Spain; Barcelona, Alhambra and Seville

LADS LADS LADS! LADS ON TOUR! LADS LADS LADS! As the chant echoed through the narrow streets of Barcelona, I reminisced briefly about the heady days of my youth in Spain; at the time, I never paused for very long to consider the many and varied stains of unknown origin which were ever-present on the bed sheets in the more cost effective hotels that I frequented. Similarly I don’t recall worrying about the potentially tetanus filled scratches which I seemed to mysteriously collect on random body parts each night when ‘out on the strip’. But perhaps the most potent non-memory of all is the immediate and visceral muscle memory reaction I retain to this day when offered tequila in any form. Ah, those were the days.

As we watched ‘Stiggo’, ‘Gobbo’ and ‘Fletch’ drag their testosterone filled knuckles along the cobbles of Barcelona (they had helpfully printed their names on t-shirts to aid the Police in the inevitable identification process), The Child asked ‘Why are those men drunk at breakfast time?’ I didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth, so I simply mumbled something non-committal and we all turned back to our Middle-Class, judgement free pastries and fresh orange juice with a happy understanding of the world.

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And so started our penultimate leg of the EU Tour. Mrs P and I had planned a road trip through Spain from Barcelona to the Portuguese border at Badajoz. Having never been to Barcelona before we were keen to find out exactly what the city had to offer and other than the odd English stag party (don’t worry, they are very easily avoided as they are far too busy getting sunburnt to cause much bother),  boy does it deliver. The capital of Catalonia and the second biggest city of Spain, Barcelona is home to some incredible sights.

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Flamenco!

Our research told us that Seville is the spiritual home of Flamenco, a dance form that seems like a beautifully angry Riverdance, full of stamping, wailing and more than a few accusatory hip thrusts. However, there are some excellent award winning performances in Barcelona each evening and so we splashed out on tickets to see a show and loved it! Perhaps its dirge-like singing or furious glares at the audience isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but once you accept that you will never really know when or if you are supposed to clap then you’ll get into the swing of it. Thankfully, on our particular evening we had the world’s greatest Flamenco fan sitting not three seats away from us. We could tell that she was the world’s greatest Flamenco fan because of the whimpers of delight, gasps of pleasure and prolonged standing ovations she gave at every single damn opportunity throughout the evening (and believe me she took advantage of Every. Single. One). At the other end of the scale, we also had a Chinese tourist who fell asleep and started to dribble on Mrs P’s shoulder during the performance, so clearly Flamenco hasn’t quite mastered universal appeal just yet.

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Christopher Columbus pointing to America… except it’s actually in the opposite direction
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A cafe with a forrest inside – I won’t show you spoilers of what’s inside, you’ll have to see it to believe it!

Barcelona is also home to Gaudi. For those of you who don’t know who Gaudi is, there is no doubt that a trip to Barcelona will bring an education like no other. A whole city designed by a single man whose unquestionably weird imagination had an undeniably epic scale. Parks, apartment blocks, sculptures and truly enormous churches are fascinating and disconcerting in equal measure. But one thing is certain, the interior of La Sagrada Familia at sunset is simply one of the truly breathtaking things you must see in life.  Certainly, it is up there with one of the best things I have ever, ever seen.

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When you see it, you know that the force is strong…

But we couldn’t stay in Barcelona forever – onwards to Valencia we went for a brief couple of hours and a spot of cake. Well, the girls had cake and I had a bagel. If you are in Valencia you should come to this café. It’s as simple as that. We didn’t stay for long enough for me to give you any other recommendations, but this place is aces.

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We took a brief night of respite, as one might expect travelling down the Spanish coast, at an all inclusive resort on the coast.  The Child took on the challenge of using all 4 pool facilities in one evening to heart, which gave Mrs P and I the time to plan the next stages of our adventure.  And then, we were off again, over to Granada and the Alhambra. The Alhambra was somewhere that I had heard of but never really known why.  An absolutely huge and incredibly well preserved historical celebration of the North African invasion of Spain by the Moors back in about 700AD, Alhambra is jam packed with unbelievable detail. Brilliant azure blue tiles, sweeping curved roofs and a palpable sense of history. The Sultans who ruled this area brought their culture, skills and provenance to this area and as we’ll soon see, it spread right across the southern tip of Spain and Portugal. Alhambra is beautiful, Alhambra is fantastic and Alhambra is bloody miles from anywhere. Although there are flights into Granada, for your average British tourist who isn’t on a road trip across the southern coast of Spain, Alhambra isn’t going to make it on to the list which is a travesty because the place is truly brilliant.

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But again, we couldn’t stay long enough to do the place justice and had to move onwards to Seville in order to cross the border into Portugal. Now, let me talk a little bit about Seville. It could have been the tiredness, it could have been the sangria, it could even have been the oranges (we had a lot of oranges), but Seville is all of a sudden one of my most favourite cities ever. It’s got the weather, it’s got the music, it’s got the vibe, it’s got skiffle bands playing Oasis on street corners. I mean, what more can you ask for?!

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You know what I would love some chocolate con chur… on second thoughts, perhaps not

But was our adventure over? Oh no. You would have thought that renting a car from a well known global car hire company would have ensured an easy transition between picking a car up, using it and then returning it. I would think that most people would agree that those are three very simple and basic actions for a car rental company to facilitate. What happens then, when you attempt to return the car only to find that you can’t because the office is hidden within a locked compound in the grounds of a university that’s literally miles from anywhere and that’s taken you an hour to find leaving only 15 minutes to make your bus to Portugal? And by the way, when you do manage to find the place that’s not signposted, behind locked gates and on a main road without anywhere to stop, it’s closed at 2pm on a Wednesday. Perfect.

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Can you spot a car hire depot? Us neither.

We had to get back into town, find the bus station, re-pack the suitcases and get on our bus. Oh and decide what on earth to do with the car. The time was ticking down with only 10 mins now, so what would you do?

In all fairness the Barcelona office of Avis were great after we had explained the situation from the back of the bus. They eventually agreed that leaving the car at the bus station had been our only option (we didn’t tell them that the car had been dumped on the pavement outside the entrance) and that throwing the keys to the tourist information desk was also a better alternative than leaving them on the front tire which had been their first suggestion. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting such a mad dash but the Family P. had our mettle tested once again and I’m proud of us all as we pulled success out of the face of almost certain failure. Onwards to Portugal!!

Now all we have to do is wait for the speeding tickets and parking fines to start coming in…

 

 

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