Traci and I spent two nights in the marvelous city of Barcelona before embarking on a 7-day Mediterranean cruise on the Azamara Journey. We crammed in as much sightseeing as we could while bumbling our way through several mishaps. It was a great time. We could have used a few more days to hit all the major tourist attractions we wanted to see.
With our flight to Spain less than a week away, you would have thought Traci and I would be giddy with excitement like we normally are before vacation. This was not the case this time. We were not even sure this trip would happen. The Eyjafjallajökull (Eh-ya-fyat-la-yuh-cullt-k) volcano in Iceland had been erupting for several weeks and was now sending ash as far as five miles into the sky. The ash cloud had drifted over much of Europe grounding flights at hundreds of airports. This was a flight safety issue since debris from the ash could cause airplane engines to stop working. Although the airports in Spain remained mostly unaffected by closures, our flight was in jeopardy because we were booked on British Airways which connects through London Heathrow Airport. That airport had already been shut down for almost a week with no reopen date in sight. There were news stories everyday of stranded passengers trying to figure out a way to get back home.
Traci and I had booked our flight through the cruise line's ChoiceAir program. They had very reasonable airfare and I knew the cruise line would work with us to get us to the ship if problems arose. Who would have thought a volcano would have threatened our trip? Our situation was not as drastic as the thousands of stranded passengers around the world but we had prepaid our hotel stay in Barcelona to take advantage of a great weekend rate Hilton was offering at the time. The money we paid was non-refundable.
Finally, London Heathrow Airport reopened the day before our flight. Whew! As we were boarding our flight in Philadelphia, Traci ran into Andrienne, one of her UK co-workers, who was finally on her way home after being stranded in the U.S. for four days after her business trip should have ended. Our pilot made an announcement that he was thrilled to be flying again. All was good.
Our overnight flight with a connection in London got us to Barcelona around noon the next day. I had planned to take a taxi from the airport to our hotel. I knew this would be expensive because of the distance but I wasn't sure I was ready to figure out public transportation in a foreign country where we don't speak the language. Traci, on the other hand, was up for the challenge. After using the ATM machine in the airport to get some euros, we went to the tourist information desk to find out how to get to our hotel, Hilton Barcelona. We were told to take the Aerobus for 5 euros per person (approximately $7/person at the time) to Placa d'Espanya in downtown Barcelona and then take the metro to the Maria Christina stop. From there, the Hilton Barcelona is a few blocks away on Avenida Diagonal.
The Aerobus dropped us off at Placa d'Espanya. This is a busy section of the city. Cars, buses, and mopeds were aggressively driving in and out of the traffic circle. There were old statues and buildings all around. People walked with purpose on the wide sidewalks.
I had read warnings and been warned by others who had been to Barcelona that the pickpockets here are very good at what they do. Unfortunately, later that week we would meet cruise passengers who became victims during their pre-cruise stay in the city. One guy even told us an amusing story of how a pickpocket actually returned his wallet after he didn't find any money in it.
As with any city, it is recommended that visitors try to blend in and not look like tourists. I wasn't sure how we were going to pull this off. Both of us were wearing backpacks and I was rolling our two suitcases down the sidewalk. To make matters worse, Traci had her camera out trying to take a picture of the cool statues in the middle of the traffic circle. She then wanted me to pose on the steps of an old building. I laughed to myself as I thought about trying to blend in in Spain. There were very few people who looked like us. I'm sure no one was going to mistake us for locals - regardless of what we were wearing or doing. We did take precautions, however. Traci had her valuables in a money belt under her clothing and I had my decoy wallet in my pants pocket. My real wallet was safely tucked away.
As we entered the metro station, I was beginning to wish we had stuck with my original plan of taking a taxi to our hotel. I had to carry our two 50-lb suitcases up and down staircase after staircase to get to the platform we needed. I was sweating and exhausted.
a break from the steps in the metro station
Our next ordeal was buying a metro ticket. My dentist who has traveled extensively recommended I buy the T10 metro pass (Thanks, Dr. Greene!). It was good for 10 metro or public bus rides and could be shared. We were ready to buy the pass at a kiosk in the metro station but wanted to know if it covered the areas of the city we wanted to see. The T10 pass covers Zone 1 but we had no idea what Zone 1 encompassed. We tried to get help but unlike other major cities we visited around the world, English is not widely spoken as a second language in Barcelona. The major languages here are Spanish and Catalan. We eventually found a man who spoke some English but all he did was listen to our question, push the T10 button on the kiosk, and then walked away. The T10 pass turned out to be the right move for our 2-night stay. It covered pretty much the same area as the Hop-on Hop-off tourists buses do.
We took the metro to the Maria Christina stop. I was happy to take advantage of the escalators and elevator when exiting this station. We emerged on a busy sidewalk. There were tables set up along the sidewalks where people were selling roses and books. We were approached by some hawkers trying to sell us roses. I found out later that day that Spain was celebrating Sant Jordi's Day. They do this by selling roses and books.
I asked one of the flower vendors how to get to the Hilton Barcelona. He pointed us in the direction and told us it was about a 10-minute walk. Ten minutes seemed to be a common duration whenever we asked for directions in the city. It was accurate most of the time.
We were greeted in English by the doorman and the front desk when we arrived at the Hilton Barcelona. The front desk gave us very useful advice during our stay in the city.
The lobby has a new age decor with curvy furniture and neon lamps. Our room contained simple Ikea-like furniture. The bathroom, on the other hand, contained elegant marble. We had a nice view of the city. I was pleased with our accommodations.
reminded me of Ikea furniture
nice marble countertop
view from our room
The hotel is located in the financial and shopping district of the city. There is a shopping mall a few blocks away and a department store (El Corte Ingles) about a block away that sells everything including groceries. Across the street from the hotel is a hospital and a building with overgrown vegetation almost like a large Chia Pet. We were fascinated by this building.
This building caught our attention each time we left our hotel.
Jet lag was really tugging at us by the time we checked into our room but we knew we should not take a nap if we wanted to adjust to the time difference (6 hours ahead of east coast US). Instead, we dropped off our luggage and immediately hit the streets. After a nice lunch at a pizza place, we set off on our mission. We planned to tour the city via one of the hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus companies (Bus Turistic in our case). These are pretty popular in cities throughout the world. You buy (cash only) a pass (1 or 2-day) on the bus and are given ear buds. These can be plugged into the seats to hear narration in the language of your choice as the double-decker tour bus rides around the city making stops at several major attractions. You can get off at any of these stops for further exploration and then wait for the next bus when you are ready to move on. The buses arrive every 20-minutes or so.
Traci and I were sitting in the open-air upper deck of the bus fighting sleep. The narration was great but the background music was too soothing to aid us in our fight against jet lag.
Hop-on Hop-off Bus
streets of Barcelona
National Art Museum of Catalonia