I visited Barcelona back in 2007 and have been itching to get back there ever since. I had a fantastic time looking at the architecture, soaking up the local way of life and eating more food that my stomach could take, but I didn’t feel that I saw everything that I wanted to, so vowed to go back… and I did! I took my fiancé with me (this was our first “proper” holiday together) and as he had never travelled before, this was a nerve racking experience for both of us…. The fiancé’s first holiday abroad, and for me…. taking a first timer and making sure that things ran smoothly so he would want to travel again!
Just to give you a brief introduction of this beautiful city, Barcelona is in the Catalonian region of Spain, located to the North East of the country. It has two national languages, Catalan and Spanish, but don’t worry if you can’t speak either of the languages as most of the main attractions in the city have English speaking staff. Having said that, if you can attempt to speak a little of their language then that will go along way with the locals.
When looking at a map of the city, the mountains are to the North and the Ocean is to the South of the city, and you have different architecture which separates the various areas within Barcelona, for example the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) is rich in medieval buildings and is the heart of the city, while the Eixample quarter is newer (built in the 19th and 20th century) with buildings built in the Art Nouveau Style. There is a street in the Eixample district called Passeig de Grácia which is a designer shoppers dream. Think about Bond Street or Mayfair in London and you’re getting the idea.
The first thing to do was to decide how many days we wanted to go and when. I used Skyscanner (www.skyscanner.net) to check on flight times and prices. There are cheaper tickets available if you fly early in the morning, but think about how long it will take you to get to the airport and also bear in mind that airlines like people there two hours before check in closes, so be realistic on your flight times and pay a little extra if it means you’re not getting up at the crack of dawn to get a flight. We flew out with Norwegian Air and Ryan Air on the way back. Tip: Norwegian Air only allow Boarding Passes to be printed 24 hours before your departure but you can get your Boarding Pass at the airport via a kiosk. Ryan Air wasn’t as bad as I thought they would be, but be warned, if you are traveling with just a cabin bag… get there early!!! Their aircrafts only have room for 90 cabin bags so if you are there late and are at the end of the queue, be prepared to have it check in the hold instead. This would be free of charge but anything in there that you need for your flight will be checked in. Also be aware there is a handbag size allowance too (mine was too big but managed to sneak past.. shhh!). More details can be found on their websites: www.norwegin.com/uk and www.ryanair.com
We only had four days to explore this vast city, so when I was planning this trip I thought “where I do start?” My first thought was to find a good base to start off our trip and that was in the Sant Antoni region at a hostel called Centric. I say a hostel, it’s more like a two star hotel with the most helpful staff you could ever wish for. Based on Casanova, 13 and less than a two minute walk from the metro station, the staff gave us directions and good places to eat so we didn’t fall in to the tourist traps, mostly down La Ramblas, (but I’ll come to that on another blog soon). If you want to find out more about Hostel Centric, you can visit their website: http://www.hostalcentric.com/en/ and they are also on TripAdvisor. We stayed in room 503 which was the top floor, but it was peaceful and only had two other rooms so we were never disturbed by people walking up and down the stairs or getting in and out of the lift at all times of the night. It is open 24 hours and there is always someone at the desk. Just a quick note about this hostel, it’s step free so if you are in a wheelchair or have difficulty with stairs then this would be a great place for you to stay.
The next thing to do is to decide on where you want to visit. Look on the internet and Google “top 10 things to do in Barcelona”, get a map of city, and most important of all… get booking!!!! Most places you’ll want to visit will require a ticket with a timed entry on. I looked at the places we wanted to go to, and the areas they were in and tried to make sure that we crammed enough in each day for the area we were in. We had a couple of tourist books with us, one was by the AA and the other was a Marco Polo book….. We will NEVER use Marco Polo books again! Personally for us, the book was poorly laid out and difficult to find what we were looking for, whereas the AA guide book was superb. We tend to use the AA guides for most places we travel to, but I’m keen to see what the Lonely Planet guide books are like, as I’ve heard good things about them. If you have used any of these books, or would recommend one for us to try, then please let us know.
That’s all the basics covered. I could go on about travel insurance, and the EHIC card (which is always free, so don’t get fooled by websites charging for them) but you should all be smart enough to take that out for your trip. I’m not going to make this any longer than it already is, so the next blog will be day one of our Barcelonan adventure.