We caught the high-speed AVE train, for the amazingly good value sum of €50 each, and hurtled from one end of this vast country (from Seville in the south) to the other (Barcelona on the northeast coast). Racing through the Spanish countryside at a startling 180mph still took 5 and a half hours but as I sipped my rioja and watched olive trees, mountains and open countryside whizz by, I couldn’t help but think how glad I was not to be in the hands of British Rail where tickets would have cost four times the amount, not to mention the fact that the journey would have taken three times as long.
Living in Singapore, which has just got rid of its one and only trainline (to Malaysia), I’d forgotten what a proper train ride is like and despite our length of the journey – not much you can do about that as you’re covering one hell of a distance, over 1,000 km – it was a treat to travel so far without a road or car in sight.
Due to our astronomical amount of luggage, including the impulse buy of a small child’s chair, an internal flight wasn’t really an option and although the plane may come out top in terms of journey time, (only just though, after you include checking in an hour before etc) I think, having now done it, I really would choose the comfort and ease of high-speed train travel over crowded and out-of-town airports anytime.
We arrived in Barcelona at around 10pm, the perfect time for dinner: hurrah to the Spaniards for their weird eating times. Anywhere else in the world, 10pm mid-week would be considered a late sitting and you’d be rushed along and swept out with the staff about an hour after sitting down.
We were staying at zen but rather overpriced Hotel Omm with its pitch black corridors and huge white bathrooms. (Five star but of the ‘all talk, no action’ school of thought: the walls were paper thin and the shower looked good but flooded and leaked terribly; the rooftop terrace was stunning though, with a view of Gaudi’s Casa Mila – see last picture). I discovered the next day that the hotel opposite, Actual Hotel is less than half the price, with the same great location and better, if not more basic, sound proofed rooms. I’ll be staying there next time.
Our 10pm dinner at the Roca brothers’ Moo, the restaurant at Hotel Omm (above), was Michelin starred sophistication serving nouvelle Catalan cooking which, thankfully, was not as painstakingly fussy and foamy as it sometimes can be. Portions were surprisingly huge (which was slightly off putting) but the sculptural decor in the restaurant was super cool as was the vibe which was a lovely welcome to the bustling big city after provincial but stunning Seville.
But it’s great to be here. I know everyone always says it, but Barcelona really is a wonderful city and I think one of my most favourite. There is so much to see that you almost don’t have to try: a stroll through El Born’s narrow streets and passageways steeped in atmosphere can be sampled at any time of the day or night; you can’t fail to spot examples of Gaudi’s iconic modernist architecture throughout the city, nestling next to plain old ordinary buildings which are the perfect backdrop for his work. And not forgetting the incredible Marcet de la Boqueria, which raises the ordinary, mundane act of shopping for groceries to the extraordinary…