So, about Catalan independence…
…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)!
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…
So dear reader (yes the singular was deliberate. And I know I should probably call you “mum”, not reader, but I want to maintain an air of professionalism) you’ve probably been wondering what I’ve been up have you since I last wrote? Well I’m glad you asked, because I’ve got some exciting news. Despite being super busy with various projects this 2015, there was something that I’ve wanted to do for a while now that I decided simply can’t wait any longer… with the help of a few amigos, I’ve finally launched a super original food, drink and nightlife activities brand…. please welcome to the world my new baby, which we’ve christened: Tapas & Beers Barcelona!
Enjoying a glass of artisan ale at one of Barcelona’s brew pubs
You might remember that back in 2010 I launched my very own alternative bike cruise of the Catalan capital, called Steel Donkeys. The idea was to offer something completely different to a twenty-person tour around the narrow alleys of the Gothic Quarter (which is what most companies back then were delivering at the time) and take people well and truly off the beaten track to cool districts like Poblenou, Ribera and Raval and simply spend some time with them, treating them like friends not tourists. For this reason of course the tours had to be small group only, and this was the key to our success. In a small group the guides and the travellers can really engage with each other, the itinerary can be bent and/or broken to accommodate a fresh idea or request, and the whole vibe changes – from that of a tourist on the treadmill, to that of a traveller just hanging out and getting under the skin of the city, if only for a day. The feedback from the very beginning was amazing, and we’ve constantly been rated as one of the best bike tours in Barcelona on Tripadvisor.
Meanwhile others have successfully implemented this same small-group, alternative tour mentality to food – and in particular – tapas tours, something I’ve wanted to do myself for a long time. Whilst the Catalan beer revolution has got everyone in the entire city drinking craft ales, and is something that travellers are increasingly interested in trying too! Well, it would be silly to do one and not the other, so the concept of Tapas & Beers was born. In fact so far we’ve only launched the Catalan Craft Beer Tour (the tapas tour is under development however!), and after a deliciously successful test run with our extremely knowledgeable guide (he had so much to say about the history of beer and the Catalan beer revolution that we ended up drinking for 5.5 hours instead of the planned three hours!) we are now open to the public. The tour will be running every Saturday at 17:30 during summer (any maybe longer) in 2015, and includes tastings of five regional beers, some tasty tapas and plenty of expert insight from your crazy Catalan guide. So get your beer-drinking buddies and get in touch! We’re also on the look out for any Barcelona bloggers who can roadtest the activity and share it on their blog!
The project has also created the right space for me to realise another dream of mine, and that’s the launching of an alternative pub crawl of Barcelona…. aka the Hipster Bar Hop. The concept is to offer travellers an authentic nightlife experience that is in stark contrast to the cheesy brashness of a regular pub crawl. Having done it twice already I can confirm that it lives up to my original concept, with a lot of new friends, cool bars and crazy dancing ensuing. Not sure the inclusion of absinthe was such a great idea though…
Right, happy new year to y’all out there. As you might have guessed one of my resolutions for 2012 isn’t to update this blog more often;) But tortoise-paced or otherwise it will blunder through another year of existence perhaps providing a rare moment of entertainment, or usefulness, en route…
The subject of my first post of the annum may as well be a rather pleasant day trip I made with a friend to Montserrat late last November. It had been on the radar for a while, but I was just waiting for a visitor to arrive with some vague cultural/outdoors interests – and as most of my friends are dissolute drunkards that took some time – so that I didn’t have to go on my Sweeney Todd.
Naturally being poor/tight/economical we elected to head to the sacred mountain by public transport – which was not as cheap as it should have been really! The rocks are only 38km out of Barcelona but you have to buy a special ticket which includes one of either a cable car or a windy train (cremallera) up from Montserrat train station to the abbey itself. When packaged together these suddenly become tourist priced! But there’s no way around it as far as I can see. Unless you fancy a very long trek up the mountain… but hiking’s not my game.
Anyway the good news is that it’s damn easy. Get your @ss to Placa Espanya train station, head over to the R5 line, and then there are two kiosks selling return tickets to Montserrat. One with the cable car, one with the windy train. We bought a ticket for the windy train, which also included a further two cable car journeys which you can make, once you’ve made the initial journey up the abbey. This cost about 23 euros. (There was a full monty ticket that also included museum entrance and lunch for about 36 euros).
The abbey of course is nice… it’s basically a big complex of which the most interesting building is the Basilica where you can – should you not mind queuing for ages – line up to see La Moreneta (Black Madonna). A famous religious icon amongst church-going Catholics. Naturally we skipped the icon and took one of the cable cars included in our ticket price down to the sacred cove – now a chapel – where La Moreneta was originally found (shepherds found it guided by a holy light of course). This was probably the highlight of the day out. The walk to the cove, after descending a little via cable car, was very scenic and marked by some impressive statues (commemorating the stations of the cross) and the holy chapel was very serene indeed… head out to the garden in the back.
I then convinced my friend that the small hiking trail we saw would lead us to some cool caves so off we set… however after about 20 minutes of some increasing dangerous trailing it was clear this was not an official path and the caves were nowhere to be seen. It was a nice jaunt, however that meant we missed the last cable car up to the very peak of the mountain… which I was a bit pissed off with myself about! However a bit of an incentive to go back at least.
Overall a great day trip and if you’re too lazy to go by public transport/train then there are tonnes of companies offering Montserrat tours leaving and returning to Barcelona.