My Best of Barcelona and Montserrat – A Solo Experience

Barcelona is a whimsical architectural delight – the city has something for everyone – whether you seek tapas/cocktails, sun/beach, culture/museums, shopping, or people-watching.  I love to wander/get lost and see what treasures find me; it’s a grand city just to be – alive and curious.  Traveling solo, I was aware of my surroundings, but always felt safe.  So, stay central and graze the possibilities of this luminous cosmopolitan city…

Many Barcelona natives consider themselves Catalan rather than Spanish: they fly the Catalan flag, seek independence from ‘those dictators in Madrid’, always sharing Catalan translation of words before the Spanish. Their Catalan heritage is epitomized by Barcelona Football Club, ‘more than a club’, their heroes swagger onto the pitch at that modern Colosseum of Camp Nou, (which holds almost 100,000 roaring fans) eager to do battle for every point with spectacular flair and passion.  http://www.fcbarcelona.com/  Messi jerseys are almost as common as suits and ties in the city…

A city that inspired Gaudi, Miro, Picasso, and Dali – you know the architecture/art will be unique, from the glass walled Barcelona airport, to public spaces, and the splendid concoction of mad apartment buildings.  Unfortunately, like many European cities, loud graffiti is abundant, even in ‘good’ neighborhoods.  One of the most boring facades is the Camp Nou; I wonder what Gaudi would have come up with…see slideshow below for examples of the diverse art/architecture – you’ll never see anything like it in any other city…

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Barcelona Airport is easy to negotiate.  My flight landed pre-dawn; after a quick fly-by customs/immigration/baggage claim, I descended to the lower level to catch the Airport bus:  www.aerobusbcn.com – it leaves every 5 minutes, brings you to city center in 35 minutes, has free wi-fi and costs 5-90 euro.

Placa de Catalunya, my stop, is as central as you get; this monster square, home to by cafes, hotels, and shops, is the jumping off point for many main roads, including La Rambla and Passeig de Gracia – the trickiest part was trying to figure out which direction to go; sign posts are more Rome than New York!  Despite the on-going drought, the square is water-blasted back to sparkling clean every morning.  If you can handle your own luggage, the Aerobus is your best bet.  There are shuttle buses/taxis, that take longer and are more expensive – your choice…

After researching best rated hotels, at best prices, for solo travelers, on www.booking.com  I decided on Violetta Boutique Hotel, (booked directly online: http://violetaboutique.com/home/ ) on a quiet cobble-stoned street, about 5-10 minute walk from Placa de Catalunya.

Just a door in the wall, blink and you’ll miss the entrance, housed in the upper floors of an old building, there are stairs to be negotiated, even with the tiny lift – and watch for entry step, which I stumbled down almost every time.

My #3 room was perfect, chic decor, big for a solo traveler, but would be fine for a couple, with comfy bed, wooden floor, soaring ceiling, rain-forest shower, and private balcony over-looking the street.

Every morning, they put out strong coffee and fresh muffins.  There’s free wi-fi, lovely staff, and relaxed atmosphere – a calm haven from the cares and bustle of the city.  I was not impressed with limited TV channels, no full length mirror, and no phone in room, but these weren’t deal breakers for me.

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After checking in/dumping my luggage in their box room, I returned to Placa de Catalunya to catch the official hop on/hop off bus (there are 2 companies that do it) – thus gain an overview of the city and thwart jet lag; I’d been up about 20 hours at that point.  For routes/stops/buy online to save 10%: http://bcnshop.barcelonaturisme.com/shopv3/en/product/21/barcelona-bus-turistic.html

The 2 main lines – Red and Blue – leave from opposite sides of the square, the routes overlap, and you can jump between them, but each bus keeps going in same direction – no going back!

I decided on the Blue line, which took me up the grand tree-lined boulevard of Passeig de Gracia, home to designer stores and elegant architectural masterpieces, including Gaudi’s Casa Batllo and La Pedrera, before swinging past the still unfinished La Sagrada Familia cathedral.

My goal was to reach Park Guell, Gaudi’s fantastical park, which I did, after a 15-20 minute panting/cursing hike up a steep hill from the bus stop – with more uphill in the park to gain panoramic views across the city to the sea.  It’s 8E to enter; expect meandering, selfie-taking tourists; make sure to check out the wee shop in the turreted cottage!

By the time I’d trekked down the hill/found the right bus, I’d lost my second wind; I chose to sit and watch the world go by from upper deck for the rest of the route, being confronted by a biting wind and evil traffic, until I was delivered back where I started, now ravenous and operating on fumes.

At The George Payne Irish pub, near my hotel, I was restored to life by Guinness and full on fry-up – where I lingered and watched the Barca/Madrid game on the telly!  I was not solo for long!!!

One of the strange things about Barcelona is how everyone survives on black coffee and pastry for breakfast, then nothing until lunch between 1-2pm, and dinner after 9pm; I needed regular protein to execute my ‘running about mental/see and do everything’ plan!

My favorite find was La Boqueria Market – just off on La Rambla – visited it during a photography tour and was salivating too much to take many pictures; after the tour, I returned, picked up 5E seafood combo, 2-50E of tropical fruit and 1E smoothie – and inhaled them outside, in an ugly, concrete square, with all the smokers, on the the left side of the intoxicating-for-all-the-senses market.  The stalls deeper in have better prices than the flashy ones up front.  This website is great resource of all things Barcelona, from Pilar, a local (?)Barcelonite: http://www.barcelonabook.com/mercat-de-la-boqueria.html

The next day, I explored the Red line, which traverses the other side of city, including Mont Juic, Palau National, Miro Museum, until I was delivered to Port Olimpic marina, near the casino, where I found the Barcelona version of an American sea-front boardwalk.  I enjoyed ambling my way through the hotch-potch of distracted tourists/focused locals – kissing, eating, bicycling, segwaying, roller blading, running, posing for selfies – even had a to dodge a rogue hoverboard!

An hour later, soothed by gelato under shade of a palm tree, I enjoyed a busking, enthusiastic jazz band, who would’ve been quite at home in New Orleans.  Around the corner was the starting point of the cable car across the harbor, (my preferred choice, the higher Mont Juic cable car was closed for service) – the fun factor was sharply diminished by too much standing about – a solid 90+ minutes and that was off-season – before being crammed into a floating sardine can. (Go to the open window at the back for best views over the city.)

Happy to have done it; never need to endure it again, and so glad I chose one-way ticket at 11E, I was able to grab another Red Line bus to get me down to Columbus Square, base of La Rambla.

I was on a quest for the Boqueria Market, which I didn’t realize was closed on Sundays ‘because fishermen don’t go out on the weekend!’, and discovered a flourishing street market; I’d been warned La Rambla was the ‘it’ spot for pickpockets, so I battled my way through the sea of vacant tourists, past scores of beggars, buskers and statue-people in outrageous costumes, until the delicious scent of home made soap drew me in.  Clutching a bulging bag of soap, I dashed on, stopping only to buy art from one of the many local artists.

Close to fainting from severe negative calories – again – 2nd day in a row – I succumbed to a trendy tourist place for paella and sangria; it filled my stomach but emptied my wallet.

Emboldened by my solo wanderings, I thought I knew a short-cut back to the hotel down a narrow alley; it flipped into one of ‘Yvonne’s famous scenic long-cuts’, where I was lost in the Barri Gotic Quarter, but found sanctuary in the cloisters of the old Cathedral – with its 13 sacred geese in the courtyard, gargoyles, and quiet awe…I lit a candle for my dad; he came to Barcelona to watch Celtic play, like so many fans he came for the football and left with a headful of memories.

It was twilight as I continued to wander; the city was aglow with a magical, ethereal air – I was with myself and at peace.

When traveling, especially solo, I like taking advantage of local knowledge/experience – this time I chose Barcelona after dark/walking/cocktail bar tour, through http://www.trip4real.com/activity/walking-the-bars-in-barcelona/  This company offers a cornucopia of experiences – you name it, they have it; their prices are competitive for solo/small group experiences.

After a few cocktails, around midnight, with no sign of a chippie/kebab shop etc, I found out who eats at MacDonalds in Barcelona = ME…first time in years, and it hit the spot…

Also, did 3 hour photography tour – 1:1 with Stefano, a professional photographer, more expensive than others, but for a solo traveler, who hates clueless tourists with stupid questions, it was good; I was taken to places that I would never have found, except by accident…  http://www.barcelonaphotowalk.com

 

I also squeezed in a flying visit to Montserrat, which reinforced how much I hate normal tours – I’m rather bitter since they abandoned me at the car park, while I was taking pictures of snow in the distant Pyrenees/across the valley to the Mediterranean Sea – but I found my own way – about 5-10 minute walk – to large terrace/outdoor candle grottoes/Cathedral, and the infamous Black Madonna, that more accident than design.

After all the sight-seeing, I sought refuge from the bitter cold in the wee shop, which was actually quite big; I left with a fist-sized strawberry/almond meringue and bottled water, which I consumed outside – rejecting the cafe crammed with yabbering tourists in favor of being alone with with my huff and a view – while being buffeted by a fierce wind – which stole more meringue than I reached my lips!  I didn’t risk taking the Funicular to the summit, since I didn’t want to be stranded; the chatty, self-involved American guide had shown no awareness of my absence earlier.

To get to Montserrat, you can take a tour by bus, (tuh!) train/rack railway from Barcelona, or rent a car.  If you’re going – go early – by the time we left, before noon, there was a row of cars/coaches snaking their way up the narrow twisting road.  This is another one I’m happy to have been but never have to go back… For official visitor guide: http://www.montserratvisita.com/

Barcelona has so much to offer – whether you’re flying solo, with friends, or a special someone – if you’re visiting for a few days, pick your must-do’s and be happy with a sense of the city; when you go back, you’ll catch up on what you missed.  I’ll be seeing some football at Camp Nou, preferably an inspired Celtic in Champion’s League, climbing the heights of Sagrada Familia, enjoying a show at Palau de la Musica Catalana, and visiting Palau Nacional – for art/views/fountain and light display – with many more lunches at La Boqueria Market….

My favorite guide-book was the one I found at JFK in transit – Lonely Planet Make My Day series – where it helps you mix and match to create your perfect day, including time it takes you get between places!

I chose to enjoy Barcelona for 4 full days before my European cruise – the city is one of the biggest cruise/ferry terminals in Europe – thus attracts many outsiders.  It’s easy to identify Americans from Europeans – To my charming/enthusiastic US friends – Try to blend in – think ‘inside voice’ and avoid anything you’d wear at a BBQ/the gym/to bed/at a resort – save them for bed/the cruise ship – it’ll make you less of an advertisement for pickpockets and scam artists…

To all – Be aware of being taking advantage of – check your change, make sure you get charged Happy Hour prices – pay attention…expect some locals to be rude and dismissive, just like Venice, they hate tourists cluttering up their city; in non-tourist restaurants, don’t expect the menu/staff to be English oriented.

I must give a big shout-out/thanks to Paul McMillan, who got lost with me, argued with bartenders, and ordered my food in places where they didn’t understand my limited, non-Catalan, version of Spanish!  And either buy tickets in advance for your must-do’s or get there early – don’t squandor time standing about when you could be doing something!

So, that’s my take on Barcelona….next up on my whirlwind tour of Europe = Cagliari, Sardinia….subscribe or join my FB page if you want to stay up-to-date with latest articles…

And, get there out – explore – meet new people – see new places – even if it’s close to home – there’s magic and new friendships to be found everywhere….

To all my subscribers – Thank You for being part of my special group – but to see the photos – you’ll have to click on the blue link to bring you to my website; I haven’t found a way to embed the photos in the emailed article….sorry….Yxxx

 

 

Yvonne

I am Scottish by design - citizen of the world by choice...I am a storyteller, who loves to entertain, enlighten and inspire....I believe that sometimes the only mode of transportation is a leap of faith.... I know we are all striving to be the best version of ourselves, that sometimes it's difficult to even get out of bed in the morning, but you have to keep moving, keep trusting, keeping believing.... Walk on with hope, joy, and love in your heart and you'll never walk alone....