BARCELONA, SPAIN – A good Groupon deal provided me with the chance to go and see Barcelona for the first time. I’ve never bought a travel deal from this website, although I’ve used it for other purchases, but a few friends have and it’s worked out for them. So my friend and I followed the crowd and bought a package to Barcelona, a city that everyone is raving about with good reason.
The deal (£150) included flights and two nights accommodation at Hotel 4 Barcelona plus breakfast. I’m based in St. James near the tube station and perhaps the biggest schlep was transport to and from Stansted airport. I’m not gonna lie, it added hours onto the trip. This is the trade off for cheap flights. We caught a bus at 5:10 am (can’t remember the last time I woke up at 4 am on purpose) with Terra Vision from Victoria Station on Thursday for £15 return and travelled to Stansted which took 90 minutes! Then we hopped on a Ryan Air flight and landed in Barcelona 2 hours later.
Getting through customs at Barcelona was so easy it makes me a bit worried. I simply handed over my passport, got it stamped by the official, who handed it back and then I walked through. There was not a single question about why I was in Barcelona, where I was staying and when I was leaving. It would be pretty easy to get into this country and live off the grid if you wanted to. I don’t think the locals would notice…
Since living in London, I’ve noticed that I stealthily walk in a different direction if I see someone looking lost as they try to understand the transport map. It’s selfish, but when you live in a city that attracts millions of tourists, regularly helping them out takes a lot of work. Thankfully, the Barcelonans are much nice than me. We got lost almost immediately, but everyone who we stopped to ask for help didn’t hesitate to assist us at all. The locals are great.
This brings me to my next point. Many people speak some English in Barcelona, particularly the younger generation. They might not be fluent, but they know enough English to help you get around or answer some of your questions. Our hotel was called Hotel 4 Barcelona.
The number 4 stands for four stars, I think. But lets be honest, this was more a three star in the same league as a Best Western/Holiday Inn type Hotel. Don’t get me wrong, it was a nice hotel, close to the tube station (Llacuna) and also close to the beach. Staff were friendly, helpful and professional. Our rooms were clean and well presented. We didn’t have a view of the beach, but then we were on a Groupon deal and you don’t go on holiday for the hotel view, right?
When I do go on holiday I usually do my research and find out what’s cool to do in the area. But with this trip I did absolutely nothing, only relying on what I’d seen and heard from the many cooking and property shows I watch regularly (I’m a ‘ A place in the Sun – Home or Away’ addict). So, we were winging it. But we still got to see and experience the city.
After purchasing a day pass for 7,5 euros (this gives you access to all buses, trains and metros in the city), we headed to La Sagrada Familia. It’s a wacky looking expiatory church (meaning built from donations) that’s taking forever to be built. Right now the expected completion date is oh, I don’t know, say the first third of the 21st Century!!!! It was started in 1882 by architect Francisco de Paula del Villar (1828-1901) but is best remembered for Gaudí taking over and putting his stamp on it up until his death in 1926. If you do decide to go to Sagrada, buy the earphones. It’s much easier to enjoy these tourist sights when someone is talking in your ear and giving you some interesting information about what you’re seeing.
The funniest part of our first day was a flamenco show at Patio Andaluz. We had coupons for the show at this restaurant and according to the marketing, it looked professional. But instead it ended up being a bit of a hole in the wall restaurant for tourists wanting a cheap taste of Spanish culture.
We stepped inside and were lead to our table positioned right in front of the stage which was probably 2,5 metres by 3 metres in size. If we stretched out our arm, we could touch the skirts of the dancers – we were that close. We just looked at each other and laughed because we realised it was going to be a small mom-and-pop production, nothing worthy of the West End.
The first part of the production was filled up by three women who danced some synchronised moves in pretty skirts, but the real star of the show was Roberto – the same guy who sold us the tickets at the front door. He came in wearing a blood red shirt and black suit and topped it off with a blue and white scarf and his long hair tied back with a women’s hair clip. I think he was a good dancer. I mean he wasn’t bad. But he was intense. Every move he made exuded passion and emotion and serious intent. But it was hard not to laugh because when he danced he made the funniest faces – like he was passing kidney stones. He looked like he was in agony. It was too much at times. And then when he bowed to say good bye, it was sweeping and grand, as though he were at the Royal Albert Hall and not this small little stage under the streets of Barcelona. He belongs at Eurovision. This stage was way too small for him.
What do you love about Barcelona?