“I may not have gone
where I intended to go,
but I think I have ended up
where I intended to be.”
These days, whether it’s the oppressive heat of summer or the biting chill of winter, the streets of Barcelona are teeming with tourists.
I can’t help wondering how (or if) the locals preserve a sense of community – and how they find somewhere affordable to live, now our sharing economy has made holiday renting so simple and enticing for property owners.
There is so much to love about Barcelona, but are we loving this magical city to death?
It’s the local people, and the communities they build, that bring colour and life to Barcelona (or any world city). But if those people can’t get a place to rent at a rational price, then they’re going to be pushed out to the fringes.
Instead the wealthy move in, because they love the eclectic vibe of the city – and who can blame them? Meanwhile, tourists flock to soak up the history and culture for a brief time. But the people who gave the city its heart are leaving, and communities are fracturing.
It happened in New York City. Many of the artists, musicians, writers, thinkers and dreamers who once gave New York its creative edge could no longer afford to live there.
So they moved out – and the very thing that drew people to the city slipped away with them. Read more in this Rolling Stones article.
As travellers, we need to look beyond the cheap deals and site-seeing opportunities. Let’s give more than a passing thought to the people who call Barcelona and other world cities home. Because community matters.
We’ve been captivated by many fabulous cities around the world. We’re deeply shallow, I know. But Barcelona, you stole our hearts. And you did it so easily…
Yes, you’ll visit all the must-see places, be awestruck in galleries, channel your inner-chef in city marketplaces, and indulge in Barcelona’s delicious food, wine and hospitality.
But here’s something a little different you’ll kick yourself if you miss – seeing the city by sidecar, a street art tour by bike, wandering the lanes of the gothic quarter at night, and a day-trip by train to the beautiful mountain monastery of Montserrat. Let’s go!
Get your bearings in style on this fantastic Barcelona sidecar motorcycle tour.
Sadly, I can’t do the ‘backseat driver’ thing and shout instructions from the side car, since I could easily be wiped off on the nearest lamp post!
First you’ll head up the hill of Montjuic, for great views of the city and harbour.
The day before, when we’d walked up the hill (as you do), we saw six cruise ships jostling in and out of the harbour (mon dieu!).
Then you’ll meander through the streets, along the beach and past Gaudi’s exceptionally innovative and fascinating architectural creations – from Casa Batlló, Casa Milá and the magical Park Güell, to the incredible work-in-progress, Sagrada Familia.
I can’t think of a better introduction to Barcelona, can you?
Barcelona is such a busy city, it sounds like madness to jump on a bicycle and head out to the Poblenou area to see exceptional urban artworks and learn about Barcelona’s street art culture. But how could we resist…?
You don’t need to be a street art crazy like me to enjoy every moment of this tour.
So why is most of the street art in the city only on the roller shutters? In 2006, some of the world’s strictest graffiti laws were imposed on street artists in Barcelona.
Some ‘legal’ canvases remained, including the shutters of privately-owned shops and ‘painting walls’ where the artists could apply to create their transient works.
But of course, street art is about breaking rules, even if it has gone mainstream, so there are always surprises…
I’d tell you more, but writing notes and taking photographs while cycling are not skills I’ve mastered. Yet. So visit Street Art BCN for all the latest news, artist interviews and more.
In the morning, when the street-art adorned shop shutters are closed, the old town looks sleepy (but never tired). In the evening, it comes into its full quirky glory.
It’s the perfect time to get lost in the labyrinth of narrow alleyways where artisans imagine, create and sell their sensational work.
I admit I’m not a born-again shopper, but these small spaces are full of delight and wonder. You’ll go more than once, I promise.
All that wandering works up an appetite, but you’ll find so many delicious places to eat, drink and be mellow tucked away in the laneways. Who needs sleep?
The Monastery of Monserrat is a place you just have to visit.
Especially if you’re EB and you know there are mountains to climb.
Of course, one mountain is never enough, so once we’d had a quick snack, we had to climb the other one.
My legs felt like I’d done a thousand squats… well, stairs.
I digress. Monserrat is a place where hermit monks live out their days in prayer. Sounds like hell to me, but ‘purpose’ takes on many shapes…
Today, the pilgrimage continues – but many are tourists and those coming to touch the hand of the Black Madonna. Created as a wooden sculpture, the Madonna mysteriously darkened over time.
According to Monserrat’s tourist guide, worship in the Basilica is focused around the Black Madonna.
Beyond the truly awe-inspiring Basilica is a boarding school, museum, gallery, accomodation, restaurants and more. And every day locals set up stalls along the main street to sell their delicious produce.
EB loves dragging me up mountains, but if you don’t want to leg-it to the top, a funicular goes almost to the summit for spectacular views and gentle strolls…
There’s so much more I’d love to tell you about Barcelona, but I’ve run out of puff. It’s a place you have to be – and immerse yourself in. Just be prepared to fall in love…
While I’m not a huge fan of hop-on|hop-off buses, it’s worth taking one when you arrive in Valencia, on Spain’s southeastern coast, for a snapshot of the city. But you’ll need to get off the bus and take to the streets to really get a feel for this amazing (and dramatic) place…
Science, technology, art and nature merge perfectly in Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences – and it’s no surprise this is one of the 12 Treasures of Spain.
Futuristic buildings house an IMAX theatre complex, a science museum, an arts palace, and the largest aquarium in Europe. To be here is to be awestruck.
Wait, did someone say aquarium? I’m in! There are hundreds of aquatic and marine species at the Oceanogràfic, some in massive underwater towers that represent the major ecosystems of the planet.
But we can’t stay here forever watching those cruising sharks and graceful manta rays, or the cheeky sea lions and sassy penguins… or can we?
What could top the underwater wonders of Oceanogràfic? A walk on the wild side at Bioparc Valencia of course.
This has to be one of the best zoos you will ever visit. It’s so carefully and cleverly designed that the animals seem less hemmed in and more relaxed in their environment.
And you feel like you’re right there with them in the forests of Madagascar, the savannah and equatorial Africa. I could go on (and on), but they speak for themselves really……
Back streets, cobblestone alleys, abandoned buildings – the urban canvas inspires edgy and incredible artwork. It’s definitely my gallery of choice – and here in Valencia I’m in street art heaven. Here’s two of my favourites (more coming soon).
It’s hard to miss Estación del Norte when you’re leaving Valencia by train – but this is one gorgeous station. Opened in 1917, the original porcelain tiles, carved woodwork and lamps instantly transport you to a time when train travel was fresh, exciting – and slower!
It’s a fitting end to our visit, and we leave feeling we have barely scraped the surface of this delightful city. Adiós y gracias, Valencia.
Autumn has arrived in Spain – and with it the rain. But nothing can put a damper on the arty, colourful city of Cuenca.
To say we are blown away is an understatement. From colourful apartment buildings, to hanging houses that look like they will topple off the cliff at any moment…
…to incredible art in contemporary art museums, on the streets and in ruins we stumbled across on one of the many walking trails around the mountains (and yes, EB found them all – including those endless stairs!).
Everywhere you look, there are pops of colour – even tulips growing among the weeds.
And then there is our hotel, Parador de Cuenca, suspended on a cliff opposite the city, overlooking the River Huecar.
It was originally the Convent of San Pablo, built in 1523 in stunning late Gothic style.
Access to the city is across a long suspended bridge that spans the ravine. I know right? Heaven can wait…
Okay, I’m running out of adjectives here. And EB is hopping from foot to foot. There are trails to walk (or run!). And a slight downpour isn’t about to stop us!
It’s Friday – here in Spain anyway. So here’s our Five for Friday great things to do in the beautiful city of Cordoba (and on your travels, wherever you are in the world).
Don’t walk past La Furgo on Calle Ronda de Isasa! We found it by accident (or divine intervention) and knew we had stumbled upon foodie heaven.
Chef Manuel Morilla is passionate about creating innovative food and it shows – so be ready for divine flavours, great wine and service with attitude (in a good way).
We just had to go back for lunch the next day and Manuel invited us to taste-test a new dish. I’m a pescatarian but this could convert even me. Stunning.
And yes, there are delicious choices for vegetarians (I think I tried them all!).
Immerse yourself in history and tranquility at the Hammam Al Andalus Arab Baths.
Once a vital part of Islamic hygiene and public health, the hammam was also a meeting place where people could relax and socialise.
When we were in Ronda, it was the weekend so the hammam was fully booked. But we booked in early at the Cordoba bathhouse – and we weren’t disappointed.
There were a few tourists unfamiliar with the routine in the bathhouse and a little anxious about what they should do.
So be prepared to go with the flow – from that first icy plunge, to the tingling lukewarm soak, on to the hot bath, then the steam room.
Along the way there is time to relax with a massage, mint tea and cool water. Perfection right there.
Okay, these aren’t exactly playmates – but they are fun to watch. This was another unplanned visit (because we like to discover stuff along the way), but Zoo de Cordoba is so worth it!
I’ll let the pictures do the talking with these content, cute and sometimes crazy creatures…
Be sure to get out on the streets at dusk and into the night. It’s safe, beautiful – and you never know who you’ll meet out there!
It’s too easy to just tick off all the tourist attractions – and to get caught up in the dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out).
I’m sure we’ve missed so much along the way – but we’ve also discovered amazing places, met great local people, and had exceptional experiences.
So wherever you are in the world, be there.
It’s the difference between being a traveller on this planet – or a tourist.
If you love water sports and beach chill time then Lagos, in the beautiful Algarve region of Portugal, is the perfect place to hang out. Especially when the Autumn temperature feels a lot like summer.
First on the list for us was a Days of Adventure cruisy kayaking trip, where a catamaran took us to the kayaking spot… no hardcore paddling involved (poor EB!).
We paddled along the coastline, past the most stunning beaches and into eerie grottos and sea caves.
Along the way, we passed towering cliffs that looked like they would completely crumble at the slightest puff of wind, and rock stacks crafted by tides and time into shapes like elephants, camels and even the Titanic.
The perfect end to the trip for me was diving off the boat into the deep, chilly aqua-blue waters.
It was sheer bliss to swim away from the boat, relax in the water… and not have the theme music to Jaws playing in my head.
In Australia, the whole shark thing always lurks in the back of your mind (or the front, if you’re a tiny bit neurotic like me), but here you just go with the flow…
Are you up for dolphin watching, snorkelling, surfing lessons or paddle boarding? There’s so many options for getting wet or awestruck here and all easily booked in town or at the marina.
Soaking up the sun at the beach is also de rigueur here – with not a sun-smart slip, slop, slap routine in sight.
Of course, people-watching is endlessly entertaining too.
All that activity definitely works up an appetite (and a thirst).
It’s time to stop at one of the beach or marina restaurants, or head to the historic town centre.
Inside the town’s ancient Moorish walls you can meander along narrow streets passed a charming patchwork of crumbling, life-worn and revamped buildings and some incredible street art, to chill at one of the many great eating places and bars there.
We loved The Garden, a bohemian-style bar and restaurant with delicious barbequed meat (EB assures me) and great choices for pescatarians and pure veggos.
A short stroll away is the fascinating Mar D’Estórias, where it’s easy to get caught up in the arty retail area and galleries as you wind up each narrow staircase until you reach the Terraço Bar.
Here you’ll find great food and wine, a relaxed atmosphere and views stretching along historic streets to the ocean.
With only one more day here, we’re off explore more of this delightful town – which will possibly involve me annoying EB as I stop to take more photos of street art.
Assim é a vida.
A local station attendant, who was helping us buy train tickets from S.Pedro to Cascais today, asked us what we liked about Portugal the most.
“A gastronomia? O vinho? A música?”
All of that but mostly the people, we said.
He was pretty-much blown away and was high-fiving us all over the place (we nearly missed the train!).
But that’s the Portuguese.
Take the beach culture. There is nothing uptight about the Portuguese. And I’m not talking about flashing bits here.
In this region, the locals are just comfortable in their own skin. Well, if there are any body image issues, I’m not seeing it.
Yes, there’s Zumba on the boardwalk (and it’s a hoot!). Yes, there are women running (but not an ‘I believe’ tee-shirt or flashy tights among them). Yes there are fit blokes hanging about (but not a muscle-man to be seen).
And down on beach, women of all shapes, ages and sizes (and I mean ALL) are rocking their bikinis. Eat your heart out Botticelli.
Away from beaches and bikinis… more than one local Portuguese creative on our journey from Porto to Lisbon has told us they are good at what they do – but they suck at marketing themselves.
I agree. These people are (mostly) warm and wonderful and creative and talented (and, of course, they make exceptional port and wine).
No, I’m not talking about more tourist buses arriving at monuments (even though there are a lot and they are remarkable).
I’m talking about who they are and what they create. Time the world sat up and paid attention! Cheers to that!
You’ve got to have a least one of those (travelling) days, don’t you? Well, today was ours.
After a few days in Porto (a story for another time), we picked up our hire car from Europcar … and that’s where it all began to unravel.
The portable GPS they gave us (at €8 a day) was clearly set up at around the time of the Ark.*
Seriously, it didn’t even register the oldest streets (or the casino) at our destination three hours away in Estoril, near Cascais in Portugal.
Oh, but we did have a dodgy map to show us the way (also an archeological find I’m sure).
Eventually, we muddle our way to our destination.
Our travel agent has booked us into ‘apartment’ for eight days… inside someone’s house. It’s kind-of cutesy, but does a toaster oven count as self-contained? Hmmm
Eternally optimistic, we head off to find the Tourist Information Centre to get a map of the area. Except it closed 12 months ago.
At least we located a nice red.
Ah, First World problems. When it comes to travelling, attitude is everything.
And tomorrow’s another day.
* Here’s a tip for travellers: if you’re using a GPS, go to settings and select the country you’re travelling in (in our case, Portugal). Thanks to a tech-savvy Europcar lad in Cascais, our GPS was re-set and now gives us Portuguese streets instead of streets like Barcelona and Seville (go figure), and still gives directions in English. And we’re off!
Monuments and other tourist tick-off points are impressive, but our favourite thing to do is to take to the streets on foot. Apart from the odd slippery cobblestone, we inevitably stumble upon the unexpected and delightful.
The sign on the street says ‘gin lovers’. Yep that’s me. Besides, we’ve been walking for hours (and it’s hot) so this is the perfect place to stop.
Inside we know we’ve found somewhere special. This is Embaixada, a unique Portuguese shopping gallery created in a XIX century Arabian Palace.
An ornate staircase draws our eyes upwards to the sensational murals and figurines, and beyond.
In the palace rooms, national brands and recreated vintage clothing mix with the work of local artists and artisans.
Even a non-shopper like me can get blissed-out here (and I have the credit card hit to prove it).
Eventually, we stop at Gin Lovers Principe Real in the centre of this jaw-dropping building for a delicious gin & tonic (or three) from their extensive list – and some amazing food.
Like so many Portuguese people we’ve met here, everyone is friendly and enthusiastic. No wonder they call it ‘the meeting place’…
When the street is your canvas, the possibilities are endless in Lisbon.
From commissioned to clandestine, and gaudy to subtle – street art is everywhere here.
I notice so many people don’t really ‘see’ it as they hurry past, but to me it says so much about the creative energy of a city…
Street art isn’t everyone’s thing, but it’s one of my passions. No doubt I’ll be banging on more about it some other 60 seconds. Meanwhile…
Portuguese people love their food and it shows (in a good way!).
There’s something to satisfy the foodies, the fuellers and everyone in between in the many small cafés and impressive restaurants and wine bars sprinkled liberally across the city.
And the vino, port and spirits. Phew.
We soon redefine our perception of a ‘glass’ of wine. It ‘s more like a small carafe in a glass.
A ‘tasting’ can also be the entire glass filled to the brim. Per taste. Which makes pacing yourself pretty much impossible.
Then there’s the traditional sherry, Ginja. We’re told it’s taken as both an aperitif and an after-dinner drink.
I’m sure there are plenty of happy home chefs using Ginja too – and some of it might even make it into the cooking.
Perhaps it’s all that fabulous wine. Perhaps it’s just this place. The Portuguese may be struggling economically but they don’t let it affect their open and generous spirit.
So come to Lisbon, take to the streets and come alive here.
It’s impossible not to.