“Design creates Culture.
Culture shapes Values.
Values determine the Future.”
– Robert L.Peters
2017 definitely seems to be a promising year. And I say this with conviction because in the first week of Jan itself I got the best news possible and i.e. that I had to fly down to Barcelona for a conference. The dates for which were last week of Feb and that gave me almost a month to plan on how to best make the work trip, a fun trip as well. Well, if I was anyways going to travel, I might as well make the most of it right?
So now the major task in hand was to ensure that I get the visa formalities done well in time, plan out the number of days that I can travel(i.e. official days plus the extra few days that I can manage) and then do the bookings.
Thankfully, for the official days all my bookings were going to be managed by my office admin, however for the next few days I would have to make my own arrangements.
After a lot of internal discussions on dates, approvals etc. the plan was finalised. I would be travelling to Barcelona on 25th Feb and would be there for 3 days. Post which I could extend my stay for 3 days and for that I needed to decide where I would want to go.
In all the excitement, the days were going slower and I was getting fidgety on when I would actually be in a flight off to the international borders. I had literally managed to get my visa on the last day as it was the peak time since almost the whole world travels to Spain for the particular conference i.e. called the MWC, Mobile World Congress.
Finally, the D day was here and I was packing away in a hurry as I had left everything for the last moment. My flight was an early morning one, and since I had a close friend travelling with me (same one who accompanied me for the Beijing trip), we managed to pass time in the airport by window shopping and getting foot massages done.
Finally our flight was ready for departure and we found ourselves running from the massage parlour to the boarding gates. We literally JUST MADE IT. That would have been a joke. Made it to the airport, but missed flight while getting a foot massage: /.
Now that we were seated, we were in extremely high spirits. New country, new culture, new things to eat and drink. Yipee.
We had a 7 hour flight till Paris, where we had a stopover of 1 hour, post which we had a connecting flight to Barcelona. I had taken a sleeping pill to ensure I got some sleep during the flight and thus literally did not realise how the 7 hours passed.
Once in Paris, we didn’t have much time to explore the airport as the boarding gate for our connecting flights were almost 15 mins away. Note to self: Next time, take a minimum one day halt so that a little bit of the city could be explored.
Soon we found ourselves seated and getting ready for the next one hour trip to Barcelona, where the trip will begin in its true form.
Tick Tock Tick Tock…..”Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Welcome to Barcelona airport…..”.
Yipee….We were finally here. Super excited for what was in store.
We got off the plane, headed to collect our baggage and went straight out to look for the hotel car which had been sent to receive us. Thankfully from my travel days in S.America, my Spanish was pretty decent. In short I could get my point across and understand the gist of what the other person was saying when conversing in Español.
We found the driver and headed to the parked car which would finally take us to our hotel where we could have a proper bed to lie down and stretch for a while.
Tryp Barcelona Aeropuerto was the name of the hotel where we had been booked, and the same was just 10 minutes’ drive from the airport. While this was convenient now, we realised that daily travelling to the main city might become cumbersome. However, we left the worries for later. For now, we just wanted to get our rooms and relax and freshen up before venturing out to the city.
Since we had arrived earlier than the check-in time, we had to spend some time convincing the receptionist to let us check in early but finally all the pleading paid off.
The rooms unlike what we were used to in India, were tiny and compact with literally no luxury whatsoever. In short, the room was very basic. Clean- YES, but very average over all.
In fact, me and my colleague (who also happens to be a very close friend) started the joke that while this hotel was apparently a 4 star hotel, the look of the room was just like that of a Highway Motel(the room overlooked the highway and was on the ground floor).
After freshening up and unpacking, me and my colleague decided to get some rest and meet up again in the afternoon around 2 PM to head out and explore a bit of the city. We were sleep deprived and definitely needed to get some rest before venturing out again.
Oh by the way, did I mention that it was super-duper cold with the temperature wavering between 4 degree to almost falling to -4 degree Celsius in the evening’s.
Because of this reason, we had to doubly make efforts to get dressed and face the cold. Which we obviously did.
Exactly at the pre designated time, we found ourselves in the hotel lobby, layered up and all geared up. The hotel staff mentioned that the easiest way to get to the city centre was by taking a bus as the bus stop was literally 5 minutes’ walk away. And so, that’s exactly what we did. We had got the numbers noted down for the buses which went our way, and immediately hopped on to one as soon as we spotted it.
Points to be kept in mind if taking the buses for transport in Barcelona:
1) There are separate entry and exit doors and don’t you dare get on or get off from the wrong doors. The bus driver will stare or in some cases even scold you in front of all other passengers, reminding you of your kindergarten days or in my case the Game of Throne episodes when you would suddenly expect everyone to start saying “Shame, shame, shame…..”.
2) There are transport cards that you ideally should carry with you, which needs to be swiped every time you get on a bus. The same can be purchased at metro stations from the machines. We had purchased a T-10 card which at the cost of around 9 Euros, allows you 10 trips on any mode of public transport.
3) The public transport in Barcelona is on till almost 3 am every night, and thus should not only be preferred over taxis to save costs but also are safe and convenient.
Once on board, we spent close to 25 minutes till our stop which also happened to be the last stop on the bus route. This was Plaza Cataluña, the main city centre.
Looking back now, I think we must have come here all the days that we were in Barcelona. For some or the other reason, we definitely did find ourselves here and soon had become very comfortable with the surroundings.
We decided to walk around a bit in the square, take some touristy pictures and enjoy the sun till it lasted. Some of the city’s most important streets and avenues meet at Plaza Cataluña: Passeig de Gràcia, Rambla de Catalunya, Las Ramblas or Portal de l’Àngel, in addition to Ronda de Sant Pere, Carrer de Vergara or Carrer de Pelai. There are some fountains and statues in the 50,000 sq feet of the square and the highlight for sure are the friendly, bold flock of pigeons all across the plaza.
After walking around the plaza, we then crossed over to one of the several lanes and decided to just walk around a bit and window shop. What caught my attention first was a very warm and cosy looking bakery, where we decided to have some cappuccino (but obvious, my favourite thing to do) and some vanilla cakes. It was tea time already and we needed to do justice to our stomachs after all.
After the amazing snack, we got out and walked around for another half an hour, before finding ourselves in front of a street names Las Ramblas.
Now, this street I had definitely read about a lot when I had been researching about things to do in Barcelona. Apparently this was the ‘happening’ and the ‘most fun’ street in Barcelona. So immediately we decided to walk down the lane and find out what was so special about it.
The full street which stretches to around 1.5 km, is full of small street shops, street artists, small restaurants and vendors selling random stuff. When I say random, I mean it. I mean they are selling flying toy planes, bizarre looking decorative items, funny sound and light toys etc. I mean who buys all this stuff?
We had our fun watching them convince passer-by’s to buy these things, but no one at least in front of me got convinced. Keep trying buddies…
One thing that I love doing (thanks to the travel in S.America) is going to the local markets of the city and having a look around at the local items on display.
So when I came across a similar market on Las Ramblas, which was called La Boqueria(Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria); I just couldn’t resist myself.
I entered straight away, as the market would shut off in another hour or so, and started walking around taking in the fragrance of fresh fruits, flowers, local dishes being panned out in some small stalls inside the market etc.
All the local produce including sea food and meat was at display and the hustle bustle in the market was very infectious.
What caught my eye after I had done some fresh chocolate and fruit shopping was this small bar with stools all around it and people flocking to get seats. I was curious. Why the rush?
This place was called Ramblero. When I went closer, I knew the reason for the rush and in fact I myself found myself in a queue to get a seat.
This place is famous for fresh sea food dishes and by now, all of you should know my crazy love for seafood.
I could not NOT have anything. So as soon as I was seated, I ordered for myself fresh scallops in lemon and garlic sauce and pan fried salmon. Till date, when I even talk about those two dishes, I get the delicious taste in my mouth. It was by far the best sea food I have had and especially the scallops. I would go all the way back to Barcelona, just to have another one of those dishes.
After a good sumptuous meal in order to digest, we (my colleague who was also in La Boqueria checking out other shops while I ate) walked around for a good hour plus in Las Ramblas, and since it was almost 8 in the evening, we decided it was time to start the party. When I say ‘party’, I mean- Bring on the SANGRIAA….I lovee Sangria and one of the biggest excitement of coming to Spain was the greed of Sangria. The best Sangria’s in the world and that too in abundance. What else could one ask for. For all those who are clueless on what Sangria is (I am judging you already), it is a mix of red/white wine, brandy, some liquors, fruits, water, sugar and juice.
We found the perfect place which was on the main Las Ramblas lane. It was a small tent with heaters inside and candle lit tables. This was it. We sat down and ordered a jar of Sangria (serves around 4 glasses) and some munchies. Bliss.
How the next two hours went by, we have no idea. Good ambience, good drinks, good company and there you go- The recipe of a good start to a great trip.
At around 9.30 PM, we finally decided to leave the cosy restaurant and decided to meet up with few colleagues who had also come for the congress which was starting on Monday, before finally calling it a day.
Around 11 PM, we caught the bus back to our hotel and by 12 AM we were fast asleep and deep into the Sangria La La Land.
Next day, we got up fresh and ready to do some city exploration. My colleague was very sporty and hence was completely willing to follow me blindly in any and every plan that I made. Yesss. My leadership role was unchallenged thankfully.
So after a good hearty breakfast buffet, we got ready and decided that our first stop for the day would be the famous Sagrada Familia.
From our hotel we took the bus to Plaza Cataluña and from there a metro to Sagrada(have to change a line).
Once out of the Sagrada metro station, you will find the grand piece of architecture right there in front of your eyes. One cannot miss it.
The construction work was this huge, intimidating building was started way back in 1882 by Antoni Gaudi, and till date it is yet being completed. Yes, it is indeed taking a long time to get this masterpiece completed but after having visited it, I realise that the task and the work involved in completing it is HUGE. The work now is being done with the assistance of computers considering the architecture has a lot of geometry involved and requires a lot of analytical skills which with the help of machines, becomes a tad bit easier.
Usually it is suggested that one buys the tickets online, thus avoiding the long queues. However, we had decided to take the risk and go and try on the spot. We definitely were in luck, as we had to wait just 15 minutes in the queue and we managed to get the entry tickets for the 2.30 PM slot. Which meant just around 40 minutes of waiting time. Not too bad, we thought. We actually had the time to go get a nice cup of coffee while we waited for our slot.
So that’s exactly what we did. Since I am a sucker for sunlight during the winters, I made my friend walk an extra 5 minutes till we found the perfect café with an outdoor seating. That’s where we sat and enjoyed our cup of coffee and of course some banana cake to go along with it.
Before we knew it, the clock struck 2.15 PM and we knew we should rush to the entry.
Once there, within minutes we were ushered inside where we headed to collect our audio guides. Since I wanted to explore Sagrada Familia in depth, I definitely needed the guide.
Once set up in the language of my preference, I told my friend that we would meet up back in an hour and a half at the exit gate and we separated out to enjoy this amazing piece of work at our own pace.
The guide is very informative and to get the real understanding in detail, one needs to go stand at numbered signage before clicking that button on the audio recorder.
For e.g. when you press 1, the guide will give you details on the construction, on Gaudi as well as on the outside architecture of the Sagrada. What one doesn’t realise when watch the structure without a guide, is that there are so many intricate details which are not visible to the naked eye in case not specifically pointed out.
Once I had finished with the outside architecture, I moved inside, and this is when the grandeur and exclusivity of the Sagrada actually hit me like a punch in the face. Woahhhh…. This was one of the most beautiful churches that I had ever come across. No wonder people all across the world, line up for hours to get a glimpse of this heavenly place.
Next hour was spent listening to the audio guide give me detailed overview of each and every nook and corner of the interiors and I absolutely loved it. In fact there is a museum just outside the back door which has a whole corridor of the evolution of the Sagrada and it is brilliant to see the structure come up so beautifully over the years.
One thing that saddens me is that Gaudi who spent almost all his life(44 years) trying to finish the structure, actually died after getting hit by a trolley car and that too in a hospital where no one had identified him. He died a poor man’s death after being responsible for spending all his life construct one of history’s richest architectural structure.
At the end of an hour and a half, I met my friend at the exit gate and then we decided to have some lunch at a nearby restaurant. We walked up to the lane opposite to the café we had had coffee at and found an Italian café where we decided to have lunch.
Lunch was spaghetti and pizza along with Rose wine. The background was the mesmerising Sagrada of course .
Surprisingly even though it was just 5 PM, we were super tired by all the walking around we had done that day. While walking back after we had taken the metro back to Plaza Cataluña, we were in two minds on whether to head back to the hotel or hang around a bit more and explore.
The answer was right in front of us as we were battling the dilemma.
Bus no. 74.
That was the bus which took us straight back to our hotel near the airport. We didn’t think further, and decided to just jump on it. To be honest, we were super tired and the thought of fresh made beds with clean linen in our highway motel (just kidding…it wasn’t that bad) was just too tempting to ignore. Moreover, tomorrow on wards our official work would start and we had to be fresh for the same.
While as a super enthusiastic traveller, I felt a little guilty of calling it a day by 8 PM; but silently my body was thanking me greatly for the rest it was getting.
I freshened up with a hot water bath, ordered room service and then off I was in my La La land again.
Monday morning we were up early, got ready for the conference, had our breakfast and were seated promptly in the shuttle by 9 am. The time of departure mentioned in all placards pasted in the hotel was 9 am, and that was the exact time the bus departed. Talk about efficiency ;).
Mobile World Congress, which was the reason we were in Barcelona, is the world’s largest gathering for the mobile industry, organised by the GSMA. This was one platform where all prominent executives representing mobile operators, device manufacturers, technology providers, vendors and content owners from across the world are present.
I had only heard about the magnitude of this exhibition, but once I actually stepped into the venue which was Fira de Barcelona, did I actually realise how BIG it actually is in reality.
The reason this venue has been chosen for MWC year after year is because probably this is the only place where around 1,10,000 people from around 210 countries could be adjusted at a time. More than 2,300 companies participated in our 2017 exhibition, which spanned nine halls and eleven outdoor spaces at Fira Gran Via and Fira Montjuïc. Everything from connected cars, virtual reality, new handsets and ingenious app ideas, to 3D printing, privacy protection and backend solutions were on display. This was definitely a place that would take more than the 5 days that were allotted for the exhibition to explore completely.
We were busy the whole day almost with the official work and did take out time in between to go visit the other booths as well. Very interesting indeed. Would definitely recommend all to pay a visit at least once to know exactly what I am talking about.
Post the event was over, we decided to treat ourselves after a hard day’s work. We went back to our favourite destination i.e. Las Ramblas and decided to go watch the famous Flamenco Spanish dance. We decided to watch the same in a small restaurant in the middle of the Las Ramblas. The ticket was 15 Euro per person which compared to the other places was still a little cheaper.
While waiting, we got talking to few other people in the queue and made some new friends. Soon we were seated inside the small restaurant, ordered our sangrias and cheered on loudly for the performers. While the singing part of the program was just about okay, but the high point were the couple flamenco dancers. They were just brilliant, especially the guy. He was full of energy and the loud taps on the floor would want you to get up and attempt to do flamenco yourself.
The performance lasted around an hour, post which we decided we needed to hear some nice live music. We checked around from some places, and found out that there was a bar not too far off called La Taverna which has live music playing every night. So that is where we headed and I am so glad we did that.
The place was perfect and just what we wanted. The musician was playing old English country music, and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly singling along with him. It was a brilliant evening so far. What we did not know was that it was just about to get better.
Since we were a little guilty about the day earlier when we had gone off to bed so early in the evening, we decided to stretch it today. After sending an hour or so in La Taverna, we asked around and were told that there is a club right down the block which has salsa night going on. Wow. You just have to say the words ‘Latin music’ and I am game.
We walked up to the club entry, got our entries done and walked right in. Mind you, we were still in our formal clothes which we had worn to the conference; but who cares. We were in a different country, and no one really knows us to judge us on what we wore to a club.
As soon as we entered, the vibe of the place got us on our feet immediately. The music, the dance, the people…everything was brilliant. We were so thrilled to be here at this moment. I think I danced the most I have ever in my life during the three odd hours we were there (yes my friends, 3 hours of non-stop dancing).
I remember by the end, we literally had to drag ourselves out as it was almost morning, and in few hours we had to get ready and be again off to MWC.
We took a cab instead of taking the bus as we wanted to save time, and more so to avoid the cold breeze we had to face while crossing the overhead bridge from the hotel bus-stop till the hotel.
Few minutes later, we were all happy and cheery and definitely knew this was a night we were going to remember fondly for a very long time.
Stop. Stop that noise. Nooo, it cannot be time to get back already. We had literally just gone to bed.
But unfortunately, it was time. We had to be up and ready to catch the shuttle to the conference and we just had 20 minutes to get all this done.
Today also unfortunately happened to be our last day in Barcelona. Tomorrow we had early morning flights to catch.
And we knew exactly what we wanted to do today.
Half of the day was spend doing the official work, doing few meetings, meeting colleagues from other countries etc.
But the second half, we had well planned for ourselves. Today we were dressed up more casually because we knew we needed to have the comfort for the cycling and walking around that we planned to do in the second half.
As soon as we were done from work, we caught the metro to Plaza Cataluña (of course where else!!!!). From there we headed to a bicycle rental shop in the middle of Las Ramblas. The rental of bikes is easy. Give your ID, Handover Euro 20 for 4 hours and take your bike away. That’s it. So simple you see.
My friend had wanted to do this since the day we had landed in Barcelona, and so, she was super excited to be whizzing away in her tiny bike (since she happens to be tiny herself 😉 ).
We biked around the Gothic quarter, El Bourne, La Riberna and Villa Olympia. These are great neighbourhoods which give you a sense of what the ancient Barcelona looked like. It was so much fun to be on bikes (and so much less tiring than walking). We stopped for an early dinner near the beach i.e. near Villa Olympia and then for dessert of chocolate laden desserts in a café we came across which was called Chocolateria Café. My Chocolate Brownie with ice cream and Hot chocolate with whipped cream was so sinful that every bite/sip made me feel guilty of the calories I was in taking. But then I could not stop till I had licked the plate absolutely clean.
After that it was almost time for us to return our bikes back and so that’s where we headed. We did get lost in between but again my broken Spanish helped us find our way back (and obviously so did Google Maps ).
After giving our bikes back, we knew we were too full to eat anything else and so instead we decided to walk around and shop a bit for mementos. Since there are so many shops around Las Ramblas, you are sure to find what you want without fail. I bought some Barca goodies as that is given when in the land of football.
Post that we stopped to have a drink in Hard Rock Café which was definitely as lively as any Hard Rock Café across the world is, and then headed to catch our bus back to the hotel.
This would be the end to a fabulous Barcelona trip that I had been lucky to experience. But my excitement was not finishing here. Because after this, I wasn’t heading back to India. My next stop over was going to be the one place I have been dying to visit for a long time. The most fun, lively, free city in the WORLD.
If you still haven’t got it, I am talking about AMSTERDAM…Yipeee..
So stay tuned guys, for the many more exciting stories that I have to share.