Sep182012

Oh My Gaudi, I’m in Barcelona

I traveled today from the Barcelona Airport to 22@ in the city, formerly known as the “Catalonian Manchester” for its heavy industrialization in the 19th century. If I had actually researched Barcelona prior to my visit, then chances are I would not have booked the Holiday Inn Express – City 22.

That is why I don’t like to read too much about a place before I visit. HIX City 22 is a great location for the price. I used the IHG 2-for-1 rate to book the room for 66EUR per night including free breakfast and internet. I passed by several 5-star luxury hotels today on my ten mile or so walk around the city. I saw Hotel Majestic, Hotel Arts (Ritz-Carlton) and W Barcelona. All those places are 300 to 600EUR per night. Granted they are pretty hotel buildings.

Barcelona Tourist Tip #1 – Buy a T10 ticket at the airport.

My flight arrived in BCN Terminal 1 and there is a free shuttle to Terminal 2 where you can catch the train to Barcelona Sants (train station name) aka Sants Estacio (metro stop name) in the city center. The two names confused me, but the Barcelona Sants train station stop was simply a walk across the station to the metro line called Sants Estacio.

The T10 ticket is good for 10 rides on the metro and the cost is 9.40 EUR. This is one of the cheapest cities I have ever been for public transportation. The last time I came to Barcelona in 1999 I simply booked a taxi and paid about $35 to travel from the airport to the Hilton Barcelona. This trip I traveled a farther distance from the airport on public transportation for about $1.30. This is kind of like my Frequent Miler challenge for Barcelona. I took out 140EUR from the airport ATM for 12 days of travel.

The airport train was so modern compared to recent travel in New York City. Arrival at Barcelona Sants station was a little confusing but I found the signs for “M” and a huge wall-size metro map.

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Barcelona Metro Map

Travel Tip #2 – I had never done this before, but I snapped a photo of the map and realized I can check my photo and magnify it and I don’t have to worry about keeping paper maps for my walks around the city.

Barcelona metro lines are numbered and colored. I needed to get to the #4, yellow line and that meant a change of metro lines to reach the Holiday Inn Express – City 22.

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Llacuna Station, Barcelona Metro Line #4, yellow line.

After having just spent six days in NY these past two weeks, the signage in Barcelona Metro was much easier to read to find the correct metro train.

It took about one hour to travel from the airport to the Llacuna metro station stop with a train and two subway lines.

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El Poblenou area of Barcelona, aka 22@

I stepped out of the subway station and my first impression was something like I booked a hotel in the slums of Barcelona. Graffiti and construction work and these buildings with a sign stating “demolitions” made me a bit apprehensive about the location.

To the right of the empty lot in the previous photo was a modern building with a large EU sign.

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22@ is one of the largest urban reconstruction projects in Europe.

“Catalonian Manchester” is undergoing urban renewal. This area is about one mile from the high end area where the Olympic Village and Ritz-Carlton Barcelona Arts and Accor’s Pullman Barcelona Skipper hotels are located.

I checked into the HIX and immediately hit the streets with a map but without a plan. I thought about asking the receptionist if there are areas I should avoid since the neighborhood looked a little rough, then decided to just take it all in stride. I knew the direction of the beach and chose to walk the opposite way.

[Update Sep 20: After two days here at the Holiday Inn Express-City 22 I have had a complete change of mind about the Poblenou area. Poblenou is actually a great location for Barcelona in my opinion. The two blocks from the Metro to the HIX hotel are some of the most unsightly blocks in the entire area. One block north of the hotel is Rambla del Poblenou with a vibrant cafe street life, pedestrian walkway and loads of restaurants and small shops like baby clothes, shoe stores, boutique markets, household stores and a major grocery store is two minutes from the HIX hotel.

Poblenou is a real neighborhood and totally different from my first impression.  One of the nicest attributes of Poblenou is the relatively small number of tourists. Rambla del Poblenou is a 10 to 15 minute walk to the beach. I would not hesitate to stay in this part of the city again.

I will provide more photos of Poblenou in my review of the Holiday Inn Express-City 22 Barcelona.]

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Tall brick smokestack at the Placa Gutenberg.

All around El Poblenou are tall cylindrical smokestacks that appear to have been retained as monuments of the industrial age amidst the modern urban construction.

I wandered into this university looking for a cheap bite to eat after passing several cafes where meals were about 10EUR. I recalled from a trip in Ireland that a university cafeteria can be the best food bargain around. I purchased a sandwich for 1.22EUR.

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This building near Placa de les Glories was my landmark for the direction home to the Holiday Inn Express-City 22.

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Barcelona or London, which city built it first?

Signs pointed the direction to Temple de La Sagrada Familia. I knew this was probably the most iconic image of Barcelona tourism.

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Temple de La Sagrada Familia, designed by architect Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926).

Construction of Sagrada Familia began in 1882 and the basilica is scheduled for completion iaround 2026, the centennial of Gaudi’s death. The cathedral was less than a quarter complete at the time of Gaudi’s death. The church is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

All the cranes were unexpected for me. I did not realize the cathedral was still under construction.

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Temple Explatori de la Sagrada Familia, architect Antoni Gaudi

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The details are captivating to the eye. I wish the skies had been blue for better photos.

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One indicator of a major Barcelona tourist site is the sighting of a McDonald’s and KFC across the street. I saw these fast food joints in several places around the city. Even Starbucks is here in Barcelona.

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Street café life is more prevalent here than any place I have been in the past two decades. People seem so relaxed here in Barcelona.

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From Sagrada Familia I made my way up Avenguda Diagonal, the main road bisecting Barcelona and down the Passeig de Gracia where I came across another two Antoni Gaudi buildings.

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Casa Mila, Antoni Gaudi

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Casa Mila on Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona

Passeig de Gracia is like Rodeo Drive or any major city with a street of high end designer shops.

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Passeig de Gracia has many fashion designer shops like Gucci and Prada and Salvatore Ferragamo.

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Hotel Majestic is a 5-star luxury hotel on Passeig de Gracia. September 19 rates start at 280EUR for a 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment which is a bargain compared to the Ritz Carlton or W Barcelona.

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For no particular reason I crossed over to the other side of the street and soon came across Casa Batlló, another Gaudi design.

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The 20EUR admission fee kept me on the outside. The wikipedia images of the interior are captivating.

Continuing my rambling across Barcelona I appropriately found myself on the pedestrian street of La Rambla, The crowds of tourists rivaled anything I saw in New York City this month.

I realized Barcelona is one incredible city for tourists and living. And I hadn’t even seen the ocean yet.

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La Rambla, Barcelona

Ric Garrido, writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler, shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests. You can follow Loyalty Traveler on Twitter and Facebook and RSS feed.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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  1. if you have a chance check out parc guell. also designed by gaudi, it was originally supposed to be a housing development. It’s beautiful, has nice views of the city, and you can even pack a picnic lunch to eat there. There is so much great food to be had, it’s the main reason we went there last year for our honeymoon. A casual but wonderful place I can recommend is called Embat.

  2. @Jamison – I did keep walking and made it to the sea. This post had to end since I was writing at 4am and needed some sleep before my free breakfast and another ten miles of walking.

    @jialingw – I will see if I can get there today. Unfortunately today is forecast to be the rainy day for the week. Tomorrow I am off to Girona for TBEX12 Europe.
    Travel Blog Exchange conference.

    @Aznprzn – thanks for reminding me I need to buy a Barcelona football jersey for my sister.

    @erndog – more to come.

  3. I was blown away by Barcelona’s airport. The new T1 was designed by a famous architect who is from Barcelona, Ricardo Bofill. This is the same guy who designed the new W hotel. It’s a bit tricky to get to the W, but you should try to stop by and check it out… really cool place… see if there are some suites to look at. While in BCN don’t miss the Picasso Museum… also, the food market, La Boqueria… located at Rambla, 91.

  4. @SEG BCN is a nice airport design. Thanks for the architect information. Considering the rain today I probably should visit hotels. That is supposed to be my primary blog focus after all.

    I was in La Boqueria yesterday and snapped some photos of foods.

    Almost went to the W hotel when I reached the beach, but then opted to head back toward my hotel.

    The W Barcelona looks kind of out there on the sandy spit by itself.

  5. How long do you suggest staying in Barcelona for? I’m planning to go for either 3 days or 4 days in March 2013. Thanks. Great blog!

  6. Just returned myself a few weeks ago. VERY walkable city with easy access to subway. I probably walked 3-5 miles a day. I suggest 3-4 days to see the main attractions, but I set aside a couple beach days and I did a 1/2 day side trip via train to Monserrat (highly recommend). I just caught Rick Steve’s show on Barcelona and agree with most of his tips.

  7. @G — I’d highly recommend 4 days, especially if you’d do a 1/2 day trip to Monserrat, like bk’s great tip. I was in bcn this year (may) for the first time and I absolutely loved it! Wonderful, wonderful city. If it’s a nice day, I highly recommend walking up through the botanic gardens to Monjuic (castle on the coast), as well as a second rec to Parc Guell. Also, grab some picnic stuff + nice spanish vino and hang at the parc across from the Sagrada. I can’t wait to go back! Great people, too.

  8. great post. I always enjoy someone else’s perspective. I am near the Girona metro line in a quaint little b&b for 50 Euros with breakfast and wifi, about eight blocks from casa batllo. Today will be a busy day with a food walk this morning, train to Girona, walk of Girona and then the George’s Castle tonight. See you at TBEX.

  9. Hi There,
    Great post, I loved reading this.
    My wife and I are very excited to be visiting Barcelona but are a bit daunted about how far apart things might be. We are thinking of staying in the L’Hospitalet de Llobregat area but not sure if this is too far away from the main attractions of Barcelona for the day etc…
    Also, does the transport system run 24 hours a day?

  10. Hi – Great series of articles. Will you be doing a review of ‘Four Points Diagonal’ at some point in the future?

    Regards

  11. Yes I will likely write a review of Four Points Diagonal Barcelona this week. I plan to review Barcelona hotels HIX City 22 and Four Points Diagonal before I start a series on Costa Brava hotels and locations.

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