It’s a number of years since I visited Barcelona and I was looking forward to a weekend break taking in the sights and sampling Catalan hospitality and food. I had a number of surprises – some good, some not so pleasant.
I stayed in two hotels (problems booking at the last moment!). The first hotel (Hotel Covadonga) was in a smart area on the Avenida Diagonal and, on the surface, a slick operation but the staff in charge was decidedly unfriendly. Having lost my booking, the manager blamed me for using a booking company they don’t usually deal with! I was eventually, and reluctantly, given a room. No apology when they clearly found the booking!
The second was wonderful – a small family-run hotel, more a restaurant with rooms, the Hotel Restaurante La Ciudadela (http://www.ciudadelaparc.com/ ). Great situation in the old part of the city, opposite the Ciudadela Park with regular buses and just a stones-throw from the Arc de Triomf metro station. And … for those feeling energetic, a city bicycle stand just across the road. My room was simply but tastefully furnished with rustic-style wooden furniture and en suite shower room and had all essential comforts. The buzz at lunchtime with the restaurant, bar and two terraces absolutely packed tempted me to have a bite to eat. No wonder the place was busy with a menu of the day offering three courses for €10.75. I had an onion, tomato and goats’ cheese tartlet as a starter, followed by an Iberian veal dish, cooked with potatoes, onions and pear sauce (delicious!) and finished off with a simple ice cream. Everything was freshly cooked, delicately seasoned and just amazing value.
Another brilliant find was Restaurante Icho – an eclectic mix of Japanese and Spanish food. Every dish was delectable and beautifully presented. Two particularly wonderful dishes I had were marinated scallops with avocado and cuttlefish noodles. This YouTube video gives an idea of the range of dishes on offer (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AewIndnOpg0).
Perhaps I am just getting jaded but some of the tourist trails disappointed. The open-air tourist buses are still good value and the architecture, especially Gaudí, is stunning and exciting but the Ramblas had lost their charm – a remnant of the old flower and bird markets remain and there are still some pretty amazing street artists but commercial chains have been allowed to take over with ‘in your face’ advertisements and brassy outlets to the fore – McD, Starbucks, KFC, etc. I thought I was being very careful with my belongings but still fell victim to a very slick pick-pocketer – that always sours one’s memories of a place – and I encountered off-hand rudeness a number of times, mainly from the older generation – in taxis, at ticket offices, in cafes.
Pricey drinks on Las Ramblas
To experience the good side of Barcelona – get off the beaten track (especially for restaurants), don’t use taxis (over-priced and rude drivers), choose cafes run by young people (invariably friendly and helpful).