Something really strange happened a couple of weeks back. Claire and I drove to Stansted airport in a blizzard. Upon arrival we strolled calmly through the bustle of holiday makers and foreigners wondering why their flight to London had plonked them in the middle of Essex. We stopped off at a shop or two before eventually reaching the impressively short queue for passport control. Then we bid each other an emotional farewell, Claire got a bit teary and I walked tentatively into the depths of the efficient airport experience that is Stansted. Alone.
Though I consider myself well travelled I had never experienced solo travel. But Claire, who is wonderful, happily agreed that I should go and explore Barcelona on my own. It helped that Claire had already been to Barcelona and she has also travelled solo rather extensively back in the days when I hadn’t seen the light.
Solo travel has intrigued me since we embarked on our epic round the world trip. We met no end of solo travellers from all walks of life, and every single one of them was having a great time. Something about the pure freedom of travelling alone was calling to me.
I flew with RyanAir to Barcelona. I had vowed never to use them again as at some point in the past I had a bad experience. The fact that I don’t remember what the flight was or what the bad experience was enabled me to see RyanAir as it should be seen. A way to fly extremely cheaply. In this case £24.50 one way to the center of Barcelona.
We have used EasyJet many times in the past 3 years so we are well versed in the rules and regulations of budget airlines – also known as “the things you do to avoid paying more money”. So I had my boarding pass printed off ready, my luggage was the correct dimensions to get into the cabin and I had enough water and snacks to see me through any delays that may occur. Such preparedness could save as much as £100.
The business model of these budget airlines is to try and sell you additional services and products – this is where they start to profit. Expensive food and drinks is a good example. Something else they do is sell “speedy boarding” passes, which enable the buyer to skip the boarding queue. I didn’t buy this as there is absolutely no need to stand in these queues anyway.
But something rather amusing happened at the gate. RyanAir announced that all passengers were about to board and thus should form into a queue. I sat in my seat and watched, planning to just jump up at the end of the process and thus spend the least amount of time crammed into a shamefully small seat space as possible.
So all passengers, aside from me and a few others, bustled into a shoddy looking rabble that slowly became two queues. The participants from each queue eyed each other suspiciously before slowly realising that they need to merge. Some foreigners, probably Vietnamese, who don’t treat queuing quite as seriously as us Brits, did their usual not very subtle cutting in. It was great fun watching from the comfort of my chair.
Once the 200 or so passengers were queuing up RyanAir jumped into action. But not to start boarding passengers onto the plane. Instead the stewardesses were dispatched to sell speedy boarding passes to the passengers, enabling them to jump the queue that RyanAir had just created. Suffice to say they started at the back of the queue and people actually paid for it at £5 per head. Good work RyanAir.
The flight was in fact rather good. It took off on time, proceeded without problem and landed slightly early. Then I got to experience the absolutely brilliant Barcelona El Prat Airport. Trust me on this. I know my airports. I got off the plane, cleared passport control and customs, found the railway station, bought a ticket (10 trips for about £8) and was on the platform in what can only have been 25 minutes.
One of the great benefits to me of travelling solo was that I could again experience the wondrous world of hostels. To a solo traveller hostels are brilliant. They are cheap, very social, hold a mine of information, give you access to a kitchen and they are usually smack bang in the middle of the action. As I strolled around the district of L’Eixample searching for my hostel I was visibly excited, mumbling to myself in really poor Spanish and virtually skipping under the minimal weight of my economically packed backpack.
The hostel was, as expected, great. It had 3 or 4 dorms each with six beds. There were also some double rooms. It had plenty of showers and a really nice room with a large sofa and armchairs. I couldn’t fault it and at £8 per night who would?
After checking in and stashing my stuff in the free locker I went for a stroll. My first hostel (I planned to swap to another after 3 days) was only 2 blocks from the most popular tourist attraction in Spain – the Sagrada Familia.
After taking a quick look at the impressively weird church in the company of some friendly homeless people (better daylight photos to come…of the church, not the homeless people) I ate a purple burger (it was cheap) and retreated to the hostel to meet some fellow travellers and to finish planning my 5 full days in Barcelona.
Stay tuned to :
- find out whether my own company annoyed the hell out of me
- witness some really weird food photographs
- chuckle at my trademark sloping sea photographs
- find out why I went to a football match dressed as a bandit
Meanwhile, back in the UK…
The cost of 1 hours parking at Stansted and the Dartford crossing cost Claire about what I paid to fly to Barcelona.