...unless you like getting lost, in which case, skip the following, and wander around aimlessly if you want.
Otherwise, you'll need it. If you can get your hands on one of the free Corte Inglés maps they give out at some information points, those are the best, better than the National Geographic one that I paid 5 euros for before my trip. And, it may sound stupid, but having the all the Corte Inglés stores marked on the map is very useful to orient yourself. For example, our hotel was on the Avenida Diagonal, right in front of one of these, and since that's a very long street, it was easy to spot exactly where we were going, without having to look for all the nearby streets. These maps also cover a larger area than most other maps. And if it gets all wrinkled or torn, who cares? After all, it was free, right?
And an audio-guide.
I'd also recommend getting an audio-guide of some sort. You can find some that come with booklets that have more detailed explanations, and others that just come with a map. When we went to Rome last summer, the friends we traveled with had an audio-guide that came with a book, so you could follow along with the audio explanations. It was nice, but it was just too much information. In the end it was overwhelming and I didn't remember half of it. And toting the book around is a pain. For Barcelona, I tried iAudioguide, and, in the words of Goldilocks, I'd have to say, it's just right. It has tracks for all the main tourist attractions, and they are long enough to give you a good explanation on each place, without overdoing it. And the price is right too. For a little under 5 euros you can download the guide to your computer and then put it on your ipod, phone, or any other mp3 player. It also comes with a map that shows you where each place is located, but I found that marking the tracks on a larger map is helpful. They also have audioguides for other cities, some of them for free, so if you're planning a trip, check them out.
Renting a Car.
Getting around the city on foot is easy enough, but if you plan to visit the surrounding areas, you might want to consider renting a car. You can check out Barcelona Car Hire to compare prices of over 25 providers, and book your vehicle directly.
Some safety advice.
Watch your pockets...and your purse, backpacks...and, well, pretty much anything that isn't permanently attached to your body. There are lots of opportunities for getting distracted on La Rambla, in the Gothic Quarter, on the subway, and anywhere else where there are crowds. And there are pickpockets in Barcelona. We saw a man getting his pocket picked by a flower-bearing gypsy inside Santa Maria del Mar. Yeah, that's right, you're not even safe in church anymore. Don't leave your things on the table while having a drink, or you may find they are gone before you know it. But don't obsess about it either. Just be alert and don't do dumb things and you'll be fine. If a pickpocket thinks you are paying attention, they'll just find someone else who isn't. It's much less risky for them. Do not accept anything anyone offers you in the street, especially flowers from gypsies, although that may be more difficult than it sounds, since they will stick the flower in your pocket or lapel even though you protest. Then they'll ask you for money. This is when you become distracted and, bang, your wallet's gone...and you won't have even noticed. So, just be careful.
Clothes do make the man. At least they make a difference in how you're treated. On the one chilly day we had, I wore my winter coat and boots, and that was the only day that shop assistants and waiters started off talking to me in Spanish, instead of launching directly into English. The other days I wore short sleeves because the weather was so nice, but the locals were still going around in their heavy coats and winter shoes, and everyone took me for a foreigner. Okay, I know I look like a guiri (foreigner in Spanish). I can't help it, I'm tall, have blond hair and blue eyes. But in Pamplona, except during San Fermin, most people don't take me for a tourist. Barcelona was a different story. The city is full of tourists, many of them American, so in a lot of places people will immediately speak to you in English. And if you wear shorts, flip flops, tennis shoes, or any beach attire you'll be a dead giveaway. Okay, so when you open your mouth, it'll be obvious, no matter how you're dressed, but if you don't look like a tourist you'll be less of a target for pickpockets and scammers.
In Catalonia, Catalán is spoken. So much so, that in many places, the Cataláns struggle with Spanish. But, do you need to know Catalán to go to Barcelona? Well, no, but it is helpful to know a few words. Everyone speaks Spanish, and most also speak English, at least in the more touristy areas. In most restaurants you'll find the menu is at least in both Catalán and Spanish, and quite often in English as well. But we did come across a few places where the menu was only in Catalán, although the waiters did speak Spanish. In some ways Catalán is similar to Spanish, and it also resembles French quite a bit, so if you know both those languages, you'll have an easier time trying to decipher things. But there's a lot of unique vocabulary and the pronunciation is quite different from Spanish, so it's not easy. According to Kris, there's a pretty big separation between the true Cataláns and everybody else, and many foreigners and Spaniards from other parts of the country form their own ghettos, and they go about their business without ever really learning Catalán. But I must say, in general people are very friendly and willing to help you out if you're lost or don't understand something.
Now for the fun stuff.
Here's a list of bars and restaurants that either we tried, or were recommended to us:
1. Els Quatre Gats. High end restaurant in the Gothic quarter. The food is excellent, but expensive. But you have to remember that this is where Pablo Picasso's first exhibitions were held, so you're not only paying for the food, you're also paying for history. If you go for dinner, ordering one dish is more than enough, since they are quite filling. You will find yourself surrounded by tourists, but the service is fantastic and the ambiance is delightful.
|Our graffiti. Come see if you can find it.|
3. Taxidermista. Kris recommended this place, but unfortunately it wasn't open while we were there. It's located in the Plaza Real. He told us to avoid the rest of the restaurants in this square, since they are nearly all geared to tourists, and the food is expensive and not worth the price. So, stay away from the ones that have people standing outside trying to lure you in. If they need to do that to get customers, be wary.
4. Vaso de Oro. This one's in the Barceloneta area, and according to Kris has excellent prawns. We did go inside this one, but it people were packed in like sardines, and we really wanted to sit down after all the walking, so we left. But where there's a crowd, the tapas are bound to be good.
5. La Vinya del Senyor. Cava bar, situated right in front of Santa María del Mar. Expensive, but cava is not cheap to begin with. The service is excellent, and the location couldn't be better.
The Drunken Duck. We found this place while looking for La Cova Fumada, which we couldn't find, and after being rudely kicked out of Bar Electricitat. So what if this is a franchise? The food's still good and we were treated very well. The grilled prawns were tasty and they have good sandwiches. Oh, and good beer.
7. La Cova Fumada. Kris recommended this place to us, but we couldn't find it. I looked it up later and it seems that they only open Mon - Fri, and we were there on Saturday, so that would explain it. From what I've read, they open the back door, not the front one, so the place doesn't get filled up with tourists that have found it in the tourist guides. So, if you can't seem to find it, go around back, and I hope you'll have better luck than we did
And the shops.
Onogior. This is where we got our bracelets. Here's what the New York Times has to say about this shop:
"A pioneer in the resurrection of the once-depressed neighborhood, Onogior is the brainchild of Mario Onorato and Giorgina Soler, who make silver jewelry inspired by the organic forms of Gaudí’s architecture. Linger over the shop’s collection of necklaces and rings, and watch the designers as they solder and polish their work. Canvis Nous 9"
We didn't know that before we went in, and the shop doesn't look like much on the outside, but if you go in, Mario, who is not only a skilled craftsman, but also a really nice guy, will wait on you himself and help you find what you want. And his prices are quite reasonable.
Nunyoa. This shop has lovely kimonos and other Japanese items, if you like that sort of thing. I went in because Catgirl is studying Japanese, and loves kimonos. They also have a great selection of fabric. I was tempted to buy some, but I don't know what I'd do with it.
2. Papabubble: Handmade candy shop. Even if you don't have a sweet tooth, it's worth going inside to watch the candy being made.
3. Caelum: This means "heavenly" in latin. You'll find all sorts of heavenly treats, made by monks and nuns, to lead you into temptation.
4. Bubó: Amazing pastries. Expensive, but they are works of art. Too pretty to eat really.
Vintage Music. Vintage music shop in the Gracia district. This place is chock full of stuff from the 40s, 50s and 60s. And I just love the green door pull. Barrio de Gracìa.
Cerería Subirà. Candle shop that's only been around since 1761. Interesting barroque interior, and a fabulous selections of candles. Gothic Quarter.
7. Muji. Okay, this store is originally Japanese, and it's not limited to Barcelona, but I love it anyway. They have all kinds of unusual and well-designed household items, office supplies, and clothing. There are two in Barcelona, one on Avenida Diagonal and the other on Rambla de Catalunya.
And if you want to read more about my Barcelona Adventure, you can do that here:
Not Vicky, Not Cristina, but Definitely Barcelona
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