After a comfy night at Jurys Inn, Heathrow (a nice room, but inexcusable Wi-Fi prices at £5 per hour or £10 for the day – the room wasn’t cheap, broadband is, so why wasn’t this free?) I had a hassle free flight to Barcelona.
It really is worth booking early and getting to fly with British Airways – even if it did mean the extra night in the hotel (I could’ve flown from Stansted, or maybe Luton, on a budget airline which I could’ve got to on the morning). For me, booking your seat in advance and practically no queuing at the airport is well worth paying a few extra pounds for.
Luckily an old colleague was on my plane, making the wait at the airport and taxi into town both enjoyable and free (thank god for big company staff who don’t mind putting everything on expenses). When I jumped out of the cab at his place I had no idea where I was, but was in no rush – perfect (except for the suitcase of course). Time to explore a little.
I strolled from his hotel across the city and luckily got my bearings pretty quickly. This was refreshingly simple as I was pretty close to the last two places I’d stayed in the El Born area. It’s a real maze – a historic mash up of winding alleys, lovely little stores/bars and the occasional massive church – but small enough that once you get lost it’s easier to just enjoy wandering around until you find yourself again. If you hit a big road around its edge, you’re soon back on track.
The apartment itself fell a little short of my hopes, but more because I’d put them unrealistically high than because it wasn’t up to scratch. It was run by Inside Barcelona, a small, helpful and very friendly apartment firm who I can’t speak highly enough of – but more on them later.
Situated literally two minutes from the Santa Maria del Mar church it had everything as advertised, although the pictures had really done it proud. The lift was terrifying, the stairs thinner than, well, me and there was a mini power cut 30 minutes after I arrived. The internet was in and out, my grey view was of the house opposite that was almost touching distance and the heating and plumbing were almost as noisy as the bars outside. Ah, El Born – it’s good to be back.
But these are petty negatives; in truth, it was a great apartment. Wood effect floors, white walls and Ikea furniture create a lovely modern feel throughout. The bathroom was tiny but adequately equipped, the bedroom small but more than adequate, while the main room was spacious with a quality (if small) TV, dvd player, stereo and kitchen (no freezer or oven, but fridge, two rings and a microwave). When I was living in bedsit land in Cambridge, I would’ve bitten your arm off for a place like this.
Gonzalo met me at their offices, after I’d pinged quite a few emails back and forth before my trip. I couldn’t of expected better service from start to finish: prompt email responses (all easily within 24 hours) that immediately answered all my queries; clear and concise literature on finding them, plus great service once I’d arrived.
After a quick visit to the local Londis for supplies and a chat with Zoe on Skype, it was nearing the evening – my old colleague had work to do, as he was only in Barcelona for three days, so I started off on a board game reccy instead. I’d had BGG fail me for the first time when putting messages on the forums looking for gamers heading to MWC. Luckily I’d seen a shop I wanted to visit on my last trip, while there had been a couple of good posts on a separate thread about gaming in Barcelona in general.
Board in Barcelona
The shop I’d seen was right outside the Arc de Triomf Metro stop, about five minutes walk from my apartment. Gigamesh is well lit and well stocked, every bit the equal of my local store minus any space to actually play games. I picked up a copy of Lost Cities as it carries the much nicer ‘Exploradores’ title in Spanish and is language independent – a nice little reminder of the trip and a fun two-player game that travels well.
I then wandered on to JugaxJugar, which was a little disappointing in terms of stock but had open games at the back as well as friendly staff actively getting involved with customers on everything from kids games and popular classics to the more complex stuff. It’s always nice to see a store genuinely trying to bridge the gap between the two ends of the hobby, while relying on the thing retailers so often forget is their edge over online stores – customer service.
But the real find was Bar Queimada Nivell Q; the kind of bar most gamers can only dream of. Over 350 games behind the bar; coffee, food and booze; gaming until 2.30am on a Saturday night and midnight or later every night. Unfortunately, as I don’t speak Spanish, I could only have a couple of drinks and watch on. There were no open tables or organisers, just people who’d clearly come in to play in their own groups. That’s not a complaint – it was just a shame. I should really brush up on at least a little Spanish before I return!
With a busy week ahead I went back to the apartment, via a quick visit to my go-to Barcelona bar, Alsur Cafe. Right in the centre of El Born the place has a really relaxed vibe, nice décor, good food and drink plus decent free Wi-Fi – what more could a solo traveller ask for? It was a nice relaxing end to a long day that had ticked all the boxes, but of course I had no idea what lay in store for me on the coming days. More of that in part two, including an explanation as to why there are no photos attached to this blog (and no, I didn’t get pick-pocketed – that would’ve been a picnic in comparison…).