at one point although it was fairly windy and definitely not dress weather like I had thought! I was far too optimistic and excited to see the sun. Food there was lots of choice, and there is more than enough to occupy you for a weekend! Overall it was a fantastic weekend, very grateful to have been taken there for my birthday (and it was certainly much warmer than last year’s birthday trip to Copenhagen!) and I cannot wait to go back and explore a bit more of what Barcelona has to offer someday!