So last week, I told you how I got abandoned at Barcelona Airport and it was pretty traumatising. Not only did I have to go through a flight delay with Vueling before I got to Spain but I went through a horrendous flight delay with Norwegian, on the way back to Germany too.
You really couldn’t make it up.
The fact is, whenever you go through an unpleasant time, it leaves a slight taste in your mouth and then you have a negative image of that destination.
The fact is, you begin to think it was that place rather than that airline.
The fact is, Spain is a great country to go to and Barcelona is just a thrill and I reeeeeally do like Barcelona and don’t want last week’s post to spoil the good time that I DID have in Spain so perhaps, I might go back to Spain again sometime this year.
It deserves a second chance.
One of the best things about going to the TBEX EUROPE conference is that you get the opportunity to be introduced to other organisations and outlets that you might not have thought of. You also get interviewed. I was asked, by the Travel Massive community in Spain, whether it was worth attending TBEX. Here’s the link to what I said!
Now, I’ve actually been to Barcelona about four (4) times now, and this was the fifth (5th) time so I knew Barcelona as a fun city, but I didn’t know Barcelona as a cultural city!
As you know, my time was extremely limited in Lloret de Mar and I really only had one day to play with as the TBEX EUROPE bloggers conference took place from 30.04.15 – 02.05.15. Basically, three (3) days and nicely done over a public holiday and the weekend.
My initial plan was to use May 3rd to go to Barcelona, as you can’t be in the region and NOT go to Barcelona. That would be sacrilege!
As a TBEX EUROPE accredited blogger, the city of Lloret de Mar and the region of Costa Brava did their very best to provide either complimentary, or reduced-priced transport.
Now for those of you who have been following my blog in the last year (thank you so much!), you know that I attend quite a few parties, festivals, and events and I’m not averse to having a jolly good time LOL! I do however, also like history and culture, so I signed up with a company called Context Travel or #DeepTravel.
Context Travel had tours operating in Barcelona and in order to join the tour, I had to make my own way down …
Barcelona isn’t actually that close to Lloret de Mar and depending on where you are going, can take up to two (2) hours…..Since I wasn’t going to the airport, I decided to make use of local transportation which would comprise of either taking the bus or the train. Would you believe it if I told you that travelling by bus was much faster?
You know how I love coach-bus travel so by bus it was to be.
On the last official night of TBEX EUROPE there was a closing party at a local club in Lloret de Mar. I was still quite exhausted from sleeping at the airport the previous day so I decided to go back to my hotel a little after midnight! Thankfully, the lovely 4-star – Hotel Gran Garbi in Lloret de Mar was about just seven (7) minutes away from the local coach-bus station so I sprinted towards it and took the 09:30 bus to Barcelona early on Sunday morning!
The fantastic thing about the Lloret de Mar coach-bus station is that not only could you go straight to the airport, but you could also travel to Toss de Mar, Barcelona, Girona and France!
I didn’t have any time for France but I did have the whole day allocated to spending as much time as possible in Barcelona.
In order to get a return ticket, you have to choose and book the time that you wish to return. It’s a long journey so I chose the outward journey of 09:30 and a return time of 19:15. A return ticket would usually cost €10.75 but with a TBEX “pass” it cost just €9.75. Every penny counts.
The bus was quite comfortable, very clean, and pretty much fully booked. I ended up sitting next to an Italian guy who lived in Switzerland and had travelled to Spain to get his suit custom-made! He was pretty worried about getting his suit squashed and spent the whole journey holding it. He was fun to talk to though!
The bus is described as having WiFi but it didn’t work all the time, and on the return journey didn’t work at all!
I was set to meet Context Travel at 11:00.
Our meeting point was at the Hard Rock Cafe on Plaça Catalunya. When I got to Est Nord – which is the Barcelona Central Coach-Bus Station – I realised that I only had twenty (20) minutes to get to the meeting point, so I took a taxi.
You hear many things about the unscrupulous taxi drvers in Barcelona.
And the cost?
I didn’t get cheated at all and I managed to get to the Hard Rock Cafe with two (2) minutes to spare!
And then I looked around.
No tour guide!
No person, man or woman holding-a-context-travel-sign-with-the-name-of-the-tour as instructed.
No umbrella person.
No groups of lost-looking-tourists-also-going-on-the-tour.
I spent fifteen (15) minutes staring into the faces and peering at random strangers, hoping that they were the guide. Or lost tourists.
And then I saw a woman constantly looking at her phone and wearing pedal pushers. Could she be?
Yep! She was a blogger – Luxe Travel Family.
A fellow TBEX EUROPE blogger.
Hurrah! I’m not in Kansas anymore Toto!
And she was standing next to a young lady. She was a blogger too! – Travel Geekery.
And then not more than a few minutes later a woman came huffing and puffing. Another blogger! – Rachel Heller.
Hurrah, for TBEX EUROPE bloggers.
But wait. Where was our guide?
We’re experienced travel bloggers. We have social media at our finger tips. We’ve climbed volcanos, interviewed top artists, and sat on the front row at Fashion Week, surely we know what to do with all that technology at our finger tips?
So we called up.
Yep! We used the telephone LOL!
Anyway, it transpired that the organisers had messed up. There was a guide who was at the other side of Barcelona who had been waiting for a group of tourists who hadn’t turned up, and we were on the opposite side of the city thinking the same thing….!
In less than twenty minutes, our lovely guide arrived. His name was Biel. He was an absolute top fellow, in his late twenties, and professional. After making sure we were all together and brief introductions, off we went.
For the Gothic Quarter Tour, it was just the four (4) of us so Biel was really flexible and let us concentrate on the things that we were interested in or in anything we saw. And we saw a lot of things not even included in the tour because May 3rd was a public holiday in Barcelona, and the locals were celebrating the festival of The Day of the Virgin Mary!
Loads of local Spaniards were out and about and I saw lots of families with children putting their blanket on the cool stone stabs and simply having a picnic, right there in the historic quarter of the Roman era! The festival turned into a bit of a musical parade which was in full force, and we even left the tour for about 20 minutes and joined in the parade itself.
Now this is being in Barcelona!
It was a great day, extremely sunny and the feeling that I was really in Spain, began to slowly settle in.
So let’s have some history:
Barcelona,, although not the capital of Spain, is indeed the capital of Catalunya or Catalonia and with 1.6 million people, is the second largest city, after Madrid, – Spain’s real capital city! It’s an old city founded by the Romans and emerging in importance in the Middle Ages. It’s a city that is over 2,000 years old and is open to the sea and influenced by many cultures.
Barcelona is a cosmopolitan city and a capital of business and commerce as well as a leading tourist destination, with some of the world’s finest architects having left their mark that integrate with the elegance of the Eixample district, and the down-to-earth squares of the Gràcia districts.
It’s a fantastic city of both history and culture and it’s no wonder that millions of people flock there.
Catalonia’s fight for Spanish independence was based on political and historical ground, as far back as the 14th century, but was lost in 1714. The region got a resurgence of Catalan nationalism in the 19th century but with the dictatorship of General Franco, all of Spain was in dire straits.
Today however, Barcelona is a mediterranean city that invites you to stroll on it’s streets filled with life and atmosphere, or to breathe in the rich ancient language of the Catalan people.
THE GOTHIC QUARTER AND GRACIA AND THE SPIRIT OF CATALAN INDEPENDENCE
Barcelona’s Barri Gótic, or the Gothic Quarter is one of the best preserved medieval districts in the world, where you can ramble through the squares and hidden corners and discover the charm of buildings that are hundreds of years old.
We certainly did.
Our guide – Biel – took us through the layers of Barcelona from ancient Roman times, through the Middle Ages and until the 19th century.
We were shown the remains of a Roman gate, parts of the Roman wall and some Roman architecture. You all know the saying that “All Roads lead to Rome.” Not only that, but did you know that the saying in Barcelona goes – “All Roads lead to Rome and to the Gate of Augustus!”
It’s certainly true as in practically every twist and turn in and in every back alley, you could see a part of Roman history and Roman architecture and ideas that comprised of guilds, sophisticated professional and merchant classes, and a rich religious life for many religions.
Later in the day, I went on my second tour to Gràcia and as I was the only guest, it ended up being a private tour of one.
I also got to know a little bit about Biel as we sat in the Spanish sun and drank a can of non-alcoholic beer!!!!
Biel – the tour guide – was actually a young academic and an Art Historian who had not only been working with Context for three (3) years, but was also teaching at the local university AND was also involved in a local street festival, that took place once a year. The celebration was called the Festivity of Gràcia or the Fest de Gràcia and was a community effort.
I had a look at his workshop which had signs asking for the locals to send in their recyclable products that he and his team needed, and they did. In fact, the project was so successful that last year, they won first prize for creativity.
Gràcia is very different from Barcelona Central and quite working class. There were hardly any tourists around and lots and lots of locals sitting in the sun, drinking, playing or just chatting.
I saw many churches, places of worship. And flags. I also got a peek into the history of the rise for independence by the Catalan people and even though Biel said nothing to suggest his feelings, I could feel the passion in his voice.
The Catalan people are proud. Proud of their language, proud of their culture, and proud of their soul.
If you’re thinking of going to a warm European city where the sun always shines, Barcelona is a good bet.
Here are ten (10) reasons why:
- Barcelona is easy to reach by plane, train, and by ship.
- If you like “living” history, there are so many open-air museums, squares and streets that you can stroll through. Take your time, close your eyes and imagine that you’re right back in time. At every turn and nook and cranny, you can bump into medieval bridges, romanesque chapels and gothic arches.
- The most brilliant works of Catalan Art Nouveau such as the marvellous beauty – La Sagrada Família – are to be found all over the city through it’s most talented son – Gaudi.
- The Catalan people have a patron saint called Sant Jordi who happens to be the exact same patron saint of England – Saint George. I couldn’t believe it. I was enthralled and delighted.
- Look for dragons which are hidden. You can find them everywhere. If you look! Take a closer look at the architecture, in the stones and on the windows. They’re all over the place!
- The traditions of Catalonia are so rich that it is packed with carnivals, festivals, dances, bonfires, streets and squares filled with “Giants” and human towers that are such an exquisite sight, that the castellers have been declared a World Intangible Heritage! It was such a shame that I missed seeing them personally on my first day, due to my flight delay…
- Catalonia isn’t just Barcelona but consists of a diversity of land and regions ranging from the rugged Pyrenees, charming villages and towns, and farmed fields of the plain, not to talk of the beautiful sea, and has 16 natural parks and nature reserves, and a collection of sea scapes and mountains that are as wide in size, as the country of Belgium!
- Check out Barcelona’s most modern stadium and visit FC Barcelona filled with such beauties and talents, as Neymar and Lionel Messi!
- Visit Barcelona’s open-air or Historic Trail Markets and stuff yourself with the abundance of extremely tasty natural produce and gastronomy, based on seasonal produce such as paella, tapas, seafood, fideuà (a type of noodle casserole), black rice, home-made desserts and Cervesa.
- Discover and hang out in Barcelona’s underground scene that includes wild jam sessions, techno dancefloors, film screenings and flamenco!
I only had roughly eight (8) hours to spend in Barcelona in which I went on two (2) walking tours, had a local lunch at a Spanish bistro that served traditional tapas and typical Catalan dishes, with the bloggers. The bistro was called Carmelitas Tapas. After that I had some ice-cream, and still managed to take a couple of selfies at the Arc de Triomf, and in plenty of time to take the coach-bus back to Lloret de Mar!
if you’re interested in history and art then Context Travel or #DeepTravel might be a good fit for you.
I loved my day out and found Barcelona utterly charming!
Here are the details:
WHAT IS CONTEXT TRAVEL?
Context Travel also known as #DeepTravel, is a network of scholars and specialists who specialise in archaeology, art history, cuisine, urban planning, history, environmental science, and the classics, and who design and lead in-depth walking seminars for small groups of people who are intellectually curious.
Their vision is to bring together local scholars and specialists, with visitors who are curious, so that they can learn and allow them access to places and cultures that might otherwise remain out of sight. Their biggest goal is to take visitors off the tourist track and into the real life of the people, history, and culture.
My type of people then!
WHAT IS THE GOTHIC QUARTER TOUR ABOUT?
The Gothic Quarter Tour goes through the heart of the town, learning about the evolution of Barcelona, going through the neighbourhood, walking through Barcelona’s main market, into La Ramblas and taking a look at how modern development has changed the city in the 18th and 19th centuries. You get to learn about the rich religious life and Barcelona’s history through the remains of the ancient city, the medieval splendor, the modern technology and the cosmopolitan urban mix.
WHAT IS THE GRACIA AND THE SPIRIT OF CATALAN INDEPENDENCE TOUR ABOUT?
The Gràcia Tour is about the loss of independence in the region of Catalan and the neighbourhood of Gràcia. The walk introduces us to the intricacies of Catalan history and culture, the difference between the Catalan and the Spanish and why they continue to fight for independence. The tour also shows the wealth of the area during the Industrial Revolution and at the same time, the village-like feel of the tiny squares, the places of worship, the narrow streets and the romantic architecture.
DO I NEED TO UNDERSTAND SPANISH?
These tour are in English. If English isn’t your native-language not to worry, as the company can arrange customised tours.
WHAT DO I NEED?
A pair of good shoes, a pair of sunglasses, suncream, a hat, a huge bottle of water, a few Euros for a snack, and a huge smile!
Yes. The tours are extremely small and have no more than six (6) people at a time. It’s a little pricey at $91.00 or €80.00 but if you want professional art historians who really know their stuff, then it’s worth the price.
The tour is three hours long so don’t make an important appointment immediately after. You might want to hang-out with the tour-guide and other members of your tour group, over a beer or two.
I’m aspiring to be an art history and culture buff, so it was just perfect. If you’re not that well inclined, then they do customise tours for individual groups. As my last tour was just me, my tour guide did just that. We focused on the things that were of interest to me and skipped the ones that weren’t!
Everyone should do a walking tour every now and then, if only to make sure that you know exactly what you’re talking about or can follow up with someone who does LOL!
I really enjoyed the tours but I don’t recommend them for children or young teenagers. Highly recommended for a more intimate, hands-on experience.
See you in Stockholm, 2016.
This article is not sponsored, and even though I was a guest of Context, all opinions and the Iberico ham and lovely red wine that I consumed, are my very own!
I have so much to share with you.
Next week, I’ll be back about the secrets of Estonia and what we did in Tallinn with the help of the Tallinn Card, what the view was like on the ferry crossing from Estonia to Finland with TALLINK SLJA LINE and what we thought about Helsinki in Finland!
The Berlin Music Video Awards will be taking place from May 27.05.15 – 30.05.15. It’s going to be great.
The Berlin Fashion Film Festival will be taking place on 05.06.15.
I’ll be there. Will you?
If you’re not in Berlin right now, then you’re losing the experience of Berlin – the place to be!
May is going to be exciting.
Watch this space!
Have you ever been to Barcelona? Are you a fan of Gaudia or a fan of sangria?
See you in Berlin.
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