Beautiful Barça

Barcelona has been blessed with an unimaginable beauty from its bejewelled rooflines to its Catalonian culture and Catholicism.

It is a brilliant holiday destination boasting history, art, beaches and shopping.

An all-round crowd pleaser for the family or people who are just very good friends!

When choosing somewhere to stay for me and mine it is location, location, location and access from Bristol Airport.

On a previous visit to the city in July 2013 we stayed at a self-catering six floor block with Apartments BCN at the Ronda Universitat.

Two of the three bedrooms of our fifth floor flat had windows that either looked out on a lift shaft or an internal courtyard complete with dustbins although the master suite did have a cityscape view including almost continuous traffic.

The 16-year-old grandson referred to his room as ‘the cell’.

It cost 1,135 euros for five nights.

Added to this the fire escape was a long and winding dark stairwell and given you had to make your own beds and clean the bathrooms I thought this time we would chose a hotel with housekeeping and room service.

A reconnaissance of the Gothic area with its fine squares and the cathedral made the unfortunately named Hotel Colon – pronounced Hotel Cologne – first choice.

I read the mixed reviews online at TripAdvisor and viewed the glossy images on the hotel’s website with some scepticism given how wonderfully upmarket the previously mentioned apartment looked online however its early discount rate proved tempting and it was four star.

On the £35+ taxi trip from the airport we learned from the knowledgeable cabbie that Le Meridien is considered the best central hotel although rates can be up to £500 a night and it has no outside space or balconies.

Hotel Colon proved a little tired and faded (or is that jaded) but beautifully positioned, directly opposite the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia.

However, beneath the gloss of its chandelier lit marble reception is a 1950s old fashioned Graham Greene-style hotel without the glamour of this bygone age – not at all grand.

The Barcelona tourist guide said ‘the Hotel Colon has an aura of old school glamour, a staid elegance which over the years has attracted many a famous name’.

Okay I was in good company but I bet it was a long time ago when Joan Miró, Hemingway, Jean Paul Sartre, Stephen King, Sofia Loren and Francis Ford Coppola came to stay?

Although a couple from the Midlands did wax lyrically about the hotel (I lie they said they liked it) others from the US and beyond (we met lovely people from Australia, Romanian and Germany as well in this cosmopolitan city) and were like us a little disappointed with Hotel Colon.

Perhaps walking into our room and noticing the stains on the pale pink carpet or large cobwebs hanging like black widows weeds completely covering the wall vent tainted our first impressions.

Perhaps it was the horrid flight with ‘serious turbulence’ (and flatulence from nervous fellow travellers) and the fact that it was raining but my stomach temporarily sunk when I saw the room, a bit like the sick feeling on our airplane on route for Spain.

I must add here the easyJet were marvellous – efficient, professional and friendly; as were all the peeps at wonderful Bristol Airport especially Mia’s mum who was on duty with custom’s control on our return.

Anyway back in Spain and despite the rain it was still warm at 27 centigrade although foggy – I joke - Barcelona is full of cigarette and cigar smokers and disgusting ashtrays abound.

Sitting on the twin bed in the room its iron frame creaked and I looked at the blush pink decor and inwardly groaned.

My mood didn’t change when my husband walked into the glass sliding foyer door on our first day of exploring or while nursing the bump on his head proceeded to march like Mr Bean in canvas summer shoes through the big puddles.

On the second day my outlook changed as did the weather and despite misgivings I slept like a log, the shower and bath ran piping hot water and breakfast in the subterranean cafeteria at nine euros was adequate if not inspiring and unusually its continental choice included scrambled eggs and thumb-sized sausages.

It would have been good to have tea and coffee making facilities in the room but I’ll pack a travel kettle next time.

Please note the bar area is as dull as ditchwater mostly full of corporate types and pricey – it was cheaper to have two glasses of Cava from the small bottle in the mini bar and sit outside on our lovely and large terrace - okay the light bulb on the terrace was broken and it took 24hrs to fix.

If I could have found a nearby supermarket I would have bought cheap plonk there to drink at hotel but a perfectly lovely patisserie with sandwich bar which served milky coffees and the like was on the corner of the Avinguda de la Catedral.

The hotel does lacks any semblance of class and reminds me of a Bayswater hostelry with a mixed bag of staff some with welcoming smiles and others a little dour and dismissive – especially the long-suffering chap who had to make two visits to the fifth floor to unlock our ‘safe’ which had jammed.

The city which is full of roadworks isn’t as edgy as 14 months ago when police mounted a huge operation to rid Barcelona of its gangs of pickpockets, beggars and street hawkers.

Once again holiday makers are going confidently about their business wearing their backpacks on their backs – in 2013 we were told this practise is discouraged and we had to wear hi-packs on our front.

We went sightseeing to all the places we missed on the first visit and none disappointed.

So what where the high spots?

The architecture is breathtaking especially the show-stopping Sagarda Familia; the Hobbit house in the round Casa Batlló designed by Antoni Gaudí on the elegant Park Lane of Barcelona the Passeig de Gracia; Park Güell on Carmelo Hill and the Hospital Sant Pau.

All this was played out against the background of an annual festival which the guide book described as a compendium of the leading Catalan traditions and a display of the more innovative and creative nature of Barcelona.

Barcelona La Mercè lasts for around five days and is held in honour of Mare de Deu de la Mercè, the patron saint of Barcelona.

Dating back to the turn of the century the festival says goodbye to the summer with a bang and welcomes in the cooler months of autumn.

Huge giants with effigies of kings, queens and nobles march through the streets.

These towering figures accompanied by small percussionists delight the crowds and spin around and around so people can see them in all their glory.

Sadly we missed the fireworks and the beach party which followed but we saw human castles and heard deafening musket barrel guns in the distance and loved listening to classical and jazz concerts on our doorstep.

We ate out comfortable for between 24-56 euros for two at a pizza place and several tapas bars but unfortunately the queue at Barcelona’s best restaurant 7 Portes was prohibitive as we forgot to book.

We enjoyed the La Tabas bar at Port Vell, the little cafe bar Jamon y Vino which had the best wi-fi and the small beers bought at the hospital cafe.

The fine dining with flamenco dance at the El Tablao de Carmen Amaya in the historic Poble Espanyol de Montjuic we saw last time and will go again in 2015 and take another ride on a cable car – it’s the tourist thing to do.

There are many more museums, theatres and art galleries we missed because of time restraints plus all the bars along Las Ramblas except the one that charges £5 each for a Coke Cola.

Here is the twist in my Barcelona blog - we will return and to the Hotel Colon with two teenagers in tow, it is affordable, central and feels safe.

I suppose if it was redecorated with larger lifts and had a staffed spa the rates would go up!

Well I reckon the boys won’t notice the downside and will view the whole experience through rose tinted glasses as long as a trip to Camp Nou, the home of Barcelona Football Club is top of the sightseeing list.

Hotel Colon cost us 191.25 euros per night including 10 per cent VAT and minus the early booking discount to stay in a ‘superior’ room. Everyone pays the additional overnight city tax of 1.21 euros per person per night.

And don’t forget the main language is Catalan not Spanish.

Finally my top tip - book everywhere online before you go to avoid disappointment and check you have the 'official' website as there are some odd ones out there.

Carol Deacon

Barcelona - the blog

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