Well we did it again! A leisurely start over a filling breakfast and away from the hotel about 11 am. Little bit of scare leaving Barcelona on missing an turn but more by good luck than good management we got back onto the E15 and headed South. We took our time and enjoyed the scenary so the total travel time was more like six hours instead of the Google Maps quoted four.
Arrived at Nirvana about 5 pm to a pretty chaotic scene. A great chunk of the red bricks had been rendered white, but not quite all of it! 🙁 Loads of Peter’s stuff in the garage. Headed for Mercadonna and shopped for the essentials, then hit Mejias III for our usual early doors. Got our usual friendly but incomprehensible welcome.
We are getting good at the breakfast thing and filled up again in preparation for the day.
Today we decided we would go to the Museo Picasso for our culture vulture bit and then on to see La Sagrada Familia (aka the Gaudi Cathedral).
Again the art museum took most of the morning to work our way around and very good it was too. The museum is in a old part of the city that has very narrow streets that are barrier controlled to allow only residents and public service vehicles in. We then strolled through the old quarter to find a main street to catch a taxi to the cathedral.
La Sagrada Familia is an amazing piece of architecture that was started more than a hundred years ago and is still not complete. It is currently a site of intense activity as it is due to be completed in 20/25 years. I guess that it stood part built for a very long time indeed. The inside of the cathedral is a mass of scaffolding but the museum in the crypt is fascinating. It tells how Gaudi designed the cathedral as a set of models and how these were all lost in a fire.
By the time we finished it was getting on for tea-time so we decided to walk in the direction of the PlaÃ§a de Catalunya to catch a taxi back to the hotel. In the process we came across two more Gaudi buildings, so it was a bumper day for his architecture.
We went to La Boquetta again and had the speciality kebabs for our third meal there. When we had our puds there was very little left in the Carlos Primero bottle so I offered to buy it from them but they insisted on giving us the remainder as two modest measures. So we consumed a whole bottle in just three nights. When we got back to the hotel there was actually a member of staff behind the bar so we just had to have a nightcap (or two), knowing that we could take a leisurely start in the morning for the four hour drive to CalpÃ©.
A gentle start with another filling breakfast to set us up for the day.
Then a taxi to the FundaciÃ³ Joan MirÃ³. A modern artist it turns out that Lynne is mad about but I’d never heard of but who had donated a lot of his work to Barcelona. It took all morning to work our way around both the permanent and temporary exhibitions. The latter was a lot of his works loaned by other museums.
The museum was on the hill near the Olympic Stadium where Microsoft held its TechEd last night bash in 2001. We walked back down the hill to find the cable car across the port and discovered that Barcelona has two cable cars; the second one going up the hill to the castle at the top. The ride on the cable car was great fun but the centre tower, which we wanted was closed. So we had to ride the whole distance and were faced with quite a long walk to Las Ramblas that Lynne wanted to see next. Not to be deterred Lynne and I worked out which bus would take us near and the driver was very helpful and friendly by making sure we got off at the right stop, giving us a cheery wave as he drove off.
We then spent the next few hours wandering up the Ramblas and ended up at the big square, PlaÃ§a de Catalunya, which has the El Corte InglÃ©s store on one side. Lynne enjoyed our walk around that, the motive being to try to find her a lens hood.
Eventually it was time for a taxi back to the hotel and off to La Boquetta for a meal. This time one of the waiters spoke English and again we had Carlos Primero for our puds.
The drive down to the border was uneventful and took less than two hours. Crossing the border was a non-stop process with the Spanish border control guys standing around looking macho with their big guns but casually waving us through. Another two hours including negotiating the ‘Ronda del Litoral’ and some of the commercial district of east Barcelona saw the car safe in the underground car park of the Express by Holiday Inn for the next three nights and us unpacked in our room on the sixth floor by 3pm.
Lynne demanded we make good use of the afternoon available to us. So it was a taxi to the Parc Guell for a long wander, or should that be wonder, around and also seeing Gaudi’s house that is located within the park. When it finally got dark we got a taxi back to the hotel and set out to find a place to eat.
Turning left out of the hotel we turned immediately left up the street, Carrer de la Llacuna, by the side of the hotel and headed for what we thought a likely area of the Avinguda Diagonal, one of the big boulevards that now has trees, walkways and the tram system running up the middle. Quite a long walk and it was mainly retail with cafÃ©s for cakey-faces; our first indication of what a lot of cakey-faces the Barcelonas are. Still we did walk almost to the bottom of Barcelona’s (better) answer to the ‘Gurkin’ in London and stopped off in an interesting bar that had nothing that Lynne could eat. So we headed back towards the hotel with the intention of asking at reception about areas with places to eat. We missed the street we came up and came to the next one along called Rambla del Poblenou and were (almost) spoilt for choice on places to eat. We ended up in La Boqueta (which I think means kebab as that was the speciality). The waiter dragged the chef out of the kitchen as he spoke English and we both ate well. Pud was Carlos Primero, they opened a new bottle for us and poured the usual ludicrously large ‘Spanish measures’. When we got back to the hotel there was no-one behind the bar so it was off to bed.
This was the first truly long drive of the journey and we were not too sharp about setting off either. As we hit the A26/E15 we realised that we could avoid Paris and all the junctions by following the E15 Euroroute to the E17 and going round Reims to rejoin the E15 to get to Narbonne, then turn East to get to Carcassonne our second night’s stopping place. Keeping a long journey short it turned into a 11.5 hour marathon mainly because I had underestimated the time for the journey (never believe a Google map timing) and because of rain reducing the speed limit from 130kph to 110kph and it getting dark. Too late we realised that we should have rung the hotel before 7pm if we were going to be late but it turned out not to be a problem being winter. When we finally arrived about 9:15pm the hotel turned out to be right below the walls of Carcassonne’s old fortified town La Cite, quite spectacular! It was very basic hotel but its position made up for that.
And fortunately there was a restaurant in the old town open late, Auberge des Ducs D’Oc where we just had to have Cassoulet, the dish of the region. They even did it without the breadcrumbs for Lynne. Brilliant! While we were having our meal I got a text from Lou asking if something in with the photos of their Civil Ceremony that we’d given them needed to be kept. I replied “Hello from Carcassonne…” and got an astonishing reply from Lou that she and Kerri had just left there the day before. They had spent their ‘honeymoon’ there and we’d missed them by a day! We finished the meal with a ‘pud’ of the local rocket fuel called “Marc” and were even told where in Carcassonne we could buy it. By the time we’d finished eating it was quite late and we were very tired so it was straight to bed. No open bars might have contributed a bit too?
In the morning there was a passable breakfast again so Lynne filled up as well as me before we took an hour or so to wander around La Cite in the rain before heading off on the (relatively) short 3-4 hour drive to Barcelona at about 10:30am. We didn’t fancy crossing the modern city to get some Marc so that will have to wait for another time.
The day started early with a diversion into Tescos to get Lynne a supply of gluten-free bread for the trip. (We know we can get it when we get to Calpe from Mercadona.)
We then hit the motorway to get to Dover for 3pm and our ferry. Even with a couple of stops including a picnic lunch we made it to Dover early enough to pay a Â£10 fee to get on the preceding ferry and landed in France about 5pm instead of 6pm. SeaFrance are good and there was free WiFi so I played on my iPhone for the hour and fifteen minutes crossing. Being a Saturday afternoon the ferry was quite empty and getting on and off was quick and easy.
Got to Arras about half seven and got a parking spot in the square (Place des HÃ©roes) in front of the Hotel de Ville very near the Hotel Diamante our room for the night and was where we stayed last time we visited. The big square around the corner (Grand Place) with the underground car park where we parked last time was full of a Christmas Fair which we had a nice wander around. Lynne bought a set of double-nine dominoes.
We then looked for somewhere to have dinner. We tried the CafÃ© Brussels and they were very helpful. Lynne thoroughly enjoyed her huge dish of Moules. Had a drink in a bar near the hotel before retiring to bed tired but repleat. Breakfast wasn’t until 7am but with her bread Lynne ate well and the hotel proprietor filled our flasks at no extra charge. Altogether a nice return to Arras after ten or so years.
This short journal is about our November / December trip to Spain. The second this year and the second in the car. The reason behind it this time was to have some time in France and Barcelona on the way to give Lynne a break as my way of saying “Thank you for looking after me and for all your hard work following my broken ankle.”
The round trip was a tad under 5,000 km or about 3,125 miles and the Jeep literally cruised it. We also realised that it is possible to pick up the Euroroute E15 at the entrance of Calais docks and follow it all the way to Calpé but that necessitates going around Paris. So the next time I am thinking the route will be the E15 from Calais to the E17 around Reims and then pick up the E15 again and follow it all the way to Calpé.