Tag Archives: things to do

Two Years of My Life in Catalonia

So, about Catalan independence

tenor

…that’s about as high on my conversational wishlist as deconstructing Brexit. It does seem though that a rise in nationalism is sweeping every corner of the continent as people fight to defend their cultures against the sweeping tide of globalisation. As someone who prefers to cultivate a personal identity more than a national one, I hope they all go away and we can finally establish a lovely peaceful global world order where we all speak Esperanto and trade in globobucks the planet’s one official currency. Only by banding together can we hope to stave off the alien invasion when it happens.

Anyway the three remaining readers of this blog (hi mum, hi gran, hi aunty Pamela) might be wondering what the devil I’ve been doing in the two years since I last got round to penning a post. Well a tonne of stuff actually. And not just attending festes majores and trying to finally improve my Spanish this time.

Did I ever tell you about my travel blogger’s collective? Well we’ve been working with the Spanish tourist board to promote locations like Menorca and Northern Spain. Which is a bit like being paid to convince people that puppies are cute, Lamborghinis make for a nice car or ice cream can be quite refreshing on a warm day. I’m not going to write about those trips again though… so check the links if you want to find out more (or find all my Spain travel stories here, along with those from other contributors to my blog, Urban Travel Blog)!

best-beaches-in-Asturias

Northern Spain has some of the best beaches in the country…

I’ve also gone and launched another damn tour with my pals at BCN.travel to add to the artisan beer tasting tour we launched back in 2015 and the alternative small-group bike tours we launched even further back than that. The new experience is a Barcelona tapas tour that goes by the rather fancier name of ‘The Evolution of Catalan Gastronomy’ and is designed to take people from the traditional eating habits of Barcelonins right up to present day trends when Ferran Adria-inspired creative tapas abound on the menus of the city’s progressive restaurants. Check it out, you might like it!

Also I’ve decided to launch a niche website aimed at more mainstream tourists. If you’re reading this it’s probably not for you, but if you know someone who is coming soon to Catalonia on holiday maybe send them this guide on things to do in Barcelona. The idea is to put everything a first time visitor needs on a single page.

For those who fancy themselves as hipper holiday makers looking for less queues and more local experiences check out this post I wrote about sustainable tourism in Barcelona for my friend Iain’s website Mallory on Travel.

See you in another two years or so…

 

 

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Cinema Under The Stars

Picture the scene. Up high above Barcelona, in the fading light of another dazzling summer’s day, the sweet refrains of modern flamenco guide film lovers towards the grassy scarp beneath Montjuic’s castle walls. Here they lay out their picnic blankets, break out a hamper full of fresh treats from La Boqueria market, and settle down to watch one of the year’s most arresting offerings on the silver screen. Friends share a glass of Cava, couples cuddle close together and fireflies skit like miniature shooting stars through the ink-blue sky.

No doubt that was the vision of the organisers when they conceived this romantic(-sounding) al fresco cinema that screens four movies a week from late June to early August….

Summer cinema season at Sala Montjuic

Summer cinema season at Sala Montjuic

However as I trudged up from the funicular stop that didn’t take us anyway near as high up the mountain as I would have liked, my new shoes pinching my toes harder with every step, I got my first reminder why I don’t visit this festival on any old occasion. My second reality check was the enormous queue of hopeful cinephiles who hadn’t bought their ticket in advance and were now waiting in the (unlikely) hope there would be enough space to admit them (I’d been there before two years ago and that sure wasn’t fun!). The third whiff of coffee was when, having found that rarest commodity at Sala Montjuic, a patch of vacant grass (admittedly way at the back where we could barely see the screen) we were joined by approximately twenty loud American teenagers, who parked their blankets approx. 6 inches away from ours and proceeded to regale all and sundry with their schoolboy/girl humour. Hardly conducive to romance.

Undoubtedly the biggest obstacle to enjoying this festival of cinema however, was just how impossible it is (at least for a fidget like me) to sit on a rock-hard piece of turf for the two hours required to ‘enjoy’ the film. As the scant cushions and blankets we had managed to carry with us on the hike up Montjuic became soaked through with humidity I found myself constantly wrenching my moist ass to and fro in the vain hope of finding a position I could hold for more than 10 minutes, whilst hands and elbows were overstrained and redistributed on multiple occasions as I balanced the pros of sitting up and being able to see the screen, and lying down and being at least moderately comfortable – the latter requiring I glean what was going on from the top 25% of the projection only. After 90 mins I was begging the film to finish. Not that that signals the end of the evening’s ordeal. When several thousand people try to exit one of Barcelona’s least accessible locations all at once, the results were quite predictably chaotic and frustrating. At least for those foolish enough to enter the melee. I enjoyed a good stretch, attempted to pat dry my saturated buttocks and finished my Cava, before even thinking about making the long journey home.

Tips for Attending Sala Montjuic

Ironically enough the film I had gone to see on this occasion, Moonrise Kingdom (a typically pointless, enjoyable, unsatisfying, Wes Anderson diversion), was all boy scouts, and the moral of both that story and mine should be “always be prepared”. With that in mind here are some tips that can make or break your Sala Montjuic experience!

1) Buy your tickets in advance! If you don’t there’s a very real chance you’ll be climbing the mountain for nothing.

2) Even having bought your ticket in advance get there as early as possible. If you want to put down your blanket anywhere near the screen this is essential. Also there is a limited number of those funny little beach mattresses which you can borrow for free, plus also deckchairs for rental. The latter cost 3 euros, but I don’t think you can reserve them in advance, so getting there early essential once more.

3) Arrive by car if possible, or scooter or taxi. That way you can bring loads of comfy blankets, pillows, cushions, mats etc, as well as your picnic. Parking can be a bit of a mare, so see point 2).

4) Bring loads of comfy blankets, pillows, cushions, mats etc:)

5) Bring a sweater. It may be hotter than Satan’s sauna when you leave home but it can get chilly, esp. after two or three hours of reclining.

For more info head to the official website.

Amsterdam vs. Barcelona

Right just got back from a little hols in Amsterdam and I must say, damn that’s a fine city! It’s also a travel writer’s dream what with the colourful goings on of the Red Light District, the chilled coffeeshops (this is where you can smoke weed legally in case you’re out of the loop), romantic canals, bikes, boat houses and seemingly infinite supply of cool restaurants, bars and nightclubs.

Of course my current home of Barcelona boasts more than its fair share of attractive qualities (hence why I came here in the first place!), but even so it did get me thinking whether I’d be tempted to ditch mincing about on the beaches of BCN for a life of trundling around canal-side paths on my city bike, crawling around cafes and coffeeshops enjoyably intoxicating myself, and no doubt ending the majority of my nights in the bed of a 6ft-tall Sylvie van der Vaart look-a-like. (After watching Black Book, I’d also settle for the more modest charms of Carice van Houten. Hopefully she’s listening – Carice?).

Time to bring the two heavyweight cities together in an epic battle, to decide which of these two metropolises will claim me as one of their honoured citizens…

Weather

Whilst I did enjoy the melancholy skies, humid air and autumnal smell of damp leaves that greeted me in Amsterdam, it really did rain a hell of a lot. Then it got cold. My ears nearly fell off on one bike ride. Overall, whilst Amsterdam’s climate wins points for atmosphere and romance, only a masochist would opt for that ahead of the glorious weather in Barcelona, with its nearly perma-blue skies, well-behaved temperatures and general LA vibe. First blood to BCN!

Nightlife

It’s hard to judge from just a long weekend, but if what I saw in four days of Amsterdam’s nightlife was representative then it boast much more variety and invention that the often two-dimensional Barcelona nightlife (which is basically either posh house club, or alternative student rock/cheese rubbish). Yes the bars mostly close at 1am (although some continue til 3) and the clubs from 3.30 to 5am, however as the Amsterdammers go out a full two or three hours earlier than the Barcelonins then it’s just the same amount of partying – only done earlier. The jury is still out on this one, as Barcelona does have its hip places lurking in hidden corners and surprise events…. hmmm we’ll call this a draw until I get to do more ‘research’ in the ‘Dam!

People

A hands down win for Amsterdam! The Dutch people are actually friendly. Dear Catalans you should try that sometime! But seriously, whilst foreigner-ennui has killed any interest that the Barcelona locals might once have had for their guests, it is still possible to make friends with the locals of Amsterdam who are open, unsnobby, helpful and just damn nice! Oh and the girls are all tall, thin and cute. What is it about girls on bicycles that is so sexy???

Crime

Whilst my local Dutch host assured me that bicycles get stolen all the time and he had been mugged twice, I have to say Amsterdam felt like the safest place in the world. At least compared to a nighttime walk in El Raval. I saw plenty of unlocked bikes and people even daring to hang up their coat on a coatstand… instead of the paranoid clinging onto possessions that is necessary in every bar and restaurant in Barcelona. Plus, despite its reputation for sleaze, I was accosted by far less prostitutes, drug dealers and thieves in Amsterdam’s Red Light District than I usually am in Las Ramblas – plus at least the prostitutes are good looking! (A bit too good looking… just what does happen behind those red windows???). Another victory for the ‘Dam.

Things to do

Well Amsterdam has museums aplenty, canals to cruise down, a great park in Vondelpark for hanging out in during sunny days, plenty of cool markets and naturally loads of bike paths…. but still can’t really touch Barcelona in this respect. What with the city beaches, Park Guell and Park Ciutadella (to name the biggies), a constant stream of fiestas and festivals and concerts and events (many free!), not to mention an abundance of day trip possibilities and even the Pyrenees mountains if you fancy skiing, Barcelona really is the dogs’ cojones when it comes to entertainment and cool things to do! Oooh it’s getting tight…

Language

I’d rather learn Spanish, Catalan and ancient Greek than take on the Dutch language! I couldn’t pronounce a single word, despite my host’s patience. Advantage Barcelona? Not necessarily, as everyone speaks fluent English! But then it is nice to think that one day, even if it takes five years, as an expat you will be able to speak the local dialect at some stage. If I went to Amsterdam that would almost certainly never be the case… I’m going to award this one to Barcelona!

Its Amsterdam 2.5 points vs. Barcelona 3.5 points! Looks like I’m staying put for a while yet. You lucky lucky people.

The Rain in Spain…

For me (and most expats in the city) things to do on a rainy day in Barcelona generally involve all the things I should do when it’s sunny, but end up neglecting because I’d rather be on the beach. These invariably include laundry and work of any kind. However as I had guests in town recently, and it did rain quite a bit, I was left scratching my head on how to entertain them when sangrias on the sand was no longer an option.

Well La Sagrada Familia is an obvious option, but with potentially long queues outside and getting there and the fact that the views from the top are not as nice on a grey day, I would still rather hit Gaudi’s famously unfinished masterpiece on a fine day than a rainy one. Obviously, parks are out, so let’s see what we’re left with… here are my top five suggestions for things to do on a rainy day in Barcelona: (As I gain more experience living in the city, I may well feel the need to revise the list but this should keep you busy for now!)

1) Barcelona Aquarium – Ok, I have to admit I am a bit of sucker for aquariums (in fact my friend has even opened one in Krakow – check it out!), and this one has plenty of marine goodness going on… you won’t catch me diving with sharks though!

2) Picasso Museum – Love this museum. Partly because I was never the biggest Picasso fan, but this museum really charts his evolution as an artist and helped me appreciate his genius. Plus he was a big fan of Polish vodka, which makes him all right with me. The museum is fairly big and will keep you busy long enough for any passing storm to blow itself out.

3) Shopping – Even I renew my pants supply occasionally, so I may as well do it when it’s raining. Covered shopping malls in BCN include L’illa Diagonal, Diagonal Mar and Maremagnum.

4) Go-Karting – One for the boys! Bit of a favourite with stag parties, the track is indoor so a good ‘whatever the weather’ option. Here’s the website.

5) Arab Baths – One for the girls! Ok, I haven’t actually been but check the website. It looks real nice, and if you take your girlfriend I’m sure she’ll repay the favour in kind… Not that I know your girlfriend really well or anything, she just seems the grateful type.

Right what better way to round this rainy days post off than with a top five rain-related songs… yes, I do like a top five. And I do long songs, so don’t be surprised if I make them a regular feature of this fr3ky old blog of mine. How about some reverse order in the house?

5) Alice in Chains – Rain When I Die Kick off with a grunge classic!

4) Garbage – I’m Only Happy When It Rains The famously scary/sexy Shirley Manson (Surely not her real name? I just Wiki-ed her and it is – plus she is 43 years old!!!) sports a lovely pink number in this vid.

3) Peter Gabriel – Red Rain One of my fave tracks by our Pete.

2) Heather Nova – London Rain I went through an about ten year obsession with Heather Nova. She’s kinda cheesy but the early stuff in particular is damn fine…

1) The Eurythymics – Here Comes The Rain Again They really were good, weren’t they?

Right, I know you were waiting for Guns and Roses/Prince, but I’d like to retain a modicum of originality where I can… if it’s raining where you are feel free to compile your own far superior top five and whack a comment up below. Or even better suggest something great to do in Barcelona when the weather is bad. Adios for now amigos.