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holidays barcelona weekend break at Paseo de Grcia

holidays barcelona weekend break at Paseo de Grcia - ePHOTOzine's Tracey Johnson spends a weekend in Spain's capital city

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Barcelona is a wonderful city, with something for everyone. It was recently voted the best city in the world for a weekend break - what better reason for my sister and I to go and check it out?!

We got a fairly decent flight/hotel package on the Internet, with good flight times, staying in a 5* hotel on the splendid Paseo de Gràcia. The only downside was the 4-hour drive to London Heathrow the night before for our early morning flight!

1hr 40mins in the air and we landed in Barcelona, where the heat hit us! 33 degrees, and rising. Phew! We couldn't wait to get through passport control, check-in at the hotel and hit the town!

Now, I need to take a moment here to tell you how fantastic the hotel was! My sister and I had seen photos on the Internet, but they didn't do it justice! It's one of those hotels that you drive past and wish you were staying there…one that the taxi driver adds an extra 10 euros to the fare just because it's so grand…one where you're in the centre of every attraction within 5 minutes…one where every guest feels like a VIP!

holidays barcelona weekend break at Paseo de GrciaI feel slightly reluctant to share my find with you, but I'm in a generous mood as I write this, so I will! It's the Hotel Majestic, Barcelona.

This is an exclusive hotel where you'll find the kind of service you can only get at an establishment that is a symbol of the finest tradition in hospitality, plus all the conveniences of a modern hotel. And it's all right in the middle of the Paseo de Gràcia - in the very heart of Barcelona!

The room we stayed in (Suite) was superb, with huge balconies providing magnificent views over the city The staff couldn't do enough for us, with no expectation of a tip. The bar area was smart, yet relaxed. The breakfast was varied and plentiful. The hotel restaurant was, like the bar, smart yet relaxed with excellent waiters and excellent wine! We enjoyed being in our hotel so much that we were reluctant to leave! But, Barcelona was out there waiting for us, so we just had to explore… holidays barcelona weekend break at Paseo de Grcia
We decided we wanted to see as much of the city as possible, so hopped onto an on-off, off-on open-top tourist bus: "Barcelona Bus Turistic". This was a great and inexpensive way to see the sights - 16 euros each for the whole day - we could get off when we saw something of interest, and pop back on to the next attraction. If you decide to do this, try sitting on the top deck, 2nd from the front. This ensures you don't have any reflections from the glass window at the front and no distracting headshots in your photos. Another tip; have your camera constantly primed, as the majority of time the bus doesn't stop at the attraction and you have to be quick to take the shot on the move, so to speak. I got caught out quite a few times, which was disappointing. holidays barcelona weekend break at Paseo de Grcia
Our first stop was a treasure trove of picture-taking opportunities: The Gothic Quarter - the core of the Medieval City, which was bounded by walls until the middle of the XIX Century. This district is the historical and political centre of Barcelona, famous for its historic monuments, narrow streets and vaguely bohemian atmosphere. Through the maze of old streets we came to the famous Cathedral - "La Sagrada Familia"; "The Sacred Family" - the origins of which date back to the XIII Century. Words cannot convey how truly spectacular this is! Its history is the history of Cataluna, from XX and XXI Centuries, when it will be finished. Hence the reason why it's under construction until 2025 - there are cranes everywhere - but this doesn't detract from its magnificence. However, they do get in the way of taking an unblemished picture, which is a real shame! It's 8 euros into the cathedral and grounds, and another euro or so to explore the imposing towers - I highly recommend you do this, as they offer splendid panoramic views of Barcelona; city, mountains and coast. holidays barcelona weekend break at Paseo de Grcia
A word of advice; lose the crowds by taking the stairs instead of the lift. This will leave you free to do your own thing and take the crowd-free shots you desire. The stairs alone offer a great, abstract image, almost snail-like. Try both looking down from the top and looking up from the bottom - just beware of other tourists getting in the frame! holidays barcelona weekend break at Paseo de Grcia
Entrance to the Cathedral is through the back. There are some great shots to be had inside the dark interior; look up to the ceiling for latticed stonework and pillars. Once through the Cathedral and out the other side, you reach the magnificent frontage. I advise you go down the stone stairs in front of you, and take your photos from there as it provides a good angle and enables you to fit most of the cathedral in the frame. Also, keep a watchful eye out for less obvious photo opportunities, such as close-up, odd angles of many of the building statues.

There are food and drink machines inside - I recommend you buy water before you explore the towers - and vendors with seating areas across the road. We took a well-needed rest here, before popping back on the bus.

We spent the next couple of hours on the top deck of the bus, getting a nice tan and relaxing whilst seeing the sights. We gave up trying to figure out where we were on our tourist map, so just sat back and soaked up the sun.

Tomorrow was going to be a busy day as we had loads planned, and only one day to fit it all in!

holidays barcelona weekend break at Paseo de Grcia
Next morning, after filling up on breakfast, we headed off to the legendary, long and lively "La Rambla" to do a spot of shopping, combined with a spot of people-watching. And what people there were to watch! Extravagantly dressed street entertainers were everywhere… every couple of yards, both sides, along the palm-covered lane. It was like walking amongst hundreds of mini theatrical plays! They tend to stand completely still, like statues - goodness knows how in that heat - so it's fairly easy to take photos of them. I'd advise throwing a euro or so into their pot, either before or afterwards, just out of courtesy.
The sheer amazement of the spectacle is probably the main reason most tourists are preyed upon here by pickpockets and the like. My advice would be enjoy the experience, but be very vigilant about your valuables - not like one chap I saw who had his Nikon carelessly and loosely hung over one shoulder by its strap!
holidays barcelona weekend break at Paseo de Grcia

Next stop, naturally leading off La Rambla, was the harbour and beach. There are some spectacular buildings to photograph just off the harbour - just be careful of the passing traffic! PHOTO: MARINA BUILDING 2
The harbour area was literally buzzing with people; workers, tourists, cyclists, children. The view of the wavy bridge is quite an interesting image - that's if you don't mind strangers in your shots, as this area is always busy.
holidays barcelona weekend break at Paseo de Grcia
The bars and restaurants overlook the moored boats bobbing up and down. Midday is a good time to take photos of the marina, as the restaurants are only just setting up and it's fairly quiet.
Sailing boats and catamarans took expectant tourists out to sea - cameras primed at the ready. We promised ourselves we'd try a catamaran if we had time!
holidays barcelona weekend break at Paseo de Grcia
Thankfully, as the heat soared to 33 degrees, there were plenty of drink vendors dotted along the promenade. We followed this round, coming across an unusual statue on a wall, for no particular reason other than art! The promenade eventually led us to the beach at "La Barceloneta". Three words: "Swing a cat!" Our hotel concierge had warned us about this beach, and advised of some beautiful beaches further up the coast. However, we didn't have time to do this, so opted to visit the one nearby. Well, I think every Spaniard had decided to visit the beach that day, because it was so crowded, and dirty! Looking around, the residential area, immediately behind us, looked like a ghetto. The concierge had warned us not to venture into this area, and keep to the beach - no danger there! holidays barcelona weekend break at Paseo de Grcia
holidays barcelona weekend break at Paseo de GrciaAfter passing a few amazing sand sculptures - carefully tended by their artist - we took a seat at a small "beach bar" - I use the term loosely as I don't want to conjure up images of a straw-roofed hut, with a happy barman serving cocktails on a white, sandy, deserted beach! Reality: this was a tiny hut, with hot, metal chairs on decking on the sand, with a waitress who couldn't understand the term "beer" and unbelievably charged 2 euros for a small, plastic glass of indescribable lager - still, in the heat, it went down very well!

We downed our drinks in no time, and decided to explore a bit more - maybe it wouldn't be so busy further on? Maybe there would be some good photo opportunities? Wrong! Soon after setting off, we came across a small area on the beach where it seemed drunken tramps and drug-users hung out! I would've liked to take a photo of these, but was afraid to! We did a sharp u-turn and headed off to our next port of call; "Telefericos De Barcelona" - The Cable Car.

We wanted to see the much talked about views of Barcelona from the castle on top of one of the hills: "Castell De Montjuic," reached by cable car. So, we each paid our 9 euros return fare at the 1st tower on the beach, only to find out, to our great annoyance and dissatisfaction, that we had to get off at the third tower, walk 15 minutes, uphill, in order to buy another ticket for either the train or cable car to the castle. None of this was explained and caused great confusion amongst everyone. This, coupled with the fact we could have walked to this point anyway, and that there were no toilets or other facilities, put a dampener on the day. By the time we managed to reach the castle, we were too annoyed to really enjoy it so just took in the panoramic view - which was stunning - and swiftly hopped back on the return cable car. holidays barcelona weekend break at Paseo de Grcia

On our return journey, we were tired from walking, hungry and thirsty so decided to find a place to eat late lunch. Back at the harbour, we found a seafront restaurant and made our way onto the terrace upstairs. It was clean, tidy and not too busy. We ordered Paella and sat watching Barcelona go by, drinking our ice-cold beers and giving the blisters on our feet some well-earned rest! All was well with the world, until the bill came! A word of warning to those like-minded innocents out there: regardless of the fact that you've not asked for it, if a restaurant in Barcelona brings appetisers, olives or bread, IT IS NOT FREE! I found this out to my disgust when we came to pay. I argued with the waiter, who just shrugged his shoulders and kept emphasising that service wasn't included. Ha! Needless to say I refused to pay for the bread, and certainly didn't leave a tip, prior to storming out with the waiter mumbling something in Spanish behind me!

holidays barcelona weekend break at Paseo de GrciaLesson learnt, we decided to honour the promise we made earlier and end the afternoon lazily on a catamaran. Neither of us had been on one before, so we were quite excited. It was fairly empty, so we had a netting area all to ourselves, with mere inches between us and the sea! This is a great time to get seascape views of Barcelona, and images you would normally miss. I was very hesitant to use the camera over the netting, in case it fell, so went to the back of the boat where it was firmer and steadier. It was a great experience - albeit slightly chilly at sea - where we let the events of the day sink in, and our Paella and beer digest!

After picking up the obligatory souvenir t-shirt on our ramble back to the hotel, and taking the last few photos before dusk, we spotted a tapas bar which also served pitchers of Sangria. That was our evening venue sorted! An hour later, clean and refreshed, we found ourselves sat outside it, eating plates of tapas, drinking Sangria in the warm evening air and watching the magic that is Barcelona unfold before our very eyes. holidays barcelona weekend break at Paseo de Grcia

Congratulations to my sister, Sharron, and her fiancé, Mark, on their forthcoming wedding… I can't wait!

Article by Tracey Johnson using Pentax Optio 550 digital camera.

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