Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Hola y Adios de Barcelona

We have encountered numerous problems connecting to the internet but finally on our last night in Valencia we have success!

We arrived safely in Barcelona on Tuesday morning after a very long flight from Canberra to Barcelona via Melbourne, Singapore and London. Since our arrival the weather has been decidedly inclement. We have had a few bursts of hot sunshine interspersed with cool, cloudy weather and rain. This morning we squeezed in our first run of 8km before the rain settled in for the rest of the day and the temperature dropped. Yesterday while the sun was out it was a pleasant 24deg.
We are loving Barcelona in spite of the weather. Our hotel is comfortable and we are about 5mins walk from the shops and restaurants, just far enough away to be in a quiet part of town and have relatively peaceful evenings which assists in a good night's sleep.
Here it is traditional to eat lunch about 1.30pm - 2pm and dinner at 10pm. Naturally inbetween one eats pastries or tapas and drinks sangria or cava. It's very civilized but also easy to pile on the weight when it is a lifestyle we are not accustomed to. Short runs and long walks are probably not enough to counteract the extra goodies we are sampling in quantity. One thing I have not found is good coffee. I have since discovered that one reason is that here in Barcelona and hopefully this will not apply everywhere in Spain, they use longlife milk rather than fresh milk and this definitely does not taste the same. Spain just cannot compete with Italy in the coffee stakes, at least not in Barcelona anyway.
On Tuesday night we fell asleep early while resting after a long explore around the local area and ended up sleeping 12hours and missing dinner - no harm done, we had been doing nothing but eat for the previous 24hours on the plane and in the Qantas club and with no exercise we definitely needed to miss a meal!
On Wed we made the most of our fresh legs. It was raining in the morning and we set off to explore. We had stocked up on yoghurts, fresh bananas (less than $3 a kilo here and absolutely delicious) and strawberries (also less than $3 a kilo) and used these for our breakfasts. During the previous afternoon we discovered the most amazing fresh food markets with gorgeous fruit, vegetables, seafoods etc attractively and temptingly displayed in mouth watering stands and stretching for miles. We also discovered many little patisseries and cafes and the plaza reial which is a large open square surrounded by cafes and hotels. Here we sat listening to music and enjoying sangria in the sunshine which had struggled through in the late afternoon. During the day we visited the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia. This was commenced in 1882 and designed by the architect Gaudi. It is still being built 129 years later. Examples of Gaudi's architecture are spread throughout Barcelona and we saw lots of them onour run today. It's so amazing to visit an unfinished modern cathedral in its mind boggling magnificence. We included the lift to the top tower in our visit. This took us up 65 metres and from here we walked up several narrow staircases and took in the fantastic views far below through the narrow windows of the top of the tower. Apparently there are still 300 people working on the cathedral and there are cranes and scaffolding around one side of the building and above the towers. As we descended the stairs back to the lift the bell in the tower (it is a bell tower) started to ring loudly and it was quite eery being part of it all. A lot of the work depends on donations and it has not been estimated how long it will take before the cathedral is finally finished. I wouldn't like to be commissioned to clean it! In the evening we walked quite a way to find a lovely restaurant for dinner. Here we tried some delicious tapas and salads and drank cava which is a light sparkling wine and very easy to consume!
Today we were very excited to be able to meet up with an ex-work colleague of mine from about 15 years ago. Paula and Brett have been living in a village just outside Barcelona for some years and both teach at the same international school. They caught a train in to meet us for lunch. It was wonderful to catch up with friends with local knowledge and they showed us a great place for a beautiful meal at a very reasonable cost. This time we tried the set price menu and I enjoyed vichyssoise, a bread roll, lightly grilled pork and potatoes and a form of layered cake with cream for dessert. Wine of the region was included and was really good. In fact the meal was lovely and we had a great time. Later Paula showed us where to find cafe Italiano and a fantastic shop where the brightly coloured clothes are produced in Barcelona. Both Mr B and I ended up spending money here and in fact I bought quite a lot of very different fun clothes. The only down side to today was when we stopped later this afternoon for a strawberry cheesecake for Mr B and plain cheesecake for me it must have been the straw that broke the camel's back as upon returning to our hotel Mr B suffered a bout of food poisoning or at least a strong reaction to his cheesecake. He was quite violently ill which prevented us from going out this evening except to the local supermarket to stock up on yoghurt for the morning. I guess one could say that Mr B got his "just desserts" that being all that he ate or did not eat as the case turned out to be!
Since our run this morning the rain has fallen steadily for most of the day. We ran from the hotel through the Arc del Triomf, past the zoo and on to the beach where we ran along the boulevard for a few kms before turning and running back a slightly different route although we did run past the zoo and through the lovely surrounding parkland. It was so good to just get out there and run again for the first time since Sunday.

Friday 3 June

On our last full day in Barcelona, after a long walk through the streets, we decided to have lunch before joining the queue to visit the Picasso Museum. We found a lovely little restaurant with a very reasonably priced menu. I ordered lamb done in the oven which turned out to be a 'melt in the mouth' lambshank and Mr B had tiny fried fish which were similar to whitebait fritters. For entree we had white asparagus wrapped in Spanish ham. Desert for Mr B was a baked apple and for me a creme caramel. The wine here is very light and easy to drink and also very cheap.
By the time we returned to the queue it was quite short and moved quickly. The museum was well worth a visit with samples of Picasso's works throughout his entire career including his very unusual modern art later in life. He started painting when he was in his early teens and died at aged 92 in 1973.
After our fascinating visit there we headed off to catch a train to Montjuic which sits 213m above the commercial port on the south side of the city. We caught the funicular to take us to the castle at the top of the hill and the views from the ride and the castle were really amazing. The moment we stepped off the funicular the sun came out. It was actually hot. We have experienced every season in the few days we have been in Barcelona often all in one day. The only answer is to wear layers and to always carry an umbrella. Montjuic has lots of museums and galleries and after exploring the turrets of the castle and viewing the port and all the cruise shops (one was carrying a friend of mine from Canberra and we sent each other a text message )we rode back down the funicular and explored the gorgeous Montjuic gardens and joined loads of tourists on the steps of the Museum of Catalunya Art. The sun was still warm well after 7pm and we enjoyed a glass of cava as we sat listening to the music of buskers and admired the magnificent views of the city below. It turned out to be a beautiful evening.
Saturday 4 June
We had a relatively early start this morning when we decided to run from our hotel before catching the train to Valencia. We ran a similar run to Thursday heading through the Arc del Triomf and on to Barceloneta to run beside the seafood restaurants and along the boardwalk beside the beach. We turned at 4km and ran back stopping at the 5km mark when Mr B decided to go for a quick dip in the sea. We had perfect running conditions today, overcast and cool although it was still hot enough to work up quite a sweat and Mr B enjoyed his very short invigorating swim.

Total distance: 8.5km (incl warm-up)
Time taken: 48mins (for 8km)
Average pace per km: 6mins

We caught a taxi in plenty of time for our mid-day journey. Unfortunately however Mr B had omitted to print our tickets off the internet and the printed receipt was not acceptable. Thus we ended up buying more tickets and this time first class ones which were only slightly more expensive. We did however have a 3 hour wait for the next train as the mix up meant we had to miss our original train.
The train journey takes 3 hours and gives me time to read my book and write this up in a word document to be saved to my blog later. I've just finished reading 'Born to Run' by Christopher McDougall and it's a fascinating book. I would recommend it to anyone interested in running. Now I'm reading a book Ewen gave me for my birthday - 'The Soloist' by Steve Lopez which was made into a movie. After only a few chapters into it, I can already tell I'm going to enjoy it.

Sunday 5 June
Our hotel in Valencia is amazing. It is situated above a very modern five level shopping centre and opposite the City of Arts and Sciences. This is the new modern part of the city and today we caught a taxi into the original part of the city where we had some lunch and caught a tourist on/off bus so that we could have a tour of the entire city (old and new) and the port and learn of the history. It was also a good way to glimpse all the amazing buildings, museums and churches.
On Sundays it appears that all the shops are shut for the entire day. However we discovered lots of outdoor markets selling all sorts interesting items. It was interesting just to wander along the narrow streets with the tall narrow buildings and apartments and browse through the market Today, for the first time in Spain, the weather was sunny and warm at 26deg. Later the wind picked up but on the whole it was a lovely day.
I tried the local drink of Horchata today which is a sweet, milky drink made from earth almonds. It's refreshing but probably not a drink I would normally choose. Last night we ate in a local restaurant in the huge shopping area below the hotel. As well as shops there are numerous interesting eating spots.


  1. Great update Strewth. I have fond memories of Spain. Lucky you!

    As for the coffee ... keep searching and if all else fails remember ... there are some quality coffee shops for you to return home to :)

  2. That write-up was almost as long as "Born to Run", which I'm yet to finish! Sounds like you're having a fabulous time. Might be an idea in future to get Mr B to test all the food ;) Jealous of the weather. It's been effing freezing here the past few days... but at least our coffee's good!