Spain: Stranded in Barca

2015 had been such a rollercoaster of a year for travelling that it was never going to end quietly… or smoothly. My plan was simple – head to Barcelona for a couple of days followed by a couple of weeks travelling in the Balkans (an area of Europe I’ve wanted to visit for a while) before Christmas. Unfortunately, fog in Skopje meant that my flight to Macedonia was cancelled, with the only replacement flight being 4 days away… and from Madrid. Thanks to some very shoddy organisation on Wizz Air’s part, I decided to remain in Barcelona for a few extra days and then head back home. Still, it could have been worse…

I absolutely love Barcelona. It had been nearly 5 years since my last visit to this brilliant city and I couldn’t wait to get back. December was a great month to visit. It was relatively warm (certainly in comparison to the UK) and almost everyday heralded a blue sky. On top of that, the city was gearing up for Christmas with lights and markets, giving it a brilliant festive feel.

Festive Barcelona

The last time I’d visited the city was part of a college trip so I’d obviously been quite limited in what I was able to do. This time, however, I got the full Barcelona package, especially with my extra few days here. I used next to no public transport, meaning I did a lot of walking. I love walking anyway, but Barcelona’s streets are ideal for it. The pavements are wide and it’s all in huge blocks – New York style – so it’s almost impossible to get lost, even for someone like me who’s an expert at going in completely the wrong direction.

The iconic Sagrada Familia was no less impressive seeing it for the second time. It’s one of those incredible buildings that is different from whatever angle you look at it. I’m sure it’s impressive inside too but, for me, the real splendour is circling the outside, rather than queuing up for ages to go indoors. I feel like I should work on my cultural perceptions.

Sagrada Familia

Las Ramblas, the iconic street of shops, restaurants and stalls, seemed much tamer this time around than my first visit. Perhaps that’s as a result of meandering some of the markets in Asia. It was still as charming as ever though. I was particularly chuffed to find that McDonalds did beer on draft and have their own seating area outside on the street, so I enjoyed sipping a cold cerveza whilst people-watching which is, after all, what Las Ramblas excels at. Again, I’m not really painting a picture of someone who was overly cultured during this trip.

The Christmas celebrations were noticeable but not OTT which surprised me a little for a Catholic country. By the Barcelona Cathedral there was a great little Christmas market though with stalls selling almost identical items. There’s a strange tradition in Catalonia to sell tiny statues of celebrities, holy figures and politicians with their trousers down flashing their butts. There were literally stalls lined with rows and rows of them which was very bizarre. The other souvenir of choice was a log fashioned into a reindeer with goggly eyes. It looked nothing like a reindeer, leading us to affectionate refer to it as the ‘Dog Log’ and it took pride of place among our Christmas decorations upon my return.

What’s fantastic about going back to a place is discovering things you completely missed the first time round. I was particularly surprised to find that Barcelona has its very own Arc de Triomfe which looks really spectacular. It certainly made my camera happy anyway. I couldn’t believe I’d never noticed it before. It’s set in front of a huge park and just opposite is a great little cafe where I spent a couple of lunchtimes basking in the Spanish sunshine and admiring the view.

Barcelona’s very own Arc de Triomfe

One thing that’s changed since my last visit to Barcelona is that I’m now a keen hiker so I was keen to see if there were any trails close to the city I could try out. Fortunately, right behind the city is Passeig de les Aigues, a fantastic trail which is not only flat but gives one of the best views over the city you can imagine. It’s used primarily by cyclists but is a great walking trail too at about 9km long. The journey there is great too as you take the FGC train (from Playa Catalunya) to stop Peu del Funicular  (2.15 euros). You then transfer for free onto the funicular train which is great fun. You want to get off at Carretera de les Aigües station but I’m pretty sure you have to press the button to make it stop as I drifted right past to the top station of Vallvidrera, though it was an easy walk down from there to the trail.

The view from Passeig de les Aigues

After that, it’s a great open, refreshing walk. I had great weather conditions for it and, whilst I was frequently passed by cyclists, walkers and runners, it felt like I had the bulk of it to myself. I even managed to walk all the way back to the city rather than taking the metro back. I, of course, made up for it by stuffing myself silly with food later on.

And after all that walking, what better way to chill out than hit the beach? Barcelona really does have it all and the fact there’s a beach on this city’s doorstep is just the icing on the cake really. The weather was in my favour too as, on my last day, it was absolutely gorgeous – t-shirt weather in fact (though my threshold for t-shirt weather is pretty low). It must be fantastic to live in a city where the beach is 5 minutes away if the weather’s good. It’s also pretty good to lie on a beach in December and not get frostbite. Consider me very, very jealous Barcelona…


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