Barcelona in Top Gear

Trip Start Apr 02, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Hostel Nuevo Colon

Flag of Spain  ,
Saturday, May 9, 2009

Ed and I had booked to go to Barcelona, as his parents were there for the weekend before they left from the city on a Mediterranean cruise. We've both spent a significant amount of time in the city, but when it came to booking hotels, we found everything curiously expensive for the time of year and couldn't quite put our fingers on why. Nevertheless, we booked away, using a visit to see Ed's parents as good an excuse as any to spend a weekend outside of London. However, when Patricia told us that it was the Barcelona Grand Prix that weekend, Ed and I looked at each other with a twinkle in our eyes. Could we? Surely not. A financial extravagance? A once-in-a-lifetime? Should we? We did.

So after much bragging regarding our forthcoming Grand Prix weekend to friends and colleagues alike, we excitedly arose on Saturday morning and drove to the airport. We flew to Girona, which is a cheaper way of visiting Barcelona as it is served by Ryanair, and not overly difficult to travel from into Barcelona's city centre. We met Patricia and Wally at Girona airport and took the hour's bus into town.

We were staying at an unusually cheap hotel near the city's port, Port Vell, on Avenida Colon called Hostel Nuevo Colon. The location was great, but unfortunately found that our fancy-but-oh-so-cheap-looking hotel to be no more than a hostel and very different from the representations on its smart website. Nonetheless, we were only there to sleep and so set off to walk the city.

We cruised down Avenida Colon, admiring the pop art sculptures planted in our paths, stopping when we reached Christopher Columbus' monument to look at the modernistic, angular glass buildings reminiscent of the square industrial warehouses they only replaced after Barcelona's 1992 Olympic capital injection. We then hung a right into the world-renowned La Rambla - often called Las Ramblas as it is actually a series of five smaller streets, joined by its pedestrianized central aorta, daily filled with elaborate face-painted street artists, costumes that could appear in sci-fi films and theatrical acts aimed to tease or scare the unwitting tourists passing by. Most of these Ed and I are accustomed to, having regularly frequented Covent Garden, but as we reached the Plaza Catalunya we saw one artist who was not easily forgotten. He aroused the attention of passers-by by pouring what appeared to be lighter fluid in a circle around him... When enough of a crowd had gathered, pondering his purpose, he began to swallow knives and then entire swords, including jagged and semi-circular killing instruments. I had to wonder at the act's authenticity, never fully making my mind up either way. Either way, one word of advice: not for the faint-hearted!

We stopped to buy cardigans in H&M (spring in Europe is never as warm as I'd like to hope) and then walked to the never-changing and yet perpetually puzzling Segrada Famila. No trip to Barcelona - despite the city's many attractions - could be complete without stopping to wonder at this creation, secretly termed The Unfinishable Masterpiece. Don't tell the staff that though, who optimistically state it'll only take another twenty years (try forty). We admired the Passion Facade before entering the sparse vaulted interior.

The cathedral was designed by Barcelona's ubiquitous Gaudi, who spent the last 40 years of his life devoted to the ever-changing design. After Gaudí's death in 1926, work continued until interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, which destroyed some of Gaudi's models and designs. The present design is based on reconstructed versions of the lost plans as well as on modern adaptations, and helps to explain the length of the cathedral's disputed construction.

The pillars in the interior rise like trees in a forrest and form arching inverted nests overhead. We took a lift to the roof, where balconies hung between the apololistic towers and displayed views across the city. Enormous circular stained glass windows sat around our ankles. Walking the skinny stairwells was fun, each lit only by the intermittent view out to sea, over the diagonal streets below or onto unique geometrically designed scupltures of the bizarre and beautiful carvings.

After many photos and getitng hit on the head by Ed's camera (he had done it to himslef the weekend before so could empathise) we wandered back to Port Vell and found a sea-facing restaurant among the hundreds that traced the curve of the shore We ordered Padron peppers, Spanish tortilla and three enormous types of paella, which Ed and I had been craving since we booked the lfight! The food was wonderful, washed down with cerveza and sangria, and we chatted away to the friendly Swiss couple next to us in English, French and between ourselves in Spanish (I felt very cultured!). We returned to the hostel late, darkness only settling over us at 10pm and collapsed into bed.

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