Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Howdy y'all!!!

working on a new blog that will be more cohesive than this one. That's part of the problem with the sporadic updating.

I will announce the new URL coming up very soon.

I will be focusing on being more Lonely Planet-ish, and de-focusing on any story telling.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010




I would like to say how invaluable the following resources can be:


I have used both, many times, to great advantage. They are nicely designed and user-friendly.

I have used Kayak.com many times, and I have to say that Expedia often beats Kayak's deals, even though Kayak.com is a site aggregator that INCLUDES Expedia in its price-search engine.

Apparently, Expedia keeps some of the best deals for itself.

Expedia is also a great way to book flight/package deals.

But beware: I would highly suggest that you do NOT try to save money by booking hotels far outside the city center (30 minutes absolute max, and don't believe any hotel reviews...do the math yourself). You can burn a lot of time on the trains going back and forth to your hotel, and, of course, returning to your hotel, midday, to relax for an hour is almost out of the question because you will burn yet MORE time in transit.

It is always worth it to spend the extra money to have a hotel that is somewhat close to the city center.

I will probably never book a hotel far from the city center again. But that's just me.

Do the math and compare the Expedia package against booking the flight with Expedia, and the hotel with Hotels.com or a similar hotel discount site. Sometimes package deals will not help you because they're filled with hotels that are far from the city center. These provide the best deals for Expedia, but not necessarily for YOU.


The currency in Spain is the Euro.

It has fluctuated wildly in the past year. If the exchange rate from the Euro to the U.S. dollar is around 1.6, it is going to put a real hurting on your wallet.

At that exchange rate, EVERY time you take out $300 Euros from the ATM in Europe, it will show up on your U.S. bank statement as a withdrawal somewhere in the ballpark of $400.00 U.S. dollars. That's pretty harsh.

Fortunately, it's at about 1.23 right now which is fantastic, relatively speaking.

Great site for currency exchange updates:



My best travel tip of all time:

You can use this tip and ignore the rest that I've written, here, and I would feel fine about it.

ALWAYS, ALWAYS bring $250.00-$500.00 U.S. dollars with you on ANY international trip.

I would suggest making it $500 U.S. per person.

I have been in some sticky situations where I didn't obey this rule. Having my card cut off in Rio was one of them.

The other one was: I was in Buenos Aires, and the ATMs sometimes have problems there. But you know what DOES work? Cash, my friend. ATMs sometimes have problems in the most Westernized of countries.

Also, save 50% or more over a hotel by renting someone's apartment. But you know what you'll need to do that? Cash. Upfront. In full.

Cash always works.


May/June is a GREAT time to come to Barcelona, weather-wise.

Starting in July, it gets HOT!


Have a few Euros on you when you arrive at the airport at Barcelona.

50 Euros per person should be more than enough, if you can wait to get into town to use an ATM, and you are taking the metro instead of a cab.

The metro is really nice in Barcelona. There is no reason to take a cab from the airport, unless you are a business traveler or you have 18 pieces of luggage. And if you do take a cab from the airport it will be about $50 U.S. dollars, at least. Maybe more like $70 U.S.

If you can help it, NEVER use currency exchange booths of any kind, ESPECIALLY the ones that say "NO COMMISSION". Do not believe the "NO COMMISSION". They will really scalp the heck out of you on the exchange rate.

Use an ATM to get your Euros (as opposed to the Exchange Booths mentioned above), preferably in somewhat large amounts because your bank will charge you each time you withdraw money. Withdrawing money from the ATM continues to be the best exchange rate you can get. A bank is also a good place to do it as a general rule--the ONLY place you should do it besides an ATM--but in Spain they often won't let you unless you have an account at the bank.

Your best bet (if you can't use an ATM) is a bank on the swanky and famous avenue: Passeig de Gràcia, where some banks will allow strangers to walk in and exchange money.

ATMs are somewhat hard to find in the Barcelona airport. Granted I didn't look super hard but I didn't see one anywhere.


If you have Bank of America (and other banks, too, perhaps) and you have longer or shorter than a 4 digit PIN for your bank account card, you want the ATMS at "Santander" Bank (They have a bright red sign and many, many locations) and Santander's ATM machines often say "Telebanco" and have a different name/logo than the bank itself. This is fine. That's the one you want.

Those ATMs will work even if you have a 6 digit PIN. Some ATMs in Barcelona, (and Europe in general), ONLY work if you have a 4 digit PIN.

And by the way if your PIN is a word that you use to remember the PIN, make sure you memorize the number equivalent of that word because the ATMS in Barcelona will only have numbers on them...they don't write the letters underneath the numbers like we do in the States.


Never book a hotel more than 20 minutes outside the city center.

You will burn a ton of time on trains, and you will probably regret it, and you will not be able to return to your hotel during the day and rest if you need to. And, trust me, it's gets freakin HOT in Barcelona in the summertime. Taking an occasional break at your hotel to regroup is one of the things you need, in my opinion.


The Hotel Rating system in Europe is NOT the same as the U.S. Beware. 4 stars means 3 stars. That still means "fairly nice" to "nice". 3 stars could get slightly dicey.


Bring 2-3 adapters, one of them being a Surge Protector/adapter, the other two just being straight up simple adapters for iPods and other gadgets that are friendly with different voltage levels. It will get annoying not being able to charge more than one thing at a time. Getting two, or even three, is worth the money in my opinion.

The following page will help clear up the converter/surge protector/adapter confusion. They are also a good company, I think. I have purchased the All-In-One Surge Protector from them, used it on numerous trips in South America and Europe and it works great.



Right out of the gate, if you have 2 or more days in Barcelona get the T-10, Zone 1 metro pass. It will save you some bucks on the metro, and you'll be on the metro a lot.

Metro goes till midnight, but later on Friday and Sat.

I was very surprised by how early the metro closes on weekdays in this "party town". Yes, they like to party in Barcelona. I'll admit that. But their reputation is somewhat undeserved. It is extremely common for people to stay out till 5 or 6am in Buenos Aires, for example. The streets of Barcelona during the weekdays start emptying out at 2am. I was really surprised. And La Rambla, one of the most major avenues in all of Barcelona can be positively EMPTY by 3am.

Buses go till quite late and are very nice, actually. Tons of buses leave from Placa Catalunya (top of La Rambla meaning the part of La Rambla AWAY from the water) at all times.


Vegetarians and high blood pressure peeps, beware! Meat and LOTS and LOTS of salt are the law in Barcelona.


BE PREPARED in BARCELONA...for some slightly chilly service in restaurants and cafes. Nothing to worry about, but if you are expecting warm service everywhere you go, you have visited the wrong city.

If you stick to very westernized places like Hotel Omm, the W hotel, etc, of course you're unlikely to experience cold service...that's another thing altogether. But if you go all over Barcelona like we did, trust me, you will experience a chilliness in service from time to time.

On the other hand, to be fair, once I made attempts to butter them up, or make a joke, or ask them about themselves, they warmed up pretty nicely.

It is also only fair to say that my rudimentary Spanish for restaurants and shops is only passable. By no means terrible, mind you, but barely passable...so that certainly can't have helped.


Leaving Barcelona by plane, DO NOT get your terminal wrong. You might miss your plane.

There is a big sign when you get off the train at the "Airport" station indicated which airlines belong to which Terminals (1 or 2). Double check the sign.



Sagrada Familia

One of Spain's greatest landmarks, and widely considered the master-work of renowned architect Antoni Gaudi is one of Spain's top tourist attractions. Gaudi devoted the last fifteen years of his life, entirely, to the project.

It was a slight disappointment because of the ubiquitous contruction everywhere on and around the building.

Despite the eye-sore construction, it's the sort of arresting visual feast of Neo-Gothic meets Art Nouveau architecture that is not, under any circumstances, to be missed. Get your fix of beautifully chiseled Christian symbolism at every turn.

This is a must see.


La Pedrera, Eixample district.

The building is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Works of Antoni Gaudí".

An entire apartment building designed by Gaudi, it undulates and dazzles with architectural innovation and flair.

If you are not familiar with the art and architecture of Gaudi, you will fall in love with him on this trip.

This is a must see.


Park Guell (designed by Gaudi), Metro stop: Lesseps

This park is quite large and has many different, interesting architectural features.

It also has a great view of Barcelona from the vibrantly tiled, serpentine wall that defines the upper perimeter.

This is a must see.


Casa Batllo, Eixample district (if time constraints make you choose between Casa Batllo and "La Pedrera" choose Casa Batllo)

Literally translated, "House of Bones".

Casa Batllo is a multi-story home with a stunning rooftop (affording 360 views of Barcelona) by Gaudi, originally designed for a middle-class family, surprisingly.

The whole building plays, superbly, with light, undulating structures of glass, wood and plaster, and vibrant textile work, functional design touches (such as ventillation grates carved into the wood of window frames)...it was one of the highlights of this trip.

Casa Batllo will set you back 20 Euros a piece, but if you have an interest in art and architecture, it is unquestionably worth it.

This is an absolute must-see.



Arguably, the best views of Barcelona, (at over 500 meters high), at this beautiful old church with an amusement park. I know, weird, right?

There is a cantilever ride at the amusement park that looks positively terrifying. Didn't do it.

This is a must see.


The Magic Fountain, Placa D'Espagne

The Magic Fountain at Placa D'Espangne only "performs" on the weekends. Check it out for a fountain, light, and music show!

In fact, if you're around La Barcolonetta (the beach and shore area) take the cable car!

A borderline must-see.



if you want to see a BULLFIGHT they are only on Sundays at 6pm, so you have a narrow window to experience that one.


Barcelona Aquarium, La Barcolonetta

If you have more than 7 days in town, do it. See sharks, up close and personal, as they swagger thru the overhead, glass arches of aquarium tunnels!

See sharks, seahorses, electric neon purple surgeonfish, and vibrant sapphire devils!

I was wowed by this place, but maybe not quite a "must see".


The Main Post Office of Barcelona, near La Barcolonetta

The vestibule of the Main Post Office in Barcelona is decorated with frescos by Catalonian mural painters from the first half of the 20th century.

Nicest post office I've ever seen. It's almost ridiculous that people actually send off their mail in a place like this.



Moovida, Hotel Omm, Eixample district

Perfect after a hard day of snapping endless pics at Gaudi's houses on Passage de Gracia. Unwind in swankness!

It is not easy to make a fantastic Bloody Mary, but they did. All drinks here are likely to be top notch.

Watch the beautiful and well-heeled saunter by in this mod-designed hotel bar/resto.

There is no dress code. Not cheap, certainly, but not expensive for Barcelona.

Live music (and good) on Thursdays, late afternoon.

Expensive as hell restaurant "Moo" adjoins Moovida. Give it a try if your wallet dares.


Eclipse Bar, 27th floor of the W Hotel, La Barcolonetta (shoreline)

Eclipse on the 27th floor of the W hotel has sweeping views of the shoreline and city of Barcelona. Dress for success, baby.

The service is somewhat lacking, but you don't really care. Expensive.

Informal but sporty dress from 7-9pm. After 9pm, you better be looking GOOD or you ain't welcome there, even if there is no line at the elevator.

But...good news! The lobby bar is very stylish, mod, interesting, (think black onyx fireplace, coral theme, candles strewn about playfully, and mood lighting that changes intermittently) and doors go right out to the patio/beach/water. Open till at least 1am.

The bartenders are variable. Some are superb, some were actually terrible, but the service was always warm, timely and it's kind of an LA scene.


Mirablau at Tibadabo (won Frommer's "Best View from a bar in Barcelona" award)

Danzatoria Tibidabo

The views from these stylish bars (500 meters above Barcelona) are supposed to be almost unreal.

I have a feeling they are must-sees, but I didn't go.

One of the only things in Barcelona that I really wanted to see, but didn't.


GIMLET, La Ribera district

This is necessary for a pre-dinner drink, one night.

Some of the best prepared cocktails in Barcelona and feel like you stepped into a Ed Hopper painting crossed with a Humphrey Bogart movie.



Siddartha on Avinyo Avenue (small street): kinda cool, morracan decor, kinda goth.

This place would really be cool if they didn't play MC Hammer and very bad, random rap.

It's just not that kinda place dude....don't do that. Still, you are at ground zero of the (GOOD) touristy part off of La Rambla, but yet slightly removed and it's chill on this street. Even with the really bad music, I think I would come back to this place. Only for drinks tho...not to eat.


Schilling, Ave Ferran off of La Rambla

Awesome vibe to the bar, terrific music, lively, all ages which surprised me, plenty of Americans, but lots of locals too.

Red velvet chairs, good seating at the tables, excellent drinks, cheap tapas (as per usual), good people watching, lots of smoking going on (beware).

This bar is not particularly special (or maybe it is), but it was one of my favorite bars in Barcelona for tapas and/or drinks.


Hard Rock Cafe, Barcelona

Didn't do a thing for me, but pleasant enough, somewhat cool-looking, friendly staff, lots of tables, very big bar.


Bar at Hotel Arts, Barcelonnetta

Outrageously expensive, and for the life of me, I can't figure out why. No great design, and it's a frat/businessman's hangout, at least from my one visit. And it's on the first floor of the hotel which is situated on the water. Really? A view of something other than the valet area might have been nice for such an expensive, (supposedly) super-trendy hotel.



Recommended from bartender at Gimlet, but didn't get a chance to go:

Dry Martini Bar
Solo Lounge



Pans & Co., Fast Food, locations everywhere.

You know for a fast food chain....pretty good bang for your buck. Mostly sandwiches.


Casa Calvet, Eixample District. (Top Pick)

Make sure you book 48 hours in advance. You can book online, too.

Casa Calvet (for dinner in a Gaudi designed building and supposed to be 3.5 star food)

Sited from Wiki: "Gaudí scholars agree that this building is the most conventional of his works, partly because it had to be squeezed in between older structures and partly because it was sited in one of the most elegant sections of Barcelona."

This is Antoni Gaudi's first apartment building design, AND the first building in Barcelona to feature an elevator!

What a romantic place to have dinner!

Beautiful stained glass window, gorgeous white brick interior, Persian carpets throughout. Dark wood-carved partitions on the perimeter provide just enough feeling of privacy while still being able to enjoy the atmosphere.

The food and service were sumptuous/impeccable. Actually, it was one of my favorite dinners I've ever had in my life. We had the "Tasting Menu" which featured small portions of many different items.

Quite expensive. Not completely ridiculous, though.


Moovida at Hotel Omm, L'Eixample District, Rosello 265 (Top Pick)

Words cannot express how much I loved the design, food, service, people watching at the resto-cafe MOOVIDA at the OMM HOTEL right near one of my favorite sights in Barcelona: Gaudi's Batlla House. I'm now afraid I've definitely built it up too much.

I highly recommend the Carpaccio. I had to go there TWICE for it. Holy smokes!

MOOVIDA is not expensive at all (but it looks like it is).

Hotel Omm, on the other hand, will cost you a GRIP for a room.


El Paraigua at Placa Sant Miquel near Placa Jaume (Top Pick, but don't expect too much, you'll see what I mean)

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh, the Salmon tapas....ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Tasty. Carpaccio also excellent.

Take the outside seating. An oasis in the midst of tourist mayhem.

This place has excellent quality tapas, drinks, good service.

I really love Placa Sant Miquel. There's not much to it, but i think you will see what I mean.


The Attic, La Rambla

Nice design, bright orange walls, windows looking out onto the crowd strolling La Rambla, mediocre (but not bad) service, nice tables, lots of tourists there, somewhat expensive.

INCREDIBLE pasta salad.

The rest of the food was merely tasty but not great. A smattering of Euro douchebags, but I didn't mind because it's heavily mixed with quiet couples just enjoying a nice meal.

I would recommend even though it sounds like I wouldn't.


La Tagliatella (this is a TOP PICK), L'Eixample District

Beautiful Italian restaurant where everything just feels good and right.

The food here went beyond delicious into the realm of highly creative.

The seafood salad with shrimp, salmon, anchovies, and crab meat, corn was absolutely WOW!

Not expensive.


El Cafe de Ferran, Ave Ferran near Placa St. Jaume

This place is a bit old wordly, actually reminded of cafes in Cairo just a bit.

The upstairs is the place to sit. Great food, decent service, gorgeous wood carved ceiling. Actually, walk in there and check out that ceiling, regardless.

I would suggest the Sangria with Cava (instead of non-sparkling wine). It was delicious, and a new discovery for me. That was Marisa's suggestion. Well done, baby!

The Jarra Sangria Cava. Meaning a big Jar that you can share is 10 Euros...that's four glasses (at least). Barcelona is way cheaper than Paris for food and drink. This place was quite tasty and it was 24 Euros for 3 tapas and the huge jar of sangria.


Melic de Gotic, Ave Montsio near La Rambla

Melic de Gotic near 4cats cafe.

Great food, great service, really cool history to the place.

I would definitely go back here.


Caputxes, Ave Ferran and, also, La Rambla.

There's a couple of these places on La Rambla. They look fairly inviting. They are really expensive compared to their competitiors and so so food. Skip it.


Orio, Ave Ferran 38

What a spot they have! An oasis in the midst of mayhem. Unless you want to be in the sunshine.

Very pricey. Totally variable service, sometimes quite bad.

The food is excellent and so is the wine selection. Not the best bang for your buck, but tucked away and quiet off of the major thoroughfare of Ave. Ferran. Tough call.


4Cats, Ave Montsio near La Rambla

4Cats cafe where Picasso and the art/philososphy boys used to hang out every night while in Barcelona.

I'm on the fence about this one. It is quite cool, but overrated in my opinion. The coffee was excellent.

Still, I guess it might be one of those places you have to see in Barcelona.


Ambos Mundos, Placa Reial, La Rambla and Ave. Ferran

Excellent service, plentiful and good tapas menu, fairly cheap, and good place for some chilly Sangria and people watching!

Watch your camera and your wallet in this very touristy square.



Dali Museum (slightly dissapointing, but a must-see)

You take a RENFE train to get there from Barcelona. It will say "Cerbere" on the train. Cerbere is the (final) destination and Figueres, the town where the Dali Museum is, is on the way.

Get the "Express train" (not listed as such) that avoids most of the stops along the way. Look for the one on the train timetable that skips some of the stops.

You will cut your trip time in half. And you will want to do so because most rides on the RENFE train kinda suck. Super boring in terms of scenery, and sometimes slow.

There are not many of Dali's great paintings at this museum and that is an UNDERSTATEMENT. Still, it's pretty rewarding, and Figueres is quite nice, I thought.

Your ticket to the Dali Museum will include an entry to the Dali Jewels Museum. I would check it out. There are some stunning pieces of jewelry in there.


Museu Nacional D'art Catalunya, Placa Espagne (Must see if you're a museum lover)

In fact, if you're around La Barceloneta (the shore of Barcelona) take the cable car to Placa D'Espagne!

Placa D'Espagne is just gorgeous and a great place for this important museum with escalators OUTSIDE to take you to the foot of the museum.

It would take 2 days to go thru it filled with tons of Gothic and Byzantine art. But, luckily, your ticket is GOOD FOR TWO DAYS!

The Magic Fountain right nearby only goes on the weekends. Check it out for a fountain, light, and music show!


MACBA, Museu d'art Contemporani de Barcelona.

Worst contemporary art museum I've ever seen. Ever. And not cheap.

How do you have 50 pieces by world famous artist (and one of my faves), Bruce Nauman, and they're all TERRIBLE?!?!

The permanent collection was mediocre and that's a kind review.

They advertise as having Basquiats and Paul Klee's (also one of my faves) and they do not. Nor are they on loan at present.

The architecture (by Richard Meier) is fantastic, however, and almsot worth it just for that.


Mussee Picasso (Must-see)

Mussee Picasso. Not to be missed the Rose and Blue period stuff has some amazing pieces.

There are a lot of early sketches around too which I quite enjoyed.



Sitges is a really beautiful, charming beach town with tons of cool shops and people with serious money.

I'd say it's skippable though. It just didn't strike me as worth the trip if you only have one week or so. It was worth it for us (barely) because Corpus Christi (once a year in late June) is a noteworthy and major event, there.

But still. I don't really see what all the fuss is about. It's (perhaps) the top gay resort town in all of Spain. Well, like I said..it is quite nice. But, man, there are a freaking TON of old people. But maybe that was just because of the Corpus Christi festival.

I don't think I've ever seen so many people over 65 in one place at one time before. LA really does warp your perception of the world in a lot of ways.

Another note: Coming back from Sitges to Barcelona you want any train that says EST de Franca. It will head right into the city center. But this was a bit hard to figure out.