Friday, 11 March 2011

The Five Fs recommends... Barcelona

As you will have noticed from my Gallery post, we've just come back from Barcelona. Well, actually it was just the three of us - Missy Woo went to stay with her Granny for a few nights, so it was just us and Monkey. I thought I'd do a post recommending various places based on each of the five Fs that this blog is (mostly) about. These are purely personal recommendations - everything I've mentioned is purely because we love them.

Firstly, we have family. Barcelona is generally family friendly as the Spanish love children. Monkey got in the way of a few passing pedestrians and the worst he got in return was an indulgent smile and a ruffle of his hair. Getting around is not too bad, even for those still in the buggy years, thanks to copious lifts on the Metro system. My main recommendation in this category is The Patio B&B. It has only two rooms so it's perfect for families who can take over the place therefore not disturb anyone nor be disturbed. It is amazingly quiet, save the distant rumble of Metro trains passing through the tube station across the road - it's located at the back of an apartment block and is surrounded by buildings on all sides. Traffic noise is often a problem when staying in Barcelona so a quiet retreat is great, especially when you have children. What really makes it for me are the owners, Liz and Tony. Liz is English and is a source of lots of information and great help to make your stay run smoothly. She was great with Monkey too, who benefited to the tune of several chocolate bars! A stay there is so relaxed; our second stay there was as good as the first, if not better. We'll be going back.

Our view last Saturday
Then, there is football. You can't really go to Barcelona and not visit the Nou Camp, can you? The Nou Camp experience is the most popular museum in Barcelona but not that good for children - Monkey spent only half an hour there before he got bored. However, actually going to a match is a different experience but not a particularly straightforward one. Let me offer a few tips:

  • Although the fixtures for a weekend are known months in advance, kick off times are not decided until 2 weeks beforehand which makes planning difficult. Kick off times can be anything from 6pm until 10pm, 9pm on Sunday so small children might need to stay up, but it's worth it for those who are into football, plus it makes a Sunday night flight home impossible if you are planning a trip.
  • Season ticket holders can sell their tickets back to the club for resale if they cannot attend a match. This means tickets become available at any time and is the only way you can buy tickets for most areas. If you can't get what you want straight away, keep trying. You may not be able to get tickets together, particularly in a large group but you can often swop once you get inside. Tickets cost between 32-102 euro, more for bigger games.
  • If you want to buy tickets in advance of travelling, buy your tickets from servicaixa.com - we tried several times over to book tickets from the FC Barcelona site and it wouldn't let us. A phone call to Spain pointed us at this site and it actually worked.
  • If you do book tickets online, you still have to turn up with the card you used and some photo ID to collect tickets. I spent an hour queueing (and I use that term loosely) to collect our tickets because we did so on match day. If you can go on another day to collect, you'll probably wait a lot less! You can also collect from ServiCaixa terminals of La Caixa bank - IF you can find one.
  • Finally, get there early. The layout of the stadium is not straightforward and they send you in an access door which forces you to walk round to your "boca" (block).. and then the odd numbered seats are one side of the aisle, and the evens the other! And be prepared for a crush on the Metro on the way home after, or walk if you're feeling up to it.

Next, we have food. I have to be honest here and say we discovered nowhere new this time. Our itinerary didn't really allow it. We apply the following rules when selecting where to eat:

- nice outdoor chairs; plastic ones are a total no-no
- the bar must stock Amaretto; not my guideline and this is not always strictly applied!
- there must be no pictures of the food, especially the dayglo ones that are supposed to make it look more appetising but fail
- never, ever buy anything to eat, other than perhaps an ice cream, on the Ramblas, it'll be expensive rubbish

Most of our eating occurred in two small chains where we've had some great tapas. The first is Tapa Tapa, which I've visited every time I've been to Barcelona and our first meal this time was down at their restaurant in Maremagnum, where we sat outside at Monkey's insistence. (I know they are environmentally unfriendly, but thank God for patio heaters!) We had some stunning calamari there, and tried some black rice with allioli which was gorgeous. The second was Taller de Tapas where we had some great patatas bravas and a tapa of spinach, pancetta and chickpeas, an old favourite of ours. We were very happy when we discovered there is one close to the Nou Camp so we stopped there before we went to the match.

And a special mention for Buenas Migas as a great stop off point for coffee and cake, or their great foccaccia. Husband managed to steer us in the direction of the branch behind the cathedral as he wanted some of their flapjack with yogurt but we also discovered their salami dolce this time around which is enough for two to share! I think we've pretty much visited all the branches in the city in our time and they're always good.

So, we're onto fitness. Strangely, I don't have too many things to say about that. You walk in Barcelona. A lot. Even if you go by Metro, you walk. You soon discover that most line changes actually involve a walk of around half a mile. It's generally pleasant walking in Barcelona if you can avoid the crowds (in which case, give the Ramblas a miss at busy times although you have to experience it once). But if you really want a fitness challenge, perhaps consider entering the Barcelona Marathon. The scenery is stunning and it's only 50 euro to register which is much cheaper than, say, the London Marathon. And it's much quieter too - only 13,000 out of 15,000 registered started last Sunday although it has grown rapidly in recent years, meaning you will get a place rather than having to go through a ballot.

Monkey and Miró
Finally, fun! There is actually quite a lot for children to do in Barcelona. An aquarium for starters, which we didn't get time to visit, nor CosmoCaixa (a science museum) a bit out of the city centre. There are also tons of smaller parks, but Monkey discovered his favourite on our final day. It's Parc Joan Miró, where there is huge Miró statue which totally dwarfed Monkey, but also extensive play areas for different ages of children as well as football pitches and basketball courts. It has a café too, so parents are catered for whilst their children run off some steam. Perfect.

We have been to Barcelona many times, and we will no doubt go again. It never fails as a great place to visit and now Monkey loves it as much as we do. As I said at the start, I've recommended these places I've mentioned here purely because we love them. If you go to Barcelona and try them out, we hope that you will too.
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