Tag Archives: weather

Rio… it’s nice, but it’s no Barcelona

So guess who just got back from Brazil? Yep a little bit of studying Portuguese in Rio de Janeiro, a bit of Carnival in Recife / Olinda, and then some travelling around the south, to natural wonders like the island of Ilha Grande and the spectacular cascading beauty of Iguazu Falls…

So anyway, there I was, sitting on the beach in Ipanema, with my amiga, Karina (with whom I used to live a couple of years back in Poble Sec – in Flat number 2), probably – along with Copacabana – the most famous city beach in the world, when we both looked at each other and went… “meh”.

Not too shabby... but wouldn't you rather be in Catalonia?

Not too shabby… but wouldn’t you rather be in Catalonia?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice spot, but I guess in Barcelona we are just too damned spoiled. Ipanema, with the Dois Irmois mountains rearing up at one end and its long stretch of natural sands, is certainly more beautiful than Barceloneta, or any of the Catalan capital’s other city beaches; but here in Brazil the sun was too hot, the water effing freezing, and the people – both I and Karina agreed – a lot less easy on the eye. (I don’t care how small your thong is, if you’re 120kg it ain’t sexy). Karina was somehow less fussed, but I also couldn’t help wistfully recall that in Spain topless sunbathing is also a lot more common (in Brazil it’s illegal in fact, as far as I can tell).

So having set these two great coastal cities up against each other, let’s look in a little more detail at the pros and cons of both, a bit like in my Amsterdam vs. Barcelona post, from a couple of years back.

Weather

Well I was only in Rio for three summer weeks, and whilst I like the heat it was too def. too hot even for me! Sitting on the beach before 4pm, without an parasol, was akin to torture. Plus, when the sun wasn’t beating down, it rained a helluva lot. Meanwhile Rio de Janeiro’s mild winters might be nice for some people, but little in terms of changing of seasons (at least from what I understand) strikes me as being a bit boring. Barcelona meanwhile has got just about the perfect climate. Loads of sunshine, but only a couple of months where the mercury can rise a bit uncomfortably high, plus just enough of a winter for you to appreciate summer all the more. One, nothing, BCN.

Looks

This is a no brainer. Rio may have those majestic mountains and dramatic beaches, but architecturally speaking and even the nice areas look like Barcelona’s ghettoes, whilst its ghettoes (of which there are many) are, predictably, puss-filled eyesores… albeit fascinating ones, with surprisingly good vibes and parties. The legendary Copacabana district is just mile upon mile of high rise flats and hotels, whilst Centro has at most “a scattering” of nice-ish buildings. Overall I’d say Rio scores a paltry and highly disappointing 2/10 for architecture, vs. a pretty much perfect 10 from Barcelona, which combines Gothic beauty and modern marvels (W-Hotel, Torre Agbar, MACBA and @22) with its signature Modernista look, orchestrated by Antoni Gaudi, Domenech i Montaner and chums. What’s more Barcelona also has the coast, Montjuic mountain plus Collserola range in the background, so even when you factor in Mother Nature in Rio’s favour, I’m scoring this Rio 5/10, Barcelona 9.5/10 – and therefore 2 zip to BCN.

Nightlife

Things get a bit closer in the nightlife section as Rio has a raw energy and excitement that Barcelona simply can’t match. The nightly congregation in Lapa district of both princes and paupers intent on revellry, the sheer unpretentious authenticity of clubs like Rio Scenarium or Democraticos, that are not following any trend, but are busy being uniquely Brazilian, are hard to beat. And then of course there’s Carnaval… a party beyond a party that stretches into a way of life for almost four weeks (forget the official “four days” cited by your guidebook). Still the entrance fees for some of the clubs – ironically the most boring/identikit ones – were ridiculous, you have to take a taxi everywhere (and Rio is huge!) for safety reasons, you have to present your ID at almost every club so they can log your details (tedious!), plus you get a bullshit card for drinks and have to pay on the way out (crap system!). Overall I think I prefer Barcelona’s nightlife for accessibility, price and diversity, but I’m gonna call it a draw because that’s just me getting old and lazy.

People

I’d been told many times that the Cariocas are very friendly, but breaking down the locals into the two genders (I’ll risk the wrath of LGBT campaigners and ignore the ladyboys of Lapa for now… suffice to say they were a little too friendly) and I’ll say the men were only particularly friendly when they wanted to hit on the girls I was with, the gay men when they wanted to hit on me, and the Rio girls were not especially friendly at all. I tend to find in countries where guys aggressively hit on women the whole time (basically all latin cultures, if you’ll excuse the lazy stereotyping) girls are standoffish, because basically they have to be, to stop every mofo hitting on them. This was definitely the case in Brazil where the ladies were pretty lukewarm for the most part. (I’m sure it would be different if I had more Brazilian friends and was being introduced as a persona grata… but most of the time I was hanging around with international people from the language school I was studying at and any interactions with Brazilian women were as a stranger). Anyhow Catalans are not much better… I can count on one hand my Catalan friends in BCN, as they tend to keep themselves to themselves, so I’ll just put this down as a draw too. Who knows, maybe I just need to improve my social skills?

Crime

My biggest gripe with Barcelona is the constant state of paranoid alertness one needs to be in to fend off the plague of pickpockets that afflict the city and shows no sign of abating. This however pales into insignificance versus the very real threat of Rio of being held up by knifepoint or gunpoint. I only really felt safe walking around at night in Ipanema and Copacabana, and even then I’ve been told I shouldn’t have been walking around in Copacabana. It’s not quite as bad as some people make out… I escaped Brazil without incident after 3 weeks in Rio and 7 in the country… but you can never quite relax.

Things to To

In Barcelona there’s always a vintage market, gallery opening, craft beer festival, street party, open air cinema or electronic picnic to attend… plus there’s the beaches, mountains, wine region (don’t forget the winter/spring pilgrimmage that is the Calcotada!). You can never be bored in Barcelona! It’s hard for me to judge Rio on this one… with all the tourist stuff I was trying to do, plus learn a bit of Portuguese and attend all the Carnaval parties I was rushed off my feet! But would there be the same amount of fun events for a resident living year around in the city? I’m guessing no… whilst hipsterdom can be a bit tedious, not to mention pretentious, at times, undoubtedly it has led to an amazing array of original events and new trends in Barcelona that tend to only happen in cutting edge “first world” cities like London, Berlin, New York and BCN. There’s no poetry brothel in Brazil!

Language

I’ve been in Barcelona several years and famously (amongst my polyglottal friends) failed to master Spanish. The lack of linguistic purity in the city (many residents of course speak Catalan as their first tongue, whilst a not inconsiderable number speak Mandarin, Punjabi, English, German, French as theirs) hardly helps matters. Brazilian Portuguese is a very sexy language and I love the Carioca accent. Moreover were I to move to Rio, I would actually need to speak Portuguese… unlike in Barcelona, where English gets me around almost without a hiccup. I’ll give this one to Rio.

So there you go… 5:2 and, even if the scoreline is a fraction misleading, this has turned into quite a comprehensive victory for the Catalan capital. I half expected to fall in love with the samba city and settle down to a new life coaching the Brazilian women’s volleyball team, whilst writing the sequel to Blame It On Rio in my spare time. However it was a case of absence makes the heart grow stronger, and even in the face of undoubtedly one of the most magnificent cities in the world (…and any negativity about Rio is purely relative!), Barcelona simply kicks way too much culo to think about leaving just yet.

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.