I’m just back from 3 days in Barcelona and a 7 day cruise around the western Mediterranean, so here is the first instalment in my travel diary – Barcelona and our first evening on the ship. (You can read the secondthird and fourth posts by following the links)

When you think of someone going on a cruise, most people assume it’s for the rich and famous. My mum called into Oasis Travel at the start of the year and discovered a very reasonably priced cruise with Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL), which so happened to tie in with her school half term.

To begin with, off of the Oasis staff were absolutely brilliant and so helpful – yes, you may pay slightly more for booking a holiday with a travel agent, but it is so worth it… even to remove the hassle of having to check in.

Day 1
Our 10-month wait for our holiday began on Friday 23rd October with my mum, dad and I driving to Dublin Airport. There has been a lot of press about people who live in Northern Ireland flying out of Dublin Airport, but it isn’t difficult to see why it is so popular; every member of staff that I met was pleasant (even the security staff) and the two that I talked to were both very helpful, the range of shops is great and the free Wi-Fi was an added bonus. I know Dublin Airport is obviously a lot bigger than either of the Belfast airports and therefore can have better facilities, but it is becoming a favourite for us as a family – plus even paying for the fuel and car parking, the flights can still work out cheaper.

We landed in Barcelona quite late and got a taxi to our hotel – The Hotel and Spa Olimpic Village. Our taxi driver, however, overcharged us by about €20, but we didn’t realise that until later. The lesson here is to always check the approximate price of a taxi journey before you leave and to always pay what is on the meter.

Our Spanish neighbours helped choose the hotel, but our choice was somewhat limited due to most of the hotels located around Las Ramblas (the main street in Barcelona) required a booking of over three nights. However, despite the hotel being an underground train journey away, it was a pleasant hotel and ideal for a short break.

Day 2
We were up early for breakfast in the hotel, which was included in the price. There were many options from cold meats to pastries to fruit, and once we worked out how to operate the coffee machine, had a lovely breakfast. Our first stop on our only full day in Barcelona was a visit to the Boqueria Market.

Cruise, October 2015 4The main entrance to the market

There were lots of local fish, meat and game, fruit and pastries and we obviously ‘forced’ ourselves to try some.

Cruise, October 2015 28
Some of the fruit cups that were on offer

We discovered on a trip to London a few years ago that a bus tour is the best way to see a lot of a city in a short time frame, so after the market we took off on one of the two routes around Barcelona. The tour lasted about 2 hours 20 minutes and took in the east side of Barcelona, including the marina and the Olympic Village for the 1992 Summer Olympics.

After a snack lunch in Placa de Catalonia (the main square) we visited some shops including the Hard Rock Café, for me to supplement my badge collection, and then made our way to the Gothic quarter. The roads here are very narrow with some lovely shops and we spent a few hours just walking up and down the maze of streets.

Cruise, October 2015 210
One of the hundreds of winding streets

We also visited the Cathedral of Barcelona which is in the middle of the quarter which was amazing. It’s the less well known church after the Sagrada Familia (more of that tomorrow), but the inside of the church was breath-taking and the views from the roof were even more amazing.

Cruise, October 2015 282                                                        The view from the roof

After our dander around the Gothic quarter we, somewhat ashamedly, took ourselves off to a burger joint for dinner. However, in our defence, by this stage in the day we had been awake for over 12 hours, had done a lot of walking and just fancied something quick and tasty before heading back to the hotel.

Day 3
After the success of our bus tour yesterday, we started today with the tour around the western side of Barcelona. This tour lasted about 2 hours and included the Nou Camp and some of the stadia for the Summer Olympics in 1992.

After the bus tour, we walked the mile of so to the Sagrada Familia. There is no way that I can accurately describe this place and the only thing I can say are that if you are ever near Barcelona, you absolutely have to go.

Cruise, October 2015 514
Some of the beautiful stained glass windows

Cruise, October 2015 498
The text of the Apostles Creed

Cruise, October 2015 483
The view from the front

We didn’t take the guided tour but opted for the audio guide instead. The order of the numbers was confusing, but there is lots of good information.

After seeing the Sagrada Familia including the Nativity Façade, we got a taxi back to the hotel to get our luggage and then made our way to the ship.

Our first experience of NCL was that everyone is so efficient at their jobs. The whole operation was so impressive right down to the laptops that were used for check in which were in metal flight cases and can be set up and packed away in under 30 minutes. It would be great to have these people run the NHS, or the whole government, for a few months and I think the savings (both in terms of money and time) would be amazing.

We had a late lunch and explored some more of the ship before unpacking our cases, which had been delivered to our cabin, and then heading for dinner.

Cruise, October 2015 2082Our cabin, 14071

After dinner we headed to the on-board theatre for a Beatles tribute act, who looked (and sounded) exactly like the real thing. While I must confess, the Beatles aren’t my favourite band, it was still an enjoyable evening.