The Covid-19 pandemic has put a stop to global travel for over two years, locking hundreds of millions soul in their own country. And that includes my girlfriend and I, who are living in Montreal and spent our 2021 Summer trip traveling locally to Gaspe Peninsula, the most eastern region of Quebec. For this Summer we both agree that the risk of catching covid is rather low, and hence our plan to travel across the Atlantic Ocean to Spain and Portugal.
We started booking our hotels and tickets three months in advance of our trip, and luckily the prices were lower compared to where they are today. Our budget for the whole trip (12 days) is CAD$4000 per person, excluding shopping, and we mostly stayed at 3-star hotels located in the city-center, opting instead to spend more on foods. Now that the trip is over and I am cherishing the places we went to and the food we ate, I conclude that it was exactly the kind of holiday we need. But first, about that hiccup in the airport…
Simply put, we almost missed our flights due to the extremely long baggage check-in queue for AirTransat in the Montreal Airport. Arriving three hours early does not help much, as there was about 30 people ahead of us in the line just 45 minutes before our 10pm flight supposed to depart. Finally, the staff started to prioritize passengers departing for Barcelona, and we were told to wait directly behind the counter. Due to the lack of experience of the mostly new employees, it took over 15 minutes for our tickets to be issued and our baggage checked-in, compared to the normal five. After getting our tickets, we were literally running to the gate, only to found that the flight was delayed by one hour to wait for the other passengers that were still behind. Not really a good way to start a vacation, but the story gets better from there.
The flight from Montreal to Barcelona took 7 hours and we spent a good chunk of it sleeping, as we know that we will have to start to hitting the road in the morning when we landed. We got our luggage pretty quickly once we landed in Barcelona and showed our Spain Travel Health (SPTH) – an equivalent to our Canadian proof of vaccination – QR code that we filled online before our departure to the staff on our way out of Barcelona’s airport. Transport from the airport was not an issue as there was plenty of taxi waiting outside the terminal. We took one to our hotel (Suizo Hotel Barcelona) for a fixed price of €39.
First thing our agenda is to find a decent restaurant – there are plenty – for our lunch. We settled for a seafood and steak restaurant called Grill that is located within 5 minutes walk from our hotel. My girlfriend chose the grilled octopus served with mashed potatoes while I had a slow-cooked cow rib. Both meal were equally tasty and well recommended.
Barcelona is a beautiful city. It is bustling, but not overcrowded. It got the best of both mountain and beach. The old buildings, cathedrals, and architectures are refreshing compared to what we see daily in North America. The weather is warm and the temperature peaks at around 4pm, and the late sunset time time means we have a long daylight to explore the city.
Wi-fi is widely available in hotels, cafes and restaurants, but considering the relatively inexpensive cost of data in Europe, we decided to buy a local sim card (Orange). For only €20 we got a 65Gb quota connection within Spain, five of which could be used in other European countries. For your reference, in Canada a 6Gb package costs over CAD$40 per month. Other than for reading our work emails and browsing, we use Google Maps heavily to direct us between places.
The first site we passed after lunch was Palau de la Música Catalana, a concert hall built in 1905 that was declared as UNESCO World Heritage in 1997. The building is located on a small alley near the city center, and during the daylight the sun has almost always shine only on part of the building wall.
Our second destination is one of the most popular architectural and tourist landmark in the city, the famous Sagrada Familia – a large unfinished minor basilica that currently is also the largest unfinished Roman Catholic church. We walked all the way from the eastern part of Barcelona to the center of it, which is a mistake in hindsight. It took about an hour and drained so much of our energy that we stopped at a small café in front of the bullring stadium midway to take a break and drank cold juice. Luckily, we did not have to queue for tickets, as we have bought the ticket online months in advance to also book the excursion to go to the top of one of the towers.
The architecture and interior of the basilica, designed by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, do not disappoint. The interior of the church could probably accommodate over a thousand people, and the air inside is very cool despite all the crowds, thanks to the very tall ceiling and large doors on both side of the building. When we were inside at around 4-5pm, the lights were simply beautiful.
To go to the top of the towers – we picked the nativity side – no large bags are allowed due to the very tight space on the staircase on the way down. There is a locker just before the service elevator on the right, back corner of the church, and the elevator took us directly to the top of the tower. From there, we enjoyed the cityscape of Barcelona.
Other than the church itself, in the basement level there is also an exhibition related to the history and details of the church that is worth visiting, not to mention the souvenir shop located just before the exit.
After walking some 20.000 steps for the day our legs were tired and refused to walk further, but we were still excited to explore the new city. Since we have four more full days to explore the city, we decided to buy a 96-hour metro pass for €31 on our way back to the hotel, which turned out to be a good investment and saved us lots of time and money going from one corner of the city to another in the coming days.
Our dinner for the night was already booked by my girlfriend a month before the trip at a popular place called Bar Brutal. The interior of the bar was rather dark and suitable for having a drink. The food is also decent but comes in a very small portion, which makes it quite pricey. We were still hungry after finishing our appetizer and two main meals, but preferred to look for a heavier meal instead. We went to a Japanese noodle restaurant called Udon Born across the street to fulfill our stomach afterwards.
There were few minimarkets in the area, and we had previously noticed that our hotel didn’t provide any bottled water in the room, hence we bought half dozens of water bottle before heading back to the hotel. Despite the noise on the street below (it was Saturday night), we slept the night undisturbed.