Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My Favorite Things

When planning our trip to Barcelona, Santa Ana and I both looked up a lot of stuff on the internet and we checked out several books to get an idea of what we wanted to see while we were there.  And one of the things we decided to do was take a walking tour, but we didn't want one of the typical tours where the guide carries a little flag, spouts a memorized script, and rushes you from point A to point B in the allotted time.  I can get that sort of information from a guidebook, and besides, I won't remember half of it by the time the tour is finished, so I wasn't into that idea at all.  And that's why we ended up choosing My Favorite Things.  They offer four hour-tours that are limited to very small groups, which allows for a lot of interaction and personalized attention.

It was hard to choose between all the tour options, but we ended up choosing the My Favorite Fusion one, since it was our first time in Barcelona, and it was supposed to give us a good introduction to the city.  And it did.

Our guide, Kris, a Belgian guy who's lived in Barcelona for several years now, showed us around El Raval, the gothic quarter of the city, and a little of El Born.  He told us a bit about the history and architecture of each area, and showed us a number of interesting shops and bars.  There were only three of us on the tour, which was great, since we were able to linger as long as we liked in each area and ask lots of questions.  It was a little like visiting a friend, one who takes all the time to explain things, and gives you a personal view of the city.

I don't have a lot of photos from the tour, since we were mostly into getting a feel for the city, with the idea of coming back to the things that were most interesting.  Besides, Santa Ana is a much better photographer than I am, so she's the one who has all the really good pictures.  But I did take a few:

As we strolled through the streets of El Raval, Kris explained that the although the area was originally planned as a utopian community, where everyone would be equal, and no building would be higher than the next.  That didn't really materialize, and it ended up becoming one of the worst neighborhoods of the city, full of cabarets and prostitutes.  Now it's still one of the poorer areas of the city, but it seems that recently attempts have been made to clean the area up, and re-establish the courtyard gardens that were part of the original plan.  But it's slow going, and there's still a lot of work to be done.  Still, it has some interesting things to see:

Our guide, Kris, explaing a bit about the architectural style of this courtyard (Centro de Cultura Contemporánea de Barcelona)
The courtyard of the old hospital.  With a hospital like that, who would want to get well?

Then we moved on to La Boqueria, Barcelona's most famous market, but hardly the only one. There, Kris told a bit about the importance of food in the Catalan culture. Food is a big deal in Spain in general, but it seems that for Catalans it's almost a religion. And who can blame them? Just look at all the delicious things you can buy here (and this is just a tiny fraction of what you can find):

Kris gave us quite a few good ideas for lunch, the best of course being to buy our own ingredients in the market and cooking ourselves.  But since we staying in a hotel, that was out of the question, so he pointed out several places where we could find good food at a decent price.  He said we shouldn't have to pay more than ten euros for a "menu del dia" in most restaurants, and to avoid eating on La Rambla, where the prices are set for tourists, and the food isn't all that great.  And he did point out one higher end place that we did go to on our last night, Els Quatre Gats, which is quite expensive, but well worth the visit.  Oh, and we also tried to go to another place he suggested, Bar Electricitat, but they were about to close, and we were sent away quite rudely.  Stupid thing to do, because now I will tell people not to go there...after all, no matter how good the food may be, it's not worth it if you'll be treated badly.

Somewhere along our trip, Kris took us to a milk bar or "granja", where, he told us, originally cows were kept at the back.  I can not for the life of me remember exactly where it was, or tell you how to get there, but here's a picture of it.  We stopped in for a well-deserved coffee, and then continued on our way.

As for the shops, we saw many fascinating little places.  The only one I got a photo of was Papabubble, a candy shop where you can watch as the candies are hand made.  Good thing the kids weren't there, or we would have walked out with half the shop.

We also took a peek inside Caelum, which means "heaven" in latin.  And it's called that for good reason, since the products you can find are certainly heavenly.  You can get all sorts of pastries, cookies and wine, as well as crafts, all made by monks and nuns.  And then there's Bubó, which has the most divine looking pastries I've ever seen.  It was just too posh to take photos, but you can see pictures on their website.  If you buy something, it'll leave quite a hole in your pocket, because those pastries sure don't come cheap.  But looking is free, so if you get the chance, pop in and drool a little.  There were more shops, but I can't remember all the names anymore, so if you want to find out what they were, take the tour.

Towards the end of our tour we stopped for a moment near Santa Maria del Mar, which to me, is the loveliest church in Barcelona, because of its simplicity.  But we didn't go inside that day, so Santa Ana and I put that on our list of places to return to later on.  Kris pointed out a small cava bar, La Vinya del Senyor, which has a terrace just in front of the church, also not cheap, but well worth the money.

We ended our tour in a nearby square, but before he left, Kris took the time to mark the things we'd seen plus the restaurant recommendations on our maps.  Then his girlfriend took this photo of us, and we each went our separate ways.

Jan, Kris, me, and Santa Ana.  Not the best photo, since it was very sunny and we were all squinting.
So, if you're ever in Barcelona and you want to do something different, try one of the My Favorite Things tours. There's something for everyone; foodies, kids, nightlife lovers, art nouveau fans.  You won't be disappointed.


  1. Pregunta. El guía les habló en inglés o español?

    Yo hoy tenía ganas de tomarle fotos a unos tomates preciosos en una frutería y me dio corte, todavía no me armo de valor para muchas cosas.

    Hoy ha sido mi segundo día de rehabilitación, tengo que ir 10. Me han dicho que estoy oxidada por falta de ejercicio :O

    Realmente lo del hombro lo tengo ya hace tiempo, pero lo he dejado pasar por descuido y he ido cuando ya no podía dormir bien y cuando incluso, a veces, me ha costado subir el brazo tan sólo para cerrar el grifo de la cocina.

  2. Sounds wonderful, and there were places on your list I haven't been to, I do agree with you thought that Santa Maria del Mar is the most beautiful church. Love that one. Bookmarking this one. Thanks for the review and glad you had a lovely time. Food is pretty much religion here. Actually, I would say it is more important that religion in people's minds.

  3. This looks delightful! My best friend went on a walking tour of Barcelona and liked it as well as any trip she's ever taken.


    PS. Nice shots, too!

  4. Oooooh I wanna go... Great pictures :) Lovely place
    Happy Tuesday

  5. That is such a beautiful place! Just lovely!

  6. Oh my...I'd love to go. My son got to visit once.


  7. giozi: En inglés, aunque también dan visitas en español, creo. Que no te de corte sacar fotos...y suerte con la rehabilitación.

    oreneta: Glad you liked it, and I hope it's helpful. Yeah, Kris said that religion isn't such a big thing over there...and nothing compared to the food.

    Sue: The walking tour is really a good way to get a feel for a place and to decide what you want to go back to. And Santa Ana has the really good photos. :)

    Kelly: Thanks, glad you enjoyed it.

    Beach Bum: Thanks!

    Chic Homeschool Mama: It really is an incredible place.

    Susan: If you get the chance, do. It really is a wonderful city.

  8. That tour sounds great!! What a pity the company is limited to Barcelona.

    One of the best tours we did in Italy was a segway tour of Pisa. It was just us two plus the tour guide, and he was excellent! We certainly saw bits of Pisa we never would have seen otherwise, and learned some interesting facts too. I'd recommend it.

    What a shame about the bar where you had a bad experience. You are so right, foolish of them to give themselves such bad publicity.

  9. Jay: Actually, I think they do have some tours in other Spanish cities, but I'm not sure which ones. I saw people on one of those segway tours when we were in Rome last summer and it certainly did look like fun...and easier on the feet. I'll keep it in mind for my next trip, wherever that may be. :)

  10. That's how one enjoys a day...way to go! :)