A December 1999 trip
to Barcelona by Jose Kevo
Quote: Of eight European vacations, none come close living up to my 10 days in Barcelona for Christmas/millenium New Year! This journal gives personal details and experiences above and beyond the general listings of what you'd expect. You've got to visit this amazing city! VUELVERE - I will return!
No matter what your preferences and tastes, there's a lot of something for everyone in this versatile city which appears to have everything to offer...so much, I was still discovering new places and things in the same areas on my last day.
The old city (Ciutat Vella), is a never-ending labyrinth of pedestrianized, narrow cobble-stoned streets and alleys. Each different turn thru this often confusing maze will satisfy the most adventurous person's sense of exploration. While surfaces are flat and area much larger than Lisbon's ALfama, no day is complete without ambling around this Barcelona version of a human rat-race, come-what-may obstacle course.
Art & Architecture make this the chic and trendy cosmopolitan city that it is. Led by the works of Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona serves up a feast for the eyes no matter where you go as artists and designers, both past and present, have thrived on making the ordinary extraordinary.
There's also a rougher, seedier side...enough to tempt and draw you in...play with fire, get burned!
Don't bother wrecking your Spanish to learn Catalan. Both are widely spoken, but I would suggest learning about Catalunya regional history to better understand the people and places as well as widespread politics played out daily in the streets.
There are SO MANY shop, boutiques, etc., one could spend their entire trip doing nothing BUT shopping so "shop around" to make sure you get the best prices. And as always in everything you do - Look for the locals + live like the locals = a more authentic cultural experience at usually half the price!
Barcelona is a late night/all night city. There isn't much of anything open before 9:00 a.m. so plan ahead including the 2:00 - 4:00 p.m. siesta. Shops close at 8:00 p.m. when everyone takes to the streets for a stroll and visit.
All prices quoted in this journal were based on receiving 164 pesetas on the dollar, 12/99.
Barcelona is a city to be leisurely enjoyed by walking so get prepared and in shape. Except for Tibidabo, I walked back to La Boqueria from every main attraction (including Parc Guell) and experienced random, every day life no guide/guidebook could suggest. JUST DO IT!
I consider the metro system the most clean, quickest and efficient in all of Europe. A single ride was 145, or a T1 good for 10 rides, 795.
Things can get confusing in the megastations: Sants, d'Espanya and Catalunya which have metro, FGC and Renfe tracks. There's at least a dozen entryways to train service around these stations, but not all get you directly to various lines. There's underground connection passages of stairs, halls, escalators, crowded platforms and more stairs provided you see/follow all the signs. Check your map to determine the best/closest above ground entry to your desired line.
Europa was not only the first place I came across with any vacancies, but they were also the only place that hadn''t raised their rates for the millenium holidays. I paid 2000 pesetas a night for a very nice single room w/o bath that had everything I needed...though Planet refers to them as small and bare which mine wasn''t. With the Spanish vaulted ceilings, my room had a single bed, night stand, dressing table, armoir, clothes hooks on the wall, two chairs, sink, vanity mirror, full-length dressing mirror and a window. For simply a place to come home to at night and shower/sleep, I couldn''t have asked for anything more without staying in a hotel. And the place was kept spotlessly clean. Compared to other places I would later "spotcheck", this was by far the best deal based not only on price, but the entire accomodation package which included a multilingual staff.
Unfortunately, Europa suffers from what every European pension I''ve ever stayed in does - a structure that magnifies and echos the slightest of sounds/noises so don''t forget the ear plugs. Considering it was a full house of partiers for the holidays, inhouse noise was worse than anything off the streets, and bathrooms were often hard to come by. Still, it was one of my personal best Pension experiences.
* Bottled water, drinks, snacks and items they sell in-house can be purchased for a fraction of the cost at a local market.
* All of my dining entries are also within a 5-minute walk or less from here.
Barcelona has a wide variety of accomodations scattered through-out the city, though the highest concentration is in the Ciutat Vella/Barri Gotic area which is the most convenient and central to major attractions. Lonely Planet guidebook gives numerous listing for budget/moderate/expensive-ranged places to stay, but you''ll easily notice there are hundreds more.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 11, 2001
Calle de la Boqueria 18
93 318 76 20
As you might suspect from the name, the house specialty is rotisserie chicken, but check out the menus which come in several languages. Beef and pork dishes are also excellent as well as their higadillos de pollo - chicken livers pan sauteed in wine and garlic. Everything is served a la carte, but the prices are still VERY inexpensive. A typical meal of appetizer, salad, bread, entree with potatoes, side dish, bottle of wine and after dinner drinks ran $12-$15 at most! Of my 10 nights in Barcelona, I dined half of them here. It's a definite must for local flavor - both the food and the people!
BAR RESTAURANTE ROMESCO is also nearby and addressed as #28 Carrer de Sant Pau, but is actually entered from a side street called Carrer de l'Arc de Sant Agusti. The place isn't well marked, but the cooler with all the fresh foods fill the front window. It doesn't have Rico's atmosphere; you can dine sitting at the counter or at tables. However, the food is just as good, large proportioned and priced the same. One of Romesco's specialties are "frijoles" -cuban-styled black beans served with rice, a chili-like meat sauce, fried sweet platanos, and topped with a fried egg for 550 pesetas...you won't need or want much else! They also serve the famous regional sausages from the town of Vic prepared several different ways. Here was a nice, convenient break from Pollo Rico, but if you've to choose between the two, Pollo wins belly up!
Restaurante Pollo Rico
#31 Carrer De Sant Pau (el Raval Area)
Restaurant | "Dining In General"
"Cafe Americano" is standard reference for how we Americans like our coffee - in a regular sized cup, black, sugar on the side if needed, and con leche only if specified.
Paella, the rice dish with various meats/seasonings, is mass-advertised at every kind of eatery on "can't miss" signs out front in a way that made me question if the stuff was prepared like microwavable fast food. Was I wrong! No one should leave without trying a skillet full. There are several varieties; prices comparable everywhere. Paid 1,600 pesetas for a large skillet of paella, bread and a liter of sangria.
Barcelona is known for its Tapas Bars, but budget travelers shouldn't plan on spending much time in these places. Foods are good, but rather expensive and portions are small, appetizer size. You'd rack up quite the bill trying to fill up as a meal.
Local apertif favorites to try are Cuarenta y Tres which is a thick, smooth vanilla liquer. Also locally made is Zoco Pacharan - a heavy liquer flavored with sloe berries and anise packing quite the kick!
The region's house table wines were also quite good though top-shelf bottles of wine aren't that expensive.
Mercat de la Boqueria, centrally located on La Rambla, is definitely worth checkin' out as what I consider one of the best fresh food markets in Europe. The fruits were awesome as were the cheeses and pepperoni/salami...and yes, very inexpensive. Pheasants and King Jack Rabbits are colorfully hanging around waiting to be cleaned. Great photo opportunities here, too!
There's a large supermarket on the south/left side of La Rambla just before you arrive at Placa Catalunya. It carries a bit of everything for cheap prices and is great for stocking up on bottled water, drinks, snacks for back in your room.
Typical American fast food places are everywhere, but did you really come all the way to Spain for a Big Mac?
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 12, 2001
Attraction | "Gaudi's Magical Mystery Tour"
As expected, the impressive works of Gaudi steal much of the limelight from the other magnificent buildings which line these streets; the two most notable streets being the Passeig de Gracia and Avinguda Diagonal. Perhaps most dizzily inspiring is the Casa Mila; a large business and apartment complex (located on the corner of Passeig de Gracia and Carrer de Provenca) where Gaudid did not use a single sraight line within the construction...ANYWHERE! It's also worth the trip up to the rooftop to see the mosaic tiled chimneys, look down within the inner-courtyards, and to have a moderately elevated view from within the heart of Barcelona.
However, NOTHING will compare or add up after glimpsing the La Sagrada Familia Cathedral work still in progress. My words or photos can do this place no justice...you've got to see it to believe it!!! Oh to still be alive and able to travel when this place is finished; estimate completion date currently set at 2021.
If your time in Barcelona is limited, make this place your #1 priority! And if you're in the city for an extended stay, return here often at all hours of the day and night as it's magnificence shifts with the sunlight/nighttime spotlights.
During my millenium stay, the elevators which ascend into the spires on both sides weren't working. I made the gruelling walk up the spiral staircases on the nativity side; each step presenting a new view of the city thru the slates in the towers. (Be advised it's a tough climb; perhaps even more so than climbing atop the dome at St. Peter's in the Vatican. Take your time!) Towards the top, passage ways link all the towers in addition to giving a bird's eye view of construction in progress below.
In the crypt/basement area is a museum featuring the progress of the Cathedral's history as well as Gaudi's tomb. Soak up and appreciate as much of this entire treasure as you can. Year's later, I still feel it wasn't enough!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 13, 2001
Antoni Gaudi Landmarks (Gaudi Route)
La Exaimple -- Center City
Attraction | "PARC de la CUITADELLA"
A good place to begin is the Arc de Triomf; an impressive brick version of the Paris original. The arc leads into a sprawling promenade filled with benches, roller bladers, street entertainers, and a fresh foods market open earlier of a day. Continue on until crossing Passeig de les Pujades where you'll officially enter the City Park.
You'll immediately see several large, historical buildings with a medieval modernistas design as well as a separate major trail leading off to the left. For the historical structures, most outstanding is the Castle of the Three Dragons which houses a Zoological museum. Next are two arboretum green houses sandwiched around another structure which is a Geological museum. There's a small cafe in one of the arboretums, but otherwise you'll likely find the outside designs more impressive than anything within.
As for the earlier trail leading off to the left, follow it until you hear the waters thundering from the Casacada waterfalls in the northern corner. Combining statues, plants, pools and fountains, centered around a rather large monument, this is a great place to lose yourself for a couple of relaxing hours. (And yes, Gaudi played a part in helping create this, too.)
From here, the City Park gives way to lots of open lawns and shaded benches perfect for relaxing. Centrally located within the park is the Museum of Modern Catalunyan Art and the House of Catalunya Parliament. You'll also find it hard to miss the sounds and smell from the large city zoo which is said to have the only albino gorilla in captivity. For $9+ admission fee per person, you'd hope they have something decent!
* City Park is also a good spot to combine with the waterfront for a lite day of touring and relaxing. Read my Beachfront Barcelona journal entry, also.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 13, 2001
Parc de la Ciutadella
Passeig de Pujades
Barcelona, Spain 08005
Attraction | "Montjuic/Olympic Stadium areas"
You[ll be dropped off at Castell (Castle) de Montjuic which won't seem like much if you've been through the fortresses of Old San Juan. The area's surrounded by gardens to amble thru or head for the '92 Olympic compounds. Follow the winding roads or cut thru the woods for a nice break from the city and aromas of fresh pine. The Olympic area is constructed abstactly as is everything in Barcelona. Most impressive is the transmission tower which looms like a science fiction microscope. Restrooms are inside the stadium which can be entered only from the north end. However, the area is typical for "Olympic ghost towns" as redevelopment for usage is underway, but still leaves one feeling the millions of $ could've been better spent...not to mention it's obsolete should Barcelona host a future Olympics.
Continue following the curves until you reach POBLE ESPANYOL (Entry $5.95/975 pesetas) While most guidebooks give here an average rating, I found it the most educational, enjoyable "attraction" for Montjuic. Built for the 1929 World Exhibition, this park features one village with each street representing different styles of architecture and time periods from Spain. With hardly any crowds, it was an uniterrupted step back into time. Some building's lower levels also sell locally made crafts, etc...one of the few places you'll find "authentic" goods in Barcelona. There's numerous places for drinks/eats, a hot dance club come night.
From here, follow the winding road to the National Palace which houses the museum of Catalunayn art. (700 pesetas) Also nearby linked via gardens are the Archeological Museum (300 pesetas) and Ethnological Museum (200 pesetas). But by this point, you'll likely be too distracted to enjoy these things.
The Placa de Cascadas (waterfalls) was a sight to behold; even with most fountains not turned on for the winter including the La Font Magica with a pool base of over 8-feet deep! The area egresses like the waters down the side of Montjuic, thru the expo centers and campaniles out onto Placa de Espanya. My one regret was not being able to see this in it's full glory, though I found myself returning here quite often as it was so peaceful and relaxing. If walking uphill, escalators help and appear turned off..until you step on the first step. Then, they move.
Southwest of City Center Overlooking the Harbor
Attraction | "Tibidabo mountain"
Unless you're traveling with young children, the Fun Fair Amusement Park atop the mountain won't be much of a reason for making this trip. Your priority for coming should be the Temple de Sacrat Cor (Temple of the Sacred Heart) that is actually two churches built on top of the other and, at night, are illuminated in white seen from anywhere within Barcelona below. The outer structural works, carvings and statues are more impressive than anything inside and can be better seen from outdoor terraces on several different levels. However, no trip here would be complete without taking the elevator ride (which is almost easy to miss as it's not well marked) for 200 pesetas to the stairs leading to the base of the Christ statue of the cathedral dome.
If you're lucky, the crowds will be sparse giving you an uninterrupted, 360-degree view of the surrounding areas. The mountain of Montserrat is easy to detect off to the Southwest, there's more rolling hills and mountains to the west and north. And to the east, the entire metropolis of Barcelona spills out into a glistening Mediterranean reflecting the afternoon sun. And while endlessly gazing, keep in mind that the name, TIBI DABO, comes from the Latin translation of when the devil took Christ to a high place and tried to tempt Him. "All this I will give you if you will fall down and worship me."
The nearby Torre de Collserola, another abstract constructed transmission tower, is also open with an observation deck, but the Sacrat Cor observation deck appears higher and more centrally located...and definitely cheaper.
Other than the "tempting" views from Tibidabo, getting to/from here is the other bonus of the trip. First, take the FGC line which leaves from the underground station where La Rambla intersects with SE Placa Catalunya. (Most maps make it look like the train leaves from the SW corner!) A one-way ticket to Avinguda de Tibidabo was 145. From here, follow the crowds above ground to where you'll board the last remianing blue-line tram/trolley car. It's a very ambling ride curving up the side of the mountain through mansions, estates and landscapes from various time periods that definitely left me making mental comparisons to several places from around the world...including the Caribbean! The trolley stops at the base of another funicular which will take you to the top of Tibidabo should you chose not to walk on one of the many trails. Return is the same way.
Sarrià Sant Gervasi
Barcelona, Spain 08035
First, the mediterranean climate was perfectly sunny (there was no rain) with day temps in the 60's & 70's and nights very mild often needing only a light jacket and t-shirt.
Arriving on the 22nd, I was also able to find a room without a reservation though many places were already full.
For Christmas, the streets and buildings are beautifully adorned with lights and decorations including a lot of the narrow, cobble-stoned areas in the old city. American holiday songs are played everywhere and major department stores stayed open until 10:00. Bizarre-type markets are scattered about the city selling all kinds of holiday decorations, special hand-crafted gifts and locally made packaged foods. The largest of these shopping areas is in the expanisive plaza in front of the main cathedral. And while there, step inside the cathedral and relax on a bench vibrating from the monstrous pipe organ randomly playing Christmas music. The decorations here and in the Cloister courtyard are definitely worth checking out.
Cathedrals and churches have some type of mass or service on Christmas Eve, but the real treat was at the stroke of midnight when every bell in the city chimed endlessly for a good five minutes. People then strolled around to meet/greet each other. Christmas day, the city was like a virtual ghost town until well into the afternoon. Even finding places to eat were few and far between, but the Hard Rock Cafe on Placa Catalunya was open for lunch serving their typical menu and nostalgic walk down a holiday memory lane. By 7:00 p.m., it was business as usual with shops/restaurants open, people crowding the streets.
If you want a "unique" but somewhat disgusting souvenir to remember a Barcelona Christmas by, pick up a miniature statue of the "crapper". I forget the folklore details, but recent Barcelona nativity scenes included someone with their drawers dropped, squatted down, taking a dump. It seems to be quite the novelty item with knock-off replicas of santa, priests/nuns, firemen, and such doing the same. (No thanks!)
New Year's Eve was definitely overdone for the new millenium with Placa de Catalunya and the surrounding areas jam-packed like NYC's Times Square. There were also firework shows scattered about the city. The festivities were outrageous, but something tells me this kind of extravagance takes place here every year!
Also keep in mind that flying home on January 1st, the actual holiday, will often net you a cheaper airfare.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 12, 2001
Attraction | "DON'T PARK HERE"
First, the huge monument centered in Placa de Espanya was heavily corroded, covered with pidgeon droppings and in severe need of a good cleaning. Just across is the "can't miss" local bullring which was built in 1900 but mostly used for concerts since Catalunyans pride themselves on not participating in bullfighting as do their fellow Spaniards. About the most notable fact of this place is it's where the Beatles played in 1966. Otherwise, it's rather shabby looking, overgrown and a sad neglect of space and history.
Directly behind the bullring without even realizing where I was, I stumbled on to PARC JOAN MIRO; a straight-up dustbowl without a blade of grass on the lot, though they did have some nice palm groves with shaded benches for a break...provided you didn't choke from the blowing dust. Decided to track down the famous Dona i Ocell statue and was disgusted by what I found. This tall, slender serpent looking creation is on the far end of the park in a pool polluted beyond description. Around the area was trash and filth with benches and walls broken up and heavily grafittied.
Decided since I was in the area to check out the PARC ESPANYA INDUSTRIAL, which turned out to be another mistake and disappointment. This was the ultimate showcase of urban decay! Neglect in every sense of maintenence had given way to a polluted, filthy waste of space. Stagnet smells were coming from the waters. Liter and refuse were everywhere. The once magnificent sculptures were badly vandalized; the space-like communication towers lining the promenade appearing to double as ArtDeco condos for street kids fresh off the rails from Estacio Sants across the street.
I don't know how old pictures are other guide books and even literature from the Spain Board of Tourism are using, but this is definitely a forewaring - DON'T PARK HERE!
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on July 12, 2001
Parc Joan Miro
Attraction | "PARC GUELL - an awesome "failure""
The further you get from the entry, the more private and secluded your time here will be. However, I also suggest not leaving until you've explored the area all the way to the top!!! Certainly there are unmarked trails thru the woods, but the quickest way to the top I found was when coming across a steep, stone encased staircase which runs the entire length of the northern boundary. It leads to the top of the mountain Parc Guell is located on where you'll find a nice brick-laid terrace with benches, a water fountain, and spectacular views over the entire city and looking up towards Tibidabo. If you're willing to make the demanding climb up those stairs, it would be well worth your effort as views surpassed both the height and vista of Turo de Calvari which is inside the park much lower.
I also suggest coming here BEFORE venturing further upward to Tibidabo or else it won't seem as impressive. And if you've time for only one and are more interested in the views, choose Tibidabo. More interested in content, Parc Guell!
For getting here, the best/quickest way is to take the light-green Metro Line 3 to Lessups stop and continue off to your right heading somewhat north. Follow the signs and even though they're often few/far between, you're still not lost. You'll eventually turn off the main thoroughfare to the left/west and begin heading up some pretty steep side streets still following signs. You can't miss Parc Guell...but if you do, simply ask someone. And when finished if there's still any feeling left in your legs, it is an invigorating walk back to La Rambla/Boqueria from this area and well worth it to pass thru so many small community areas which seem to operate and function untouched by the outside world. If you've got any sense of direction, just start heading back east until you can trace your location on a map. Enjoy to the fullest as I did!
Park Guell (Parc Güell)
Montana Pelada, Gracia District
To get to the real sand and surf, your best bet is to eye the location of where the cable car tower is and make a wide walking loop until coming to Passeig de Joan de Barbo and the small community area of La Barceloneta. From here, you can all but sniff your way to the beach with the salty sea scents wafting in the breeze. And in route and looking around, also look up as there were many green parrots playing among the trees. There are several sections of prime beaches that are connected by a surface-level boardwalk many were jogging and riding bikes along. For December, the water was too cool for swimming, but the sun was perfect for catching a catnap on a bed sheet and people watching. From seeing the area, one can only imagine how packed the beaches are once the water warms up! And to my recollection, no other major European city is blessed with beachfront property like this.
Heading left/north toward the towers which housed athletes during the '92 Olympics, you'll come to a conglomeration of shops, restaurants, bars and discos that are closed during the "off-season" but can conjure up quite the vivid imagination of how hot and hoppin' this area can get. PLANET HOLLYWOOD was the only business establishment which appeared to have regular business hours on a year-round, normal basis though some of the clubs were advertising open only on the weekends. And typical for Barcelona any and everything, the former Olympic complex area/turned office high rises has scattered abstract statues, sculptures and artwork worth checking out if you've made the effort to come this far.
Barcelona Beachfront is also good to combine with the City Park and Zoo for a light touring, relaxing day. Read my Parc de la Cuitadella journal entry, also.
AS FOR THE PORT VELL CABLE CARS - read carefully so you might not make the same mistake I did. On another day, I'd planned on riding from Port Vell to Montjuic for the thrill of the experience and view. I was prepared to pay the 850 pesetas for a one-way ride. What I WASN'T prepared to pay was another 600 pesetas just to ride the elevator to the top of the tower to embark on the ride. (Approx. $8.50 all together!) Asked the clerk which was the biggest attraction they were promoting here - the cable car or elevator ride!?! I walked back and around to Montjuic based on the principle!
Attraction | "Help Thyself - a warning of danger"
The beautiful Placa Reail, also with Gaudi's influence all over it, is probably the most risky place in the city...and more than just because of all the alternative types who hang out here. Drug dealers heavily frequent the area as do undercover officers...but don't take that as a green light for safety. People here survive by preying upon and taking advantage of others. My own NYC Spanish Harlem ghetto-based opinion of Placa Reail is that any tourist should not be deprived the opportunity to walk thru this courtyard simply to see and enjoy. But unless dining at one of the many restaurants or staying in a hotel, anyone that lingers here...day or night, is simply asking for trouble no two ways about it!
The Placa Reail crowd also heavily "works" La Rambla and more from just drug dealing. As written, Barcelonans flood the streets between 8-10p.m. Especially on La Rambla, the crowds are thick, the entertainers and over-all atmosphere are a good distraction for letting one's guard down and enjoying oneself...though it's highly risky. During my 10-day stay, I saw three seperate after-dark muggings/purse snatchings on La Rambla and in Placa Reail. (Almost puts NYC to shame!) I'm not going to lecture, but take heed and act accordingly. Pay attention, try to blend in, yada yada.
El Raval appears worse than it actually is. This large area is the community for new immigrants; mostly those from Morocco, other African countries while there's also a strong presence of people from the Dominican Republic. As you might expect, the area is more run down, less clean and apparent of a less primitive way of living compared to other parts of the city. The area is VERY interesting to see and take-in if your a multi-cultural freak like myself, but I recommend doing this in the day time. When the sun goes down, the area drastically changes as the dwellers simply take to the streets which might prove intimidating. A block south of Restaurante Pollo Rico, there were many prostitutes, street types and such that most wouldn't care to encounter, though I felt like it was another day back home!
The other "thieves" to be aware of along La Rambla are shopkeepers from India trying to hawk tourist junk for outrageous prices not including a more than doubled VAT tax. They're rude, aggressive - you know the rest. Once you've been in one shop, you've been in them all since they carried the same knock-off merchandise made at home in Asia. Foreign capitalism tainting authentic culture at it's best/worst.
La Rambla (Las Ramblas) Pedestrian Mall
I can imagine what some of you are thinking, but the obvious talent of these budding young artists is simply too great to ignore as the potential future Picassos and Dalis and Monets of tomorrow. And Barcelona being the art crazy city that it is, there are also many places to see graffiti art and murals displayed - especially in the El Raval immigrant's ghetto district. And as experience will tell those who appreciate the same, always keep a look out near train stations and along embankments that follow the above ground rail systems.
But with the good comes the bad and unfortunately Barcelona is also "polluted" with much vandalism from "street taggers" spraying nonsense scribblings and many poignant political messages. Yes, one promotes the other. Take it or leave it - but know it's all over Europe. ENJOY!
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on August 29, 2001
Street Culture Art
Around the city
Before you travel anywhere, do your homework! Know what options you have. Decide what you'd like to see and do. Learn as much as you can so you know what you'll be experiencing, looking at. Plan a "tenative" schedule alternating heavy/lite sightseeing days. Don't waste valuable time trying to figure things out after you get there; especially crucial when traveling (and often disagreeing) as two or more.<<p>>
Unlike most major touristy European cities, Barcelona is not loaded with major sites and attractions, and as you might have detected reading my journal, Montjuic, Tibidabo, etc. weren't all that much to get excited about. But yet, Barcelona seems to have a bit of everything! What makes this my favorite European city is hard to explain, but you'll know it once you experience it. It's the every day life centered around the little things in such unique, versatile settings that makes this place so special. To embrace and enjoy Barcelona in the fullest way, leave the tourist mentality and expectations at home for this trip. Mentally prepare to "be" and not to "see". Plan on staying as long as possible to truly accilmate. You won't regret it!<<p>>
Tap water is safe, but Barcelonans will quickly tell you it doesn't taste very good - and they're right! Be prepared to stockpile bottled water for drinking.<<p>>
VIEWING FROM ELEVATED PLACES
Like Athens and Los Angeles, Barcelona is waterfront and encircled by mountains. While the smog isn't as serious, it's still enough of a problem to inhibit plans that include the need for elevated viewings including from La Sagrada cathedral, Montjuic, Parc Guell and Tibidabo. The best days and times for elevated viewing are of a weekend with Sunday being the better since the general air pollution of heavy weekday traffic has had an additional day to clear out.<<p>>
I was more than half-way through my stay when I noted an American CITIBANK branch located on Passeig de Gracia just off Placa Catalunya. This could prove to be a helpful hint to Citibank patrons having direct access to their accounts. I'd never thought to precheck or didn't even assume there'd be a branch in Barcelona.
Otherwise, using my Bitibank/Cirrus card provided the best possible exchange rate for obtaining cash from local banks which line La Rambla. However even with this method, it still involved a lot of "shopping around" to get the best exchange rates. Persistance yielded an eventual 164 pesetas on the dollar in 12/99. And believe it or not, the American Express branch in NYC gave me a much better exchange rate at 157 pesetas than their Barcelonan branch offered or most other agencies.
When returning to the States, I was not pleased to find my checking account had been majorly overdrawn...and it obviously wasn't Y2K related. It added up to the amount I had withdrawn from my savings using the Citibank/Cirrus-linked card. A Citibank represenative explained that American bank cards in foreign ATM's will usually only acknowledge and pull from checking - even though the machine and recipts said "savings". Fortunately it gave me cash against my checking because of the savings. However, he said they advise foreign travelers to pad their checking accounts just to be safe and those without checking to plan on potentially some other means of cash retrieval. Before my trip to Barcelona, I'd never experienced this problem anywhere else in Europe.<<p>>
Shops along Carre de Mallorca, across from La Sagrada Familia, were a jackpot for 25-peseta postcards and other less expensive items. Expect to pay 70-up for postcards along La Rambla and within the city center. EL CORTE INGLES department store, on the entire northern side of Placa de Catalunya, is like a classy Barcelona version of our Wal Mart. If you need it, they got it!<<p>>
TRANSPORTATION TICKET VALIDATION
The general rule it to validate any ticket in the entry machines before boarding public transportation...or so I thought. Depending on which train kind, train destination, or even in purchasing tickets from an agent or automated vending machine varies whether you get issued a pass on light card stock or paper. ONLY CARD STOCK can be validated in station machines!
With about 15 minutes until departure for a day-trip, I ran my paper ticket easily into the validation machine. It wouldn't return it and the scramble was on to track someone down, verify my story best I could, and finally get them to at least come check. With about 2 minutes left until departure, my ticket was retrieved only to be scolded that paper DOESN'T go into these things. (Silly tourist!)<<p>>
Barcelona is excellent for basing day-trips from...once you've figured out the massive rail systems, which trains are heading to where, and the best, most convenient place to catch them. In addition to the 3 mega-stations (Placa de Espanya, Sants & Catalunya) were various lines originate or pass thru, there's also Estacio de Franca where an entire other series of train lines originate. That's why I highly advise checking with the Tourism Bureau located on the NE corner of Placa de Catalunya to get specific details.
RENFE's & Delta Regional lines pass through Estacio Sants, but if you're staying in the Barri Gotic area they're more conveniently caught at the station on Passeig de Gracia & Carrer de Arago. (Make sure you're not in the Gracia metro station 3 blocks closer to Placa de Catlunya!) Tickets may be purchased from agents or automated ticket machines. There's are also cafes open early in these stations. Based on your budget and time frame, the express trains second class tickets are not all that more expensive than the Deltas which make more stops. Express trains also run more frequently.
During my stay, I took Day Trips to the mountainside monastery of Montserrat of which I highly recommend...including taking the funiculars further up into the mountains for hiking and spectacular vistas over the regions and monastery below. Catching an FGC train from the SE corner of Placa de Espanya, a round-trip ticket including the cost of the Monsterrat cable cars was 1,855. I also spent a half day south in the coastal resort town of Sitges (355 one way) and an entire day in the northern town of Girona which is steeped in Roman history. (Round-trip Delta 1,400; Round-trip express 1,620) I caught trains for both of these last trips at Gracia/Arago; the latter line running all the way to the French town of Portbou.
A pension is often a reliable happy medium between youth backpacking hostals and major hotels. They're usually centrally located in older structured hotels, converted mansions, and some even in local residents' homes. They're a budget traveler's dream when it comes to basic accomodations and real cultural experience at less than half the expected normal cost! When traveling, assess your priorities and levels of necessary creature comforts. Unless you've came to hibernate, you didn't come for anyting more than a place to shower and sleep and secure place to leave your things. Read this Barcelona journal's entry on Pension Europa for a basic description of what a typical single room can be like. Most places have more doubles accomodations and some even triples/quadruples..
Here are additional tips and hints to help maximize your experiences while minimizing your costs.
1) Long before you leave on your trip, begin browsing information on where you might like to stay keeping in mind that travel agents don't/won't book pensiones and inexpensive hotels. As a great starting resource tool, I recommend Lonely Planet guidebooks which give numerous and reliable listings of places to stay in budget, moderate, and expensive price-ranged categories. Also, contact the Tourism Bureau of the country you'll be visiting to receive free info/listings of hotels. (For those living in NYC, simply stop by their offices that are clustered around 5th Ave. in Midtown.)
2) Once you've got an idea of where you might like to stay, go to the Travel Section in your local bookstore and cross-reference your listings as well as continually seeking others in all guidebooks for your destination. Additional needed information or rate changes can often be detected. Also keep in mind that the majority of travel guidebooks are published for "those" who have money...unlike myself, and that many books with titles like "CHEAP SLEEPS/EATS" are for the wealthy who are looking to go slummin' - not budget travelers.
3) Many of the pensiones/cheaper hotels are reluctant to take reservations so it's wise to select two or three options just in case. Aside from meeting your basic creature comfort needs, I recommend choosing where you stay based on location and not just a place with easy access to the city. Other factors include potential noise levels both inside and out as well as nearby "anythings" to occupy yourself during down time without necessarily needing to nap.
4) Pensiones usually charge two rates based on rooms with or without bathroom facilities, though a lot of rooms will have at least a sink. Otherwise, being willing to share centrally located bathroom/shower facilities can cut lodging costs all but in half.
5) Off-season travelers will also normally get a cheaper rate as do travelers who plan on staying for more than a week...but you have to ask! For Europe, the off-season runs 10/15-3/31 excluding holiday periods.
6) When flying from the U.S., most flights arrive early-to-mid morning in Europe. Plan on likely being tired and jet-lagged so have your course of action planned for how you leave the airport and where you'll need to be going. Many of the pensiones/cheaper hotels are on upper floors with flights of stairs - No Elevators! You'll not want to make those trips with luggage many times. Once you've seen a room (if available) and it's not what you want, hopefully your other options are close by. If you feel comfortable, ask if you might leave your bags there while you scout around further.
7) If you're not thrilled with what you've immediately found, consider only paying for the first night using the excuse you'll need to exchange more currency. Once you're rested and showered, check around at other facilities and plan on rechecking in the following day. You'll easily see that for every pension/hotel listed in any guidebook, you'll find at least 3 more which aren't. And from there, you're on your own.
8) Rooms with a view or balcony can often cost more unless the house is fairly empty. And while those balconies might look dreamily tempting in the daytime, keep in mind potential noise come night. Those looking for a more peaceful experience, always request a room towards the back of the facility...and away from bathrooms and stairways if there's chance to be picky.
9) Other factors to consider are that some facilties have curfews expecting ALL their guest to be in by a certain time...NOT! Depending on the weather, does your room have heat or plenty of heavy blankets? (Usually, the latter.) Most places have inhouse snack bar service with prices double/triple what you'd pay in the local market.<<p>>
With my own personal experiences, I guess you could say finding a place to stay is the "beginning adventure" in a new, foreign land. I travel during the off-season and prefer southern European countries not only because of the cultures and milder climates, but they're also less expensive than northern parts of the continent.
In Rome, which is a lodging nightmare any time of the year unless you have an absolute confirmed reservation, I paid $25 a night for a single room in a lady's home. A pension in the heart of Athen's Plaka district, $15 a night. Otherwise, EVERYWHERE else has been between $10-$13 a night. For my 10 nights in Barcelona, we're talking $122 - what you'd pay for a nightly double in a standard hotel!
In Barcelona, the first 2 places I checked had no rooms available before coming to Pension Europa. Rome was an ordeal I'll get to in my Rome journal. The rest of my destinations I've managed walking into my first "choice" without a reservation and have found "desirable" rooms available. And as a heads-up tip, I've also seen some total dumps when spotchecking around cities just out of curiosity during that "down time".<<p>>
During my first visit to Europe in '95, I hooked up with friends in Amsterdam and we spent the next 2-half weeks driving thru 8 countries and camping in tents. Camping is very popular in Europe, but with the cheap, available access to pensions I'm not sure it's worth the cost or hassle - especially if you're hauling gear from the States. Camping facilities are abundant and aside from your bookstore's travel sections, the most complete info comes from the country's Tourism Bureaus.
Unless you can split the cost 4 or more as we did, it can be a rather expensive way for accomodations considering most facilities charged per vehicle, per head and per tent. (And that was still using the European Camping Card which nets discounts! Average cost per person each night was minimum $10.) Most places also had coin operated showers and they even charged for toilet paper in southern Germany! Almost every campground had their own cafe which came in handy since open fires are banned most places.
The smartest decision/place we camped was on the mainland near Venice for taking inexpensive, convenient shuttles to/from the city. (Take an EARLY bus and plan on staying late to avoid massive traffic jams on the bridge out.) The best camping place was not because of facilties but location. CAMPING RUTTI is in the village of Stechelberg literally at the end of the road in the Swiss Alps' Lauterbrunnen Valley outside of Interlaken. From there, only hiking trails lead up thru the settlements of Gimmelwald, Murren and further towards Schilthorn peak at 9,784 feet. Jungfrau and the rest of the Alps' peaks are your background vistas. This entire area is heavenly! As for our French & Parisian experiences camping and in general - They should have let the Nazi's keep France!<<p>>
I guess my bottom line as a budget traveler is I'd much rather go conservatively 3-4 times a year to Europe and the Caribbean than only once and spend everything. May your love for travel increase as your need for expenses decrease!<<p>>
* Check out my Discount Travel Series tips/hints on AIRFARES in my Lisbon, Portugal journal.