Day Three: Sagrada Familia, Casa Milà, National Museum and an Old Bullring

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I was really looking forward to this day as we had tickets for the Sagrada Familia. It was even more impressive than when I first went in 2007 as they are still building it, and it now has more towers on than the last time I visited. We also had tickets to go up one of the towers, which would have been a great opportunity for stunning photos but alas, the weather wasn’t on our side. The National History Museum of Catalunya and Casa Milà La Pedrera were to follow along with a quick visit to one of their shopping centres, housed in an old bull ring.

12112433_10208028463255819_1164277501180722125_nThe Sagrada Familia, translated as Temple of the Holy Family, is a Gaudí masterpiece. Started in 1882, Gaudí wanted it to be the biggest cathedral in Europe. When it’s completed (around 2026) there will be three facades representing the birth, death and resurrection of Christ, and also eighteen mosaic towers representing Christ, the Virgin Mary, Twelve Apostles and Four Evangelists. Currently, eight have been completed. As you can imagine, this will be a rather imposing building, so much so that other buildings around it will have to be knocked down to make way for it all. 12122625_10208028462255794_3566141981650786333_n

 

The bronze entrance doors on the Passion façade are carved by a sculptor named Josep M. Subirachs. The Cathedral inside is a work of art. My fiancé (Mr Travelstodge) was in awe of the cathedral, and even though this was my second visit, I was too!

 

Now, a Travelstodge tip… you MUST buy your tickets in advance! They are timed entry and if you miss your timed slot, you miss your chance to go in. You only have a 15 minute window to enter. If you try to buy them on the day, you will have to queue and there is no guarantee that you can get in at the time you want. Ticket prices vary depending on the experience you want to have. The basic cost is €15 but all the different options are available here.

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As I mentioned above, we had tickets to go up the Tower on the Passion façade, which gives you views of the city centre, but there is also the Tower on the Nativity façade with views over the East of Barcelona. Both would be fantastic to go up, but due to the weather being very windy, the towers were closed. If you have reduced mobility or are visually impaired then you cannot go up the towers for safety reasons. As we had already purchased our tickets in advance we were refunded automatically but please note, there will be no sign to tell you this, so if this does happen, you will be refunded. This was my second attempt in going up one of the Towers, so maybe third time lucky next time?

Details on how to get there can be found here.

Opening Times differ depending on the month so click here for current opening times.

12049414_10208028552018038_717250184618704702_nBefore we visited the National Museum, we went to Las Arenas shopping mall in Placa d’Espanya, which is housed in an old Bullring which opened in March 2011. There are six floors which comprises 115 shops, numerous bars and restaurants, a fitness centre, a 12 screen cinema, an event hall and not to mention the Museum of Rock. On the 5th floor you can get 360˚ panoramic views of Barcelona too….This building is huge! You can find all the details here but it’s all in Catalan or Spanish, so get Google Translate at the ready!

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After lunch we went to the National Museum of Catalunya (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya) over in Parc de MontjuΪc. This is located in the Palau Nacional of Montjuïc which is high above the Font Màgica, both of which were built for the International Exposition of 1929. It’s an impressive building with quite a lot of steps to get up there, so please bare that in mind when you visit. There are escalators which will take you to the top but if they are out of order be prepared to climb high!

Once you get there and pay for your ticket, you then have two days to enjoy the museum as long as you buy a general ticket, which costs €12.00 and use it within one month from the date of visit. The entrance hall has four sofas which I must say were very comfortable to sit on, which gives you free wifi and your feet a welcomed rest.

The ground floor houses the Medieval – Romanesque / Gothic Art, Renaissance and Baroque art along with the temporary exhibitions, Auditoriums and the entrance to the Roof-Viewpoint. The cloakroom, café and gift shop are also on this level. The first floor houses the Modern and Contemporary Art and their Library. The majority of the building is accessible for those with reduced mobility and items such as wheelchairs are available to loan on request.

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The views from here are amazing, so make sure when you arrive at the entrance, turn and enjoy the view!

Details on how to get here can be found here with opening times and ticket prices located here.

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After we had dinner, we went to Casa Milà (La Pedrera) to see The Origins, which was a roof top light show that was based on the origins of life. This also included a free drink of sparkling wine and nibbles which were so nice that Mr Travelstodge went back for at least two if not three helpings… He has rather a healthy appetite.

Casa Milà, or locally known as La Pedrera, which roughly translates as “The Quarry” or “The Rock” due to the look of the building, is an apartment block built by Gaudí between 1906 and 1912. It’s built using columns and arches so there are no straight lines or right angled corners… apparently!992780_10208584176668307_5806565085821743847_n

We had a tour around the building, which still houses four families even now, and made our way to the roof top where we enjoyed a stunning light show which was projected onto the chimney pots. Please note that there are a lot of steps in this building and only one lift that can only take a couple of people at a time, so be prepared to climb!

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Details of all the tickets available can be found here and how to get there can be found here.

So, as you can see, we had rather a hectic day of it and it was at this point Mr Travelstodge started to feel unwell with a right hum-dinger of a cold, which I’ll be mentioning in day four and our last full day in this beautiful city.

It was also at this point I wished we had longer here, as I really didn’t want to go back home.

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Day Two: A Park and A House Dragon

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After a busy but manageable day one, day two was going to be a long one. Today’s itinerary was Park Güell and Casa Batlló, but as Park Güell was out of the way and the nearest metro stop had an uphill walk, we had to find out the best way to get there. We had already booked our tickets online for Casa Batlló but not for Park Güell which was an error on our part.

Park Güell is in the La Salut neighbourhood of the Gràcia district and comprises of three houses, one of which Gaudi lived in from 1906 to 1926, a rooftop plaza called the Nature Square, around 20 hectares of parkland and more mosaic tiles than you can shake a stick at. Originally it was going to be a garden city with 60 houses, The Nature Square that has the iconic serpentine bench running around it and the Hypostyle Room (intended as a marketplace) which is under the Square. On paper it sounds stunning, but to us, didn’t live up to the hype.

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After speaking to someone on the reception desk at out hotel, we took the number 24 bus up to Park Güell, which took about 40 minutes. The bus takes you to one of the entrances at the top of the hill. When we got there we walked up to the ticket desk to be told that they are timed entry only and the next available one wasn’t until the afternoon! The part you pay for is the Monumental Zone, which has all the mosaic tiles, the main entrance and the Nature Square, but the Free Access Area is just that, free! As there wasn’t anything nearby we wanted to see we decided to go and have a look around the Free Access Area and climb up to the top to get some good views of the city. Word of warning! There are a lot of street sellers selling what I would call tat, or what some people would call cheap souvenirs. Things like fridge magnets and trinkets for between €1 and €5. It is up to you if you want to buy one but they all looked like cheap imports.

IMG_0638We came back another day with tickets in hand and went into Gaudi’s house, saw the serpent mosaic at the fountain, which was okay, but all in all I was a little disappointed and so was my fiancé. I think I had a romantic memory of Park Güell from when I came previously and this visit didn’t live up to it. I was impressed with the Free Access Area more than I was the Monumental Area but at €8.00 (€7.00 online) entry, I wasn’t too miffed about going.

 

More details can be found via the following links:

How to get there:
http://www.parkguell.cat/en/how-to-get-here/

Buy tickets:
http://www.parkguell.cat/en/buy-tickets/

 

For the afternoon, we had tickets for Casa Batlló. The good thing about the tickets we chose was they had no timed entry, so we could go at any time up to the last entry, which was 8pm, and they are open 365 days of the year! They do have other types of tickets available, so for €22.50 you need to select what day you want to visit or for €29.50 you could have the ticket we had.

All ticket options can be found here: https://www.casabatllo.es/en/online-tickets/

12122854_10208028362253294_2013279394332951128_nCasa Batlló (The Dragon Building) is located on Passeig de Gràcia and was built by Antoni Gaudi for the Batlló family in 1907 and was apparently designed to show St George defeating the dragon. When you see the rooftop and the mosaic façade, you will understand why! The roof is in the shape of the dragon’s back and the tiles are shaped to look like scales, whilst the colours used are to represent the blood of the victims. The cross on the façade is the sword that defeated the dragon when the princess was being saved by the knight. Blimey!

 

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Inside there are little to no straight lines and there are arches everywhere you look. It really is a sight for sore eyes. With windows that are opened and closed by counterweights, skylights designed to look like tortoise shells, masks for balcony railings and organic looking painted walls, it truly is a feast for the eyes.  There is a book you can sign to say that you have been to Casa Batlló, which we did and put some funny comments in. You can even get a photo on one of the balconies, which we did and in true travelstodge style, we pulled a funny face and it’s now framed for all to see at travelstodge HQ! This was an additional €12 but you can have your photo taken and then decide not to have it, so don’t worry if you don’t like what you see, you’re not obliged to make a purchase.

We used the metro and got off at Passeig de Gràcia, however, details on how to get there can be found here: https://www.casabatllo.es/en/visit/how-to-get-there/

So there you are, a park and a dragon…  day three will be up very soon, but in the meantime, if you have been to any of the places I’ve mentioned or are planning to, let me know what you thought or if you are planning to visit them soon.  I’d love to hear from you.

 

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.

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

 

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.