A wet weekend in Barcelona

Barcelona has always been one my top destinations to visit. Seduced by the architecture, food and Mediterranean warmth, you can imagine my excitement when we finally settled on visiting the capital of Catalonia. We flew with Easyjet who, much to my surprise, left on time as well as arriving half an hour early!  Prior to the trip I had investigated the options for transport between the city centre and the airport.  We opted to pay €9 return for the bus which departs every ten minutes and takes you directly from either terminal to Plaza Catalonia.  There were other alternatives, but this was the cheapest and only took 40 minutes into the centre.  See this link for more information: http://www.barcelona-tourist-guide.com/en/airport/transport/barcelona-airport-aerobus.html

€1 San Miguel

We arrived into what appeared to be a massive market selling only roses and books.  Arriving at our first hostel and speaking to the receptionist, this confusion was clarified as we had coincidentally arrived on Catalan Culture day: where boys receive a book, and girls receive a red rose. Our first evening in Barcelona can be summarised by two words embarrassing and exploring.  We decided to go on a little walk along Las Ramblas and to sample (at long last!) some authentic Spanish cuisine.  The embaressment came from stepping over a subway vent which blasted hot air upwards raising my skirt above my head. Subsequently half of Barcelona saw up my skirt, and I had a very red face. Therefore, my main advice to you ladies is: DO NOT WALK OVER VENTS IN SKIRTS IN SPAIN. The exploring on the other hand was a lot of fun. As you can imagine Las Ramblas is expensive- you’re looking about €30-50 per head (including drinks).  But try wondering off to some of the side allies for food and drinks. We found a bar selling €1 San Miguels and €1 Sangria (which made the rest of the first night a little hazy). Along one of the side roads we found a great tapas bar which sold the absolute best mojito you will ever try in your life. My personal favourite tapas are Patatas Bravas (roasted potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce) and Anchovies (which usually comes in a lemon and garlic marinade). Tapas dishes vary in price but on average one of those dishes will cost you €3.

Unfortunately for us the weather was fairly diabolical for the majority of our stay.  On the one, and only, sunny day we decided to go to Mount Serrat. Situated half an hour out of the city, Mount Serrat hosts a Monastery half way to the summit of the mountain which provides stunning views of the city, and in the distance the snowy peaks of the Pyrenees are visible on a clear day. To get there you need to get yourself to the ‘Espania’ tube station. We decided to pay €10 for a ten joinery tube pass which lasted us for the duration of our trip.  Once there, you can purchase a ticket to Mount Serrat for €18 which includes the cable car pass.  You can choose to climb to the summit of the mountain and also to look inside the Monastery- we opted to have a beer and soak up the sunshine and views.  We were a little restricted by the weather for our reminding time in the city, which prevented us from visiting the Gaudi buildings and Tibidado- but at least that means there are things to do when we visit next time.  However, the weather did not quite prevent the keen shopper that I am from having a mosey, of which i can recommend two districts to visit. Along Passeig de Garcia (leading off from Plaza de Catalana) is where the up-market, cosmopolitan fashionistas play: Channel, Dior and other infamous couture brands boast along the catwalk of the Passeig. There are also large, more affordable stores such as Zara, Mango and H&M. In the old town you can find quirky, independent stores ranging from sex shops to Tibetan Buddhist outlets.

In terms of nightlife, Barcelona is teeming with a plethora of bars, clubs and squares where the city empties onto post-siesta for a casual drink. Weekends are the times to go if you are an avid raver with all needs catered for easily and cheaply. We opted to not head to the marina where most of the  mega-clubs are located, but enjoyed Plaza Rael and smaller bars which has a kooky and student atmosphere.  My favourite bar (see photo to right) where the walls are covered in post-its: giving words of wisdom, memories, jokes and doodles- and also has a sensational cocktail list.

The Post-It bar, The Old Town

Tourism in Barcelona is bubbling, the only downside is the pick pocketing. Unfortunately the reputation the city has is as bad as you might have heard. We had been told enough horror stories to ensure that we buy holiday insurance and hold our bags close to us, but had not quite imagined it would actually happen to us. We were sitting in a bar on the high stools, so instead of putting my handbag on the back of the chair which would make it an easy target, i wrapped the strap around my ankle twice, checking it regularly. However, this did not stop an old Romani-Gypsy looking woman crawling on all fours and unwrapping it without me notising. As quickly as i notcied it had gone she has dissappeared out of the bar. Thankfully my boyfriend spotted her walking casually away as to not draw attention to herself and took it back. The barman said in the 3 years he had worked in that bar we were the only people to get our valuables back in one piece- so be very careful, and not too trusting!

For four night and 5 days my trip costs me £350 (including flights). This would potentially cost more if we had seen more attractions, but i do not regret investing more in the Spanish culture as opposed to tourist traps. One of my highlights was the famous market which is open all day, every day, and can be found half way along Las Ramblas. Towards the back of the market are a number of fresh tapas bars, where the food is most authentic and fresh- well worth a visit, but not on an empty stomach! I would urge anyone to go to Barcelona as part of their travels, holiday or weekend away, and look forward to returning in the warmth of summer to enjoy the parts which we missed this time. Feel free to ask any questions which you may have, or for further recommendations.

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Mapamundo Hostel, Barcelona

Finding cheap accommodation is difficult in Barcelona. I trawled through a number of hostel websites trying to find the most central, affordable and, frankly, a decent place to stay.  This could have been because i was looking for a private double room as opposed to a dorm, but when i stumbled across Mapamundo it ticked all of the boxes.

Located in the centre of the old town adjacent to Las Ramblas, Mapamundo is perfect for being in the middle of attractions, nightlife and the city.  Once you have navigated yourself to the old town, Mapamundo is quite difficult to find so make sure that you print off a copy of the directions provided by the hostel prior to your stay.  My only criticism of the hostel is that there is no sign indicating that you are at the right place (we turned up to the correct destination twice before realising that was the actual place), however taking the telephone number of the hotel and giving a good estimation of arrival will save you some time and frustration.

Once we were in the hostel however my impression changed immediately.  The hostel owner, Jandro was incredibly hospitable and welcoming, giving us a thorough and friendly introduction and briefing about Barcelona.  He speaks English incredibly well, as well as a little Italian which made conversing easy.

Our room was simple, modern and clean- apparently inspired by Jandro’s travels in Chile and South America. One selling feature of the hostel is that there is a three bed private room which most other hostels in Barcelona do not offer. This would be ideal for those inter railing or travelling. There is a shared bathroom and kitchen as well as a communal eating and chilling area, complete with balcony (for views and smoking on).  True to the hostel spirit some of my fondest memories from Barcelona were in that communal area with other guests.

In terms of destination, the hotel is pretty central for most things. The nightlife of Barcelona appears to be based in the marina which is roughly a 20 minute walk from the hostel. But a 5 minute walk away is a square named Piazza Real which hosts a number of bars and clubs.  For eating out there are an unlimited number of tapas bars, but on one occasion we chose to grab some food from the supermarket just down the road (make sure you try the local black pudding sausages at some point- the most delicious thing i have tried in a while).

Overall, for the price of the stay i was more than impressed by the service, atmosphere and comfortability. A fantastic stay, and would most definitely return!

Here is the link to their website: http://mapamundobarcelona.com