Got up this morning at 7.00am as we needed to vacate cabin 6062 by eight. Going out onto our balcony for the last time, we could see we were already docked in the beautiful city of Barcelona. We were pleased to be back here; it had been over 20 years since our last visit, and we had two nights in a city-centre hotel to look forward to. 🙂
Before we left our cabin we had a last look around to ensure we hadn’t forgotten anything then, picking up our hand-luggage, we took the lift to Deck 9 and the Windows Café, which was crowded with passengers and bags. We enjoyed a substantial breakfast so we’d only need something light to eat later on, then we walked out onto the pool deck into the sunshine.
We had asked if we could be one of the last to disembark, as our transport to take us to the hotel was not due to pick us up until 11.00am – we really could have done with it being an hour earlier. Therefore, our disembarkation time was half-nine so we went up to the very topmost sun deck to make the most of our last hour or so on the beautiful Azamara Pursuit.
While we were up there, we could see all around the harbour at the other cruise ships, and next to the Pursuit we spotted sister ship Azamara Quest, on which we had had the most fantastic transpacific voyage in May 2019.
At around 9.20am we reluctantly decided we had better make a move, so we picked up our bags and took the lift down to Deck 3, where our cards were swiped for the last time as we made our way down the gangplank and onto the quayside, pausing to look back at the Pursuit one more time. Disembarkation day is just so depressing, isn’t it? 🙁
Plenty of cruise terminal staff were about to direct us to the luggage collection point. We walked for a few hundred yards and entered the cavernous building, and spotted all the cases lined up; ours were in group 20. Trundling the cases outside, we looked for somewhere to sit for 90 minutes or so, while we waited for our car to arrive.
We spotted a café that had many tables and chairs outside on a large area of artificial grass, right next to the taxi rank. We could see taxis and private cars arriving, holding up signs with people’s names on, so we decided we must have been in the correct pick-up place.
Leaving the cases by the table, Trevor went into the café to get a large cup of coffee each, while I retrieved my laptop from my bag and thought I’d use the time to write some of this blog. 🙂
It wasn’t unpleasant sitting there. We were shaded from the hot sun and we could do a spot of people-watching, looking at the cars coming and going, people trundling their suitcases around and all the signs of a bustling cruise port. In the distance we could see the prominent statue of Christopher Columbus, his arm outstretched as he pointed towards the New World.
Eleven o’clock came and went and there was no sign of our transport. We waited another 15 minutes then decided to telephone the number on the booking, in case the driver had arrived and couldn’t find us. The lady on the end of the phone put me on hold while she contacted the driver; she then said that he was only minutes away from the terminal and would be with us shortly.
Another 15 minutes went by and still no driver. Trevor got up and walked around to see if he could spot anyone holding up a sign with our names on, but no-one was in evidence. I called the number once again and spoke to the lady who put me on hold, but while I was waiting the driver turned up. Picking up our bags, we wheeled the cases across to the waiting car and thankfully took our places in the back. The driver apologised for being late and said it was due to “the traffic”, but it didn’t really seem to be terribly busy, and the car did not have to stop very often.
Eventually, we pulled into a side-street where we spotted a sign saying “Hotel Ciutadella Barcelona”. Getting out of the car, we saw that the main entrance to the hotel was around the corner, on a long four-lanes-wide street. The driver brought our bags around for us, and we entered the cool reception area of the hotel.
Checking in, we were allocated room 407 at the front of the hotel on the fourth floor. We took the lift up, walked along a short corridor, and into our corner-placed room. The room was light and airy with big French windows on two sides, opening out onto small Juliet-style balconies.
While the room was large, it was simply furnished with a king-size bed, dressing table in the corner, one chair and a couple of night stands. The curtains and bedspread matched; they were a rich deep red velvet material. A spacious bathroom contained a large shower cubicle, a WC and a sink and mirror with lights around it.
Dumping our bags, we decided we’d go out straight away and start exploring, as it was already lunchtime and all we’d done all morning was sit around. Back down in reception, we asked the pleasant guy on the desk if there were any hop-on-hop-off buses and/or if he had a tourist map of the city. He gave us a map and marked the location of the hotel with an X, but we thought we’d be better buying the HOHO bus ticket tomorrow, when we had all day to explore.
We walked out of the hotel into the sunshine, and set off on foot to find that most famous of Barcelona sights, the amazing cathedral La Sagrada Familia.
La Sagrada Familia is the largest unfinished Roman Catholic church in the world. On 19 March 1882, construction of the Sagrada Família began under architect Francisco de Paula del Villar. In 1883, when Villar resigned, Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí took over, transforming the project with his architectural and engineering style, combining Gothic and Art Nouveau forms. Gaudí devoted the remainder of his life to the project, and he is buried in the crypt. At the time of his death in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete.
Relying solely on private donations, the Sagrada Família’s construction progressed slowly and was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War. In July 1936, revolutionaries set fire to the crypt and broke their way into the workshop, partially destroying Gaudí’s original plans, drawings and plaster models, which led to 16 years of work to piece together the fragments of the master model. Construction resumed to intermittent progress in the 1950s. Advancements in technologies such as computer aided design have since enabled faster progress and construction passed the midpoint in 2010. On 7 November 2010, Pope Benedict XVI consecrated the church and proclaimed it a minor basilica.
As we walked along in the hot sunshine, Google Maps told us the cathedral was 1.7 miles away, but there were still lots of interesting things to see along the way, such as the Arc de Triomf. Lots of people were around, and it was hard to believe Covid-19 had ever existed, although of course it is still very much with us, and masks are still required in Barcelona on public transport and in shops.
The architecture in Barcelona is amazing. The buildings are ornate and there are many monuments, statues and places of worship. We briefly stopped to admire another large ornate church, which Google told us was the Church of Sant Francesc de Sales (Parròquia de Sant Francesc de Sales). The photograph, against a flawless blue sky, was stunning.
Soon we spotted the familiar distinctive spires rising up above the buildings and trees in the near distance, and the tourist signs pointing towards La Sagrada Familia. Nearby shops were doing a roaring trade selling tickets, and many people were holding their phones aloft, taking photos. We decided that now was a good time to nip into a nearby café or bar for a cold beer and a snack; we didn’t want a large lunch after our substantial breakfast. 🙂
We found a little café that was not too crowded, and we took a seat and ordered a pint of cold beer and a bag of crisps each. The beer went down very well indeed. 🙂
Once we were back outside, we followed the crowds and headed towards the cathedral. Until you’ve actually seen it for real, you can’t begin to imagine just how huge it is! There was obviously lots of building work, repairs and cleaning going on, and the views were slightly spoiled by the huge cranes, scaffolding and coverings on parts of the spires. We walked all around the massive edifice and the clean-up operation became very evident when you noticed the difference in the colour of the stone between the front (right) and back (left) of the building.
Nonetheless it was an utterly stunning work of architecture, and we couldn’t take our eyes off the detail.
We pondered whether or not to go inside, as the queues were very long, but when we looked online and saw that the tickets were priced at 26 euros each (around 50 quid for both of us) we decided it wasn’t really worth it; in any case many of these really ornate churches are quite plain inside. We therefore decided we’d take a slow walk back to our hotel.
There was lots to see walking back. Not just the amazing buildings and art galleries, but just everyday life. People were whizzing around on electric scooters, weaving in and out of the pedestrians and the traffic, and at one stage we walked through a pleasant park where a guy was using a sort of rope woven into a series of loops, dipping it into a basin of soapy water, and creating lots and lots of bubbles, which floated everywhere, creating subtle rainbow colours before they popped.
It was hot and thirsty work pounding the pavements (and I needed the loo) and my Samsung watch told me I’d already walked 14,000 steps. When we got quite near to our hotel, we therefore went into a little side street where we’d spotted a “Guinness” sign; it was outside a cool, dim traditional pub. No other customers were in, so we were served immediately with a large glass of freezing cold beer each, as we sat and rested and indulged in desultory conversation with the pleasant barman.
Then we returned to our hotel, where I practised my (bad!) Spanish on the receptionist, telling him “Tengo mucho sueño” (I am very tired). Whereupon, we took the lift up to 407 and crashed out for an hour’s power nap.
Afterwards we relaxed for a while, and I got washed and freshened up ready to go back out and continue exploring. We left the hotel around 6.30pm and decided to find somewhere to have something to eat; there was certainly no shortage of restaurants, cafés and bars vying for our custom.
We spent some time browsing around the plethora of shops, selling everything you could imagine. We passed one delicatessen which contained sides of the famous Jamón Serrano displayed in the window; I had to take a photo.
Eventually we came to a large square and looked around at the different restaurants, who all had their menus prominently displayed outside. It was difficult to choose where to go; we also noticed that most of the restaurants charged a premium for sitting at one of the outside tables. We passed a bar called “Lennox” which proclaimed it was happy “hour” between 5.00-8.00pm with selected beers and cocktails at half price, so we we decided to have a drink while pondering what to have for dinner. 🙂
I enjoyed a large, refreshing Aperol Spritz while Trevor chose a German beer. There weren’t many customers in, so we just sat on barstools and enjoyed our drinks and the ambience in the pub. Then we continued the quest for somewhere to eat.
Eventually we went into a burger bar (not the most of imaginative of places!) and each ordered a large cheeseburger and chips, along with a beer in Trevor’s case and a glass of cava in mine. When the food came, we were a bit disappointed; the burgers looked very ordinary (not even as good as Burger King) and the chips contained a lot of the horrible little crunchy bits that are left over. Never mind, at least our hunger was appeased for now.
Back outside, we strolled along the crowded, lively streets, enjoying the warm evening sunshine and the general atmosphere. We passed an a museum and art gallery, the Villa del Arte, which featured a couple of interesting stainless steel sculptures outside; a sign proclaimed they were created by Jordi Díez Fernàndez. They were unusual, to say the least.
Around 9.00pm my legs were aching (I’d done over 19,000 steps by now) and I just wanted to wind down before returning to the hotel, so we looked around for another bar quite nearby, as the hotel didn’t seem to have its own bar. We soon spotted an old-fashioned, attractive little traditional pub with the unusual name of Milk. It was quite lively, without being crowded, and looked as if it served amazing food and cocktails; in fact, we wished we’d found it earler. We each sat on a stool at the bar and were immediately greeted by the pleasant bar man who spoke excellent English. It actually turned out he was from Hungary. We started off with a beer each, then I had a large glass of white wine afterwards.
We loved it in the bar; there was relaxing music playing in the background (I asked the barman to play Simple Things by Zero 7, and he obliged) and the room was decorated with lots of dark wood, plush chairs, bric-a-brac, plants, framed pictures on the walls and other pleasant clutter. There was a huge array of drinks available, and we were entertained by the bar staff mixing lots of different cocktails, all with practised ease. We knew where we’d be eating our dinner tomorrow night! 🙂
After our second drinks were were quite tired, so we said goodnight and made our way back to the Hotel Ciutadella and room 407. We couldn’t seem to get the air conditioning to work, so we just opened both the balcony doors slightly to allow the night-time breeze into the room. However, the noise of the traffic four floors below us entered the room as well, and I was glad that I had the heavy-duty ear plugs that I always bring on holiday with me.
Around 11.00pm, we settled down for the night, looking forward to whatever tomorrow would bring.