Today was the day for going home. Boo. hiss, and grumpetty-grump, and all that. Our two weeks by the seaside had been rendered down into a large collection of memories and photos, and a requirement to make one final journey in the trusty Volvo.
We didn’t quite go straight home though. We got a little side-tracked on the way to the airport.
A week and a bit previously, when we’d tried to do our “Gaudí” day (see Not the Full Gaudi/), we’d been unable to get into the Sagrada Familia as a result of us not having thought to book tickets in advance. So we decided it would be a good thing to do on the way home, as we were being chucked out of the apartment at 10am but weren’t flying home until 5pm.
We had an 11am appointment at said massive, half-built church, but we were all ready to go quite early, so we loaded up the car a little after 8am and carried the last sack of rubbish down the hill whilst stalking the carrier in the car. We’d done most of the rubbish clearance the previous night, on the way down to the restaurant.
We stopped for some breakfast at the place we’d stopped on our day of arrival (only on the other side of the road). This allowed me to disappear under a bridge to find a lurking geocache. Might as well. We were parked within 30 yards of it.
When we arrived in Barcelona it was relatively easy to find the Sagrada Familia itself, but a little more time consuming to find a car park. What we eventually found was an underground one beneath an apartment block which was available for public parking as well as residents. It was a bit tight getting in though. I got Kas to get out and confirm I wasn’t about to scrape the car on anything, and I wasn’t looking forward to having to get back out again.
We walked a block or so down to the Sagrada Familia and discovered that there was no option to get in earlier than our tickets said, so we were left with three-quarters of an hour or so to waste. We used it wisely by checking out some touristy artwork and finding a couple of caches in the park outside.
We’d booked the self-guided tour with no tower-climbing, which meant we were free to pootle around at our own speed, reading the displays and admiring the architecture as we went. It really is a stunning building, and I’m sure it will be great when it’s finished. It’s weird to look at in some areas because some bits of it have been there so long that the rocks are quite significantly weathered, and these sit right next to chunks of rock that look like they were placed yesterday. The thing is constantly growing and developing too. It was considerably bigger and more complete than the picture I had in my mind from doing basic research in tour guides and on wikipedia. The inside is particularly spectacular. OK, so I know that Gaudi’s fairly unique style is not appreciated by a lot of more traditionalist worshippers or students of ecclesiastical architecture, but my personal view is that if you’re going to believe in paying homage to an omnipresent super-being, this would be a pretty good place to be doing it. I can’t understand why people would rave over the massively detailed decoration on cathedrals in Milan, Rouen or Cologne and then lambast this one for being a bit over the top. Maybe I’m biased on the basis that it’s also a bit of a geological sensation, and I find that interesting. I find it inspiring the way that Gaudí wanted to use differing stones, as well as glasses, woods, coloured tiles and lights to impress the eye with a cascade of colour throughout the structure. And it is certainly unique. I have never seen another church that looks even remotely like this one.
Having had our fill of Sagrada Familia, we had a brief break to buy souvenirs and make some enormous bubbles before making our way to the airport, via a refuelling stop. We were hopelessly early for our flight but once we’d left the Sagrada Familia we’d all pretty much decided that the holiday was over, and it was time to go sit somewhere peaceful whilst waiting for an aeroplane.
We had a rather busy lunch of pizzas and pastas in the “pre-passport” zone before plodding through to our gate and sitting on the relevant airport spur watching planes going in and out.
There were a couple of huge ones parked up beneath us when we got there.
We also saw the King of Spain (no, not the King of Spin) land for his walk around central Barcelona with tens of thousands of others in memory of the people who’d lost their lives in the previous week’s terrorist attack on La Rambla.
Our flight home was nicely on time, but sadly Luton Airport wasn’t. It took flippin’ ages to get through, mainly because of a massive bottleneck in passport control.
The car was where we left it, but there was a bit of early grumping when we discovered one of the brakes had siezed a bit and was making nasty clunking noises until the first time I really push the pedal hard. I suppose the car had been standing there for 15 days.
The house was pretty much where we’d left it, and Izzy and me made haste with the unloading while Kas and Ami very kindly went out to fetch curry and wine. It had been a long but very rewarding holiday, with many things achieved, including a bit of family bonding.
Today was a day of preparing ourselves for the inevitable end of the holiday and the looming reality that we’d have to leave the warm weather and the seaside behind.
The strain of it was all so much that we ended up doing nothing of any note. We offered the girls he option of a trip down to the beach, but neither of them could raise the energy and they were perfectly happy to stay at the apartment and play with their two new friends, both of whom were called Victoria.
I spent most of the day finishing off the book I’d started reading before mustering the energy to walk to the top of the hill to fetch a cache that had been winking at me all holiday. The view from the top was impressive, but possibly not good enough to offset the pain incurred when I brushed against a cactus and got covered in cactus barbs. I spent a chunk of the afternoon sitting very still while Kas pulled bits of cactus out of me with some tweezers, and I decided not to bother with attempting to recover either the shirt or the trousers. Both were riddled with barbs and I couldn’t be bothered to try to get them out.
In between all this, the four of us spent bits of time packing things away into our suitcases, as we had a fairly early start planned for the morning and we couldn’t afford much time for packing then.
By late afternoon we’d had enough, so we got cleaned up and took one final walk down to the seafront in Sant Feliu and revisited our favourite restaurant so far – called Meraki. It was excellent again.
The walk back up the hill would be our final time, and there was a lot of slightly miserable joking about everything being the “final” time. I certainly won’t miss that hill though.
We got tucked up in bed fairly early, as we’d got a long day in front of us.
On the hill
We had a fairly slow morning before taking a leisurely drive towards Barcelona for our planned day out at Tibidabo.
We got there at around 11am and then bought some tickets and went for a drink before attempting anything else.
After drinks we went for a wander round the big church up there ( the Sagrat Cor ). The view from the top was quite impressive.
After the church we wandered around the upper levels of the park for a while before grabbing a seat and eating our lunch. We’d taken sandwiches with us, but the kids didn’t want to be limited just by that, so we found a restaurant where you were allowed to eat your own stuff too, and then we supplemented our apparently inadequate rations with some cold drinks and chips. Chips fix most things.
After lunch it was time to explore some of the lower levels. These were home to all of the rides, so I guess it was the main point of the day.
The rides at Tibidabo were a bit variable, to be honest. None of them was very long and all bar a couple were a bit boring. I guess the park is designed for somewhat younger children. The Red Mountain rollercoaster and the log flume were OK but the rest of it was a bit dull, in my opinion, and because there were also some long queues for some of the rides it felt a bit like a waste of money.
They did work hard to recover one of these two images for us though, after I managed to lose the slip of paper somewhere.
We drove back home at about 5pm, which put us into the evening rush hour again.
Once at home we got changed quickly and walked halfway down the hill to the Guixols Cafe to have some beer and burgers. It was really rather good.
We’d written on the holiday plan for this week that we’d do a waterpark or similar during this week. The closest was Aquadiver in Platja D-Aro. It turned out to be cheaper to pre-book online to get one of their advance-purchase family deals, so we booked tickets the previous day and went there on this day.
The place was easy to find except for us missing the motorway junction on the first pass and having to drive a few miles in the wrong direction and then coming back again.
When we did get there the parking was a bit dodgy, but this seems to be endemic in Catalonia so there was nothing particularly surprising about it.
Entry via pre-paid tickets downloaded to the phone was easier than Easy Jack McEasy, so we avoided some quite long queues and decided to make a base camp under the trees and chuck our valuables into one of the lockers.
I have to say I wasn’t personally looking forward to this day as it’s something I didn’t think I’d really enjoy, but once we got into it a little bit it turned out to be one of my favourite days of the holiday.
We started off in the big wave pool (but didn’t stay long) and then headed to the big rubber-dinghy-slidey-thingy (name unknown). We went on doublers, which was a laugh except that Izzy came with me, so we weren’t exactly level in the water. It was a big slide though, so I’m not sure imbalance in the water was a big issue.
After this we moved up to the “business” end of the park, where there were some rather larger looking slides and rides. The queues were a bit variable all day, and after making the initial mistake of joining a long queue for something we fancied, we then started just going for the relatively short queues. This proved to be a much better option, although it did mean we went on the “kamikaze” quite a lot.
We took a lunch break at one point and then an afternoon ice cream break too, and ended up staying until all the rides had shut at about 6.45pm.
It was such a good day that I can’t remember what we did for dinner. Probably not very much.
Over the previous couple of days it had become more obvious that I was going to have to deal with a cracked tooth I’d picked up somewhere in the previous couple of weeks. I think a bit more had come off it, and it was pretty much at the point where it was grating really badly against my tongue. Something had to be done. Anyway, it wouldn’t be a proper holiday for us without at least one of us needing to see a doctor, dentist, or other medical practitioner. Normally that’s me, but occasionally it’s someone else.
So I googled for dentists nearby and phoned one first thing in the morning to find out the sketch. The sketch was that they could see me at 10:30. The dentist’s surgery was down on the harbour at Sant Feliu and it was very nice inside, albeit well hidden behind a very non-medical looking door to what I think was a block of apartments. The dentist decided she needed to hack out a bit of tooth and then fill it. The whole thing was done in half an hour and it cost me less than it would to have the same procedure done at home. In fact, it was so little that it was below the excess on the insurance policy, so I just paid it and wandered off without waiting for much in the way of documentary evidence. Because the plan for today said “Waterpark” I’d also scouted their website first thing. The Waterpark did good discounts on entry for people well organised enough to book online a day in advance, so I duly did that and then swapped “Waterpark” and “dad’s going caching” around on the day planner. Caching day then !
On the radar for this day was a long walk through woodlands up to a local viewpoint called Pedralta (“High Rock”) and then an equally long walk back down into Sant Feliu. Kas dropped me off at the end of a new and quite plush looking housing estate on the west side of town, through the back of the golf course I’d crossed on my previous caching trip ( see Santa Cristina ). In fact, it probably dumbs the place down rather to refer to it as a housing estate. I’m going to change my mind and go for “collection of substantial residential properties” – seriously, I don’t think they have a lot of poverty in the area. What they did have though was a lot of biting insects. Little scumbags. I got bitten twice while I was still switching the GPS on and finding a pen.
My walk took me through forested land in a downwards and then very steeply upwards direction, heading vaguely south and east. The caches were fairly close together for most of the way but they lacked hints and a few were well buried, so progress was a little slow. It was also very warm and the trees took away what little breeze there might have been. You get the picture. I was getting hot. Just as well I had an earth-shattering quantity of cold drinks in my bag then. The objective of all this uphill walking was the Pedralta, which, according to wikipedia, used to be the largest rocking stone in Europe. What there is up there is a little chapel, a big rock balancing precariously on a somewhat smaller one, and a big plateau with a viewpoint, from which you can see most of the surrounding area. It was a pretty decent view from up there.
Where the walk up had been all through forests and on rough paths, the route down followed a tarmac road, which meant that the walking became somewhat easier. The caches were a little easier to find too. I made pretty good progress back down the hill and soon found myself by the side of the new dual carriageway running round the western side of Sant Feliu. From here I followed cycle paths and wide footpaths around to the harbour (collecting more caches as I went). I eventually found myself at the old monastery in town (couldn’t find the cache there) and then found my way to the beach, where I found another cache and a place to buy ice cream.
There were two more caches at “our” end of the harbour that I grabbed on the way past and then walked back up the hill to rejoin the girls. The kids had decided they were having another “can’t be bothered” day, so the three of them had been at the apartment the whole time.
Tea for the evening consisted of a very welcome combination of pastas, sauces and beers. By the end of the day I’d found 43 caches. They were :
Today was the planned day for a bit of monk-on-a-mountain action.
It started (as ever) with Kas going for a run. She went early, which meant we were able to leave the apartment just after 9am, albeit that we hadn’t had any breakfast.
We attended to the lack of breakfast situation by stopping at a random motorway service station. This also allowed us to fill up the trusty Volvo with some motion lotion.
Our target for the day was the monastery at Montserrat. We got there just before midday (we’d spent at least an hour having breakfast) and managed to find a parking spot quite easily, although at some distance away from the actual monastery. Meh ! Walking is good for you.
Our first activity was to wander around some of the buildings trying to find a few caches and soak a few rays.
We gave up for a late lunch break at about 2pm and had lunch in the onsite cafe. The food was actually quite good, which surprised me.
After lunch we adventured our way up the Funicular de Sant Joan for a walk around the top of the mountain. It was a warm day, so we’d already concluded we weren’t going to attempt any long stretches of walking, but up the top here we were able to trudge our way along a relatively flat path to visit a couple of little chapels. At one point, I had the direction arrow pointing to a cache but couldn’t see any way of getting there. At another point we walked along a bit of path cut into an overhanging cliff and of a sufficiently small size that at least one of us couldn’t walk straight. And finally, there was one further cache at the top of what could be described as a rock staircase going upwards, if you were being generous. If not, then it would be better described as a bit rough. It was rough enough that Izzy didn’t fancy it, so Ami and me went over while Kas stayed with Izzy. There were some pretty spectacular views from up there though.
When we came back down to the bottom it was definitely time for an ice cream, which was consumed whilst sitting outside in the shade. After this Kas escorted the girls for the obligatory trip round the shop while I dashed off to find another cache that was some way below the incoming rack railway line.
By this time it was getting on a bit, so we did one final cache and photo stop at a rock outcrop near where we’d arrived in the morning, and then made our way down the road to the rather distant car park.
The drive back to Sant Feliu was duller than a dull thing, and when we got there we made a quick stop to buy snacks and some things for breakfast before going back home to consume most of those snacks with some cold beer, whilst typing up the handful of caching logs that were due. It had been quite a long day.
While I had the PC out, I decided to pre-book some tickets to go around the Sagrada Familia. We decided we had time to go there in between leaving the apartment and needing to be at the airport on the day we were going home.
Every holiday has a day like this. The one where we don’t do anything of note.
The kids spent most of this one in the pool, while Kas went for a morning run and I spent much of the day doing the washing and staying out of the sun.
We had thought about going to the beach in the afternoon but then the girls decided not to bother, so we didn’t go.
In the evening we walked into Sant Feliu and found a nice cafe gastro-bar place which did excellent food and rather nice beer too.
While we were walking back up the hill to home we stopped in a bar to watch a bit of the Barcelona vs. Real Betis game on telly, but it was a bit dull and we’d missed the only two goals. On Saturday evening we’d toyed with the idea of buying tickets to go and see the match, but by the time we got onto the website it was going to cost about €65 a ticket to go, so we decided not to bother.
Such is life.
This day was our mid-point, not that we celebrated the event in any particular way other than figuring out how to use the washing machine at the apartments.
Kas went for a run, as ever.
The daily planner said we were having a day of not travelling far. We’d checked out a few local activity places and we decided to go for Parc Aventura just on the outskirts of Sant Feliu. It’s one of those places where you have to make your way across various assault-course things like tight-ropes, rope bridges and zip wires whilst being fastened to an overhead rope. However, unlike ones we’ve been to near home, this one is in the middle of some beautiful wooded hillsides, and with fantastic views back down over the town.
Parc Aventura has three or four different courses you can go on that have varying levels of difficulty. Kas, Izzy and Ami decided they were going round while I took the photos. They did the easiest route and then stepped up to the second easiest. Ami was going so quickly that she had time to step up to the third level too, which was good because it actually challenged her enough to have a scared moment.
When we’d finished all of this it was definitely ice cream o’clock. We ended up going all the way down into the sea front at Sant Feliu to find one. Thankfully we’d chosen to go on foot, which allowed me to swap my ice cream for beer.
For dinner we had a fairly simple affair of chicken in various forms accompanied by salads (in the kids’ case, you have to allow for ketchup being classed as a salad).
The holiday plan said today was supposed to be “Barcelona – Gaudi”, meaning that we were going to attempt to go into Barcelona and have a look at some of Gaudi’s more obvious contributions to the city.
Kas decided to duck out going running in favour of having a rest day, so we managed to get up fairly early and head off for the big city at 9:20. Kas took the wheel and we gave Cynthia the job of finding us a car park. She failed, mainly due to an utter confusion of information on the map once you get into town.
We eventually found a car park close to where we wanted to be, and Kas very expertly managed to get into a parking space without hitting anything. Genuinely, that was a good achievement, and it became a running theme for the day.
The first place that that we wanted to be was the totally whacky Sagrada Família. We were about a block away so we legged it round, expecting to have to join a queue to buy some tickets. The place is stll being built, and it’s being funded by the entrance money they charge for having a look around. One wonders whether the fees for entrance have been steadily increasing as further parts of the building are completed. Anyway, from the outside it looks like a massive building site with some quite nice looking bits of stonework in fantastic design.
That proved to be all we could manage there on this day though. They limit the number of tickets per day, and when we arrived at 10:30 am on a midweek day they had already sold out until the end of the day. No more tickets, nada, sorry. I guess you have to pre-book online. Still, we snapped a few nice pictures before buying a very over-priced drink and getting back in the car.
Our second planned stop proved to be equally frustrating. Cynthia did a grand job of negotiating our way through the city up to Park Güell, which promised a plethora of Gaudi-related goodies. Parking proved to be even more of a nightmare than the Sagrada Familia. There’s a big bus park but otherwise you’re stuck with housing estates and an abandoned and unpaved void between tower blocks that has very limited access and lots of really precipitous slopes. Eventually, after much farting about, we found a small car park near some shops in the middle of a hairpin bend going up into the hills. It was probably half a mile to walk back down, but at least the park was paved and relatively easy to get into. More of that later.
Park Güell also has a limit on the number of tickets they are prepared to sell for the inner sanctum. And they’d sold out for the day. This was becoming a theme. We decided to go for a walk around the free part and made a lunch break our first order of business once we got inside. The parks themselves are still really nice. It would have been nice to go into the paying area but we decided whilst walking round that we probably weren’t keen enough to come back on a different day just to do that.
After lunch beneath the walkways we walked all the way up to one of the upper levels, passing a couple of geocaches on the way, and then descended to the far end of the park before walking back along the road past the main entrance to the paying area. It was more than enough to get the general feel of the place, I think. If you were going to pay to get in, you’d probably spend all day there. We contented ourselves with about 3 hours though.
When we got back the car parked in the middle of the hairpin bend we were faced with the biggest driving challenge of the holiday so far. We’d squeezed into a space that had a line of cars in front, and it was quite easy to get in, but when we came back a couple of cars had formed another line in front of us that was somewhat closer. We spent a little while pondering and very keenly all jumped in the car assuming that the parking sensors could get us out safely before deciding that wasn’t going to work. The parking sensors go completely ape when you’re half a metre away, and the exit route was so tight that we couldn’t afford to lose a half a metre. So Kas jumped out and acted as a somewhat more human parking sensor by showing me exactly how far away I was from everything. It took about 5 attempts at going backwards and forwards on full lock before getting the car out of the space, but I did get it out, and I didn’t at any point hit anything else. I was fairly proud of our achievement. I say “our” achievement, because there is absolutely no way I’d have got out of the space without Kas’s help.
So up to this point the day had been a bit of a disappointment. However it was still only mid-afternoon, so we thought we’d have time for one more thing before going home. We read that there are quite a few things to do up on Tibidabo so we thought we’d go for a look. When we got there it appeared to be closed. It wasn’t, but it was very quiet. It was the day after the terrorist attack on La Rambla and we wondered whether people had just decided to have a day at home instead. There were quite a few armed police around, including at the top of the road leading up the mountain.
We checked out the form for the fun park and decided it was probably good enough for a whole day later in the holiday, which left us with the opportunity to go up the Torre de Collserola. At least, once we’d found the entrance……
This was also very quiet, but that gave the advantage that we had the place more or less to ourselves. I think there were no more than two other paying punters and two staff on the viewing level the whole time we were there. The view from up there really is quite spectacular. You can see pretty much the whole of the city from the viewing level (including the Camp Nou, the Sagrada Família and the Olympic Stadium all at the same time). They also have little plaques at various points indicating the distance and direction to other major cities in the world.
By the time we’d finished up the tower it was past 5pm, so we decided to drive home (through the Friday night rush hour) and go out for dinner in Sant Feliu. The drive home was uneventful and we had a quick shower break before walking down to the same restaurant we’d been to on the night we arrived. It was the best place we’d been so far, and it was nice again.
While we were getting ready, a massive cruise liner drifted by. On the sea…….