Sunday marked a change in our travels: we moved from Northern to Southern Europe, we stopped living in hotels, and Liam flew from Australia to join us. Spain was an unknown quantity, because we had little knowledge of the real history and conditions, but when Paula and I flew in to Barcelona, we were absolutely delighted. Barcelona seems to have everything: great climate, infrastructure, history, parks, harbour, bars and beaches.

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The apartment is great, with everything you could want and little supermarkets close by, although they the little ones you find in all European cities because the big ones are always built outside town. We wanted to find the markets but time defeated us. But paseig Picasso is right in the El Born area, one of the classic neighbourhoods with a great reputation for bars and restaurants, so food and drink is not a problem.

We came to the realisation immediately that Barcelona is quite different from the Spain we thought we were walking into. We hadn’t bargained with Catalonia, so we had to deal with two languages and the independence movement that is gathering pace in the province. It is a vibrant place, however, and we saw less of the unemployment issues that we expected to see in Spain.

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With Liam on board, we found a fantastic tapas restaurant, Llamber, and had one of the best meals ever. Brilliant tapas, with local specialities, good wine and great service. We were impressed by the quality and the service, but we will struggle to get used to the Spanish clock. Sunday afternoon was family afternoon, so the bars and restaurants were flat out all day, but one soon learns that the siesta defines the lifestyle, even in a big city and even on the coast, where it is cooler. No one moves until 9 am, breakfast is pretty none-existent for most people, the morning snack is essential, lunch is very late during the siesta, which goes to 4 in Barcelona and later in other towns, and eating before 8 pm is unheard of and probably impossible, because there is not where open. But they must be doing something right with their lifestyle and diet, because there are not many obese people and family life seems to have a higher value that we have observed elsewhere.

Monday was discovery day and it was already obvious that we had no chance of seeing all the things we wanted to see, as Tuesday has been set aside for a tour of Girona and the Costa Brava. My number one priority was la Sagrada Familia, but plans went badly awry immediately when we did a quick walk down to Barceloneta, the harbour area ten minutes away. We realised that the smart way to see lots of Barcelona was to take the cable car across the mouth of the harbour to Jardin de Miramar, at the bottom of the hill or headland of Montjuic with its fabulous fort. We were early, so we didn’t have to wait too long to ascend the Torre de Sebastia and dangle our way across the harbour, Barcelona laid out before us in the morning mist.

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We certainly earned our stripes slogging up the hill to the chairlift that takes you the final hundred or so metres vertically to the fort. The whole area is a stunning public garden as well as one of the principal sites used in the Barcelona Olympics, so the locals are justifiably proud.

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We scored a great lunch in the city centre, walked into the Catedral and found a gem that we had been completely unaware of, and then wandered over to La Sagrada Familia, only to find that the queue was around the block and there was no hope at all of getting in. I have no idea of the Spanish for C’est la vie, but it was just one of those things and we he crammed a lot into a day, more than I have put into this blog — didn’t even mention Santa Maria del Mar, the medieval church in El Born, nor the crowds around the Picasso museum. But there is still more to see, so we obviously need to come back, and I would certainly take an apartment. There is a degree of freedom in having more than just am hotel room, in having space to get organised and relax.

Tomorrow, we will Dali on the Costa Brava and Girona.

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