General Franco, ‘sold out’ sightseeing and a 130 km/h pasta dish!

T legging it to the beach at Camping Aquarius.

It was lovely in Sitges but it was a bit of a shlep to pop into Barcelona from the campsite and we fancied a change. We identified another site on the other side of the city, right on the coast and a much shorter train ride to the action.

We packed up and drove through Barcelona and along the coast to Camping Masnou. Nina popped into reception to book us in and came back saying we could pitch where we wanted AND the pool was open! Wahoo! The kids went bananas. It was hot, hot, hot and this was the first pool we’d seen with water in it.

The freezing cold pool at Camping Masnou.
The freezing cold pool at Camping Masnou.

 

I slipped the van into gear and edged forward up the hill only to hear a loud and urgent “OI, OI, OI, OI!” What the?.. The barman from the cafe bar came sprinting out and over to us. Was I about to squash someone?!. He proceeded to peel the back off a sticker, slapped it on the windscreen, turned on his heel and marched off without a word. JEEZE dude! OTT much?.

After several laps of the campsite, we eventually completed the lengthy audition process for best pitch, picking a nice one under a tree and not too far from the toilet block. We plugged the van in, got the kids dressed for a swim and wandered down to the pool.

“OI, OI, OI, OI!” What the?! Here came the barman again, scuttling across the road. “The pool closed! The pool closed!” he yelled. I shouted back “The man in reception said it was open.”

“Oh… OK…” he said reluctantly before turning and scurrying back to his bottle-lined den. Flipping’ heck, this guy was a right pain in the backside! It wasn’t personal either. Over the next day we witnessed him yelling at more newcomers and practicing his ‘service without a smile’ philosophy with paying customers at the bar.

This site was in a good location for getting into the city and apparently celebrating it’s 60th birthday! It was separated from the beach by a main road and traintracks but a short walk and an underpass got you onto a lovely beach which stretched for miles. Unfortunately, the dude behind the bar, the dated washroom facilities and the highest price we’ve ever paid meant we wouldn’t be rushing back to this one in a hurry. It has to be said though that the other bloke in reception was lovely.

A quick play on the beach near EL Masnou train station on the way home from another day in Barcelona.
A quick play on the beach near EL Masnou train station on the way home from another day in Barcelona.

 

After the sproglodites had cooled down in the pool, we bought a coffee from General Franco at the bar, then headed back into Barcelona on the train. Having seen people on the open top bus tours, the kids were desperate to give it a go and it’s as good a way as any to get around and see the sights whilst keeping them entertained. We jumped off the train at the Arc de Triomf, found the nearest stop for the Barcelona Bus Turistic and parted with €90 for a family ticket.

We chose the red route which passed through and stopped at the Gothic Quarter, Mont Juic, the Olympic Park and the Port Area among others. The bus was a big success and we slapped plenty of suncream on as we bounced around in the sun. We jumped of at Mont Juic to ride the cable car for an even better view of the city only to realise it wasn’t running! Quick, get back on!

We got off at the World Trade Centre to climb the tower and get on another cable car… Closed! Quick, get back on!

We got of at Columbus’s column for an ice cream and it was open! Wahoo! We went up the elevator inside for a better 360° view of the city. We always love a view and despite spending his days in a windowless 3 person tin can, the lift dude was awesome.

The Bus Turistic eventually completed the loop and ended up back where we’d started near the Arc de Triomf and a delicious little taco place fuelled us all up for the train ride back to grumpy guts at the campsite.

With the kids fast asleep back in the van I went online to book tickets for Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia the next day. No such luck. Fully booked! And fully booked for the day after that, too!

Ah well. We’d go and have a look and see if we could queue for tickets then and there.

Sagrada Familia and Park Güell

Monday broke into another fine day and after showering, packing up and accidentally smashing a glass in the cafe-bar (just to kick Franco’s day off in a downward spiral), we pulled out of the campsite bound for the city.

We’d been warned that it was difficult to drive and park in Barcelona but we like a challenge and usually make a point of giving it a go wherever we are. It usually results in wrong turns, getting a bit lost and seeing parts of the city that we otherwise wouldn’t get to. We set course for Sagrada Familia via several predictable detours then looped around the magnificent Familia Sagrada before expanding our search radius to find parking, ditch the van and get a better look.

We've always enjoyed getting lost in cities and Barcelona was no exception!
We’ve always enjoyed getting lost in cities and Barcelona was no exception!

 

The warnings were accurate and it proved nigh on impossible. Even the rows of scooters and motorbikes didn’t have a whisker between them. A couple of the covered car parks still had the odd space but the van was too high to get in. We aborted the search and decided to head for Park Güell instead, we’d park near there and walk back. It wasn’t any easier up there but had we had a nice explore driving around and eventually found an underground car park we could fit into and set off on the 40 minute walk back to Gaudi’s basilica.

Sag Fam was indeed fully booked both online and off! We wandered around gazing up in awe and realised we’d have wasted the ticket money anyway as the kids’ attention spans reached exhaustion after about 20 minutes. “Can we go now?”

Renovation works are near constant on the Sagrada Família, Barcelona (construction is scheduled to be completed in 2026).
Renovation works are near constant on the Sagrada Família, Barcelona (construction is scheduled to be completed in 2026).

 

Such beautiful detail on Barcelona's Sagrada Família
Such beautiful detail on Barcelona’s Sagrada Família

We spent 15 minutes trying to figure out a way back to Park Güell using public transport before throwing in the towel, flagging down a taxi and climbing in that instead…

The driver dropped us at the entrance to Park Güell and a sign reading “SOLD OUT”. This was going well. I didn’t even think about booking ahead for this one. I just assumed it did what it said on the tin and was a park but the really good mosaic stuff was separate! The taxi was only €7 though which seemed reasonable.

Luckily the rest of the park turned out to be magnificent too and we wandered around with a surprising number of other visitors admiring the design, the park and the views.

A view over Barcelona from Parc Guell.
A view over Barcelona from Parc Güell.

 

Park Güell, Barcelona.
Park Güell, Barcelona.

 

It had been a somewhat unsuccessful day in Barcelona but it was time to bid it farewell. Getting out proved easier than getting in and before long we were speeding along the motorway for another night near a beach before heading home.

L’Escala and homeward bound

There’s a huge diversity of coastal landscapes on the Catalan coast from long golden sandy beaches to secluded bays, rocky coves and headlands. After a bit of research we decided to head North to L’Escala. Located to the South of Roses, there was a ton of campsites to chose from with both long sandy and covey beaches nearby . It felt like another quiet out of season holiday destination with the potential to absorb thousands in the summer. Oh, and the wind was back!

We headed for campsite Las Dunas which was North from L’Escala, out of town and right on the edge of a long open beach. We wound North along a sand dusted road out of L’Escala  came across a post apocalyptic, ghost town, overgrown, fenced, run down looking development on the right. It was actually the La Duell campsite and even if it had been open when we reached the gates, we’d have driven on. To be fair, it’s out of season and by the summer I’m sure it’d be trimmed, manicured and transformed into something much grander but for now our hopes of a decent (and open) campsite in this area were looking slim. We drove on knowing there was supposed to be another one called Aquarius not far up the road.

It, too, looked deserted but it was open. We drove in and the three check-in lanes gave us a clue as to how many guests these places must welcome in the summer months. Once inside, we discovered there were loads of people here already and the staff and facilities were fantastic! This place was a decent holiday destination with excellent extensive facilities and it was packed with windy people with kite surfing boards and windsurfers all over the place.

We pitched up and headed straight to the restaurant for dinner and a couple of drinks followed by what turned out to be a really special family stroll along the beach. The light was moody and fading, the wind was warm and invigorating. We stayed down there for ages running about splashing in the sea before sitting and chatting with the kids while we played in the sand.. Really beautiful!

T legging it to the beach at Camping Aquarius.
T legging it to the beach at Camping Aquarius.

 

A lovely after dinner stroll on the beach at Camping Aquarius.
A lovely after dinner stroll on the beach at Camping Aquarius.

 

It was pitch black by the time we got back to the van and just in the nick of time before it started tipping down for the first time on the trip and it wasn’t intending to stop.

It was still raining the next morning and it was home time, we had a long journey ahead of us. After making use of the huge washers to blitz our mountain of holiday laundry, we set off for one last stop at the Dalí museum in Figueres. We hadn’t booked again and guess what?.. We should have. The queue stretched away from the door round the corner and off for 100m or more.

Righto, scrap that, let’s crack on!

Dalí Museum in Figueres. The queue stretched round the corner and down the street behind us.
Dalí Museum in Figueres. The queue stretched round the corner and down the street behind us.

 

With just Les Gets in our sights now, we blatted through the last bit of Spain and ploughed on across France until the traffic slowed suddenly near Chambéry and we came to a very definite standstill. The kids needed wees immediately (like they do) and eventually plucked up courage to do them in front of the van. After half an hour, we heard on the radio that the traffic had been stopped for almost 2 hours!

That didn’t sound promising and by now we were all hungry. We decided while we were here we may as well eat and I sent Iz on a caving expedition to retrieve the camping stove, pans, bowls, forks, water, gas, pasta, sauce and cheese from the heaps of gear in the back of the van.

I set up the stove on the floor in the back of the van, got the water boiling, added the pasta and set my timer for 9 minutes… 5 minutes later the wagons up in the distance started to move… Typical!

We all got belted in and Nina joined the flow of traffic while I gripped the stove and pan firmly for the last few minutes’ cooking time before chucking in sauce, cheese and done! Not bad under the circumstances.

A couple of hours later we pulled up safely back at home, shovelled the kids into bed, cracked open a post-journey beer, hit the sack and woke in the morning to a fresh dusting of snow! Time for a shred;)

Spain had been a fun, whistlestop tour but that was enough city and busyness for us for a while and if there’s one piece of advice we’d have to share, it would be: book everything in advance!


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