Saturday, 31 May 2014

Copthorne Hotel, Birmingham

This hotel is just off Broad Street and is ideally situated for the ICC and the NIA.  And it is big!

The Copthorne Hotel is the white right angled building to the right of the image, the building covered in circles, looking a little too much like a sewage plant, is actually the new library.

It is listed as a 4* and back in the day, it probably was, but it is looking a bit tired these days.  This is reflected in the price, it cost me £47 for a night in a standard room.  This was room only, breakfast was an additional £14 or £17 if I wanted to eat in my room.

This was the view from my room.

This was the bed.

As you can see, it is two single beds pushed together, which isn't a problem, however, the room was obviously originally designed as a double room.  There are no bedside cabinets but you could see where they had been attached to the headboard unit, the holes left by the removal were clearly visible.

No bedside cabinets meant that I had to either balance my phone and glasses on the backboard, or put them on the floor.  Worst of all, no cup of coffee in bed!

The bathroom was a triangular shape, the positioning of the toilet roll holder meant that you really needed to be a contortionist to be able to reach it from the toilet.  But there was a full size bath with shower over.

The hotel was very well soundproofed from noise INSIDE the hotel, not so much from noise outside.  The bedroom floors were solid and carpeted, so you couldn't hear people walking about.  There was a party in one of the function rooms and I couldn't hear anything from that either.  Noise from outside pubs and clubs could be heard, but may be less so in different rooms.

Check in and out was very easy and the staff very helpful.

Car parking was a bit pricey, £12 for 24 hours, but then it is in the city centre, you may be able to get cheaper but probably not locally.  There is a fitness suite too.

Wifi is chargeable, which I think is a bit ridiculous in this day and age, particularly for a 4* hotel in a major city.

It wouldn't be my first choice of hotel next time I stay in Birmingham, but I wouldn't discount it completely.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Park Guell, Barcelona

Park Guell is a fantastic place to visit, I have been several times now and I am sure that I have not yet seen everything there is to see!

The best way to get here is to catch the Metro to Lesseps station and follow the signs, it is quite a trek and there are buses which run past the park entrance.  Some of the tourist buses have a stop near the park, but you still have to get up the hill.  And it is a hill.  There are even escalators in the pavements

This route will take you to the main entrance at Carrer d'Olot, you pass through some amazing buildings and it is the first hint of what is to come.

There are a couple of free downloadable apps for iPhone and iPad that will give you a guided tour around the park, there is free wifi too if you want to interact.

Up until October 2013 the park was free to enter, however a charge has now been introduced for the 'Monumental Zone', in other words, where most, if not all, of the buildings are.  The cost is €8 per ticket (€7 if bought in advance from the website) and 400 people per half hour are allowed entrance.  I think it is a shame, but I can understand why it has been done, 1000s of people walking, running and climbing over the buildings is going to have an effect and maintenance cannot be cheap

More details of the park can be found here.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Barcelona, Part 2

If you turn off the main tourist areas of Barcelona, you can find some amazing architecture.  Squares with little cafes, huge buildings and churches.

I admit I did get lost and felt like I was walking in circles, and I probably will never be able to find some of these places again, but I am glad that I have at least seen them.

There are so many gorgeous buildings in Barcelona that so many visitors never get to see and it is such a shame.

Get yourself a good map and explore.

You will be glad that you did.

Barcelona Zoo (Parc Zoologic de Barcelona)

Barcelona Zoo is situated in the Parc de la Ciutadella, near the Estacio de Franca.  

Travelling in to Barcelona by train from north of the city, the best station to use would be Arc de Triomf, walk through the arch and keep going!

At €20 for adults and €12 for under 12s (under 3s go free) it can seem pricey, but you can spend a whole day just wandering round.  If you take a picnic and plenty of drinks you don't have to spend another penny, or should that be cent?

There are the usual food stands dotted around the zoo, along with vending machines for drinks and ice creams.  The little train that goes around the grounds, or the electric buggies, will cost you to hire, but the zoo is mostly flat, and there are areas that you cannot take vehicles so they may not be more than for novelty value.

And of course, both exits are reached through gift shops.

Being a Brit, I have to mention the toilets, and they are great, and much cleaner than a great number of UK toilets found in similar attractions.

A word of warning, please don't expect to see similar conditions for the animals that would in a UK zoo such as Chester, because it is not going to happen.  Whilst the pens and enclosures are being improved (it is a continuing project that has been going on for some time now, and I can see changes each time I go) they are still very sparse and small.



The zoo is open every day, including half day on Christmas Day, from 10am, closing at various times depending on the year.

More details can be found here.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Getting around the Costa Brava

There are various ways of getting from the airport, either Barcelona El Prat or Gerona, to resort and then around the area during your holiday.

The obvious way is to hire a car and there are many places where you can do this.  I have never driven in Spain, partly because I have seen how they drive in Barcelona (traffic signals do not seem to mean the same as they do in the UK) and also because it means that I would have to cut down on the cocktails, and after all, I am on holiday!  Unless you are staying in a villa away from the main tourist areas, I really don't think it is worth hiring a car.

If you just need to get from airport to resort, you can book a transfer with one of several transfer companies.  The upside of this is that if you are unsure as to where you are going you don't have to worry, as long as you can find your coach, then all is good as you will be dropped off and subsequently picked up outside your hotel.

The downside is that, unless you pay for a private transfer, which can cost £200 or more, you are working to someone else's timetable.  I have sat on a coach, waiting for other passengers, for up to 2 hours before we have set off.

I have also struck lucky too, one year I booked a coach transfer, but as I was the only person, I was sent a taxi!  A coach transfer is generally about £20 per person for a return trip, but this obviously varies by company and resort.

There are also public buses which run from the airport to Barcelona, it costs about €6 for a ticket to Placa de Catalunya in the city centre.  From there you can find your hotel, if you are staying in Barcelona, or catch another bus or a train, or the underground to your end destination.

Another option is the train, which is nothing like in the UK, they tend to be on time and clean!  Much like at Birmingham airport, you can catch the train from Barcelona El Prat with leaving the aiport, you just need to follow the signs along the walkway.  All the trains go through Barcelona Sants station where you can change for pretty much anywhere you wish to continue on to!

Yes, that is a double decker train! 

Barcelona Sants

Travelling from Gerona, the best option would be to either book a transfer or hire a car, otherwise it is a taxi ride to the nearest station, about 4 km away, or a bus into Gerona itself and the train from the station there.

Barcelona is well supplied with dedicated cycle routes, some running alongside the roads, others completely separate.  If you do not have a bike, you can hire them around the city.  For anyone who wishes pay an annual fee (about €30), there are locations around the city run by Bicing where a bike can be picked up, used for upto 2 hours, and then dropped off at another location, you will see these all over the city.  


For something a bit different, you can tour the city with Go Car.  These are small yellow bug like cars which are driven like motorcycles, you drive round following the guided audio tour, an all day tour costs about £50 although there are other options available.

Go Car

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Hotel Vila, Calella de la Costa

I spent a weekend here one November a couple of years back. 

It is located in the centre, just behind the church (The Church of Saint Mary and Saint Nicholas) and the outside gives no idea of what is hidden behind the walls.

That was my room, with the open doors.

When you walk through the doors, it feels like you have stepped back in time.  

The room was clean, and well maintained, I didn't stand on the balcony as I wasn't convinced that it would take my weight, but I think it was intended as more decoration than use.

I was room only so cannot comment on the food, and of the two nights I was booked in, the first night turned into an all nighter so I actually only stayed there the one night.

I am not sure that I could stay there for a week, but as a weekend stopover, I cannot fault it.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Dofijet Boats, Costa Brava

Dofijet Boats are not the quickest way to get around the Costa Brava.  Neither are they the most convenient, or the cheapest, but they are the most fun!

The first pick up is in Calella de la Costa, the final stop is at Tossa de Mar and every town in between is visited.  Most of the boats have underwater viewing areas so you can watch all the fish, and on one occasion a scuba diver complete with fishing spear, as they go by.

It costs €30 per person for a round trip, there are currently no single tickets available, and you will only be allowed to get off the boat (on your return trip) at the stop where you originally boarded, which is good in a way, as it would stop anyone who has oversampled the local hospitality getting lost, but not so good if you fancy exploring.

More information can be found on the Dofijets website.

Unfortunately, whilst all boats go to Tossa de Mar, not all boats come back to Calella, even in high season there are only two stops at Calella, so what I tend to do, is get the train to Malgrat de Mar and catch the boat there, if you do then want to come back early, you have more options with regards to time.

Photo courtesy of

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Self Catering in Calella de la Costa

There are several self-catering apartment blocks in Calella, 20 minutes away in Pineda de Mar there are caravan sites too.

Camping El Far

I would love to stay here, but unfortunately it is well out of my price range with rentals costing between €300 and €1300 per week, but maybe one day.  It is situated at the south end of Calella de la Costa.

There are bungalows available or you can pitch your own tent.  From the entrance to the camp, it is only a few minutes walk to beach and the centre of Calella.

Safari Apartments

I have stayed at these apartments on several occasions and have always been happy here.  The only reason that I don't stay here anymore (I prefer the freedom self-catering gives you) is that their prices have been increased, it used to cost me about £70 per week, plus the cost of food and drink, now the prices range between £250 and £500 per week for a one bedroomed apartment, which will sleep upto 4 people, albeit a little cramped.

When you arrive, you are given a 10% discount card for the onsite restaurant/bar and the food is very good there.

There is a pool, not very large, and it is unheated so is very cold even on the sunniest days, it is a great hangover cure!


Mar Blau Apartments

If you book these apartments, be careful, a lot of online booking agencies use photos and descriptions of the Hotel Mar Blau which is a 4* hotel further along.  The apartments are not in any way connected with the hotel.

Having said that, there is nothing wrong with the apartments, although dated they are clean and well maintained, considering that prices start at £8 per night you cannot really expect more.  

 This is the hotel....
....these are the apartments.

The staff are all friendly, but are only available office hours, there is an emergency number for out of hours issues, but I struggled to get hold of anyone on this number (I arrived after 6pm, could not get hold of anyone, and so had to book into a hotel for the night).

If you do arrive late, or early, keys are left in an unlocked mailbox in the foyer, most of the apartments are privately owned, with only a few let out.


But if you are travelling on a tiny budget, or just want somewhere to sleep, then there is nothing wrong with these apartments.