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See Barcelona like a Local

graciaThis was not my first visit to Barcalona. Possibly it is my 4th, so it was a great pleasure to return by taking a step back from the tourist mosh pit around the cathedral, lovely as it is there. I had heard that there was a local's fiesta in the area of Gracia and thought this would be a good way to spend time in the city in a different way. In fact I think it is a great base to stay at, at any time, as it is walkable to many Gaudi attractions and still just 30 minutes from the catedral should you wish to walk there.

The Festa Major de Gracia, held in mid August for a week each year, is a local celebration of this barrio with many streets creating their own themed decorations to impress. One Avatar themed street had a cinema set up with that movie showing, in others we were in the shadow of planes, lego flags and fake fairground rides. As we meandered the streets we saw all manner of things suspended overhead. There was something to catch your eye around every corner. The decorations are graded too so after a while we realised that we needed to track down who had come first. This was Calle Verdi, a lively road with arty and vintage shops, bars and restaurants, where Japan had been recreated with beautiful pink blossoms, the Fushimi Inari Shrine with its orange arches and a towering Suma wrestler. The worthy winner.

 

Other streets and plazas had DJs or bands playing, bazaar structures, colourful bunting overhead. As always in Spain the crowds were blending beautifully the young with the old, some mojitos and beers in hand, tables spilling onto street corners filled with tapas, kids dipping churros into chocolate... I'm sure we were not the only tourists here but this fiestas is not about us. The locals are out in force and it was a pleasure to be a part of it.

 

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We stayed at Casa Gracia, one of those modern breed of hostel that offers a high standard of accommodation and service while having the friendly charm of informal communal areas and a kitchen. The free coffee machine was a nice surprise! The decor is interesting with quirky art painted on the walls, or even a wave of hung plates, and all amidst the wonderful antique fixtures, wide corridors and a stunning old fashioned lift. We had booked a 4 bed ensuite dorm room for our family. Perhaps if you were sharing with strangers the clunky drawers under the beds for your belongings could disturb but the beds were comfortable and the shower strong and hot. The reception staff were extremely helpful with planning our outings. Being on the Passeig de Gracia was a great place to start.

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The fiesta was open from 5 each evening, getting livelier as the night went on (although we couldn't hear a thing from our hostel) so we still had time during the day to explore. Gaudi's La Pedrera is just 300m from the hostel and Casa Batllo a 10 minute walk and the Sagrada Familia about 20 minutes away. Here we found the cranes looming over it and the new Disney style lettering a little disappointing. I was more impressed on our last visit a few years ago. We did have a lovely lunch at the Chill Bar nearby and were forced, by my son, into the official Barcelona Football exhibition/shop opposite. An expensive visit! Next day we arranged a Medieval tour of the centre around the catedral so the kids would relate what they saw to their studies at school and that way we did see some corners previously unknown to me, and being totally interactive it kept them interested.

Actually I would recommend that you rent bikes in the Gracia area so you can get about a lot more. There are many bike generatorlanes around the city to make that easier. Also the area is well connected by the Metro, the nearest stop is Diagonal.

I did come across The Generator, around the corner from where we were staying, that also could be a good option for accommodation in this area. The chain hotel / hostel can be found in many cities, including London, and I can only describe the communal lounge areas styling as Fantastic. Dramatic and colourful with ornate floor tiles and the ceiling covered in large lampshades, mirroring the street decor for the Festa outside. In contrast the hostel rooms are plain white, with bunks. The hotel ensuite rooms are more creatively decorated with mosaic bathrooms and unique features to each. My son wished we were staying here because of the games room and it did appear to be a social hub. 

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Next stop the beach and a harbour on the outskirts of the city to stay at St Katharine's B&B Boat in Barcelona. See my next blog.