Barcelona on a budget – part 1

I was sorting through my Barcelona pictures last night (all 235 of them) and it occurred to me how much we managed to pack in to our not quite four days, especially considering my friend and I had both agreed we weren’t going to spend too much money. This did unfortunately mean we didn’t get to check out some of the tourist hot spots, but we certainly managed to see plenty of the lovely city.

Barcelona

Here’s what we got up to in our first two days:

Thursday – having got up at silly o’clock (and then taken the scenic route to Gatwick because someone had the bad manners to crash on the M25), by the time we landed in Barcelona, we were keen to find our hotel and dump our bags. So the obvious thing would probably have been to get a taxi, but that seemed an unnecessary expense, especially for someone who’d previously lived in Spain and was extremely confident we could figure out the Metro on our own (that would be me; my friend was not so convinced). Turns out I was half right – the Metro is very easy to use. The problem was that to get to it, we had to catch a bus and an overground train. In total (including dithering time) the journey to our hotel took about an hour and a half. But we felt proud of ourselves, and that’s the main thing. We also discovered that travelling in Barcelona is very reasonable – you can buy a 10-journey ticket for just over €10, which is accepted on all forms of transport in the city.

Once we’d checked in, we headed out to explore Barcelona, pausing only to pop in to Pans and Company for lunch. This is an extremely generic fast food sandwich chain, which is not in any way classy or even very Spanish. But I have fond memories of Pans from my time in Madrid, so for nostalgia purposes we had to go there, and it didn’t disappoint; the menu has a lot more options than it used to, but the classics (including the ‘British Bacon’) were still on offer.

Back on the metro, and we came out at the Plaça de Catalunya, one of the main squares in the city centre, complete with huge fountain and hundreds of pigeons. It’s surrounded by huge buildings, including a massive Corte Inglés (a department store and Spanish institution), some of the city’s biggest banks and an Apple store (complete with queue).

Pigeons in the Placa de Catalunya

We’d agreed that today would be our exploring day, so we had a look at the map and decided to walk down Gran Vía to the Plaça d’Espanya. It didn’t look very far on the map… Quite a bit more time than we expected later, we arrived and discovered some lovely fountains and a lot of steps leading up to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya

After a little sit-down to recover from all the steps, we kept going and found ourselves at the Olympic Stadium, which was, surprisingly, free (although admittedly all you can do is walk in, take a photo and leave again), and the iconic Torre Calatrava at Montjuïc.

Torre Calatrava, Montjuic

By this point, we were pretty hungry, and quite tired, so we got some dinner and headed back to the hotel. This by the way was the Hotel Paral·lel (still no idea why the dot in the middle), which was actually pretty decent for a 2-star, despite the corridors, which look like something out of a horror movie. Although if you suffer from backache you may want to steer clear; the beds are not comfortable.

Hotel Paral-lel, Barcelona

Friday – we thought we hadn’t done enough walking already, so the next day we joined a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter and La Rambla. We chose this one partly because we were interested and partly because it was the cheapest. I can honestly say I have never felt more like a tourist than I did walking around the city, wearing my headset and snapping photos in the company of 30 other people, following a lady with an orange umbrella. But our guide was really enthusiastic and interesting, and I was reminded of a lot of Spanish history that I learnt at uni and had stored away in some neglected part of my brain. (Spanish history is fascinating, by the way. It’s hard for me to say that without sounding sarcastic but it’s really true.) I also got a pair of headphones out of it. Result.

Gothic Quarter, Barcelona

We ended the tour outside La Boquería, a huge food market on La Rambla, where we bought some lunch and found ourselves in the middle of an independence debate, which began with, ‘So, you’re English? What do you think about Scotland?’ (Catalonia is currently fighting for a referendum on independence from Spain, so they’re very interested in Scotland right now.) The guy we bought lunch from wanted to stick with Spain, while his friend across the way was keen to go it alone. Fortunately their discussion was quite amicable, so there was no need to run.

We followed lunch with a stop to have chocolate y churros (so yummy) and then had to leave the cafe because they wanted their siesta. So we headed to the seafront, down La Rambla to the Monumento a Colón (Columbus monument) and across the bridge to Maremagnum, which is a shopping centre. The reason we wanted to visit was not to shop, obviously (although my credit card was close to a workout in Desigual until my self-control stepped in), but to recreate a photo taken in 1998, on a school trip. Yes, we are that cool.

Maremagnum, Barcelona

Once that was done, we headed along the sea front looking for the beach, which, surprise surprise, turned out to be further than we thought. But we found it eventually and spent a very pleasant couple of hours enjoying the sun, refusing expensive sangria, people-watching and hearing rather more than we really wanted to about someone’s sex life (she’s very quiet, apparently).

For dinner, we went back to the marina at Maremagnum, where we enjoyed a lovely sunset and watched a massive cruise ship make a really quite impressive turn to get into the harbour. Me being me, I had to leave the table more than once to take photos as the sun went down, but I think it was worth it. The wavy sculpture helped 😉

Sunset at Port Vell, Barcelona

Part 2 of our Barcelona adventures to follow soon 🙂

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