One more breakfast at the local pastisseria, then it was time to pack and prepare to leave Castelldefels. While Sarah lounged on the patio for a bit, pre-departure, I called Air France's main office in Spain to see what could be done about the bikes and our early flight home. I explained that we had a 7:10AM flight on the 7th from Barcelona and that we had found that the trains do not operate until 5:30AM with first arrival at the airport at 6:30AM. That was too close for comfort and wondered if there was an alternative. The gentleman said that checking in for the flight the day before was possible and even preferable in this situation. I went over it again to make sure that we were understanding one another, and we were, and hung up with the belief that our problem would be solved by going to the airport the day before our flight.
After checking out we rode our bikes to the train station, a feat in itself given the heavy car and foot traffic bound for the beach. We purchased train tickets to Sants Estacio and waited for our carriage. The trip was easy, and soon we were at the main station in Barcelona ... and the hotel at which I had made reservations, the Barcelo Sants, was just above us. We found the elevator and rode up to the hotel, again needing to stand the bikes on their rear tires to fit. The staff at the Barcelo Sants was superb; check-in was smooth, they took the bikes into baggage storage, and throughout our stay did all one could expect and more. The room was fine if a bit dated in decor but the mattress was firm and again we had a tub.
Wanting to get some sight-seeing in, but wanting lunch first, we took a walk down the street and found the Spanish equivalent of a Subway sandwich shop after purchasing a map of the city. Sarah wanted to see 'the cathedral' so I located the cathedral on the map and we figured out which metro line and stop was needed. We went back to the metro station, got on the L3 line to Liceu station, and came out on the Ramblas. Fortunately we asked for directions to the cathedral as we were turned around and heading the wrong direction. A couple of blocks later we found the cathedral, enshrouded in scaffolding. As we sat in the doorway Sarah realized this was not 'the cathedral' she sought; she wanted the Gaudi designed structure, the unfinished Sagrada Familia. We referred to the map, figured it was another metro trip, and started heading to Plaça Catalunya to catch the L5 line to the Sagrada Familia station. On the way we encountered a Starbucks and dropped in to try a Spanish establishment. After downing a small beverage each, we made it to the Plaça, got on the metro, and made it to 'the cathedral'. As luck would have it, they were having an 'open' day and we were able to visit the structure without paying. We wandered all around the open portions, and went through the attached Gaudi Museum. The only thing we missed was the ride up the elevator to the top as that was closed during our visit. Finished, we wandered over to the park across the street and sat and watched the cathedral in the making as the sun dipped down behind it. Finally, it was time to go back to the Barcelo Sants and prepare for dinner.
Dinner was another fine mess, at least at the start. We wandered in the area around the station and found nothing suitable. Sarah had noted the large concentration of restaurants along the Ramblas, so we finally ducked back into the metro system and over to Plaça Catalunya station. I was turned around, again, and we headed in the opposite direction we intended but that worked out to be a non-issue. After a few blocks we found a restaurant and settled down for dinner, grilled veal for me and Catalan sausage for Sarah. With the late dinner, all that remained after eating was returning to the hotel to prepare for an airport run the next morning.
We fueled up for the trip to the airport at the hotel's breakfast buffet; pricey at 12€ each but lots of food and even made to order omelets. With full tanks we shuffled gear so that we could check in my Carradice bag with the bikes, so everything we would need before departure needed to be in Sarah's bag.
We retrieved the bikes from hotel storage and descended down to the train station where we bought tickets and boarded the train to the airport. A relatively painless process. The problem started when we got to the Air France check-in counter. The woman at the counter insisted that early check-in was impossible, that we must have not understood the man at the Air France office, and since the flights for the next day were not in their computer, yet, there was no operational way they could do early check-in. Hmmmm. I tried to escalate to a supervisor to no avail. The options open to us were to come back in the morning on the first train (with at most 40 minutes between train arrival and plane departure), box the bikes and either take them back to the hotel or place them in storage lockers in Terminal B, or find some other early way to get to the airport. Not wanting to risk problems boxing the bikes with a short turn around time I bought the two boxes and went to a quiet corner to box the bikes while Sarah went to check out the storage lockers. She returned after a while with bad news: the lockers were far too small for a bike, box or not. Looks like the boxed bikes are going to the hotel!
I completed boxing the bikes and we moved them to the train platform where a local woman engaged us in a long conversation about traveling with bikes and bike advocacy. She was a member of a Barcelona advocacy group, and left us a flier describing the organization. By the time the train arrived there was a large crowd on the platform and we had problems getting the large boxes on the train in the rush to board. By the time the train left for Barcelona Sants he car was packed and we had to hold the boxes standing on the rear wheel end. At the hotel the staff offered to keep the boxes in storage and to help arrange for a taxi to take us and the boxes to the airport in the morning. The desk clerk thought the best we could do was a taxi with a roof rack onto which they could strap the boxes, but told us to see the evening bell boy, 3-11PM shift, who would know the options and could make the best arrangements.
With the boxes stored we decided to do some sightseeing and have some lunch on the way. We went down to station, purchased day passes for the metro, and set off on the L3 line to Liceu station. Sarah wanted to check out the recommendations she had received, and one was for a tapas place called Pinotxo/Pinoccho in the Mercat de la Boqueria. Ascending from Liceu station onto Las Ramblas we could see the entrance to the Mercat and the Pinotxo sign staring back at us. We went over and found all the seating taken, and as we were trying to get noticed so we could be seated in the next free spot an older woman seated right in front of us fainted and fell to the ground. A few minutes of getting her back to consciousness and settled elapsed before the older waiter, Juanito, pointed out that we would get the seats of a couple that were just finishing dessert. But then they wanted coffee, etc. We were finally able to get seated at the Ramblas end of the bar. The menu is fixed, and we tried clams with white beans, a stew, and some deep fried codfish balls. All was tasty, but as tapas (like appetizers) are a way to charge big prices for small servings the bill was 24€.
I had wanted to visit the Picasso Museum, but it was closed on Mondays so we decided to try the Center for Contemporary Culture which had an exhibit of surrealists which had closed in mid-May. But we had hoped to find something of interest. We started in the correct direction but ended up at the Museum of Contemporary Art, about a block from the Center. The permanent collections were closed, but we looked through an exhibit of work by Francis Alÿs, all based on photos/films taken near his home in central Mexico City, and then one part of a film trilogy by Alexander Sokurov.
We freshened up for dinner at the hotel, and talked to Frederico, the evening bell boy. He called and made arrangements for a large taxi to pick us up at 4:30AM. That should get us to the airport close to the 5AM opening of check-in for our flight.
With taxi reservations arranged, it was time to return to Liceu station on the metro to find a restaurant in Plaça Reial that was recommended by Sarah's mother. We found the Plaça, and after scanning the various restaurants there decided the one that was recommended was the one at the north end, the one with over 100 folks in line waiting to be seated. It was time for Plan B. We went back down and tried a restaurant across from the metro station that claimed to be Basque. The ownership may or may not have been Basque, but the menu was strangely similar to many we had seen in the area: Paella, chicken cooked in garlic, black rice and so forth. We ordered salads, chicken in garlic, and black rice, and a bottle of good red wine. For dessert we walked across the street to a place advertising Italian gelato; not as good as that in Italy, but a cut above the ice-cream in the region.
Back at the hotel we finished packing, set my alarms for 3:40AM and dialed for a 4:00AM wake-up call as a backup, then hit the pillows for a brief night of sleep.
The alarms went off way too early, but we resisted the temptation to go back to sleep. We prepared ourselves, and then went to the front desk for check-out at about 4:25A. We then sat in the lobby waiting for the taxi, and were relieved when it showed up about 4:35AM .... and that it was a minivan. The desk clerk helped me and the driver move the boxes outside. The driver attempted to remove on rear seat, got it stuck, and then started arguing that he could not take the boxes. The clerk calmly assisted, showed the driver how he could just lay down the rear seats and on half of the middle row and lay the boxes on top. After a few minutes of wrestling with it, the boxes were loaded and we were airport bound. I was sitting just behind the driver amused myself watching the progress on his GPS screen. We arrived at the airport at 5:00AM, almost to the second, with a 20€ fare showing on the meter buy owing on almost 40€ by the time he added in the supplements for a van and the two boxes. The taxis in Spain are almost as big of a racket as those in France!
Check-in was a breeze, though the agent kept asking if we had luggage and then kept ignoring or forgetting when I pointed out the boxed bicycles. She finally awoke to that reality, had to go check on the policy, and finally just asked for the weights. With boarding tickets in hand we had to wait for the baggage handlers to retrieve the bikes and then accompany them while the boxes were x-rayed. It was then time to get through security and wait at the gate for our flight.
One problem with a pre-6AM check-in is that there is no place at the airport to get food or drink at that hour. I kept checking on two places with coffee and pastries, waiting for them to open. Interestingly, the boutiques and jewelry shops opened before the coffee places. As soon as the first opened I spent half of our remaining stash of Euros on a cup of coffee and a pastry for each of us. With an anticipated short turn-around in Paris we were relieved that the flight boarded and left at the appointed time.