Arriving at night-time into another country is never ideal, especially when not knowing how to get around, but it has the advantage that as long as it’s resolvable (as things nearly always are when travelling), it gives an early start the next morning. Which meant that Ross and I were ready to get into Barcelona city centre early on and meet up with Bev.
We had been given two little bits of paper for the shuttle bus from the hotel and I wondered if it would be busy, but it wasn’t, there were just three of us on the bus (plus the driver). I’m not sure if all shuttle buses of this size have no suspension or whether the set-up here was broken, but it was a bit of a bumpy journey. Looking back, I made a mistake here, we could have walked the twenty minutes to the nearby Metro station and then paid a bit less for the ticket, but I thought it would be easier to just go from the airport.
At the Metro station at the airport, and this was a spotless network which was clearly signed, free from litter and something of a delight to travel on. It was easy to understand what ticket to buy, there were staff available and instructions were available in English. Barcelona was putting me in a good mood.
It wasn’t particularly busy and the trains were frequent.
Ross seemed less excited than me about this, but to my surprise the trains were driverless so I took a heap of photos and videos whilst pretending to be the driver. As Metro systems go, this was impeccable. I did get a little muddled up when changing line, but that was mostly my fault (nothing is ever entirely my fault) but there were plenty of signs to ensure that I could get on the right service.
And there’s Ross and Bev, just as we’re united. I was sitting on the steps in the shade, I can’t be doing with all this heat and warmth.
And that’s where we picked for our first snack, fortunately the outside seats were all full when we got there, it’s much nicer inside in the cold.
A coffee and croissant, something of a theme for the next few days, particularly for Bev. I’ve been to Barcelona before and enjoyed it without loving it, but I was getting very positive vibes about the city, it felt relaxed and calm. I was pleased to note that I could pay with my currency free debit card from Chase, which I’ve also got Bev to get (although annoyingly they now give £20 referral fees to both people) and just about every single venue we visited accepted cards.
We had a lot of this. Ross and I didn’t say anything. At this point we dropped our bags off at the apartment that we had rented. I’m not usually hugely keen on booking apartments, as I prefer hotels and they’re less likely to cancel, but this one worked out and wasn’t too bad price-wise. Barcelona isn’t though the cheapest of cities, it’s a tourist destination and even though many locals have been forced out by the surge of properties used as AirBNBs, it’s still expensive.
We were staying near to the football stadium of FC Barcelona, Camp Nou, which is the largest in Europe which holds just under 100,000 people. I would have popped in to watch a match if they were playing, although the apartment that we had would have likely been booked if there was a game on. I can’t admit to being a big football fan, but I’m always intrigued about the set-up which different clubs have, although ideally it’d be like the Warsaw Beer Festival and I can see the ground whilst drinking decadent and rich dark beer.
Ross wouldn’t stop going on about craft beer, so there were a lot of stops at bars, the first was El Tap.
I went for the hazy ale as although I was tempted by the stouts, they were a little richer for the early afternoon.
I know it looks like Bev went off to pilfer from the bags of other drinkers, but she had seen a dog that she liked. Ross and I didn’t say anything.
And the snack of croquettes.
Turó Park, once the home of an amusement park which has now been transformed into a beautiful and peaceful area.
I write peaceful, but there was quite a lot of noise from the parakeets. There were plenty of them flying around the city, but that’s also now the situation in London and to a lesser degree even Norwich. There’s more about this situation at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feral_parakeets_in_Great_Britain. There’s a cafe here as well and plenty of benches, it would be a comforting place to sit and read a book.
There are parakeets in these trees, but my photography skills weren’t good enough to get action shots of them flying about.
Certainly something a little different, a sculpture in honour of the local musician Pablo Casals.
Most of the craft beer bars in the city didn’t open until 16.00 (a situation I understand, but was sometimes slightly inconvenient), so we had a meander around one of the city’s main markets. In a lot of cities in tourist locations it feels like the market is primarily aimed at visitors whilst the locals shop at Aldi, but that’s not the case in Barcelona where these markets do feel like they are at the heart of the community. The fresh and seemingly reasonably priced produce was quite inspiring, there was plenty of choice of ingredients.
I liked it at this craft beer bar, BierCaB, which Ross was very excited to be at.
The service was warm and personable, with the venue feeling on-trend, organised and I could have spent several hours here. I think we limited ourselves to just under ninety minutes as other locations were opening, but I have fond memories of this bar.
The 13% Time Stretch double pastry stout from Basqueland Brewing was suitably decadent and delightful. What a time to be alive, especially when treating myself to this on a Tuesday late afternoon.
We got into Brewdog just as they were opening, which perhaps looked a little desperate and over-keen.
The service was exceptional here as well, and by now I had decided that I needed to make regular visits to Barcelona, this is my sort of city. The barman was knowledgeable and engaging, looking excited when a parcel was delivered which I encouraged him to open as I was equally excited to see what was inside it. It transpired to be a Shop Small parcel from Amex, so it’s safe to say that there’s another one of those planned for card holders.
I had a couple of beers and they tasted as expected, although it took some work for the barman to find out where one of them was from. There was nothing particularly decadent about the options, but I liked the environment and it seemed a popular location. I marked it down as another place I’d come back, which as will unfold became something of a theme during the week.
One more bar visit before the evening meal, this was the Garage Beer Co. Slightly quirky inside, but that’s a decent selection of beers and mostly ones which they brew themselves.
The restaurant was Antigua, where we had received 50% off by booking using The Fork. I still have a poor relationship with them as a company (The Fork, not Antigua), but the offer here was excellent and so I happily signed up. I was looking forwards to this restaurant as it appeared to be upscale and informal, if those are both possible together. The beer options weren’t ideal, but this is one of those places where wine is at the forefront of what they do.
This starter that I went for was the sea bass ceviche which has a suitable acidic lime background going on, alongside the fish and sweet potato, with the roasted corn adding texture.
The main course was cod and tomato, cooked en papillote and it was baked to perfection. The parchment ensured that the juices remained and there was a depth of flavour to this whole arrangement. The portion size was reasonable and larger than this photo suggests, but I still felt it could have done with something else just to bulk it up again. But the cod oozed flavour, so I wasn’t displeased.
I’m not really a dessert person, but the half price offer meant that they were only just over £3 each. This is the intriguing sponge cake with a creme brulee top and meringue milk ice cream. The topping added firmness and flavour, although the sponge cake was just adequate and perhaps something else there would given it an extra dimension. The ice cream was creamy and suitably rich.
The service in the restaurant was polite and efficient, with The Fork discount being applied without any difficulty. Continuing my theme of delight, I’d happily come back here again, this was a positive way to spend our first evening.
Trees on the walk back to the apartment, which was about 40 minutes away. However, the temperature was moderate and the city felt calm and welcoming with no tension in the air. As I’ve highlighted earlier in this post, I’ve rather changed my impressions of Barcelona of somewhere I remembered as being a little touristy to a city which feels very much at ease with itself and which has great craft beer. Perhaps the two are linked, but this is a city I’ve now decided will have to be a regular haunt. But I’ll go off-season as it’s often too hot.