A selection of photos from our recent trip to Barcelona. I’ve spared you all the ones from the Grand Prix 😉
A selection of photos from our recent trip to Barcelona. I’ve spared you all the ones from the Grand Prix 😉
It is always difficult to fill the time before a flight but we were determined not to waste the time that we did have, especially hearing that it was raining in the UK and the sun was out in Barcelona. The hotel where we were staying was very well located close to the Gothic Quarter so we headed out that way through the back streets as Alex wanted to try and buy a football shirt.
Like most big cities Barcelona boasts more than one football team: FC Barcelona and Espanyol but you wouldn’t know that from the variety of shirts on offer. It would have been easier to find a Real Madrid shirt than one for Espanyol but Alex had his eyes on the latter so an extensive search was required to secure. In the end one was found, and I literally mean one as that was all the shop seemed to have, for the very reasonable price of €30 in Las Ramblas.
Las Ramblas runs from the Placa de Catalunya down to the sea front and has a bit of a reputation as the place where you are most likely to lose your wallet to pick pockets. However, it is an attractive street being very wide with a tree lined pedestrian bit in the middle filled with street traders. About half way up, off to one side, is a market packed with both traders and tourists. This is a fascinating place as you can buy produce such as fish, meats and vegetables as well as stopping for a tapas snack. It very much reminds me of the covered market in Oxford.
Finally with gifts secured for all those that required them we headed back to the hotel to check out and make the trip back to the airport and home. There was a final reminder of the main event at the airport too – a Williams FW40 – going about as fast as it did on track!
The whole point of this weekend away was so that we could go to the Spanish Grand Prix, everything else was really built around that. The circuit is only half an hour out of the city and so is an ideal venue to visit, although it can be a fairly pedestrian race but live sport always tops what you see on TV.
In order to get to the circuit we had pre-booked a bus which would take us directly from the city to the track. There were, however, a number of unknowns in all of that: how early would we need to be at the bus station to secure a place? How long would the coach take? How close to the circuit would it drop us? Our answer in times of transport uncertainty such as this is to leave plenty of contingency, much to the dismay of the boys. So it was that we arrived at the bus station at just before 10 and we certainly weren’t the only ones there. Fortunately it was all well organised and we were onto a bus within ten minutes and at the circuit a further 30 minutes later.
I was convinced that we had booked a covered grandstand and so when we reached the corner with our stand it came as a bit of a shock that it was in full sun and 25 degrees. By the end of the day the the boys and myself all had red knees despite slathering on the sun tan cream several times during the day. Rather than sit there and fry we went off to take a look at what was on offer around the circuit. It was interesting to see the size of the concessions selling team merchandise were proportional to the teams popularity (I assume). McLaren seemed to have been afforded a stall the same size as those of Mercedes and Ferrari which initially I couldn’t make any sense of until I remembered Fernando Alonso. The Williams concession was half the size of the big boys and minnows (in terms of merchandise sales) Force India and Haas had to share a stand half the size again. Although I was already kitted out in my Williams hat and top I was in the market for a tee shirt at least. However, the prices were eye watering, particularly when you consider that Williams are currently offering 40% off on their website so I passed.
We were back in our seats in plenty of time for the start and had a really good view of the last few corners before the start/finish straight and the pit lane entrance. There was also a big screen in the distance so we could follow what was going on in the parts of the track that we couldn’t see. For me, as a Williams supporter, my race was over before the end of the first lap when Felipe Massa came past with a puncture and sparks flying from the bottom of the car. The race looked as if it was going to be pretty dull until there was a virtual safety car (brought on by Massa) which allowed Hamilton to make a late stop and close the gap to Vettel. Track-side I’m still not sure quite how he managed to cut the deficit so I’ll probably watch the race re-run to find out exactly what happened. This did, however, make for an exciting last laps as Hamilton closed in on the Ferrari and took the lead to take the win.
Grand Prix racing isn’t as tribal as football and so it was not unusual to see someone wearing, say, a McLaren hat with a Williams tee shirt, which really messed with my head as, to my mind, McLaren are the arch enemies of the boys from Grove. Similarly while the fans in the stands did give a big cheer for local drivers Alonso and Sainz they also cheered, well, pretty much any action so when Vettel took the lead from Bottas and when Hamilton passed Vettel.
Once the race was over everyone was up and out of their seats to make a swift exit. We retraced our steps to the bus stop where there was a looooong line of people waiting to board the buses back to the city. I steeled myself for a long wait but Sagales, the bus company with whom we had booked, were incredibly efficient and with so many buses available we were on one and away within 15 minutes. I cannot praise Sagales highly enough for the service there and back – it was tremendous.
Back in Barcelona we went out for a tapas meal and then found a local bar where Mat got through what was two very large glasses of sangria. It was a great end to a fun day.
We are a family of different sleeping patterns and so today to accommodate that we had a more leisurely start to the day. While one of the boys caught up on his beauty sleep Helen and I found a local coffee shop to have some breakfast consisting of a chocolate croissant and foul tasting cup of tea. To be fair the tea wasn’t the issue, it was the hot, UHT milk served with it. We then regrouped ready to catch a hop-on, hop-off bus to take us to the sights.
Barcelona is an interesting place but the real interest lies in the architecture left behind by Gaudi and not just the famous, unfinished, church. We a number of examples of his work on the journey and made our first actual stopping point to be the Gueli Park which has a monuments section featuring Gaudi’s work. Unfortunately the first tickets available for this weren’t available for entry until 6pm. Instead we walked round the free bits of the park which are interesting in a dull sort of way. All the architecture in this part seem to have been constructed before Gaudi discovered colour.
From here it was back to the bus and onward to the next stop, which turned out to be lunch. I make no excuses for this but lunch turned out to be a KFC, something that we’d normally only do in our hour of need but it was convenient, cheap-ish and filling.
After lunch we took the bus to the palace. We should have been able to walk from the grand square at the bottom right up to the entrance but there was a motor show taking up the walkway so we had to arrive via the backstreets which wasn’t quite the grand entrance we’d hoped for. It was an impressive place nevertheless. The final stint on the bus took us down to the seafront from where we walked back to the hotel.
In the evening we went out to see the Sagrada Familia (that unfinished church) at night. Only the front was lit and it didn’t look that impressive as it had during the day which was disappointing. What wasn’t disappointing was the meal – it was great to find a traditional pizzeria in the middle of Barcelona 😉
Tomorrow the unknown that is the Spanish Grand Prix.
Since the boys left home a couple of years ago our holidays have been strictly child free (not that they are children now of course). Today, however, we set off for a weekend away with all four of us in attendance for the first time in a while. Destination Barcelona. This meant a 5am start to catch the early plane from Heathrow. On arrival at Barcelona we dumped our bags and headed for the obligatory tapas lunch. No matter how hard we try we always seem to order too much and it’s impossible to stem the flow of plates arriving at the table Fortunately having the boys with us helps with this issue as they suck up everything in sight.
This weekend has a very sporty feel to it with the main event (for me at least) being the Grand Prix on Sunday. However, Alex may feel differently as he likes some game called “football” so this afternoon we we to Nou Camp, the home of FC Barcelona. I have to be honest and say that it wasn’t really something that I was greatly looking forward to, not being a football fan but I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. I wasn’t all that interested in the museum at the beginning, although the number of trophies was initially impressive until I noticed that they had sneaked in those from their winning roller hockey team too!
Once released from the museum you were allowed to go through the stadium itself. It wasn’t quite a free for all but I was impressed with both the areas you were allowed to go to and the fact that you weren’t unduly supervised or herded. So we were able to go out into the stands and see the impressive stadium. As with most modern stadiums the view for most seats seemed pretty good although given how high up some seats are you might need oxygen. Next it was down to the touch line and the technical area where Alex had great fun recreating yet another Man U loss!
We were then able to go to the press room and the “pens” where manager and players are interviewed post match and up to the view from the media area.
Finally, like all good tours, it was exit via the gift shop where we all managed to avoid picking up a Messi shirt. My money is staying firmly in my pocket until I get to the circuit on Sunday and pick up a pair of these…
As ever we took lots and lots of pictures while in Spain so I have pulled out the best few here.
Our last day in Spain started at the bottom of the hill from were we are staying where there is the Presa De Béznar dam. We stood at the top of the dam looking down – it’s a very long way and enough to make my stomach curl.
It is a curious thing in that there is an escape for a (very) small amount of water but it seems to be recycled so none leaves the confines of the dam works. According to the notices there it was built to help the environment, provide a reservoir for drinking water and hydro electric power. At least that is what we could make out through the use of Google Translate!
After lunch on the terrace at the villa we drove out to the small town of Orgiva hitting the mid afternoon lull. It was the most curious place in that the only other people we saw were what can only be described as British hippies. They were all there with their dreadlocks, multiple piercings in interesting places, colourful tattoos and scrappy dogs on bits of string. We fitted right in! I could only assume that there must be some commune nearby and they had all come in to collect supplies.
For our final meal we went back to Lanjarón and to a hotel overlooking the castle ruins. We had a superb meal but the portions were of monumental proportions. Take my starter, which was described as fried egg with Spanish chorizo and fried potatoes, an accurate description but I was expecting a delicate little thing. What I got was a full meal served in a large pan, as you can see from the picture below. The main course was similarly overblown too!
So we have enjoyed our few days in Southern Spain and a bit of early sun but now it is back to the UK and Reading where it has apparently been trying to snow…
Today was the only day of the break where we had anything planned. One of the draws of being in this region was being able to visit Granada, somewhere that everyone who has been there seems to wax lyrical about. We had been warned about booking early for the Alhambra and when I did, a couple of months ago, I was amazed at how booked up it was already, so it is certainly popular. In the end we went for a 14:30 slot which allowed us to explore the town in the morning and the Alhambra itself in the afternoon.
We arrived at Granada at 10am and parked up at the Alhambra car park having decided that this would be the easiest option as reading online it seemed that parking could be difficult in the town itself. After a short stop to collect our pre-booked tickets we walked down into town and it was steeply down too so the walk back up would be fun!
First stop was a cafe for a well earned coffee and a Fanta! That out the way we wandered the streets past some lovely buildings following the stream that ran between the road and the base of the hill to the Alhambra. Ideally we wanted to find the iconic view that you see on so many postcards taken overlooking the Alhambra site but this was to elude us (spoiler alert – don’t look too closely at the header image if you don’t want to know yet if we managed to find it!).
We made the climb back up to our staring point and entered the Alhambra. The site is huge made up of at least four distinct areas including the Nasrid Palace and Generalife. Entry to the former is via timed ticket which avoids there being massive crowds traipsing through the rooms, although it was still busy with parties of disinterested school kids.
It is easy to see why it is so popular as the buildings and in particular the mosaic tiles and carvings are spectacular. There is something deeply pleasing about the Moorish geometric designs.
The outside wasn’t bad either!
In the end we spent the best part of three hours wandering around the well preserved site and could easily have spent more time. It was certainly well worth the €14 each entry fee we paid.
We then caught the little train back down to the town and this time stayed on until we reached the highest point. We got off and went for a wander and somehow stumbled upon the view I had been hoping to find across the town to the Alhambra and the snow capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada behind – breathtaking.
A slow walk back down to the bottom where we had some dinner. In my case the local speciality of plato alpujarreño which looks like an English breakfast with it’s sausage, egg and black pudding and was a welcome treat after a long days walking. By the time we had walked back to the top and the car park we had done over 20,000 steps which is equivalent to ten miles and were knackered but it was a great day.
When we were out last night having dinner out in a square in Girona we noticed that the tables were covered in a fine layer of ash and when we got up this morning I noticed that the balcony on our hotel room was similarly dusted. Checking the BBC news it quickly became clear. There had been a massive forest fire covering some 32,000 acres just north of where we were. Slightly more worryingly was the news that the fire had come within only 10k of Figures where our son was staying. A mid-morning text was reassuring but he and the rest of BYGO had had to spend last night sleeping on the coach as the the road back to Figures had been closed due to the fire when they returned back from last nights concert. Sometimes it’s best to only discover these things after the event!
Anyone that knows us will be aware that Helen and I like to build in plenty of contingency into our travel plans much to the annoyance of our sons when they get dumped at some rendezvous before the allotted time. Today was one time when we were mighty glad that we did. We left the hotel in Girona at midday for a 16:30 flight from Barcelona, a journey that should have taken no more than an hour and a half. All was going swimmingly until we reached the toll booths on the AP7 when everything ground to a halt. It transpired that only a single lane seemed to be working and half a dozen lanes of frustrated traffic was trying to squeeze down into a single lane. To my mind the sensible thing to do would have been to simply open the barriers and let cars through without paying. That clearly wasn’t going to be an option for the cash strapped Spanish toll operators who resolutely watch the queue grow longer and longer and temperatures rise. When things did get sorted over an hour later and we reached the front of the queue an unapologetic worker helped relieve me of €6.50 despite my suggesting that they had a cheek taking anything. Anyway we were on our way.
So thanks to the toll problems we now had much less contingency left than we had envisioned and the leisurely late lunch we had planned was looking less likely. On reaching the exit off the motorway for the airport we realised that we didn’t actually know what terminal we were leaving from. Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t have been a problem but since Saturday afternoon we hadn’t had any 2G or 3G coverage (thanks Three!) so I couldn’t check. Anyway there were only two terminals so I had a 50:50 chance of getting it right. Wrong! We now had to make a mad dash from one terminal to the other which, of course, was right the other side of the airport.
All the hanging around at the toll booth and extra trip between terminals had used more fuel than I had anticipated and meant that the gauge was no longer showing full so on dumping the car before dashing to the check-in desk we were politely informed that we would be stung with a punitive charge for returning the tank not full. Still we had made it to the right terminal and had time to spare… Just!
So we went to the desk to drop off our bags and the guy behind the desk said to us “are you on the 4 or 5 o’clock flight?!” There goes another half an hour and that was the last of our contingency swallowed up. However, at least we HAD some contingency. A number of our friends and probably both our boys would have been completely screwed.
As I type this somewhere over Nantes I am left wondering what today has in store for us. Wait, what’s this in the complementary paper? Border staff going on strike!
Postscript. When describing the above to our elder son he pointed out that to most people arriving in time to have a meal (if you can call a Big Mac a meal) would mean that we made it in plenty of time. He may have a point but we won’t be changing our approach!
While Peratallada and Pals may sound like some cheesy folk band they are in fact a couple of medieval villages to the north of Girona. Peratallada is completely encircled with its original wall and inside is a maze of winding cobbled streets and tourists. Pals is arguably the more attractive of the two but has been expanded over time with the obligatory industrial zones on the outskirts.
To complete our tour of places beginning with the letter P we visited Palafrugell which turned out to be a huge mistake as a) it was very unattractive and b) was shut. It is easy to forget what towns were like before the introduction of Sunday opening hours but Palafrugell was a prime example as it was like a ghost town. At least it was easy to park!
All this week I have been carrying with me the cold I had brought with me from the UK. While this was certainly not life threatening the blocked ears made it difficult for me to hear and I am concerned about what the cabin pressure on the flight back will do to them. Therefore I decided to try and get some decongestant at the local chemist. This meant miming “I have blocked ears due to catarrh” to the pharmacist which was a challenge that would have stretched even Lionel Blair! I have come away with a massive bottle of disgusting tasting liquid but being unable to read the label it could be for almost anything!