Day One of Barcelona, Chocolate and Picasso

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My fiancé is an artist so he said he wanted to go to the Picasso Museum. This was somewhere I had been to previously years ago so I wasn’t that bothered about going again, but as he had never been to Barcelona before, I said of course we will go. Having looked around the area for something else to do in the afternoon, I came across the Museu de la Xocolate (The Chocolate Museum). This was music to my fiancé’s ears as he has a rather healthy obsession for all things chocolate. Once we had a look at their website and saw the chocolate sculptures they had on display, we were both in agreement that this was on the itinerary list.

Museu Picasso de Barcelona (The Picasso Museum) is located on Carrer de Montcada, 15-23 in the El Born / La Ribera district. It’s housed in five 13th-15th century town houses, with original courtyards and staircases and it’s a beautiful sight to see. Photographs wouldn’t do it justice, you really need to see it for yourself. The entrance is, we found, harder to find than first thought. We walked around the whole building before we found the entrance. We thought the street it was on would be like a road, when in fact it was more like a side street. It’s very narrow compared to the streets we were used to.12096431_10208028287931436_7520862877185822196_n

The tickets are all timed entry, so if you can, plan your trip and buy your ticket before you leave as the Picasso Museum is one of the most popular attractions in Barcelona, and you may end up disappointed if you leave it until the day you go to pay for your ticket. We had out tickets booked for 9:15am and when we got there is wasn’t busy or crowded so… a Travelstodge tip… get there early! When we left, queues were starting to form so we were glad we could get around everywhere and see everything without falling over people.

The last admission in to the museum is 30 minutes before closing time, so if you do decide to go without a ticket, please bare that in mind. The first Sunday of every month they have free admission between 3pm – 7pm otherwise admission for adults is €11.00 for the general collection and €14 to include the temporary exhibits as well. No photographs are allowed in the exhibitions but you can in the courtyards, and if you have a backpack or large items of luggage, you will need to leave them in the cloakroom. You can find all the ticket prices, opening times and book tickets here: http://www.bcn.cat/museupicasso/en/museum/times.html

And you can find out how to get there here: http://www.bcn.cat/museupicasso/en/museum/getting-here.html

IMAG1269.jpgSo, once we left the Picasso Museum and stopped off for something to eat after having a walk around the streets of El Born, we went over to Museu de la Xocolata (The Chocolate Museum). Located on Carrer Comerç, 36 this little gem only costs €5 to enter and the bonus is… your ticket is also a chocolate bar! It is however, dark chocolate which I really don’t like, but my fiancé loves it so he was a happy chappy!

Dragon of ChocolateIt’s only a small museum and cheap at €5 to enter, but the models they have made out of chocolate were stunning. It’s amazing what can be done, and also how high they can make these chocolate statues. I say statues, as some were nearly as big as one! Chocolate can also be brought without having to enter the museum. They also do chocolate with no added sugar, which tastes just like normal chocolate, but with less calories and perfect for diabetics.

You can find all the details on where it is and opening times etc. here: http://www.museuxocolata.cat/?lang=en

 

We spent the rest of the day and night walking around the city, absorbing the culture and sights this beautiful place had to offer.

Day two will be up shortly but in the meantime, I’m working on a list of sights and attractions that you can get to from various metro stops around Barcelona.

Popcorn, Two Ways!

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I’ve always loved popcorn. The smell always takes me back to family nights out at the cinema, but as time has gone on the price of popcorn has gone through the roof, so I tend not to buy it anymore when watching a film at the cinema. These days, I prefer to snuggle up at home with my fiancé with a cup of tea and homemade popcorn that’s warm and sweet.

So, I have two versions of popcorn that I’m sure you will all love, but play around with the recipes and adapt them to your own taste.

Christmas Popcorn

Mincemeat Popcorn

No, before you say it, it has NO meat in it. It’s a recipe I saw on Kirsty Allsopp’s Crafty Christmas that makes good use of the leftover mincemeat from mince pies.

There is no actual measurements for this recipe I’m afraid. It’s just a case of heating oil in a large pan, throwing in some popcorn kernels and putting the lid on, and wait for the pop pop pop….. I would put in enough kernels to cover the bottom of the pan, or a couple of handfuls. Then once all popped, pre-heat the oven to 180°c – 190°c (gas mark 4-5) and put all the popcorn into a bowl, add a couple of tablespoons of mincemeat and stir it round with your hands so it’s mixed in well.

Spread it out on a lined baking tray and put it in the oven for about 6-10 minutes.

When it’s done, let it cool slightly. Remember, this will be a caramelised larva of heat! Only when it is cool enough to touch, break it all up into pieces, and there you have it!

You can also add other things into the mix like almonds, cranberries, more apple or sultanas etc, but I just love it as it comes.

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Sugar Coated Popcorn

This one is for the sweet toothed connoisseur. It’s sweet, buttery and in no way shape or form good for you, but oh my, it’s delicious!

You will need:

110g      Un-popped Kernels
225g      Sugar
2 tbsp   Butter
3 tbsp   Water
½ tsp   Vanilla Extract.

Pop your corn kernels as per packet instructions. Put in a clean large pan with a lid and set aside.

Next, melt the butter in a pan and then put the rest of the ingredients in. Bring to the boil whilst stirring with a wooden spoon. (BE CAREFUL OF HOT SUGAR!)

Leave on a roaring boil for about a minute. Don’t stir at this point.

Now, you must be very careful here, as you have to pour your sugar mix on to your popcorn. Put the lid on and shake the contents until it’s all mixed together. I prefer to use two wooden spoons and toss them like a salad bowl, but however you do it, again, please be careful.

And there you have it! You can make it less or more buttery or sugary by having a play around with the ingredients. Try using icing sugar, or for a not-so-buttery taste, use less butter.

Flapjacks

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Ahhh, sweet, gooey, crunchy flapjack.  This has become a staple in the Travelstodge household, so much so even my brothers who were helping me put up my greenhouse today asked for some, so two batches were made and I only have one left!

So, all you need for this lush treat is the following:

225g   Porridge Oats
125g   Demerara Sugar
125g   Butter
5tbsp Golden Syrup

Pre-Heat the oven to 190°c (Gas Mark 5).  I would line a 20cm round tin with baking paper, as if you just grease it the flapjack is a nightmare to get out.

Using a wooden spoon, melt the butter in a large non stick pan on a low heat. Once all melted, add in the sugar and the syrup and stir until it’s all combined to one colour.

Next, add in the oats.  Add them a bit at a time so you are sure they are all combined and covered in the sugary, butter mix.

Put the mixture into the lined tin.  I would use a metal spoon to smooth over the top as it will be easier than a wooden one.

Bake in the oven for around 20 minutes.

Once you take it out, you must leave it to cool in the tin, and I mean completely cool down.  If you try to take it out when it’s warm, it will just crumble and look a right mess!

So there you have it, You can cut it into pieces if you want to or just troff away on the whole thing.  Whichever way you decide to eat it, enjoy!

Transportation around Barcelona.

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Getting around Barcelona couldn’t be easier.  You have a choice of the Metro (like the London Underground), buses, trams and on foot, all of which are quick, easy and cheap.  Depending on where you are going and how long you are there for, you can obtain travel-cards that help you get about in this magnificent City.

We opted for the five day Hola BCN! Card which, for €32, gave us unlimited travel for the five days we were there on the buses, Metro, tram, local train FGC (Zone 1) and the regional train called Rodalies (Zone 1) which also means you can use it on the train to and from the airport.  The Rodalies train takes you from the airport to the City Centre and the stop Passeig de Gracia, perfect for onward travel to your hostel/hotel via the Metro.  Please don’t do what I did on the way back to the airport… I exited out of the train station at Passeig de Gracia to get a bottle of water while I was waiting for the train to the airport, and found that my Hola BCN! Card wouldn’t let me back in again!  I managed to convince the guy at the ticket desk that I made a huge mistake and he let me through. Apparently that train station is outside the allowed zone the card could be used in.

The confusion however, is with the Montjuïc funicular as online it says you can use it there, but on the back of the card it says you can’t, so if you are wanting to use aerial cable-way then please check before you travel.

All details, and to purchase your Hola BCN! Card before you travel (you get 10% off online too), can be found here: http://www.tmb.cat/en/barcelona-travel-card

Once you have obtained your card you then just slot it into the ticket machine and you’re through.  Ticket machines operate in the same way on the Metro, in the train station or on the bus.  It’s like the London underground, you put your ticket in one end and it pops out the other.  The buses are a little different.  There is a white machine behind where the driver sits that you have to put your ticket in to, it makes a noise and pops it back out again.  If you hear a noise like an alarm, it means there’s a problem with your ticket.  It could be that the ticket was put in the wrong way round or there might be a problem with the ticket.  As we never used the trams while we were there I can’t comment on how to use them there but you can find more information on where the machines are located here: http://www.barcelona-tourist-guide.com/en/transport/tram-guide-barcelona.html

480-aerobus-2To get to and from the airport, you can either use the train or the official shuttle bus called Aerobus.  This bus goes between terminal one and two of the airport and takes you to the centre of Barcelona in around 35 minutes.  There are various stops along the way and prices start from €5.90 one way.  More details can be found here:  http://www.aerobusbcn.com/

So, there you are.  A brief blog on the transport of Barcelona.  There are different types of tickets available for your stay, it all depends on how long you are staying and where you want to go.  Below is a list of websites that might come in handy for your time here, so at least you will be prepared with your travel plans before you leave for your trip.

 

A multi-person travel card valid for 10 intermodal journeys from 1 to 6 zones.

http://www.tmb.cat/en/sistema-tarifari-integrat/-/ticket/T10

The Barcelona Card for travel and free admission to some tourist attractions.

http://bcnshop.barcelonaturisme.com/shopv3/en/product/1/barcelona-card.html

Lists of all the Leisure Transport Tickets available, for example, Tourist Bus etc…

http://www.tmb.cat/en/bitllets-turistics

Guide for the underground metro and further links to maps and timetables.

http://www.barcelona-tourist-guide.com/en/transport/barcelona-metro.html

 

Where to eat in Barcelona?

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We ate at so many different places that it was hard to remember them all.  Here are nearly all of them, not in order of when we visited, but hopefully you will go along to them (okay, maybe not the last one), and let me know what you thought of the food, the people and the atmosphere you experienced.

Gaudí Bakery, Carrer de Sardenya 298.

www.gaudibakery.com

This place was difficult to locate, mainly because the Marco Polo guide book we had was next to useless, and we thought was it worth the hassle, but I’m so glad we found it in the end. Located on the same road as the South entrance of the Sagrada Familia, we went there for breakfast and they were the best croissants we had on our trip. Their cakes looked amazing and we wish we went back to try one, so if you do, let me know what they are like. I can’t remember the cost, but it was two bottles of water and two croissants.

Fàbrica Moritz, Ronda Sant Antoni 41.

www.moritz.com/en

This is a great place. It was just round the corner from the hostel we were staying at (Hostal Centric) and they had a fantastic tasting breakfast. Hostal Centric has arrangements with Fàbrica Moritz where you can get a breakfast sandwich, coffee or tea, orange juice and water which really did set you up for a mornings sightseeing. Great atmosphere and décor plus if you really wanted to, you could get a pint of their beer any time of the day! We also ate here on the first night of our holiday and the food was divine. I had the patates pfaffenhoffe (a tribute to the town’s founder Louis Moritz), a special recipe of baked potatoes made with cream, bacon, cheese and black pepper, which I couldn’t get enough of and my fiancé had a Strasbourg which was a traditional Alsatian pizza, which is very thin, topped with crème fraiche, thin strips of smoked bacon and onion, and his came with sliced artisan sausage on top. They cook them in a wood oven that has been fired from the moment they open in the morning. For desert, I had the carrot cake and my fiancé had the pastis sara, which was an almond cake/bakewell tart… both were stunning. We were served by a lovely woman called Pauline who let us practise our very poor Catalan on her. All that plus two soft drinks came to €32.40. Breakfast was €6.

Els Tres Tombs, Ronda Sant Antoni 2.

www.grupoelreloj.com

This tapas bar was recommended to us by someone at the hostel we were staying at and it was a great find. We went here on our last full day in Barcelona so decided to have a feast… and oh what a feast it was! With traditional tapas you order as and when, so you have a steady stream of food coming, or just order one piece with a drink and move on. We did the opposite and ordered so much that we wondered why our table was being pushed together with another! We had patates braves (fried potatoes with hot sauce), tomato bread, ham croquettes, mini bombs (meatball filled with a hot sauce), potato omelette (Spanish tortilla) and some pork scratchings. There was a group of locals who stared at us but we just chuckled to ourselves. We were very full after all that and it wasn’t expensive either. All that, plus two soft drinks came to €23.10.

Sandwichez, Corner of Rda. de Sant Antoni, 35 (C. de Casanova), and Carrer de Floridablanca, 154.

http://www.sandwichez.es/

This is a coffee shop that is all over Barcelona, it’s like a version of Costa or Café Nero but don’t dismiss it… the décor is rustic, the windows poured the light in and the food is very good. I had a chicken sandwich and a tea which was one of the best I’ve had abroad (I’m a Yorkshire Tea drinker), and my fiancé had a cappuccino which he said was nice, and the New Yorker sandwich. I say sandwich, it’s like a panini but packed full of filling. That came to a reasonable €12.20.

Café Doré, Gran Via de Les Corts Catalanes, 576.

This was a little gem. We walked past this place a couple of times before we ventured in, and we were glad we did. The waitress was really friendly and helpful as we fumbled through our order and when the food came, it was superb. We had a bolsa de patatas which we thought were chips, but forgot that chips in the UK and chips abroad mean two different things. Imagine our shock when a big bag of crisps came out! They were delicious and I’ve never had anything like them since. Patatas bravas (spicy potatoes), some ham croquettes, Spanish tortilla, tapa fuet which was a type of salami. For five dishes and two soft drinks, the total was €17.55.

Amatxu Restaurant, Rambla 100.

This tourist trap is located down the popular touristy street, Las Ramblas and please be warned… it is a tourist TRAP! There are so many that you have to be vigilant at the doorways as there are “spotters” who can persuade you in at any point… which happened here. Prices on the board outside are not what you pay once you are inside.

In one respect I’m glad we did go in as we loved their chicken paella but the rest was mediocre food that you could get anywhere. We had tomato bread and garlic bread, and some Iberic ham to start but please note, at €24.90 a plate, Iberic ham is one of the most expensive hams you can get. (I’m still not 100% convinced that was what we had.) You are given NO MENU, you must ask for it, otherwise you’ll have no idea what the prices are until you get the bill. It is a massive tourist trap that you need to avoid, unless you go in with your eyes open. Warning, everything is served on top of paper serviettes next to a little tea light candle… we nearly set the place on fire! I managed to put it out with my fork and managed to stop the table catching fire (they probably do that to charge you more on the bill). All in all including two soft drinks and the food, it came to €51.68.

We of course ate at other places like for example, 365.cafe which we walked past every time we left and returned to the hostel, which had fantastic pastries, and little cafés in side streets which were sublime. Don’t be afraid to go into the markets too, as we had a fantastic fruit smoothie just walking around all the hustle and bustle of the markets. Try Mercado de la Boqueria off Las Ramblas, and right at the end of Las Ramblas, there is a crepe and waffle seller and they were a delight to eat.

The start of our Barcelona trip

View of BarcelonaI 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.

Nutella Brownies for Nutella Day!

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Apparently it’s World Nutella Day today, so here is my tried and tested recipe for quick and easy Nutella Brownies.

All you need is:

1 1/4 cup (around 400g) Nutella

1/2 cup Flour (around 63g) (plain will be fine)

2 Eggs

Put all the Nutella in a bowl and mix in the eggs.  I personally whisk the eggs together and add them in slowly, or a bit at a time, as you want the eggs combined in properly.  Then add the flour.

Grease or line a tin, square is better as you can cut them into pieces easier.  Mine is 8×8 square but smaller would be fine as they just end up being a bit thicker.

Put into a preheated oven of 350ºf (175ºc) for 15 minutes, and enjoy!

Let me know how you get on with them, I’m off to get some Nutella…