What a day! I packed my luggage at oh dark thirty this morning and went down to the Guest relations desk to see if I could book a last minute shore excursion to Montserrat. No chance, they say…too late.
Then I have yet another NCL bitch-I went through all my bills and I find a discrepancy. They bill me for a full sack of laundry when in fact they only had five pieces of clothing. The difference is only $8 on about $800 in charges, so I’m thinking it’ll be a snap to fix it. Not at all. Even front line customer service personnel must call the manager of the department involved to satisfy the customer. They are not even empowered to make a 1% adjustment to the bill for customer satisfaction. After a while listening to the girl make numerous calls to get someone on the line who remembers my bag of laundry, I just give up.
I must say I am not impressed with NCL. Yes, the ship is huge, new, and shiny. Yes the service is impeccable. Yes, you can dress how you want. No, they do not have processes in place to fix things quickly for the customer, and some of their policies and charges are just rip-offs. I would only use them again if I can’t find someone else on the same route.
In any event, I wind up on a public bus from the port into Barcelona, which I can’t really see from our ship. The bus takes you near a Metro station at the base of an impressive statue to Christopher Columbus. It is here that I first realize what an impressive city Barcelona really is. It’s a huge bustling port town with a beautiful architectural tradition that is at once avant-garde and traditional. But the real pleasure of this city is in the tree-lined boulevards: wide, brick-lined affairs with pleasant pedestrian lanes. The people are friendly and helpful if asked, there are lots of families and it’s a very dog-friendly place. First impression is grand.
I switch into a Metro station and make it to a stop close to my hotel. But not close enough. I blunder, and blunder…and blunder until I finally give up and call a taxi. That costs about 3 Euro from where I am standing, so I used buses, trains, and cars to arrive at the Blanc Guest House from the port. Cost? About $8. Not bad.
Blanc Guest House is highly rated by Trip Advisor as a B&B/Inn. I pay about $130 a night and am in the old part of the city near everything. Not bad. And I am thrilled when the receptionist ushers me straight to my room at 9 in the morning instead of making me park my bags until the 2 o’clock check in. Thank you!
The room is not fancy but it is big and clean and the WiFi is fast. There is a nice breakfast set out of juice, coffee, fresh delicious pastries, and fruit. Awesome!
But…there’s always a but, isn’t there? But the room is noisy. I am in room 7 right off the main lobby, and I can hear everything going on in the rooms above me and beside me. I mean I can clearly hear it when a penny is dropped in the rook above. I’ll wait and see how ell I can sleep hear before I hand out 5 stars.
I decide I don’t want to waste a beautiful day so I head out in the afternoon to go to Montserrat. The hotel clerk puts me on the right initial track, going to the Metro station to take the L3 (green Line) to Estacion Espanya. But I blunder aimlessly on the Avenue Diagonal, blissfully unaware that I have long ago turned the wrong direction on that street. Yet my mood is good, because it truly is a wonderful promenade, with graceful wrought iron and steel lampposts and 18th century architecture punctuated by more ancient churches and brand new high rises. Eventually, I make my way to the right station but see no kiosk for tickets to Montserrat (a famous mountain known for its incredible views and ancient monastery). So I ask the first person who comes near and doesn’t look threatening. I begin in my broken Spanish, and she immediately asks me in perfect Midwestern English where I am from. It turns out she is from Minnesota and has just come from the funicular that carries you up the mountain. Small world.
So I go to the station she recommended only to find that, even when speaking English, I can’t get good directions from a woman, a fact that I already knew, but thought that perhaps just this once…but alas! She has given me directions to the wrong Mont. It seems she thought I was looking for Parc de Montjuic, which sounds just like Montserrat, does it not?
In the event, it didn’t matter to me, because I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the fortress. Built largely in the 17th century, this impregnable defensive redoubt eventually became somewhat infamous for the execution of political prisoners of every persuasion, and thus it has a history steeped in blood all the way up until Franco’s regime in WWII. Today, though, the high ground that provided such an excellent field of fire down into the harbor and city below for giant naval guns is instead a place where tourists can get possibly the best view of the entire city.
You stand out on the parapet on a beautiful day like today, surrounded by well tended grounds of flowers and trees, with modern archers practicing in the dry moat and families from all over the world soaking up the scenery, and it’s hard to imagine a time when the very serious purpose of the fort was to inflict casualties on invaders. This is a great place for a picnic or just to lie around sunning, or to take kids exploring.
To get here, you take the Funicular from the L3 or L2 to the Paral-el station and get off. The funicular itself is free, but there is an additional charge of about $10 for the cable car ride to the top, which also grants you admission to the park. Well worth it, if only for the unparalleled sweeping panorama it provides of this impressive city. You can see everything from your cruise ship at the port to the Gaudi Cathedral still under construction after more than a hundred years.
Later I return to my hotel, a whipped dog, but not so tired I don’t want to eat. So I dine at the hotel recommended Moncho’s Barcelona, and I am not impressed. For around $20, you get some very good French fries, an excellent salad, and an almost inedible roast beef sandwich that they advertise as their specialty. I wouldn’t go there again.
Tomorrow I go on a Runnerbean tour of the city. Goodbye for now!