Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Barcelona - Spain

Sagrada Familia, the unfinished Roman Catholic Church, is probably Antonia Gaudi's masterpiece.  
First of all, be very careful with your personal belongings, Barcelona is regularly number one in polls of cities most likely to be pickpocketed. On our trip, one of the group had his wallet stolen before we had even reached our hotel.

It is quite is quite a cool city. But to be honest I was a little disappointed. I visited in September so not too long after Rome, which probably meant the bar was set a little too high. Maybe if I came here first I might have a different opinion.

However don't let my humble opinion deter you from booking, or if you have already, you will have a great time as there is still a ton of stuff to do and see. I was staying in a hostel which meant I could get close to centre without paying expensive rates at a hotel.

In England there is often a negative stigma attached to hostels. People are worried about safety and hygiene, and probably thought the film Hostel was a documentary.
I can honestly say though that I have had more bad experiences in hotels than in hostels and usually the staff who work in hostels are much more friendly and helpful, usually as they are travelling themselves or they own it.

From Passeig de Gracia , my first stop had to be the iconic Sagrada Familia located just north east of the very centre where my hostel was located, around 1.8km away.
For those who haven't been to Barcelona, the city is effectively divided in two by one long avenue running diagonally from west to east, known as Avinguada Diagonal. It's great for tourists as you always have a point of reference on your map or smart phone, and you can plan where you want to go using this as a starting point. You can also find your location much more easily if you get lost. 

One street south and I was on the Avenue heading east. Being September, it is still very warm in Spain at this time so I was wearing just a t-shirt and shorts. Most other runners I saw were too, so I guess that it must have been warm even for the local residents.

Quite a nice street for running on as there were plenty of Zebra crossings and it was very wide so there were not too many problems with congested sidewalks. It was also smooth concrete which after the cobbles of Rome felt like running in a foot massager!

After around 900m, take a left on Carrer de Provenca. Just beware as this is a one way street so ensure you stay on the paths. From here it is only 800m straight to Sagrada Familia. Pretty easy on directions so far.

It really is a fascinating piece of architecture. Despite construction starting in 1882, the work only passed the mid-point in 2010 with the an estimated completion date set for 2026. Visually very striking and in your face, I just love the way that they have just refused to give up on it and it will almost be a shame when it is finished.

This is a real hot spot for pickpocketers, so again beware especially if you have a bag or digital camera. Apparently some will use scissors to simply cut the straps, especially with cameras, which is a real shame.
Next stop was Las Rambla, the famous series of small streets full of tons of small shops, market stalls, cafes, street performers, musicians, artwork and great mosiacs on the pathway. Now without sounding like your Mother, once again watch your stuff here!

To get there, around 2.5km south, after completing a lap of the Familia head south west along Carrer de Mallorca (which runs parallel to de Provenca you ran along earlier), this will bring you back to Av. Diagonal.

Cross straight over here and continue in the same direction along Mallorca still and then take a left on the second street you come to. It will be called Carrer de Girona. It if's not, then you are lost my friend!

Girona will continue for just over 1km and by now you are very close to Las Ramblas. Still got your wallet? Nice! Swing right on Carrer d'Ausias March and follow it all the way and you will see it.

Lined by glorious trees which frame all the little stores and stalls, it is a lovely setting at either day or night. Be prepared for an annoying bit of weaving in and out of people. The Spanish for "Excuse me" is "Permiso, por favor!". This will come in handy here. And for when you ask for your wallet back later.

Camp Nou, the ultimate place to play football. So long as you're not on the other team. You're gonna lose. If you're lucky they may let you touch the ball.
Once you have picked your route around here, exit to the north of the street on Rambla de Catalunya. Around 1.5km north along the street you will reach our friend the Diagonal Avenue again.

Being a massive football (soccer) fan, I wanted to get a look at the Nou Camp before the match that I had a ticket for that night. I figured it would be too busy to really appreciate it later.
Our old pal Diagonal takes you right there. Around 3.5km and you will reach the roundabout (there will be one earlier in the road but stay on it until this second one). From here just swing left on Avinguda de Joan XXIII. The Camp Nou will now be straight in front of you.

Now being an Englishman, for me Wembley Stadium is the ultimate home of football, but this is pretty close in second. A monsterous bowl of a stadium, sure it could do with a lick of paint and maybe a roof, but it is something special.

After completing a loop around the stadium, which has a fantastic museum, it was time to head back to the hostel. Easy to get back, follow your footsteps on Joan XXIII and then back along, yep you guessed it, Mr Diagonal.

To mix it up I ran on the opposite side this time. There are plenty of points of interest along it such as a tram line, metro stations, the University of Barcelona, lots of shops and cinemas as well as the Torre Agbar skyscraper.

Now I am a bit biased I know, but this is clearly a rip-off of the Gherkin in London! The architect obviously was struggling a bit, liked the Gherkin and just said, "Build that. Siesta anyone?".

After 3.8km you will reach Passeig de Gracia where the run started around 13km previous. Quite a nice run, you get to see some Gaudi, a bit of the culture and of course the Camp Nou. However a few too many roads for my liking really.

Overall, a good city for a weekend away, you know what you are going to get (robbed), but I think there are plenty of other cities in Europe and even Spain that I would rather visit, especially to run.

You can follow me and my blog on Twitter @fairboyruns, Instagram @tomlfairbrother or on Facebook. You can also follow my running progress on Power of 10

Start - Passeig de Gracia, north side of Diagonal (one street)
Journey - North to Sagrada Familia on Avinguada Diagonal and then Carrer de Provenca. Leave Sagrada Familia and head south to Las Ramblas on Carrer de Mallorca and west on Girona and finally d'Ausias March. Exit Las Ramblas north west on Rambla de Catalunya then Diagonal west to Camp Nou on Avinguda de Joan XXIII. Follow Joan XXIII back to Diagonal and then 3.8km to de Gracia.
Finish - Passeig de Gracia

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