Witnessing History: A City Break to remember
Following directly on from my trip to Amsterdam, I flew to the Catalan capital, Barcelona. News of the referendum and subsequent violence fell just a few days before my trip started and it’s safe to say people around me were either a) concerned or b) jealous that I would be in a city preparing to fight for it’s independence.
We headed straight for our hotel and checked in close to 1am Saturday night. The city was still bustling; as I soon found out Barcelona is another city that NEVER sleeps (sorry New York!). What I didn’t anticipate from our (fabulously central) location was that we were on the main route into the city. Fabulous though that is for getting around I wasn’t expecting to be rudely awoken bright and early by thousands of locals making their way to an Anti-Independence rally!
It was quite a spectacular sight – people looked like they were celebrating, not protesting! There were cheers and singing, lots of car horns beeping and OH SO MANY flags! Rushing to get dressed we headed out smack bang into the middle of where swarms of people were gathering. No sight-seeing today then!
I’ve since heard that this particular rally was the biggest one with about 10,000 attendees, but you’d honestly never have known it at the time and I can guarantee you there were a load of tourists caught up in the whole shebang! One thing I can promise you is that I didn’t see a single shred of violence – from either side. In fact, there were LOADS of kids present, what with it being a Sunday morning.
After taking in the atmosphere we took a stroll down the infamous La Rambla – dodging street vendors touting their flags – and settled down for some tapas because we’d missed breakfast … again! (It fast became a theme on our holiday and not one I plan on repeating!) We’d planned our first day to be a chilled one, so we headed down to the beach in beautiful 25 degrees sunshine but after a couple of hours we got restless. We’d done so much walking you would have thought we’d be sick of it but oh no! Now that the rally had dispersed it was easier to get around, so we strolled along the beach to check out the big copper fish we’d spotted which turns out was for the 1999 Olympics and was in actual fact, gold. Tip: really pretty, but better viewed from a distance.
We took a massive loop round to get to the sight we were both most excited about – La Sagrada Famillia. I can honestly say that at that moment it was the most uniquely beautiful building I had possibly ever seen in my life. What I still can’t get my head round is how long ago it was designed and how we’re still in the process of building it! It was an insanely modern and brave design of Gaudi’s and I love how he was appreciated for his genius when he was alive as so many incredible architects and artists don’t get to experience that.
Now I hate to say it but we had a McDonald’s for dinner … with good reason I swear! We had to leg it back to the hotel from La Sagrada Famillia because we’d spent so long gawping and were going to be very late for our flamenco show. Diving into Maccies for a swift Big Mac was about all we had time for before the curtain came up on an intense and intimate show. I’d gotten very excited when we were sat in a café gazing at the Sagrada’s walls buying the tickets and I’m glad to say it didn’t disappoint! I’d like to use the word ‘authentic’ but does anyone else feel like that has a negative connotation? Or is that just me …?
It’s hard to believe that was only day 1! I’ll have to try and keep this brief from now on!
Day 2 is a chilled one anyway – with very few photos. We had a wander around the food market, salivating at all the gorgeous fruit, fresh fish and most deliciously, the Iberico ham! That inspired us to buy a little picnic lunch and take it down on the beach – a stroke of genius that I will be forever grateful of … thanks Jay!
I say chilled and it was, until the moment I remember to check my phone and see the text from Ryan Air declaring that our flight the next day was cancelled.
One frantic hour later and we had a plan. Flights were selling out before we could actually pay for them so we ended up having to fly back 24 hours later to Cardiff. Yep. Flying to Cardiff the following night would not only mean an extra night in the hotel to pay for, plus expenses, but would also mean hiring a car to make the 4 hour drive back to Manchester after we landed. Safe to say I felt both incredibly thankful and totally useless because I don’t have a driving license.
Jay to the rescue. Again.
By this point we were so exhausted and so hungry that we caved and ate at a restaurant on La Rambla – home of all the touristy, over-priced, mediocre food. Saying that it was perfectly edible and flavoursome plus the glasses of sangria were about as big as my head so that definitely made up for the stressful afternoon. Oh and Woody came along to save the day …
Resigned to the fact we had to take an extra day off work and miss a couple of meetings we decided, fuck it! It’s our last day and we’re going to make sure we make the most of it.
Quick breakfast at the café downstairs and we went to check in to our new hotel which was in an even better location right on the edge of the Gothic Quarter. Winning!
This was probably the hottest day of our entire trip so our decision to walk up to Park Guell probably wasn’t the wisest, but we weren’t to know that! Armed with my cotton striped Bardot dress and comfy Air Force 1s we scaled mountains (not quite) and battled swarms (of commuters, because it’s Tuesday and life goes on despite our flight dramas) to get to the unbelievably spectacular, Gaudi-designed Park Guell.
There’s only one word. Stunning.
Walking back, though arduous because we walked for MILES this holiday, was far easier as we were cruising downhill and headed back into town a different way. We stopped for a quick coffee and it was then that we noticed how close we were to the Arc De Triomf. Naturally we thought we’d take a detour. That’s when we found ourselves in the middle of ANOTHER rally – this time one for independence.
I don’t know what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t big screens, tv cameras and microphones broadcasting across the Arc and into the park opposite. There was an excited atmosphere; it was less of a party than the one before, but you could sense that people knew they were on the brink of something really special. I realised I was witnessing history right in front of my very eyes. That no matter what the outcome, this is something to tell the grandkids about. Being there, in the thick of it, on a Tuesday evening, with all the office workers still in their suits and the kids with their backpacks full of homework, was an inspiring experience.
Wandering back through the gothic quarter we came across a myriad of cool buildings that we hadn’t seen before – so glad we got to cram so much more in after being stranded by RyanAir!
As we were in ‘fuck it’ mode we treated ourselves to a fancy last supper overlooking the Catedral de Barcelona. What a spot for dinner eh?!
Our last day! We knew this one was going to be killer and agreed to just chill on the beach for a few hours before we headed to the airport. But this is us so obviously we did a load of walking first!
We’d seen the cable car to Montjuïc every day and for about a tenner each we figured we might as well squeeze it in!
It was surprisingly short to be frank, but the views are stunning. When you get off you are actually nowhere near the top so make sure you wear sensible shoes. Check out the gorgeous M&S flatform sandals I was wearing … not ideal for hiking up a small mountain let me tell you!
(I should point out that there is another cable car to take you the rest of the way, but you have to pay again for that one.)
Once you’ve stumbled and sweated your way to the top though the views are well worth it and you can head into the castle to explore or find a sunny spot in the park to relax and take in the peaceful atmosphere.
We finished off our trip with another picnic on the beach before embarking on our epic journey home to Manchester, via Cardiff and a 4-hour drive, to get snuggled up in bed a little after 2am.
Safe to say I needed all the coffee to survive the horror of a 2-hour meeting first thing the next day!