My mother and I had another holiday not long after our return from India simply because of the trouble in getting time off work in June and after the prices had risen. We were always going to go to Barcelona, Florence and Dubrovnik and it proved to be a wonderful week with glorious weather.
We travelled to Gatwick the night before our flight and stayed in the Travelodge again. We both enjoy it there and it is convenient. We couldn't check in our bags the evening before as our easyJet flight was just that little too late to qualify but rising at 6:20 a.m. for me before a Gatwick flight was in itself quite a luxury. There have been many times when I have been on a flight at that time.
The flight was possibly overbooked but we were not affected and, with everything going smoothly, we were in Barcelona early which was nice. We bought the very convenient Hola travel pass for two days and, despite a bit of a walk to the Airport Metro, it was a most useful card to have and worked well.
I must admit that, as we neared the Peninsular Hotel, I rather kept my fingers crossed that it would satisfy Mum. I picked it - yes, for the price - but more for its excellent position almost on La Rambla, one of the main highlights of the city. It turned out to be a perfectly acceptable choice and we had decent rooms. It is quirky and its predominantly old-fashioned nature with its green colours reminded me of Calcutta's Fairlawn Hotel.
There is so much to do in Barcelona. I suspected that we could have done with two full days there but, in the end, we settled for one full day and two nights. Yes, we would have liked the second full day but hey ho. There are many wonderful highlights and I would list Barcelona as one of my favourite cities but we first visited one of the lesser-known landmarks. The Hotel Fornos on La Rambla.
No, dear readers, you probably haven't heard of this place. Many other people probably haven't heard of this hotel either which takes up, I believe, just one floor of a large and impressive building on La Rambla. It is a landmark and place of historical importance to me, though, because I stayed there in the late 1990s and, whilst it was a little basic, its location is fantastic. A colleague took his wife and children there after I had suggested it - for its location and reasonable prices, I hope! - and they had four nights there. How did they fare? Well, wife didn't sleep and, whilst my colleague was far too nice a chap to say anything unpleasant, I suspect that they would not return there. The Fornos has, I believe, been refurbished since and, when I saw that it was around 140 euros a night, we looked at somewhere else feeling priced out. We always joke about it and, whenever Barcelona was mentioned in the office, the Fornos was not far away from the conversation. Personally, I would love to stay there again.
When I returned to Barcelona briefly at the end of last year - and made the pilgrimage to the Fornos, naturally - I ate in the Bar Castells which was terrific. We took our first evening meal and ate well but, unfortunately, the next day was Domingo Cerrado or closed on Sunday. This phrase was always a source of, if not quite fun, at least gallows humour between my parents who had trouble years ago finding somewhere open to eat in Northern Spain on a Sunday. Never on a Sunday...
We were very lucky on the Saturday evening to see the Magic Fountain by Placa de Espanya in all its glory. The many colours, the dazzling array of heights which the water reaches and the vast crowds there made it a spectacular and thoroughly worthwhile sight.
For the Sunday, our full day, we had pre-booked tickets to Parc Guell and the Sagrada Familia. Unfortunately, a marathon in Barcelona rather scuppered the public transport around Placa de Catalunya and we had a bit of a fraught journey by metro and rushed onward walk rather than being able to take the more convenient bus so that we arrived within the time slot for our tickets.
Parc Guell is an extraordinary spot and one of the main Antoni Gaudi highlights in Barcelona. Although we arrived comparatively early, there were plenty of people congregating around the Monumental Core. They wanted their photos taken by the extraordinary tortoise also. We walked around the main Monumental Core section but attention has to be paid to the many exits as, once out, entrance is not allowed again. The staff were all very friendly and it was an intriguing place.
We had both read Dan Brown's latest work, Origin, but could not find all the places mentioned in the book. A walk around the terrace walls was equally fascinating and, once out, we had a further walk in the park area. This part of the park is vast and it would be easy to spend a lot of time there. Tickets are very reasonably priced and we were very pleased to have visited.
After a bit of a cosy ride back by bus, we stopped in Passeig de Gracia, one of Barcelona's leading avenues where we saw another remarkable Gaudi building, Casa Batllo as well as, briefly, Casa Mia or La Pedrera.
Having timed tickets again for possibly Barcelona's most obvious attraction, Sagrada Familia, we made sure that we arrived in good time and were actually allowed in slightly early. It is an extraordinary place from both sides and there are plans to add further spires before its proposed completion in 2026, the hundredth anniversary of Gaudi's death.
I must admit that, intriguing as the outside is, I preferred the ornate interior. Somehow, the size of Sagrada Familia from outside did not overawe me but I felt a far greater sensation of its height from inside. It was very busy also but we enjoyed our time visiting it.
The evening was spent in one of the main squares, Placa Reial. A few years ago, I went to The Proms with a friend who asked if I would mind staying on for a short performance of some Flamenco and I must say that I found it terrific and absorbing. As a late thought just before we left on this holiday, I looked up to see if any Flamenco performances might be available and pre-bookable. They were and we bought tickets for a short performance at Los Tarantos which performs four times nightly.
The performance we picked lasted forty minutes - perhaps slightly longer than the earlier edition - and was just long enough to get the feel of the singing and dancing again. The place was fairly small but it was a memorable evening and a fine way of ending our brief stay in Barcelona.
We had a fairly leisurely start on the Monday as our flight from Barcelona to Florence was not until 11:30. Flights to Florence from many airports are not that regular so this suited us well and the legroom on Vueling was decent too. We found ourselves next to a talkative Frenchman who, with no English, insisted on speaking so we had to break into French to accommodate him. Hearing was actually the greater problem but we found the chap enjoyable and were pleased to talk and be able to converse with him.
After an airport bus took us to the Santa Maria Novella Railway Station, we quickly found our hotel close by. It turned out to be nice with decent rooms but, like many Italian hotels, it had just one floor of a three-storey building which surprised us to a degree although I accept that I may have missed the small print. The lady was very friendly and, although I was given a family room for the first night, I was aware that I might be changed and this indeed turned out to be the case when a family did appear. If anything, I felt more comfortable in the smaller room.
It was a shame, though, that having booked a slightly higher price to allow us to pay at the hotel rather than through the booking company at the time of making the reservation, the hotel nonetheless billed us immediately and efforts to have the monies credited proved futile so we reluctantly paid early. The greater problem turned out to be two further charges for the full amount of almost £400 once during our stay and another one after we had left. Despite promises to have almost £800 credited, it did not happen and needed bank intervention. Sadly, having read other articles on the internet, I was most certainly not alone in having my card billed two or three times.
Happy days again. Outside the Hotel Fornos in Barcelona.

Barcelona's Magic Fountain display.

Parc Guell, Barcelona.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona.

A Flamenco performance in Placa Reial, Barcelona.

Barcelona's La Rambla.

The Badia Fiorentina and Bargello Towers from the Badia Cloisters.

View of Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo. The impressive Duomo in Florence.

Santa Maria Novella Church in Florence.

Dubrovnik's Stradun taken from the city walls.

The orange-tiled roofs of Dubrovnik.

Dubrovnik at night.

Cable car travelling to Mount Srd

Pile Gate, the entrance to Dubrovnik's Old City.

Our three-night stay in Florence was lovely. When we last visited two years ago, we had hoped to visit the Badia Fiorentina ( which appears in Dan Brown's Inferno) but, having found out that there was a rare opening, we had dived into a taxi to make it in time but the taxi driver misunderstood us and we didn't make it. This time, we spent plenty of time inside. The church was open when we did find it and we returned the next day to attend Vespers (which led into a longer Mass). It is an impressive church and appears to be less well-known than others in Florence.
Son, having been told that he is impatient by mother, dutifully waited - ages, he might add - in a queue to gain free entrance into the Duomo. We went early and just before it opened which probably meant waiting even longer but, anyway, we made it. I have to say that, of the two cathedrals we visited in Barcelona and Florence, I personally preferred the interior of the Sagrada Familia but the decorative exterior of the Florence Duomo. The Duomo is comparatively sparse inside yet its intricate architecture outside is a sight to behold. I was pleased to have been inside. We took lunch seated underneath the statue of Perseus holding Medusa's head in the Piazza della Signoria, one of Florence's foremost squares.
I found the narrow Florentine pavements a tad fraught. There seemed to be a never-ending trail of people walking along them dragging suitcases or others with their heads down on mobile telephones. Digging my heels in, I am afraid that I will not budge from my course when I see people coming towards me looking down at mobile telephones... Somehow, all of us avoided contact.
We also visited the Piazzale Michelangelo with its fantastic views over Florence. We took a bus but walked down and, whilst we did the same two years ago, the weather was even better this time. Our French friend on the aircraft had been a keen museum-goer and he had encouraged us to have a look at the Santa Croce Church which we did. (That is a polite way of saying that he probably encouraged us to go inside but, on seeing the prices and with no free admission given as far as we could see, we saw it from the outside only...)
We ate very well during our stay. Once we ate close to the hotel and the other two nights by the Badia Fiorentina and both places were terrific. We also enjoyed a walk around the historic centre and, being a keen follower of fashion (which I know my colleagues will - correctly - pour scorn on.I am being facetious about my take on fashion...), I was happy to see places such as Guchi and, well, window-shopped and stayed very far from the entrance and encouragement to go inside.
We moved on to Dubrovnik for three further nights. We took a train from Florence to Roma Tiburtina from where a very slow train took us to Fiumicino Airport. We had a bit of a wait which became longer as it took an age to board everyone for whatever reason. The delay wasn't great and the flight over the Adriatic was most pleasant but we were seated on the wrong side for the best views which would have made it nicer.
Mum hadn't been to Croatia before and loved her stay there. We stayed at the simple but pleasant Hotel Adriatic on the Lapad Peninsula which is a fifteen-minute bus ride from the Old City. The Maestral Group seem to own all the hotels along one road and all vary in star rating. Our rooms were simple yet adequate and breakfast was taken in a vast building on the other side of the road from the hotel. It had wonderful sea views and the food was decent.
We ate in the Hotel Splendid on the first night and had their buffet. It was fair value but there was always the temptation to, shall we say, have one's money's worth which may not greatly benefit those on a diet (which I wasn't although I was not greatly happy to eat too much).
Our first full day was spent around the city walls. I have walked around them on a couple of previous occasions, the first time dating back to the 1970s when my grandparents took me there. It may have been the place which set me off on a career in travel. This time, we admired the orange-tiled roofs of the old city and, with the most perfect weather, thoroughly enjoyed the walk which took around an hour and a quarter to complete leisurely. At 150 kuna per person (approximately £19) it isn't especially cheap and it must bring in a handsome amount to the city given the vast hordes of people who enjoy the walk and views. It was thoroughly worthwhile.
I tried out the Hotel Uvala spa in the afternoon before we both enjoyed a short walk around the peninsula close to the Adriatic Hotel. As Mum commented, the hotel's position was ideal: close enough to the Old City by local bus which went from outside the hotel yet right by the sea and with an array of beautiful walks within a few minutes. The weather was most kind to us throughout our three-country visit.
On the last full day of the holiday, my birthday indeed, we took the cable car to the top of Mount Srd. It only takes about five minutes and costs around £18 return but the views are stunning on a good day (which we had). I had been up with my grandparents in the 1970s but, due to the fighting in the early 1990s and with the devastation wrought to the city, the cable car was taken out of action and has only comparatively recently made a comeback.
We ate well in the Old City. I return to the Restaurant Nava which serves excellent food but I always have to chuckle at my first visit there. Served on that occasion by a pretty waitress, I remembered the girl on the next occasion and, as you do, brought her up in the conversation whilst talking to an older lady. The older lady was delighted, mercifully: it was her daughter we were talking about and so I learned that the girl was now married with two children (and therefore no longer waitressing at the lovely, back street restaurant...) On this third occasion, I recognised no-one but the anticipation - and saying all the right and cunning things to Mum to veer her towards this restaurant - had been fun and the meal was again excellent.
We ate close by the following night at what was my birthday meal. Again we ate very well but, unlike the Nava, little extras were not included and suddenly the bill left us a little short of cash for the last day. We offered a card but they did not take them so we had to apologise for not being able to leave a more generous tip after the waiter's polite comment when coming with the bill that service was not included.
We were up quite early on the last day as our easyJet flight left just after 10 a.m. We did have enough money - just - for the taxi to take us to the bus station in Gruz and from there on the coach ride to the airport. The flight was pretty much on schedule and we arrived into Gatwick on time.
The journey home was progressing well until we found that the Circle Line in London wasn't functioning properly and we ended up taking a bus with a rude driver and no easy way of buying tickets and also no real idea of where we were. Far from arriving home early, we were back later than anticipated but still in reasonable time. It had been another wonderful holiday.