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Monday, August 18, 2014

Part 1: Adventures in Barcelona, Provence and Carcassonne - Summer 2014

Another fabulous trip, where I drove us from Barcelona to Provence and back in the course of twelve days.  We visited beaches and lavender fields, lovely historic villages and towns, wonderful antiquities and food, and even some rock and roll.  We had some ups and downs, but mostly a lot of turnarounds and roundabouts. The section tells you about arriving and some transportation options from the airport BCN. The tour started on Wednesday, June 25 and we returned home July 7, Monday.
I arrived in Barcelona on Monday ahead of my guests, flying into London Heathrow, a place I detest and avoid flying through.  I had returned home through there a few years ago, and it seemed to have greatly improved in efficiency, so I took a chance with a stop there as British Air is partnered with Iberian Air, that gets you to Barcelona.  It had been over 10 years when I landed there this time since I had vowed not to, and I wish I could say it was a great experience, it was once again, trying.  The whole screening process from landing to getting to your next plane is literally jammed-packed and the agents delighted in going literally as slow as possible, baiting you, especially if you're in a hurry.  And rude, always so incredibly rude and hateful.  Really, don't say anything, next thing you know you'll be surrounded by guys with guns.  Ha, I digress, but truly, if you're traveling avoid Heathrow, you will be so glad you did. 
On that note, I arrived in Barcelona in little or no time from London.  The airport is called El Prat de Lobregat.  Actually, that is the name of the nearby suburb of Barcelona.  Take note of this if you're planning on using the train/metro system to and from the airport.  I hadn't been to Barcelona since the aforementioned irritating experience, and the airport has grown a giant parking structure, that I don't recall at all.  But, nonetheless, once you realize how simple the airport is to maneuver, you'll be a pro. 
Our hotel was located near the airport and offered free shuttle service to and from the airport, and I chose it for this reason as I had driven in Barcelona before and was going to wait until the last minute to pick up our vehicle as I had previously experienced their big city traffic.  I always use Europcar as it generally gives free mileage, and is reasonably priced. 
There are two terminals at the BCN airport with a huge multilevel parking garage, also bus stops, but I'll get to that in a moment.  Arriving at the airport via plane,  you're on Terminal 1, departing you're on terminal 2.  They're small, kind of non-descript, with a few stores.  On the arrival level, it's kind of the same, but once you go through the gates onto the plane, it turns into a gorgeous indoor mall complete with designer stores.  You can take the free green bus to get you from one to the other and the train stop.
Arriving terminal , if you continue straight (you'll already have picked up your bags), you'll go into a giant covered walkway that walks across the parking lot/parking garage and if you take the elevator down, you'll be at the spot where the shuttles come to pick up guests.  You can go immediately right and go down to get a taxi.  Go a little further ahead of you, and to the right you'll see the car rentals inside booths, and a walkway to go down to the buses at ground level.  IMPORTANT!  The green bus is free and takes you to the next terminal, so if you're at terminal 1 it takes you to terminal 2.
When you arrive, you have about three options, that you should have planned out before you got there. I utilized all three, and felt comfortable with all of them. 
  • Hotel Shuttle:  We stayed at the Tryp Hotel, and it was maybe 2-3 miles from the airport at the most, and included free shuttle service.  This would be handy when I rented my car as well.  To get to the train station, go inside the terminal and take the free green bus to Terminal 2.  To get to the shuttle stop, use the long walkway from Terminal 1, directly ahead of you when you arrive.  Take the elevator down to ground level.  Different shuttles come and go, and ours was pretty efficient.  Check with your hotel for hours and details.  You might have to call your arrival in.
  • Car Rental:  We picked up our 6 speed Renault Scenic, early evening Wednesday, and arrived at our hotel rather smoothly.  The only scary part was the fact it was brand new with only 1000 miles on it, and white.  It was more of an SUV than a van, so no matter who you are, (if you can do it - I never can seem to) pack light, pack small, save room in your suitcase.  This had room for two medium sized suitcases and two small, but it was very nice.  If you're weird about manual transmissions, just note that you will pay more for an automatic.  European cars are primarily manual, it saves gas, and seems to be made for using the roundabouts more efficiently.  We were directed to go one floor down, and across.  The parking lot is divided into half guest parking, half car rental places.  The car rentals are on the far side getting off the elevator, (this is where my Europcar was anyway), and the two lots are divided by barriers, so you do have to walk over to that part of the garage.  No picking up at the elevator.  When returning it, follow the airport signs and drop off was super easy. 
  • Train/Metro:  Ok, this is where you need to be careful moneywise.  There is a tourist scam/misunderstanding.  Yes, this is a train station, but you can also consider it a metro stop as it is on the same line and you can use the same ticket to get there.  One you pay a small amount for the other you pay a larger amount, but they do the same thing.  Here's how I learned it  My first trip I wanted to go back and forth into Barcelona, and bought a train ticket for that for about 5to Passeig de Gracia where Gaudi's  Casa Battlo is, but found out later that I could buy ten tickets for like 11€ that covered the same territory/same train! (This is one ticket, but counts down.  It's fabulous!)  To get there from the airport.  Go to Terminal 2, take the long walkway and you'll end up at the train station.  You can buy tickets in a machine, or ticket window if it's open.  Have change.  Always have change.  Just send it through the ticketholder, it will pop up, and the door will open.  Don't forget to take it with you. Sometimes you do have to use it to get out as well or instead. I did take some unexpected detours, so watch where you're going and stick to your plan.  

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