Planes, Trains and a ‘trip’ home

Monday 19th – Thursday 29th June 2017

So Monday morning we got the van ready for storage and visited reception where we lodged our heavy bags, booked in for a month over Xmas, and arranged for them to receive the parts N&B had posted to us. Despite our email asking them not to.

We drove to the storage site and were reassured by rows of glistening motorhomes and caravans in the huge barns, twice the size of those we use in the UK. Made us feel much better about leaving it. We had forgotten to dispose of 2 lemons and an orange so gave them to the boss guy and his almost english-speaking, huge, farmer-type assistant with hands like shovels called Johnny. Johnny appreciated it and gave us a lift back to the site in his van with no seats – but there were cushions on the floor!

Buses to Sitges then on to Barcelona Airport, were air-conditioned, very comfortable and cheap. Apart from being blue on the outside and grey on the inside the hotel was fine and we got a bite to eat and relaxed although we felt a bit weird being separated from the van.

Up early next day the free shuttle-bus whisked us away from the hotel and 35 minutes later we had negotiated check-in, bag-drop, and security and were sitting at our gate eating breakfast. Love Barcelona Terminal 2. No crowds, no hassle, the way to travel. Easyjet were late but kept us nicely updated via the app and even gave reasons and directed us to our gate before the airport showed it. All good so far.

At Liverpool we were met by really hot, humid weather. Couldn’t believe it. Got on the bus – clearly the wrong one as it took the longest possible route to the city centre and stopped at every conceivable stop. How we missed air-con! Got the newly refurbished Merseyrail Wirral line to Hamilton Square expecting to see a line of taxis’s – not a single cab. Ten minutes later we decided to go to the ferry terminal at Woodside for a cold drink and order a taxi. Good plan, but as we put it into action Kate decided to go for an unplanned trip – she rammed her toe full-force into a kerb, ripping off half a nail and resulting, as we later found out, in a double fracture of her big toe. Ow. Ow. Ow.

A taxi drive re-united us with mum, who was gardening in the searing heat and as much in need of a cold refresher as we were. Wonderful to see her again – G&T’s all round. She instantly advised the weather was going to break next day and could we please have a BBQ? Of course we could, and we raided her over-flowing freezers for suitable makings. Good BBQ with lots of wine on the hottest day of the year. Perfect timing.

After a bad night it was an early call to A&E. Good old NHS – in  and out in an hour. Confirmed 2 fractures and prescribed antibiotics and strong co-codamol.

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Then a busy day. To Kays cycles for some good advice on our e-bikes, on to Bromborough to stack up on supplies – a new toilet cassette to act as a spare when wild-camping (on recommendation of Peter & Alison); tinned salmon, spices etc from Asda; and a load of stuff from Boots.

Kate spent a couple of hours with Gail in the afternoon and then we went to the Harp with mum for a real ale (well – she had wine). Whilst there the weather broke and it started raining resulting in us finishing our drink in the car. UK weather stayed grey and like a typical British summer for the rest of our visit.

Our time went very quickly. We caught up with friends, ate out at favourite places – Zeera’s, Chows, the Thatch – took mum shopping, played cards with her and generally treated it all like a holiday!

One day, to sort out our gas problem, we drove down to Travelworld dropping mum at Dave’s on the way. We spent two-and-a-half hours waiting, getting advice, picking up parts, and looking at the new vans. Well worth the trip although we left somewhat poorer having acquired a Truma filter, a replacement cartridge for it, 2 replacement Gas-it cartridges and a spare regulator. Working on the better safe than sorry principle.

Then a huge lunch at Dave’s where we met Henry, the beautiful smooth-coated black retriever puppy. At 9-weeks old and with paws like shovels he’s not going to be a small dog, but he has a lovely temperament and sat beautifully. And after his own lunch, he had hiccups for ages which was very cute.

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The Tuesday of our departure arrived fast and after a morning of packing and re-packing all our new acquisitions we hugged mum goodbye and did the sensible thing – we took a taxi to the airport.

Despite a slight delay and the fact that there were about 30 pre-keernage school kids on the plane it was a good flight – they were surprisingly well-behaved. The teachers were horribly young to our eyes but obviously doing a good job.

We landed about 9.45pm and taxi’d from the airport straight to the hotel – Arc La Ramblas – a really nice hotel at the bottom of La Rambla right in the heart of old Barcelona, with a sympathetically modern interior to an old building. Despite the time, the heat and the nice buzz of La Rambla drew us out for a wander around the Gothic area opposite the hotel. Although we had been warned off La Rambla by a couple of people on grounds of pick-pockets and being too ‘touristy’ we really liked it.

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We had a couple or three beers in some nice old bars and picked up the feel of the place. In some ways strangely reminiscent of Havana although obviously not so decrepit.

On Wednesday, Kate’s toe still being delicate, we determined that walking would be kept to a minimum. We headed off down La Rambla to the port to pick up the ‘West’ route City-Tour open-top hop-on hop-off bus. The dander/hobble down was lovely with grand old buildings and monuments before reaching the modern bridge over to the marina and port area with its shops and restaurants. So much bigger and more impressive than we expected.

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We got the last 2 seats on the top of the bus and immediately remembered we had failed to put on sun-cream or take hats. But we did have water. As city bus-tours go it was better than Valencia but nowhere near as good as Dublin although that’s going back a bit and they have probably replaced charismatic, humorous guides with automated systems in Dublin now as well. (Please let us know if they haven’t!). Passed the harbour and museums, through Barceloneta, then along the long promenade and extensive beaches

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before turning inland through the modern city towards the Saga Familia, Gaudi’s piece de resistance, still under construction.

We got off at the modernist temple which is the Sagra Familia, joined the crowds and were told the last tickets had just been sold so we’d have to come back tomorrow – not an option for us. We told ourselves we’d come back in the winter and joined the queue to continue the bus tour.

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The second half of the tour was much more interesting for us as it went through older parts of town, including other outrageous buildings by Gaudi and his contemporaries which certainly made us think, even though they are not a style we necessarily appreciate. There are also a lot of classically styled buildings, with their balconies and tall shutters, which are very attractive. And of course the main shopping street with the Gucci, Cartier and other top end stores, all in beautiful buildings.

Hopped off at the Gothic Cathedral having completed the western route, and decided to leave all thoughts of the eastern route to another day. A late lunch beckoned and we were so hungry we walked into the forest available place. That happened to be a very nice restaurant with an air-conditioned interior that Danny couldn’t resist. After a very chilled bottle of white wine, a sole meuniere (Danny) and an adventurous monkfish tails with black rice and cuttlefish crisps (Kate) we felt a lot better.

After our lunch we went to the Gothic Cathedral which we both thought beautiful and were denied entry because of wearing shorts.

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Denied twice by religious institutions in one day! So we reviewed the map and set off into the Gothic quarter, heading generally back towards La Rambla but with a new destination in mind, the only truly appropriate place after 2 religious rejections – the Erotic Museum!

Before that, we did a slow (Kate’s toe) dander which involved a detour into the Archive of Aragon, a beautiful old house which contains documents such as the charter granted to Columbus by the King & Queen of Spain for his explorations, as well as an exhibition on ETA’s campaign.

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Exited the Gothic quarter onto La Ramblas and turned left up to the Erotic museum, The only museum where we have ever been handed a glass of bubbly to sip on a tour of the exhibits. It was fascinating to see how eroticism has been portrayed over the millennia and the paintings and sculptures of the east were particularly beautifully done. Indian, Japanese, Khmer and Chinese among others. Dali, Picaso and Marilyn Monroe also played their part, but the Greeks were amongst the least subtle. Unexpectedly it was a really interesting and worthwhile hour.

And so our night in Barcelona. First our meal at El Pintor, a lovely restaurant recommended by Anne. Danny adored his pigs trotters with langoustine and snails – no garlic in sight. The photo really doesn’t do it justice – according to Danny!

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After the meal there was just time to get to the Flamenco show that we had reserved for 10.30pm. An expensive event in a crowded room – enjoyable but definitely not value for money although one of the dancers, the only man, was extremely good. But when in Barcelona….

After a luxurious lie-in there was time for a leisurely breakfast on La Ramblas.  A taxi strike over the operation of Uber and the like meant that trains were the order of the day. The Metro to the main train station then a main-line trip to Vilanova. The tickets were great value and the travel easy. On the Vilanova train we had to stand for most of the way as it was packed with people going to Sitges but it was an enjoyable trip enlivened by some buskers equipped with a double bass, a saxophone and a tambourine. It did compare very favourably with our Merseytravel experience.

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At Vilanova a helpful taxi-driver took us first to the motor-home repair shop which was just closing for lunch and where they insisted the english-speaker would not be available until 4.30pm. Then to the storage yard where a worker told us emphatically there would be no-one available until 4pm. So we resorted to returning to Vilanova Park where we checked in, left our big bags and got our old pitch allocated, before going to the restaurant for lunch and coffees for a couple of hours. We picked up our van without event and set up on pitch. Got a big hello from our dutch neighbours and settled happily back into our travelling life.