Friday, November 2, 2012

Street Smarts in Barcelona

¡Hola todos!I hope this blog post finds you in a state of peace of mind, perhaps eating some leftover Halloween candy, watching the leaves fall, and being utterly bewildered as to why some radio stations have started playing Christmas music.  A week ago, I traveled with my friend Jenna to quite possibly one of the liveliest and dynamic cities in Spain, the great herald of the Mediterranean coast, Barcelona.  It was everything I wanted and more for so many reasons.  I think the pictures I have linked to this post will show a lot more than I can write about, but I'll include some whimsical anecdotes to supplement nonetheless.  Here's the link below:
I just realized you have to have a Snapfish account to view the photos, so for those of you who don't have Snapfish nor Facebook, here's a few photos just to show how awesome the city was.

 Being a history major and someone generally concerned about current events, I thought I would share my impression of what is transpiring in Cataluña (the autonomy of which Barcelona is the capital), especially since I'm unaware if American news has covered any of it.  In recent months, there has been a growing political movement within Cataluña calling for the independence of the autonomy as a nation separate from España.  The president of the autonomy, Artur Más, has been the spokesperson of the movement, often emphasizing the differences between Cataluña and the rest of the country (though every autonomy has its own unique culture).  One set of events which sparked controversy was a move from Cataluña's government to try to force all the schools, from grade school to the university, to teach solely in catalán in place of a balance between the two languages (the other being español).  Just recently, Artur Más went to Russia to try to get support from the Kremlin because apparently when Russian tourists come to España, they most often go to Cataluña.  Notifications such as these appear in the various newspapers every day.  That being said, I'm unsure how serious the prospect of an independent Cataluña is.  When I've talked with native Spaniards around here, they more or less say that it's just a bunch of show.  Cataluña ALWAYS wants independence it seems.  From a more practical standpoint, the outlook for their cause seems bleak since the likelihood that the United Nations or the European Union would recognize it is indescribably low at this point.  In Barcelona, I saw a few independence flags and posters, but not more than I have seen in Santiago.  Vamos a ver.

Now, based on my experience in one of the greatest cities in Spain, I now present to you a "Barcelona Travel Guide: Do's & Do Not's" (but mostly Do's)
1) DO: Stay in Fabrizzio's Guesthouse Barcelona, a fun little hostel in an apartment with the perfect location for travel.  Our host, Roger, was incredibly hospitable, spoke English so both of us could understand, and provided us with some helpful advice to get around the city.  Also, there was all day continental breakfast, a fully furnished kitchen if you wanted to cook, and clean beds and immaculate bathrooms.  Needless to say, it rocked.
2) DO: Go visit Antoni Gaudí's "La Sagrada Familia." You will encounter a line that wraps around half of the cathedral no matter what time of day it is and will likely wait there for at least 2 hrs, but it's so worth it! As you'll see in the pictures, the architecture and symbolism are simply incredible, and it still blows my mind that it won't be done until the middle of this century.  Also, don't forget to go to the museum while you're there, which is included in the price of the ticket (we almost did).
3) DO: Buy a metro pass and be prepared to be the most efficient city traveler ever.  As I've probably said before, Barcelona is an incredibly large city and walking a lot, even for someone now accustomed to walking like me, is simply impractical.  It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Barcelona has one of the most sophisticated underground rail systems I've used (which includes those of Boston and Washington D.C).  The longest wait time was only 4 minutes, and that rarely happened to us.  Also, MUCH cheaper than using a taxi the whole time.
4) DO: Go to the Picasso museum and behold works of creative genius from all different periods in his life.  He is definitely one of those artists where you can't say that seeing one of his paintings is like seeing the rest.  His various interpretations of Velazquez's "Las Meninas" was especially interesting.
5) DO: Utilize the menú del día whenever and wherever possible.  For one usually reasonable price, you get two main dishes, a drink (water, beer, or wine), bread, and a dessert of your choice.  It was a little more difficult to find in Barcelona than in Santiago, but well worth the effort.
6) DO/DO NOT: If possible you should go to the open farmer's market off the street called Las Ramblas (which is famous for being a tourist district).  There is quite a variety of fruits, meats, and other products native to Cataluña to choose from, but be warned: the vendors themselves may as well be pickpockets.  What I mean by that is even if you say you're not interested, they will continue to ask how much you want.  When that happens, forget about manners and just run!
7) DO NOT: Leave your belongings unattended.  Roger told us that if you leave something for even a second, it will be picked up and you'll never see it again.  However, I utilized for the first time my heroic money belt, so I felt pretty secure and a little smug if I do say so myself.  In fact, DO use a money belt if possible.
8) DO NOT: Accept coconuts from a man with a pink basket on the beach near the Mediterranean sea.  Also, if he offers to take your photo, say no and walk away (the most important part).  We said we weren't interested in having a coconut (which appeared to be free, mind you) multiple times, but he just didn't leave.  We reluctantly took one just to make him happy, but then he made us pay for it! Obviously, we tried arguing the point to no avail, so to make him leave we paid 2 euros.  Case in point: never trust the prospect of free coconuts.
9) DO NOT: Spend the night in the Barcelona airport unless you have an air mattress and a parka.  Because our flight to Santiago was really early in the morning, we thought we would spend the night in the airport to save on the price of lodging and a taxi.  I've heard some airports are actually quite conducive to overnight stays but if Barcelona made that list I would laugh.  All of the benches before the security check had fixed armrests, so it was impossible to lay across.  Also, I'm pretty sure they shut the heat off during the night.  If you want a type of Bear Grylles' "Man vs. Wild" experience that is a little less intense, then this would be for you.

Thanks for reading once again, friends! Hope you enjoyed Halloween and more importantly All Saint's Day.  ¡Hasta luego!



  1. Hi Ethan - We enjoyed reading your blog about your travels to Barcelona, especially the do's and don'ts. You certainly have practical travel tips to share with those who'd like to take in the sights in the most economical fashion. We enjoyed your pictures. Talk to you soon - Love Madre & Padre.

  2. To quote Monty Python:

    Soldier: Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?
    King Arthur: Not at all. They could be carried.
    Soldier: What? A swallow carrying a coconut?
    King Arthur: It could grip it by the husk.
    Soldier: It's not a question of where he grips it! It's a simple question of weight ratios! A five ounce bird could not carry a one pound coconut.

    Great blog post Ethan! We love you :)

    ~Claire & James

  3. I'm glad you enjoyed Barcelona. I remember Clare telling me how often the residents like to protest. It's like a sport to them.