Freddie Mercury and James Walshboth sang about it. Freddie, I've been a fan of since forever and James (@jamesstarsailor)since I saw him earlier this year supporting Bon Jovi.
The aforementioned 'It' is Barcelona. I was there the weekend before last and I loved it.
The journey kind of started back in February. My wife had surprised me with an overnight visit to Belton Woods, a very nice hotel, for Valentine's Day. On the way home, I was telling her how great it was. She said "That's good. You can sort the wedding anniversary. Barcelona sounds good!"
Apparently, I discovered only whilst we were there, she'd immediately forgotten that jokey comment.
Our wedding anniversary, our first, was in September. Unfortunately, almost every year, I have a 'shutdown' at work which means I work seven days a week, more or less, and ten hour days. It's usually in September/October. Last year was one of the few years where a shutdown didn't happen. It means, however, that our wedding anniversary is now right in the middle of the shutdown! I'm used to my birthday (October) being then anyway, but neither of us twigged with the shutdown.
Oh well. It meant we'd just have to go later.
Waaaay back in April, I began to look into this Barcelona trip thinking my wife was at least half serious. I looked into other places too, such as Prague and Dubrovnik, but kept going back to the Big B. We went to Budapest for our honeymoon last year and absolutely loved the city - I was sure this would be a similar experience.
So. The hotel. In Budapest we stayed in a lovely little boutique hotel. We prefer those to a big, flash affair. Something more intimate. As such, and with TripAdvisor as my friend, I was on the hunt. Finding the right place, when you have a specific idea of what you're after, can be exhaustive, but I hit what I assumed was gold in the end. The Praktik Rambla. Excellent reviews and perfect location. Apparently some of the rooms where meant to be cramped, but I'd pay for one of their Superior Rooms so hopefully that wouldn't be a problem.
Then the flights. I'm used to flying from Manchester when going abroad. I've gone from East Midlands or Humberside (my local airport) when going to Paris with work, and once from Heathrow and Gatwick, but otherwise, I think it's been exclusively from Manchester. The cheapest flights I could find, though, were from Leeds Bradford. And the times were perfect. Flying out at half seven on the Friday morning and flying back at half six on the Monday evening. That gave plenty of time in the city.
Add in airport parking and travel insurance and we were done. I was going to pay for an executive car to take us to the hotel, but I opted for the Aerobus which picks up outside the airport and drops off a block away from the hotel - and was only about 11 Euros each, return!
My wife played a game on her phone called 4 Pics 1 Word, in which you have to find a song title from four cryptic pictures. I took this idea and chose four photos - Freddie and Monserrat, Barcelona's Magic Fountain, an airplane and the entrance to the hotel - and made a card for her to figure out. I slipped it into an envelope and that was one of her gifts. I also wrote a poem in her card where the initial letter of each line spelled out B, A, R, C, E... You get the picture.
It took a little time and a lot of disbelief for her to figure out what it meant, but she did and I had the reaction I'd hoped for.
I was told Leeds Bradford airport wasn't the easiest to get to. I have to agree. Especially in the dark with Google Maps on your phone to guide you. No matter. After a 3:39 am start, we reached Sentinel Parking just before 5:00 am. I wanted to make sure we were at the airport a good two hours or so before our flight...
When we went to Budapest, there were only two lanes on at airport security and a HUGE queue of people to go through. Due to the handbag my wife had (which had to go in her hand-luggage case) having a diamante skull on it and the X-Ray guy not being able to figure that out, her case had to go through about four times! As such, we had to run to the gate with the stewardess calling to us that the gate was closing. The only reason we made the flight was because of the overhead lockers being full so two other couples' and our cases had to go in the hold.
Anywho. Sentinel was spot on. A quick check in with them and we were at the airport within about 5 minutes then, a couple of hours later we were in the air. I have to say, considering Monarch are a low cost airline, I was impressed with the standard of the plane. I expected things to look a little worn, for example, as I've encountered on other airlines. Apart from having not that much leg room, the plane was of quite a high standard.
We landed and took the bus to our destination, the Plaza de Cataluña, a gorgeous square with two large fountains, a plethora of pigeons and various other ornamental features. Not, of course, that the pigeons were ornamental, but you know what I mean.
A quick walk around the square, Google Maps in hand, along a short street and we were at our hotel. The Praktik Ramble has a small entrance. It's one doorway. But it spreads out above across the establishments either side, both eateries. The entrance way is lovely and, once you're at reception, you can see up through the floors to the roof.
Our rooms weren't ready (check in was 2:09 pm and it was not long after lunch), so we left our cases and went for a wander. By the time we'd returned, our room was ours and we booked in happily.
The room was fab. Super high ceilings, massive bed, rainfall shower and a balcony to the tree lined street below. Exactly what we wanted. The free Wi-Fi signal was fairly weak so, when we were actually in the hotel, we pretty much used our normal data roaming - thanks to Vodafone's Euro Traveller option. It's not often I have nice things to say about Vodafone, but Euro Traveller is quite good.
My wife loved the room, which was what I'd hoped for. And she also loved the ambience of the hotel. It had a massive terrace with free tea and coffee facilities for relaxation and a library (which I'd meant but forgotten to add a couple of my own books to). The doorway to the room was massive, making us feel we were going through Alice's rabbit hole.
All the staff we met there, including Johanes, whom I'd mainly chatted through via email prior to the day, were excellent. Very courteous, with a sense of humour and a keen desire for you to enjoy your stay.
My wife has hip problems due to the severe SPD she suffered whilst pregnant. At the time, she ended up on crutches and as such took a walking stick with her. We did a lot of walking! Just as in Budapest, we walked where we wanted and used Google Maps to find our way back. This method is great for finding small cafes or (in the case of Barcelona) huge squares only accessed by alleys and side streets.
There were a great many warnings, prior to going, that pick-pockets were rife, especially in La Ramblas, where we were staying. I saw one comment that called Barcelona the ‘Mugging Capital of Europe’. A friend of mine told me of how she’d experienced someone trying to steal from her handbag when she was there. As such, we were super careful. My wife had her bag strap across her body and carried it in front. I had my phone and wallet in my front pockets, with some cash in the pocket rather than my wallet so I didn’t have to advertise its presence when I needed to pay for something. When we were crossing roads, amidst a group of people, or when we were watching the street entertainers at night – break dancers, artists etc. – I kept my hands in front of my pockets so I’d feel if anything was amiss. We didn’t experience anything untoward, thankfully, though a couple we’d met on the way there told us a pickpocket had, somewhat brazenly, tried taking his wallet from his pocket.
Overall, we thought Barcelona was wonderful. The Familia Sagrada was impressive, the food lovely and the people, on the whole, very friendly. Near the hotel was a huge amount of eating and drinking places, so there was a massive choice. We ate at the same place for breakfast a couple of times and found a small student type bar that sold pints of lager and sangria for only 1.50 Euros. We ate at the Hard Rock, which was OK for food but had wonderful staff, and my wife had noodles out of a box from Wok the Walk. And on the last day, whilst waiting for the bus, we had an excellent meal of paella. La Ramblas, even at the end of October, is very busy, long into the night. Even though the hotel is at the top end, it was fairly quiet. Closer to the southern end of La Ramblas, near the sea, there are living statues expertly done.
Oh, and the weather was fantastic! We left the UK to severe storm warnings, high winds and rain. In Barcelona, it was mostly clear skies and around 26°C. I couldn’t have asked for more.
One thing we did do was go to a show. There is a theatre around the corner from the hotel which had a pair of massive inflatable legs sticking out the top and THE HOLE across the front. How could we resist?
Our only worry was that the show was entirely in Spanish, except for some English songs. Should we? Shouldn’t we? Our Spanish consisted of ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’, so of course we should.
Well. The Hole is a little difficult to classify, I think. I’d put it at a cross between Rocky Horror and Burlesque. There was a lot of speaking in the show, mainly from the ‘hostess’ who spent most of her time in a black basque and stockings. As much as my wife and I couldn’t understand a word of what she was saying, the rest of the audience were in fits of laughter, with many wiping tears from their eyes. Other than that, the show was pretty spectacular, and we still found much to laugh at. The four gents in suits were brilliant, being butler type characters who sang Accapella in various comedic ways. There was a host of acrobatics, spinning high in the air and fast roller-skating action (from a man who really didn’t like keeping his clothes on). Yes, The Hole has an amount of semi nudity in it – apart from the man on skates, who had no real way to hide anything he had. But, you don’t go into this with your eyes closed and you keep your tongue in your cheek. It’s fun and a laugh and, if you actually understand it, hilarious.
It received a standing ovation. Can’t argue with that!
Apparently, they may possibly be coming to the UK. If they are, sign me up!
After a delay at the airport due to a mix-up with paperwork, and Terminal 2 of Barcelona Airport actually running out of paper to print on (!), we were on our way home with smiles on our faces. Great place, great hotel and great people. By midnight we were home (it’s almost a two hour drive).
By the end of the next day, we were ready for another holiday, of course, but that’s another story!
So. Barcelona. Would I recommend it? Yes! Would I recommend the Praktik Rambla Hotel? Oh yes!
What’s next on the list? In the last three years we’ve done Luxor (wow) and Budapest. Majorca was earlier in the year and now Barcelona. Possibly we’ll visit Amsterdam. Definitely, at some point over the years, Prague, Croatia, Moscow, New York and Rio for their carnival. Oh, we got a great deal on Disneyland Paris for half term holiday next year. I don’t know who’s looking forward to that more, us or our children.
Anywho. Suggestions anyone? Where would you like to go?