The Adventures of BJ and Tony Morris

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Barcelona, Spain
April 2012
"Gaudy Gaudi"

The flights to and from Barcelona looked great so we reserved a room for three at the Barcelona Hilton Diagonal Mar. Our friend Amanda would be traveling with us this time. The reservation had a 48 hour cancellation policy so we needed to be pretty sure we would get to Barcelona. The flight over continued to look good right up until departure day when a bunch of other standby passengers with higher priority decided they wanted to go too. If they all checked in, the newly listed passengers would bump us into the coach cabin so we started looking for other alternatives and found that there were lots of business class seats available on the Madrid flight which would leave 30 minutes after the Barcelona flight.

On departure day, we checked in early for the Barcelona flight and headed to the Sky Club. We kept a close eye on the standby list waiting to see how many of the passengers listed would actually check in. When it became clear that we would all be stuck in coach, we pulled the trigger on Plan B and switched over to the Madrid flight. We knew it would be a long train ride from Madrid to Barcelona, but that would just be part of the adventure (as it turned out, it was an expensive part of the adventure).

At the Madrid gate, we were assigned business class seats! The plane was equipped with lie-flat seats but they were the type that we refer to as "sliding board" seats (or "the pods"). They lie flat but at such an angle that if you fall asleep, you could wake up to find yourself crumpled at the bottom of the "sliding board". You really have to adjust the seat so that it is not quite flat so you'll have something to hang onto with your hip while you sleep. We weren't complaining though, it was certainly better than coach!

The pleasant flight crew provided superior service! This was one of the best crews we had flown with for a while. Everyone was very attentive and seemed to enjoy their job. We had a nice meal and then slept the rest of the way to Madrid.

We asked at the airport Tourist Information desk about the best way to get to the Atoche station. We were given two options, the cheaper all-metro route or the faster commuter train (Cercanías) option. We chose the Cercanías which cost around $15 for the three of us. We took the metro from the airport to the Nuevos Ministerios station where we picked up the Cercanías to Atoche.

At the Atoche train station, we made our way to the long-distance train area (AVE), found the ticket office and remembered that we needed to take a number from the machine tucked over in the corner. We were planning to purchase a "Mesa" fare which is a special offer intended to encourage group travel. A group of four seats together can be purchased for half price, but we found that to take advantage of this offer, "mesa" seats must be available on the train. There were no mesa seats available on the next two trains to Barcelona, so we had to bite the bullet and pay full price (~$470 for the 3 of us).

The train ride was very pleasant and included complimentary headphones and a movie (in Spanish, of course). The train sped along at about 200 mph, getting us to Barcelona in under 3 hours.

We purchased a 10 trip metro ticket which we could share. We would need to pass the ticket back to each other as we went through the turnstile. We learned that the turnstile door would not open if you were standing on the platform when you removed the ticket, so you had to stand back from the platform, feed the ticket through, wait for the door to open and then step through. It worked best if the person behind pulled the ticket out, rather than having to pass it back through the now, closed doors.

Without referring to the hotel's website, we chose what we thought was the closest metro stop to the hotel. On the metro map, what appeared to be another metro line (T4), turned out to be an above ground tram. (We should have taken the yellow line to the much closer Maresme-Forum stop.) Since it was such a nice day, we decided to walk rather than take the above ground tram. It was a little over a mile. We made one stop for refreshments at Good Roll. It was a bit windy so we decided to sit inside. This turned out to be a good plan as the umbrella over the outdoor table turned over in the wind. The GPS dropped us off just out of sight of the hotel so we had to ask directions. 

There is some seriously interesting architecture in Barcelona. The Torre Agbar and tower we observed on our walk were just the tip of the iceberg to some of the interesting buildings we would see later in the trip.

We checked in at the Hilton and were upgraded to an Executive Room on the 19th floor. The hotel is right next door to a shopping mall with a great little outdoor restaurant section on the roof.

We dropped our bags and headed to the Executive Lounge for afternoon tea (which also includes coffee, soft drinks, beer and wine) accompanied by a nice selection of sweets and pastries. The view of the ocean from the balcony outside the lounge is breathtaking.

Over drinks, we studied the travel guide and maps and planned our adventure. 

When we looked up, we noticed that the rain was rolling in. 

We decided to have another drink and wait for the rain to subside. It didn't last long, and then we were able to walk down to the beach & stick our collective toe (for this activity, we used Amanda's toe) in the water.

We noticed some beach restaurants and thought we'd stop for a beverage, but they had closed early because of the rain. We decided to trek over to the mall and check it out. After a quick spin through a very American-like mall, we made our way to the outdoor restaurants on the roof. With the sun out, Cañas y Tapas was a very pleasant place to enjoy a glass of wine and do some people watching.

Once the sun went down, it got a little chilly so we moved to the indoor section of Restaurant Tapes Cerveseria next door. Amanda sampled the seafood paella, BJ tried the hake, and Tony stuck with the non-seafood item on the menu - pizza. We enjoyed a bottle of the local Catalunya wine with our dinner.

We topped off the night back at the hotel in the executive lounge before retiring for the evening.

BJ was the first one up every morning, taking advantage of the hotel's gym equipment. It was not the most expansive gym and some of the weight machines were in disrepair, but if cardio or hand-weights is your thing, there are plenty of treadmills, steppers, rowing machines and free-weights.

After BJ's work-out and shower, she provided wake-up service for Tony & Amanda so we could all go to the executive lounge for breakfast. As Diamond Hilton Honors members, we were entitled to a continental breakfast in the lounge or a full breakfast buffet in the restaurant.

Following breakfast, we packed up and headed for the first attraction on our list, the Gaudi-designed Sagrada Familia (Holy Family Church). When we came out of the Verdaguer metro station, the church was behind us. We all gasped when we turned around and saw it. 

We had planned to just see it from the outside, but after we gawked at it for awhile, BJ and Amanda decided they needed to see the inside. We found a line and stood in it, realizing that when we got to the front, we were in the line for people who had purchased online tickets. The attendant took pity on us and let us through to the front of the other (much-longer) line, thank goodness!

We were really glad we had decided to see the inside with its beautiful stained glass and columns.

The ceiling was also very interesting.

We got a closer look at the outside from the porch and found a sign describing each of the elaborate scenes on the face of the building.

After a quick stop at the gift shop so Amanda could buy some souvenirs, we found Tony (who had elected to skip the inside tour) waiting for us at a sunny sidewalk cafe.


We said goodbye to the Sagarada Familia and started for the next stop on our self-prescribed tour. La Rambla. 

We thought we would walk up Las Ramblas for a bit and then veer off to find the Picasso museum. It didn't take us long to tire of the VERY CROWDED street. 

We got out the GPS and programmed in the Picasso museum and struck out. We passed some interesting artwork and buildings along the way.

We soon discovered that the GPS didn't seem to know exactly where the Picasso museum was and the street signs left a little to be desired, so deciding that we were lost, we did the only smart thing. We stopped for a glass of wine and some pizza! Buon Appetito was strategically located on our circuitous route and had an outdoor table available.

After enjoying our pizza, we got directions from the waiter and found that we had been circling the Picasso museum. We followed his directions which conveniently led us past some pottery shopping opportunities.

Tired from the hunt, BJ and Tony found an outdoor table at a little place just across the street to wait for Amanda to tour the museum.

The final stop on the day's tour would be the Park Güell, another brainchild of Gaudi. 

As impressive as the mosaic structures are, the view from atop the terrace is worth the price of admission (free!).

After exploring the park and basking in the sun for a bit, we decided to make our way back to the hotel. We made note of several interesting architectural specimens near the hotel.

We dined on the hors d'oeuvres in the executive lounge and relived our day over cocktails.

The next morning; after BJ's exercise routine; we decided to try the buffet breakfast in the restaurant. There were lots more food options, including eggs, meats, breads, Asian foods, salads, cheese, yoghurt and cereal but the atmosphere left a lot to be desired. It was loud and crowded and did not make for a relaxing breakfast. We decided henceforth, we would take the more limited food selection and quiet solitude of the lounge as our breakfast choice.

The agenda for this day was to travel by train to the nearby coastal town of Sitges. We took the metro to the Passeig de Gracia stop where we were able to get a train to Sitges for €7.20 round trip. A bargain compared to our Madrid-Barcelona train ride. The 40 minute ride went right by the airport so we were able to see how long it would take us to get to the airport the next morning.

The train dropped us off at the top of town, next to the Tourist Information Office. 

We went inside to pick up a map. BJ picked up a booklet that turned out to be the GGG (Go Gay Guide). It had lots of good information about restaurants and hotels, and the town in general, including which beaches are clothing optional (NTTAWWT).

We made our way to the waterfront and found a seat by the window at the Celimar Hotel where we could study the map & decide what we wanted to do in Sitges.

The town stretches along the coast bordered along one end by a beautiful church. It was too cold for sunbathing, but a beautiful day for a stroll on the beach.

As we were wandering through an alley near the church, we found the Maricel Palace which, as you can see from the picture is quite, well, blue!

Leaning out over a stone wall, we were able to see this person's fabulous patio view of the Mediterranean.

As we continued our exploration, we came across a little cat sanctuary. Someone had built a little house inside a small fenced area and there were a couple of feral cats lounging around. We heard the sound of a baby kitten mewing over near the bushes so we poked around a bit to try to find it. We finally realized that the sound was coming from beneath one of the cats and figured out that she was in labor! This was a new experience for all of us, seeing a live birth. I guess the mom got spooked by our presence because she got up and ran off with the kitten sticking out of her. Tony saw them later, back in the same spot, the kitten lying near the exhausted mom.

We went in search of a tapas restaurant, El Cable, that we had seen described in the GGG for lunch. BJ was especially interested in the Goat's Cheese with caramelized onion. We found it, but it was too crowded so we headed back for the waterfront and found a nice table in the sun at Costa Dorada.

Tony and Amanda ordered a few tapas to share and BJ ordered a bocadillo. BJ's order seemed to confuse the waiter. He looked exasperated and said, "Bocadillo is sandwich." BJ nodded that she knew what it was and that was what she wanted. The waiter shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes, but she got her sandwich! It was delicious, by the way! We relaxed with our wine and tapas while we watched a nearby table eat an elaborate multi-course meal complete with several bottles of wine. When it was time to go, we COULD NOT get the waiter's attention to get the bill. BJ even stood in front of him on the way back from the restroom and asked for "La Cuenta, por favor." He pushed her aside, with a comment that we took to mean, "Don't bother me, I'm busy." He finally brought the bill, but not before Tony left the table, afraid that BJ and Amanda were going to make a scene.

When we found Tony back at the Celimar Hotel, we told him we had bolted on the check. He believed us and started back for the restaurant, so we had to come clean and admit that we had paid the bill and had not made a scene after all.

Tired and happy, the three of us made our way back through the lovely little town to the train station.

We decided to try a different route back to the hotel to see if we could find a better way to the airport the next morning. We knew we could get the train at the Passeig de Gracia stop, but getting from the metro to the train took us on a convoluted route, through a tunnel, up some stairs, down some stairs, across a metro platform, down a hall, up some more stairs, and finally to the train station. After studying the map, we decided to get off at the Bellvitge stop, and then take the dark blue line to the red line to the green line to the light blue line, to the yellow line to get back to our hotel stop at El Maresme Forum. It would mean more stops, but we could avoid that convoluted walk through Passeig de Gracia. When we got off at Bellvitge, we had a short above-ground walk to the metro station.

We got back to the hotel in time to enjoy the last of afternoon tea, followed by evening cocktails and tapas. We met two of the nicest men in the lounge that night. They were brothers. One was a lawyer and the other was a cancer doctor, specializing in Leukemia and blood cancers. We met through our common interest in pets when BJ showed them a picture of Lucy and Lola and the lawyer showed a picture of his two Weimaraners. BJ and Amanda had spirited conversation with the brothers while Tony got into a political discussion with another couple from "all over"; he was a Dutch physicist, she was Swiss and they were living in Belgium.

Earlier in the evening, we had been marveling over what a nice executive lounge the Hilton had so we were surprised to hear the brothers grousing about how it had gone downhill since it opened. It must have been quite the place back then!

We said goodbye to our new friends and tucked ourselves in for the night. The next morning, we decided to abort our elaborate plan to avoid the Passeig de Gracia metro stop and take the more direct route to the airport.

We all got seats in business class on the way home. It was one of the more bumpy rides back across the big pond which made Amanda pretty nervous and caused us to almost spill our wine, but we made it home safely.

Another great trip!

BJ and Tony