The typical British weather, especially during the long winter months, is enough to make anyone want to escape to warmer climates. Last winter I decided to book an impromptu weekend break to Barcelona to get away from the rain and cold. I had been to Barcelona many years before, but as this was such a long time ago I felt it was time to refresh my memories and review what this beautiful Catalan city has to offer.
I took the early morning British Airways flight from Gatwick airport, and as Gatwick is only a 45-minute drive from my home this was perfect. In less than two hours I had touched down in Barcelona and in no time at all I was in a taxi on my way to the city centre. I arrived at the NH Podium hotel just after 11am, and despite my early arrival my room was ready and I was able to check in straight away. I have stayed in NH hotels before and have always been impressed with the quality off their hotels, rooms, and the facilities they have to offer. The NH Podium Hotel did not disappoint and is very conveniently located, a 10-minute walk away from La Rambla.
La Rambla is Barcelona’s main bustling thoroughfare, running from Place De Catalunya right down to Port Vell. The tree-lined La Rambla is packed with cafés and bars, street entertainers and art and craft stalls. I took a leisurely stroll down La Rambla to Port Vell and decided to stop for some Tapas at Tapa Tapa Maremagnum.
Tapa Tapa is part of a small chain of tapas restaurants in Barcelona. I normally prefer to try independent restaurants rather than a chain, but the food looked too delicious to resist. I ordered four dishes: patatas bravas, calamares Andaluza, mejillones a la plancha, and chorizo accompanied by a glass of Rioja. The food really was good so I ordered a few extra dishes (and a few more glasses of Rioja). It would have been all too easy to have sat here all afternoon, but there was so much more I wanted to see.
The architecture in Barcelona is fascinating, and the city is just bursting at the seams with buildings by, or influenced by, Gaudi. These buildings showcase truly beautiful and breathtaking architecture and outstanding workmanship. Gaudi, born close by in nearby Reus, was a Catalan architect who lived from 1852 to 1926. He was one of the main influences on Catalan architecture, and drew his inspiration from Neo-Gothic art. In my travel experience no two cites are the same, each has its own distinctive design and influences behind the design. Barcelona is, without a doubt, one of my favourite cities.
After a brief rest stop at the hotel I ventured out to see the Sagrada Familia. The Sagrada Familia is a Gothic/Art Nouveau Church which, after 132 years of building, is still in construction. Its estimated completion date is 2028, and this would give it a total construction time of 146 years. The Sagrada Familia is about a 20-minute walk from the NH Podium in the opposite direction to La Rambla. You could get on either the purple or blue Metro lines to the Sagrada Familia station. Although it was already getting dark by the time I arrived at the Sagrada Familia, it looked absolutely stunning as it was illuminated. I would recommend seeing it during the day and at night.
From the Sagrada Familia I headed back towards the hotel, to find somewhere to have dinner. I headed for Placa De Catalunya where I found the Navarra Restaurante, and enticed by the menu and the reasonable prices I decided to stop here to eat. I had beef carpaccio to start followed by Monkfish and Crema Catalana, the Catalan version of a Crème Brûlée which was divine. All the food was very good and excellent value for money. I planned on sampling some of Barcelona’s nightlife after dinner, but after such an early flight I was exhausted, and so I sunk into my big comfortable bed and drifted quickly into a deep sleep.
Often breakfasts that are included in your room rate tend to be a bit hit and miss, but the NH Podium’s breakfast was one of the best breakfasts I have had in a hotel. There was an extensive buffet of hot and cold options, with so much choice that you could have stayed a week and had a different breakfast every day. This is a massive plus point for me as I love my food! My personal favourite dishes were the omelettes cooked to order!
After breakfast I took a walk in Barcelona’s El Gotic and El Born areas, just off La Rambla and home to some of the oldest buildings and streets in Europe. With only a few weeks before Christmas I was sure I would find a Christmas market somewhere in this area, and I was right. I have been to many Christmas markets before in Germany, Sweden, UK, and Croatia, and enjoy each country’s different interpretation of the Christmas market concept. Barcelona’s take on the market is different to any I have visited in the past, maybe because of the warmer climate which meant that it didn’t have that winter, alpine feel to it. Catalunya also has a unique aspect to its Christmas celebrations, namely the “Shitting Log”. I did have to ask a few times as I was convinced that it was a bad translation and they meant the sitting log, but no the translation was correct.
The traditional Shitting Log (Caga tió) is the common name in Catalunya for the Christmas Log (Tió de Nadal). I asked about this tradition, and I was told that the log is introduced into the household on December 8th, and every night the family pretend to feed it and then cover it up for the night with a red blanket. On Christmas Eve the log is put in the fire place and beaten with a stick until it defecates gifts for the family (the elders in the family hide the gifts under the blanket for the children!). The families also sing to the log to help this process. After the songs have been sung, one member of the family puts their hands under the blanket to retrieve the gifts. This is a very ancient tradition in Catalunya dating back over 300 years. All I can say is that I’m very grateful that Santa comes down our chimney to deliver my presents!
After all the excitement of the markets and the Shitting Log, it was time to head back for the airport. Only a short visit I know, but I managed to see, do, and sample a lot of Barcelona, and also experience some traditional Catalan festivities.
Another trip to Barcelona is definitely on the cards as I would like to visit to Gaudi’s Parc Guell, the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc, view some of the works by Miro and Picasso, and also take a day trip to Sitges, which is about 20 minutes from Barcelona.