On Thursday 6th August, we left school for what was to be my last choir tour before leaving for university next month. After a wonderful trip to Italy last year, we expected big things from this year’s destination: Spain!
Thursday 6th/Friday 7th August
85 students and 11 teachers met at 8am (a lie-in for choir tour regulars like myself!) to load the coaches with our multitude of suitcases and instruments, not forgetting the all-important snack bag for the hungry year 11s and sixth formers during the 28-hour drive!
Before setting off, our excitement was interrupted by the unpopular announcement that neither the DVD player, microphone or air-con on the ‘older’ coach were working… to be fair the DVD player wasn’t missed too much, we just would have really appreciated air-con when we were driving through Spain on Friday morning and 45 15-18-year-olds were baking in a metal coach at 24°C 😦
We arrived at Hotel Esplendid around 1.30pm on Friday and were kindly allowed into the hotel restaurant for a buffet lunch before gaining access to our rooms to unpack and shower etc.
The hotel is in the Costa Brava resort of Blanes and is just 300m from the beach, which came in very handy on Monday morning! If you don’t fancy swimming in the Med, there are two swimming pools to choose from at the hotel as well as a gym, squash and tennis courts, a sauna and 3 hotel bars (no alcohol is served in the hotel but there are many bars and restaurants surrounding the hotel and beach).
All of the 400 en-suite rooms have their own private balcony overlooking either the pool or the town of Blanes.
Saturday 8th August
We travelled from Blanes to Barcelona – about an hour’s drive away – for our visit to Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, his infamous unfinished basilica. On the way, we spotted some “small” cruise ships docked at Las Ramblas port and passed the Montjuic Cemetery where tombs were embedded in the sides of Montjuic Hill to make up Barcelona’s official cemetery.
We drove past Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium from the 1992 Summer Olympics and caught a glimpse of where the flame was placed for the duration of the games.
The Sagrada Familia was filled with some beautiful stained glass windows and the pillars inside replicate trees to depict Gaudi’s love of nature. Visitors can have full access to the nave, aisles, crypt, museum and shop but currently the towers are only accessible via a lift followed by walking the remainder of the way.
We spent the afternoon in Las Ramblas, a popular tourist spot filled with restaurants at the bottom end, a wonderful fruit and veg market in the middle, and shops such as Zara and Sephora at the top end. If you ever visit Las Ramblas, I would definitely recommend the market even just to see how the stalls are set up to look all colourful and enticing.
After a busy day of sightseeing and shopping, we performed Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man to a very large and appreciative audience in the Church of St. Gaieta, Barcelona.
Sunday 9th August
Sunday started with a 2 1/2 hour drive to the other side of Barcelona as we made our way to PortAventura Theme Park, home to the highest rollercoaster in Europe, the Shambhala. The park is split into 6 different zones with each zone containing a mixture of themed rides, shops, restaurants, and shows. Warning: The Crazy Barrels ride is not “crazy” at all, it’s very tame.
We set off for the hotel around 6.30pm and just made it back in time for the last ten minutes of the buffet tea, which was delicious as usual!
Monday 10th August
30 eager students awoke at 6am ready for a swim in the lovely, warm Mediterranean Sea that was only a 5 minute walk down the road from the hotel. We saw the sun rise over the sea and had great fun jumping into the waves.
The rest of the morning was spent at Las Ramblas, this time being dropped off alongside some spectacular fountains at the top end of the street. Some chose to go on an open-top bus tour of Barcelona while the rest of us scoured the shops and market stalls for bargains, which may or may not have included another visit to the fruit market!
We split up for the afternoon. Some students visited the Nou Camp Barcelona Football Stadium and the others visited Poble Espagnol, a manmade village built to represent the different types of houses visible in Barcelona, filled with shops selling hand-made items such as soaps, belts, and jewellery. After some tasty ice-cream, we joined the Nou Camp group at Tapas Locas Restaurant, Port Olympic, Barcelona for a seemingly endless tapas tea.
To round off the ‘choir’ portion of our tour, we performed medleys of Beyoncé and Frozen songs as part of Barcelona’s music festival, Musica als Parcs, to 820 enthusiastic listeners in the Parc de la Ciutadella’s Glorieta de la Transsexual Sònia Bandstand. This bandstand in Ciutadella Park is dedicated to a transsexual, Sonia Rescalvo Zafra, who was murdered there in 1991 by right-wing extremists.
We entertained the festival-goers further with soloist pieces and performances from our fabulous school swing band.
Tuesday 11th/Wednesday 12th August
After packing up, we left our hotel rooms for the last time and took the suitcases downstairs for 4 hours of free time around the hotel before boarding the coaches. Initially, we headed towards the beach in hope of some last-minute souvenir shopping but after walking for 45 minutes up and down the beach and finding no shops, we wandered back to the hotel for a final dip in the pool and a plate of chips from the poolside café.
The walk along the beach wasn’t totally pointless, though, as there were many little ice cream stalls and there was a refreshing sea breeze to help cool us down in the blazing sun. We also came across the infamous Sa Palomera rock. This rock separates Sabanell Beach from the Bay of Blanes and is considered to mark the start of the Costa Brava. You can walk to the top and get some breath-taking views of the Med and Blanes.
We left Blanes around 2pm and embarked on the 28-hour journey back to school, including traffic jams on the motorway, of course!
The whole trip was amazing and I urge you all to visit Blanes and/or Barcelona for all the incredible excursions you can experience in just one week.
Have you ever been to Blanes or Barcelona? Are there any other cities you recommend?