( ALGS )


Bowled over by Barcelona

Early on the morning of 6 May 2011 an intrepid group of adventurers from the Abbots Langley Gardening Society set off, courtesy of Brightwater Holidays, to Barcelona. We were met at Barcelona airport by our guide for the day, Ines Calzado, who took us on a whirlwind coach tour of the city. First we were taken to a marvellous view point on Mount Montjuic where we were able to gaze over a fantastic panorama of the bay, all the way round to the centre of the city – photo opportunity No.1. We had a cup of Sangria in the warm spring sunshine, raising a toast to absent friends and chatted to Ines about Barcelona, the current economic situation Spain finds itself in, which restaurants to try, travel tips on public transport and the dangers of pickpockets.
All too soon, we were back on the coach. We were shown the Botanical Gardens’ entrance near the Castle on the top of Monjuic, then the coach took us down into the city to see all the places we were going to try and visit during our short stay. Eventually, we stopped at the Sagrada Familia – Gaudi’s Basilica that seemed to grow out of the very rock beneath our feet. Ines took us on a guided tour of the Basilica, pointing out many of the features, the carvings, the stone used, the symbolism of numerous pieces, etc. She took us into the museum where we marvelled at the methods used to create such an amazing building. Then it was our chance to climb up into the heart of the Basilica – up into the towers to see at close quarters some of the features Ines had described earlier. It was a weird experience – although we split up and tried different routes to explore the turrets and passages, we kept bumping into each other and passing each other going in different directions! And we all came out of the same exit more or less at the same time. Very strange!
By this time it was about 7pm and we checked in to our hotel – the Barcelo Athena Mar. We all had beautiful sea views but there was no time to sit back and relax – this was, after all, a Gardening Society trip! Ines had told us that the evening meal is usually around 9pm – we were going to have to get use to eating late. We decided to eat locally and were recommended to try the Fonda – a short taxi ride away on the marina. Superb seafood and a lively atmosphere – we had a great evening. Despite being tired, some of us decided to walk the 3km back to the hotel along the seafront. It was warm, but very breezy and we enjoyed the fresh air.
Saturday 7 May we explored the public transport system and found our way up to the Castle on Mount Monjuic via the metro, the Teleferic (cablecar) and funicular. There was the odd spot of rain as we reached the top in the Funicular, but the sun soon came out and after a rather long walk, we found the entrance to the Botanical Gardens. It was obviously not the most publicised tourist attraction and we had the place to ourselves. The gardens were only opened in 1999 and are set on steeply sloping terrain, having magnificent views of the city. This is an experimental area using new technologies for park maintenance and research is carried out into adaptable plants suitable for sustainable Mediterranean gardening. The paths are wide and white – quite stark against the flowing planting comprising samples of flora from the regions of the world that have a Mediterranean climate.
Having explored these gardens, we walked down to the Olympic stadium where we had lunch, then down past the enormous national art museum, and the Cascades and back onto the metro to El Roserar del Parc Cervantes - Barcelona’s beautiful rose gardens. They were hosting a competition on the weekend of our visit – we were all given voting papers and asked to go round the planted area where new roses were awaiting our approval – we had to choose our favourite, all numbered rather than named, and post our votes in the ballot boxes, upon which act we were each given a lovely red rose to carry round with us for the rest of the day. How nice!
By now we were all pretty exhausted and in need of a siesta – but we still had to find our way back to the hotel. No time for a nap! We decided we didn’t have time for the firework and music display at the Cascades either. We had a quick turnaround and back out to find our restaurant for the evening: The 4 Cats. Recommended by Ines, we all agreed that this was a fantastic restaurant with so much historical interest. Famous artists and writers had frequented this place over the years and the walls were covered in their artwork. A pianist tried to accompany the diners, but the noise and chatter drowned him out most of the time. And the food was superb. When we left the restaurant, the rain had started and by the time we got back to the hotel we were all soaked. We tried to shelter as we walked along the side of the hotel, balancing on the wide low ledge of the edge of the huge hotel windows – people looking out would have seen some very bedraggled wanderers resembling fairground ducks moving along the ledge, dodging imaginary potshots!