Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Eric’s Uninformed Travel Tips: Barcelona Edition

Ahoy hoy rabid blog enthusiasts...I am still alive, and will attempt one last time to convince you that I will be recommitted to this blog...It's a bold faced lie, but hey...here we are.

So to continue my elongated voyage through our travels of 2012, we come to May...the month where we traveled to not just one, but two different countries...Spain and Norway.  I will start by covering the southern voyage to the dusty, slightly greasy city of Barcelona, Spain.

Locations visited in May, 2012 (the first half anyway): Barcelona and Montserrat, Spain

Oh those crazy kids...
Dates of trip: May, 4-7, 2012
How did we get there: Flight, about 2hrs to Barcelona on the Air France @ 250€/person return.  Train is probably possibe but bank on a full day of travel.
Where did we stay:  We stayed in the Hotel Fira Palace located close to Placa d'Espanya.  The hotel was not cheap (about 150 Euros per night), but was very nice.  The only downside I would say about this hotel would be that it is not centrally located.  Being close to placa d'Espanya, it has access to certain parts of the charm of Barcelona, but you can count on a 45min-1hr walk to get to locales like Las Ramblas or the waterfront.  This means that you are unfortunately a little out of stumbling range if you have a night out on Barcelona's ramblin' street.

I should also note that this trip was the consolation prize for Julia having to give up her "3 continents in 3 weeks" challenge because of a couple of nasty oil spills in the North Sea and Nigeria (those are two different locations for those of you who are geographically challenged).  So, congrats, we win a trip to Spain to bask in the Catalonian sun...woot woot!

We landed on Barcelona simply because it seemed cheaper than Madrid, and because we heard that the beaches are nice...the interesting thing that I found when we did arrive was that neither of these things were true.  Barcelona was not cheap...it wasn't super expensive either, but Madrid is definately cheaper.  And the beaches are nice...but they would be nicer if I was interested in purchasing any of the massive amounts of hard drugs that were constantly pushed on me for the hour that we were there...seriously...I think I was approached to buy coke 25 times in 1 hour...I felt like I was in an episode of Miami Vice.

All that aside, there were definately some major selling points of the lively capital of Catalonian culture.  To keep this post reletively simple...and to stop it from being rediculously long...I will try to focus on some of the areas I would highlight and why.

1. The first locale we went to when we arrived in Barcelona was one of the most impressive was the waterfront area.  This region was truly a treat, and in fact, about 30 minutes into actually wandering around Barcelona we found ourselves on a Catamaran ride on the Medeterranean that we found in this area.  Complete with a saxophonist and 1 Euro glasses of Sangria!  The other bonus of this area is you get the stereotypical Medeterranean feel here...palm trees, green water, overly tanned cougars with small dogs...To Do here: Catamaran cruise, sit by the water with a Sangria, buy cheap Spanish designer brands (Desigual at half price!  Encroyable!)

2. Las Ramblas: I honestly did not even know this existed before we started researching our trip...but man!  What a street!  As far as I could tell, pretty much everyone in Barcelona wound up on this street at one point in each of the 3 nights we were there.  I did notice that there were some definate tourist traps here, but if you stuck to the tapas rules you wouldn't be in each place long enough to notice...PS, the rule is that you only get 1 tapas per restaurant then move on. To Do here: Restaurant hop, check out the living statues and other street performers, people watch.

Just a Ramblin' Man
3. Placa d'Espanya: This area was next to our hotel and it actually turned out to be incredibly nice and led into the Montjuic area, which provides some of the best views of the city and also some great open green spaces to explore.  To Do here: Visit the musical fountain at night (It had an all Disney theme when we were there!  The circle of life in Spanish!), climb the mont to the Castell de Montjuic to watch the sunset and sip sangria, just take in the ambiance around the Placa at night when it comes alive.

4. The Gothic Quarter:  I found this region particularly interesting because Barcelona as a whole (and in comparison to other European cities) is not that old outside of this quarter.  So, when you enter this region you get that European old city feel that one generally expects in Europe...gotta get my history fix after all!  To Do here: Take the elevator to the top of Catedral de Barcelona, Check out the Santa Caterina market, wander down the countless little gothic streets.

5.  Sagrada Familia region:  OK, I don't actually know the name of the region, but seriously, visit the Sagrada Familia...It is just incredible and unique and can't be missed!

Not mentioned:  The beach...seriously, it was a bit disappointing how sketchy it was there and how many times I got approached for drugs...I wanted to like it more than I did...

Aside from cramming in as much as we could in Barcelona, we also took a day trip during our short time there.  To start I will just say that it was surprisingly easy to book/take and turned out to be my favorite part of the trip.

The town/region/mountain? that we visited was called Montserrat, and it is known mountains and the amazing monastery that is nestled on top of one of them.  To get there we took a train (basically a go train) then a cable car up the mountain from the town of Montserrat.

Honestly, the monastery itself was only mildly interesting, the thing that made the trip were the hiking trails that crossed every peak of mountain and circled every cliff face and rock outcropping...really amazing!  We decided to hike the longest trail which ended at the highest point on the mountain and it was definitely worth the blisters.  After a few hours of hiking we opened up to a rock with rickety stairs reaching on for hundreds of meters to a platform at the top...the view was amazing.  Also, for us Canadians who may be spoiled by our Rockies, I can honestly say that these mountains are completely different than anything I have seen in Canada, and that made the experience that much better.

So, there you have it...a great trip all in all, so now, what were my top 5?
1.  Spanish mountain climbing: This isn't your dads mountain climbing...unless your dad work silk shirts and drank sangria while climbing.
2.  Catamaran cruises on the Med: How did the sax player on this boat get his job?  Really, I hate my guidance councilor...
3.  Tapas tasting:  1 per restaurant and move on...its worth it.
4.  Hot Chocolate and Churro breakfast:  I almost had a heart attack when they told me this was traditional...And then I did have one after I finished eating it.
5.  Sagrada Familia:  Re-donk.

This is what happens when God goes on a bender...
Barcelona (and Montserrat):
Affordability: 5/10,Things are cheaper in Spain in general although a city is still a city
Entertainment: 10/10, it depends on your taste and on the season, but Barcelona is a big city and has plenty to offer
Ease of travel: 8/10, it's a flight...but not a long or expensive one
Overall: 9/10, Its not the traditional Spanish experience, for that go to Madrid, but it is fun, crazy, sexy and all kinds of other adjectives.

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