“It is good to have
an end to journey toward,
but it is the journey
that matters in the end.”
Ursula K. LeGuin
Ursula K. LeGuin
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…
Alain de Botton
… because if you’re anything like me, you’re doing this right now!
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.
So what’s at Ronda? EB asks as we train our way to another Spanish town. I shrug. I know it’s unique and incredible but I can’t remember why.
And then we get there. Oh.
Perhaps it’s because it’s perched on the edge of a cliff that plunges over 100 metres to the river below. With so many places to stand on the very edge of the abyss, it takes your breath away…
Perhaps it’s all those terraces and winding alleyways that involve endless incline and stair climbing.
Wait, there’s a bonus ancient Islamic mine with a million stairs (well, it felt like a million!).
And EB has spotted a path down the cliff, so his eyes are glazing over as he plans tomorrow’s walking adventure…
Or perhaps it’s being at a tapas and wine bar in the town square people-watching.
It seems like the entire community comes out at dusk (around 7.30) to hang out together.
From the very old to the very young they are there… running, jumping, chatting, laughing, flirting or just watching and remembering their younger crazier days.
No huddling around the goggle-box with dinner perched on laps for them. This is full-on, multi-generational socialising at it’s most inspiring.
Can’t wait to explore this incredible place.
Ah, Seville, Granada, now Ronda. I’m feeling deeply shallow as each place steals a piece of my heart… but how can you not love this Spanish life?