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destination: BCN.

29 Apr

Check out the Destination Details on Barcelona I wrote for DIWYY: Do it While You´re Young in 2009.

For good reason, a lot of people have asked me ¨What should I do with X number of days in Barcelona?¨ Over the last few years, I´ve compiled a list of my BCN musts. Here they are in reader-friendly blog form:

Transportation: From the airport: you’re going to want to follow the signs (literally a picture/icon of a train) to the train station. All of the trains from BCN airport lead to the city center, so hop on one if it is there waiting. Trains come about once every 20 minutes, so you might have some waiting to do. Then, you’re going to want to get off at either Sants Estacio/Barna Sants station or Passeig de Gracia, depending on which of those stations is closer to where you are staying. You can get on the metro at either of these stops, take it however many stops, and then find your hotel. The metro is really easy to use, clean, and in my experience safe. I’d recommend buying a T-10 metro pass, it’s 7.85 euro currently and you can share it between people. It’s 10 rides and you can easily buy another pass if you need one.

Drassanes – Green line.

my old metro stop.

Tourist Attractions.

  • Las Ramblas. This is touristy, but you have to do it. It’s sort of like Santa Monica’s 3rd street Promenade, with lots of street artists and vendors. About half-way down when you’re walking toward the water is Barcelona’s famous market, La Boqueria. Pop in there and buy some packaged fruit for a euro or a smoothie, and take a look at the rabbits and pigs sold in the meat stands. You´ll also notice the famous opera house, a Joan Miró mosaic, and numerous flower and pet shop stand lining the pedestrian walkway. Las Ramblas is different at different times during the day, but be cautious at night, it’s where a lot of people get robbed. If you’re a girl, make sure you are wearing a purse around your body and not a clutch or a wristlet. I never got robbed in Barça but most everyone else I know did (I did, however, get slapped by a prostitute on my most recent stay, that was an experience).

Joan Miró mosaic on Las Ramblas

  • Parc Guell. This is Gaudí’s famous park and it is unreal. It sort of feels a little bit like Disneyland – you will see Gaudí´s multi-colored mosaic and ergonomic bench with the best view of the city, his nature-inspire caves (previously made famous on America´s Next Top Model) as well as his gingerbread house-style cottages. Truly must be seen to be believed.

goo-goo for gaudí.

  • La Sagrada Familia. Gaudi´s monumental church has been under construction for over 100 years, and the gains made in the last two years are mind-blowing. It´s worth the wait and the price of admission to enter (your 12 euros or so go toward contuining construction). The insanely ornate mosaiced spires, references to nature, and sheer whimsy totally explain why this is the number 1 most visited sight in Spain.
  • Other bits of Modernisme. If you find yourself digging Gaudí, check out his Casa Battló and La Pedrera on Passeig de Gracia. The rooftop of La Pedrera especially is pretty breath-taking, and do-able on a short trip.
  • Also make sure you check out FC Barcelona´s stadium, Camp Nou, if you have time, as well as the 1992 Olympic stadium on Mont Juic. I can also recommend the Picasso Museum in the Gothic Quarter and the Magic Fountain show at Plaça d´Espanya held on weekend nights around 8 pm. On my most recent trip, I learned that the bull ring at Plaça d´Espanya is now a shopping mall, with an awesome pedestrian walkway on the top – a great place for pictures of the city from a cool vantage point.

    atop the bullring.

  • Barrios. Regardless of where you´re staying, you´ll have an easy time of getting to know the different areas. Make sure you dabble in Barceloneta and the Port Olympic, Gothic Quarter and El Born, L´Eixample, El Raval, and the city center area of Las Ramblas and Plaça Catalunya.

Food.

  • La Rita. If you eat one meal in Barcelona, eat it here. Located in the L’Eixample region at C/ Aragó, 279, it´s become popular (I spotted a reference to it in a recent Rick Steves book – but my parents and I went in March 2009 off a tripadvisor review that was insanely positive). Delicious entrees (and inexpensive!) and cheap wine. If you´re feeling adventurous, order the duck. And dessert.
  • Txirimiri. Located on C/Princesa, 11, this is  a place with tapas that you select yourself in the typical Basque fashion – you pay at the end based on the number of toothpicks left on your plate! Who doens´t love the honor system?  Surprisingly good – it rivals some of the best pintxos I´ve had in the Basque region.

pintxos at txirimiri.

  • Divan. If you go to Europe, you will eat a kebab. Try diagramming that sentence, all you previous LSAT-takers. The kebab is Europe´s answer to the burrito, and while different, definitely scrumptious. I´ve had my fair share of kebabs in Madrid and have a favorite place in my neighborhood in MAD, but this is by far the best one I´ve had – not to mention the owner bears a somewhat appreciable resemblance to George Clooney. This place is right off Las Ramblas, on C/ Bonsucces, 8. It´s located steps away from one of my favorite bars, La Oveja Negra, so make sure to stop in there for sangria or beer afterward. At Divan, order a durum kebab or doner kebab, with chicken or ¨mixto.¨ Add hummus for 50 cents. So worth it.

kebabs + george clooney look-alikes at Divan.

  • Bo de B. One of my best friends from college, Lily, studied abroad in Barça the spring I was in Madrid, and I was able to see her in BCN on her last full day in the city. She took us to Bo de B and it is amazing – huge sandwiches made to order and a delicious spin on patatas bravas. Absolutely worth the wait, and totally not Spanish food at all, but that´s okay now and again. Located on c/ Fustería, cross street is C/ Merçe, 35. Right next to the big post office.

krisse and lily at bo de b.

Nightlife. 

  • L´Ovella Negra (or La Oveja Negra in Spanish… it´s the The Black Sheep in plain English). This is probably my favorite bar, and although there are two locations my favorite is located right off of Las Ramblas. When you’re walking down Las Ramblas from Placa Catalunya, you’re going to take a right on the first street there is, and then the first left off of that street, C/ Sitges. It’s about half-way down the street on the right, and they have AMAZING Sangria – pitchers are 10-12 euro depending on time of day, and their beer’s not bad too. Nice blend of locals and tourists and just a fun, laid-back vibe.

the neg.

  • Espit Chupitos. This is a shots bar where every shot is 2 euros. They have all these crazy shots that are lit on fire and stuff – definitely try the Harry Potter, Finding Nemo, Acido, the green one you slurp up with a straw…it’s often crowded so don’t go on a Friday or Saturday night, but it’s pretty fun! Located on C/ Aribau.

the “harry potter”

  • Dow Jones. 97 Bruc, between Valencia and Aragó,  Girona or Verdeguer metro stops. This bar is really cool – the prices of the drinks rise and fall like the stock market. The cheapest beer is like 2 to 2.5 euro, mixed drinks are 4 to 6 euro. It’s really cool, prices will fall and an alarm will sound, and everyone will race to the bar to get the lower price. Definitely worth checking out if you have the time.

the infamous night i took my parents to the dow.

  • Clubs. If nightclubs are at all up your alley, go. My favorites are Opium Mar (located at the Olympic Port area) and Razzmatazz on C/ Almogadavers off the Marina metro stop. I´ve also had a lot of fun at Catwalk, Otto Zutz, Sutton, and Shoko, but on a shorter trip definitely aim to hit up Opium and Razz.

let it burn.

24 Mar

I have been putting off writing my entry on the Valencian festival known as Las Fallas mostly because the Consejería de Educación de Madrid ramped up their internet ¨safety¨ settings and Facebook (and thus all of my photos) are blocked at my school – making the whole ¨blogging during siesta¨ thing a little less attractive. That being said…Fallas deserves a post of its own so here it is.

I first heard about Las Fallas when I was studying abroad at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. Several of my friends made the trek down to Valencia to watch the large, puppet/float-like decorations be set on fire in the middle of the night. While I was interested in checking it out, I didn´t make it there mostly because my parents were visiting and the more pressing Girl Talk concert at Razzmatazz was the same weekend – and that remains the single best auditory experience I have ever been privy to.

This time around, though, I knew I had to get to Fallas. Valencia remained on my ¨must¨ list, and what better time to check it out than on the city´s biggest weekend of the year?

Las Fallas is celebrated for a week in the middle of March – and according to Wikipedia it is in celebration of St. Joseph. Basically what happens is each small neighborhood works all year raising money to construct their ninot (or puppet – but they look way more like huge, float-like constructions). I kept making comparisons to the Pasadena Rose Parade, but the float similarity is basically where that simile ends. All week long there are festivities, parades, and women wearing the traditional gown and hairstyle of the ¨falleras.¨

We managed to catch the greatest fireworks show I have ever seen, as well as the culmination of a pretty epic parade. The main theme of the weekend, though, was fire. On the night of the 19th, all of the ninots are set on fire late at night. This is known as the ¨crema.¨ A crowd gathers around 10 pm to see the smaller ¨ninots infatiles¨ burn down first. The ninots are adorned with fireworks that ignite before the burning begins. It is truly something you must see to believe – huge billows of smoke, the crack of the fireworks, and small children screaming ¨HACE CALOR!¨ because their parents are Valencianos and think nothing of bringing their toddlers within 10 feet of a huge, open flame.

While this is happening, crowds of young Valencian children are setting off fireworks in the street, with literally no regard for the safety of others – let alone their own. We witnessed children as young as 3 light off fireworks. And no, there was no clear adult supervision. While we jumped anytime a loud firecracker went off, the kids were busy finding fuego for their next firecracker, and didn´t even appear to flinch at any sort of snap or pop.

Around midnight, the stories-high ninots were set on fire. This was truly something – imagine an epicly constructed work of art (usually with an ironic or tongue-in-cheek political theme) going up in flames, with centuries-old buidldings serving as the backdrop. As the ninot went down, the neighborhood who worked all year to construct it gathered around it, with their arms around each other, chanting ¨Queremos Fallas!¨ They also sung as the last vestiges of the construction fell to the ground. I felt a little bit relieved by the fact that the fearless Valencian Bombers (Valenciano for Firefighters) were on guard while all of this was happening.

Aside from the festival, I tried to soak up as much of Valencia as I could, but since the apartment we rented was one block from the beach, that consisted of spending as muc time as possible outside. I enjoyed some fresh seafood, but need to go back to do some serious paella and horchata tasting (both of which originated in Valencia).

Also, culturally Valencia is very different from Madrid. It felt like a toned-down, simpler version of Barcelona, but without all of the modernisme. It felt like going home a little bit to see signs in what appeared to be Catalán, until I remembered that it is actually Valenciano, or the Valencian dialect of Catalán that is widely spoken there (but it is not considered its own language in the way Catalán is…Spanish languages are very confusing).

All in all, Las Fallas was an incredible experience, even if the sleep  deprivation , crowded apartment, and constant fear of stepping on haphazardly placed firecrackers were the side effects.

bird’s eye view.

21 Jul

I’ve recently started reading more travel blogs, and one in particular (Adventurous Kate) featured this post last week, showcasing 6 European cities from above. The photos were stunning, and it made me reminisce about some of the cities (European and North American) I’ve seen from a bird’s eye view...

Los Angeles, California from the Getty Museum

London, England from the London Eye

Berkeley and Oakland, California from the Campanile (Sather Tower) at the University of California, Berkeley

Paris, France from the Eiffel Tower

Seattle, Washington from the Space Needle

Seville, Spain from the Cathedral

Lisbon, Portugal from outside my hostel

Barcelona, Spain from the spires of La Sagrada Familia


What’s the coolest bird’s eye view you’ve ever seen?

WWRSD: What Would Rick Steves Do?

16 Jul

Rick Steves is to European travel as Jay-Z is to the rap scene and Lady Gaga is to post-modern pop. He’s an innovator, and  literally wrote the book on traveling and continues to provide quality guide books (and a PBS television show) year after year, helping American travelers experience authentic European vacations.

Two of my high school friends (Chris and Ryan) just got back from a Euro-trip, and I lent them my copy of “Rick Steves’ Europe.” They raved  about it, inspiring me to confess my minor R.S. obsession.

I first heard about Rick when a friend and fellow AXO, Annie, traveled abroad in the fall of 2007 to Prague. She swore by Rick’s guidebooks, and when I geared up to head to Barcelona  a year after she returned, she gave me “Rick Steves’ Europe” for Christmas. At first I was a little bit skeptical as to how useful these books would really be – the wordy guidebook with hand-drawn maps and hardly any photographs didn’t have the sleek, professional tone that some others do. But, as I quickly learned, it’s all about substance and Rick Steves delivered.

When I embarked for my semester abroad, I brought my Rick Steves guidebook with me – and while I didn’t use him much in Barcelona, he defined my itinerary in places like Berlin, Prague, Vienna, and Rome. We ended up choosing our next sight on a whirlwind spring break trip based on what Rick gave 3 stars too – his suggestion of paying approximately 3 euros for a standing room only ticket for Vienna’s opera was a great one – we didn’t feel guilty leaving after 20 minutes! Also in Vienna, Rick’s suggestion to trek out to the wine gardens (called Heuringers) outside the city center was one of our favorite nights of the trip – we experienced authentic food and culture – and the folky live band we heard at the nearby beer garden (called a Bamraxler) was also highly memorable.

Vienna’s Opera House:

A Bamraxler in Vienna:

The Rick Steves obsession followed me back to Berkeley last fall. A bunch of girls in my sorority had studied abroad, so a group us listened to Rick give a guest lecture at Berkeley’s International House. In the inspiring talk, Rick talked about his travel philosophy, his favorite countries (India tops the list) and what the United States can learn from other countries (his progressive ideas elicited a number of “ah-ha” moments from the crowd). He ended the talk with an FAQ session. In typical Berkeley fashion, one student wondered if, since Rick likes Amsterdam, if Rick has a preference for how to smoke weed – explicitly asking Rick, in front of a crowded audience if he is  ” a bong man or a joint guy.” Rick’s reply “I’ll take it any way I can get it.”

After the talk, my friends and I giggled like 12 years old meeting Justin Bieber when we chatted with Rick and posed for a photo. I was inspired to learn more, so I read Rick’s book: “Travel as a Political Act.” It was well-written and informative and only fueled the growing case of wanderlust I experienced.

Man. Myth. Legend. Rick Steves!

While I’m all about staying away from super-touristy sights, Rick Steves’ suggestions combine the right amounts of user-friendly, accessible travel spots with an inspired philosophy and set of travel goals.

Do you have any favorite guidebooks? Let me know!

nostalgia: la sagrada familia.

10 Jul

So, it’s no lie that i’m obsessed with all thing Barcelona. It’s truly an awesome place – with stunning architecture, beautiful beaches, and epic nightlife. You really won’t believe how awesome it is until YOU go…

I’m in the process of getting things ready to move to Madrid in September (even though this visa process is a pretty big pain) and hope to return to BCN sometime in 2010. In the meantime, I’ll continue to be nostalgic for Gaudi’s unfinished church, La Sagrada Familia. I took this photo right outside the Starbucks I occasionally “studied” at on C/Mallorca.

I like this photo because it combines the fact that Barcelona is a metropolitan, consumer and fashion-driven city, with capitalistic businesses like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts/Coffee (bizarre) everywhere with the old, modernisme traditions of Antoni Gaudi. This view of the church is actually the more recently completed one, and my favorite is the other side that looks like a dripping sand castle.

There’s a reason this thing is the most visited site in Spain. It’s truly awesome, and I will always remember the first time I got a glance at those spires.

The Return of the Travel Bug, or Why I Would Return to Prague

31 Mar

It is impossible to digest Prague’s multi-faceted uniqueness and charm in one quick trip. I visited the fairy tale-esque Czech city the week before Easter last year while I was traveling during my semester abroad, and already I seem to possess an insatiable itch to return. The city’s architecture is quirky and stunning at the same time – from Old Town Square’s astronomical clock tower and the magnificent cathedral overlooking the city, to Frank Gehry’s ultra-modern Dancing House and the faceless baby statues sprinkled throughout a park bordering the Charles River, the city’s countless oddities did nothing but delight me.

It is more than just Prague’s diverse architectural gems that captivated me, however, it is everything about Prague culture. After a few days in Prague, I found myself with a continuous craving for a Pilsner (and to pay with their funky currency, the koruna) and an urge to check out the new additions of graffiti on the epic Lennon Wall. Memories of my nights in Prague also leave me feeling nostalgic – and considering I hit up the same club two nights in a row (Chapeau Rouge, Jakubská 2,), I feel a return trip only makes sense so I can see what else this city has to offer! The city is insanely walk-able, making it that much more quaint.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the city is the fact that it is in the midst of constructing it’s own identity. Like a college student struggling to figure out who he or she wants to become, Prague also is developing its own sense of self as we speak. It’s one of the only cities that remained untouched by bombs in either of the world wars, and the effects of 1989’s Velvet Revolution still reverberate throughout the city.

There is something truly mystical about Prague, and I have a personal anecdote to back up that audacious claim. During my uber-short stay, I went on a couple of short runs throughout the city so I could enjoy the sun and see more of the sights. While I hustled through a park nestled near the cathedral, I heard my name being yelled. I turned around and recognized two friends from my abroad program who had come to Prague on a whim – I had no clue they would be there when I was, and vice versa. We sat together for a few minutes and reveled in just how small the world really can seem to be.

Prague is pretty irresistible. If you visit before I do, have a Pilsner for me.


The view of Prague from the Cathedral.

Frank Gehry’s “Dancing House.” That’s G.

My friend Becca and I at the Lennon Wall.