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6 reasons to visit Barcelona next summer

Barcelona beach at sunset

Looking to visit Barcelona? In fact, there is no fix time to visit this beautiful place at any time of the year is just perfect. Particularly in summer, the city undergoes a dramatic change when the local residents seem to take their foot off the accelerator or slow down a bit. It is the normal kind of change from the fast paced life. You have every reason to visit Barcelona in summer, particularly as there are top activities to perform. There are lot many activities to be enjoyed here.

Chilling out in the beaches

Most of the people prefer to visit Barcelona just for the line of beaches. Everyone likes to chill out on Barcelona beaches during summers. The hottest months are the best time to visit Barcelona since it harbours a lot many charming beaches. The place is blessed with accessible beaches which stretch up to 4km. Each beach has different kind of ambience and atmosphere with beach pub and bars that serve drinks and good food.

Barcelona yacht harbor

Visiting Barcelona for scintillating nightlife

Barcelona is extremely famous for its nightlife and in the summers the place is almost a heaven on the earth. What takes place behind the doors of bars and pubs seem to spill out onto the streets with tourists and local residents occupying square to simply enjoy beautiful summer nights till the early morning hours.

The special night Noche de Sant Joan

The ancient festival celebrating summer solstice is the most special night in the Catalonia. This takes place every year on the 23rd of June when the sky gets filled with great fireworks. The beaches are full of bonfires, people and the party last till the dawn hours. The next day, that is, 24 of June, everything is slow.Sagrada Familia Gaudi Barcelona

Summer Festivals in Barcelona

During the time of summer, it seems that there is some festival almost every weekend. The range of summer festivals encompasses Sonar and Primavera Sound to the midsized festivals like Cruilla. There are also intimate and smaller festivals during the time. It hardly matters what kind of music you prefer to listen, you will find something suiting your taste. Summer festivals in Barcelona cater to every taste.

Magical fountain

Although it can seem a bit corny, but there are many who would love to see the fountain accompanying light and musical show. Jets of water are shot into the air and get transformed into amazing mists. It is a fabulous way to spend the summers and mostly the kids enjoy a lot.Barcelona gaudi park guell

Picnic Electronic Barcelona

If you are a music lover, Barcelona is the perfect place for you. On every Sunday afternoon, from 1st of September to the 14th of September, you can enjoy mini music festival and dance to the tunes. Parents can dance and kids can take part in workshops.

For the above 6 reasons, you need to consider Barcelona travel package. To know what to do in Barcelona, check this YouTube video. If you are looking for an airport taxi service in Barcelona, click this link.

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Six surprising facts about Ibiza

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Many of you don’t know that I lived in Ibiza for a while, but my summer on the little island in the Mediterranean was actually was planted my wanderlust, the idea for a long-term trip and my love for Latin America (I worked and lived with Argentinians).

I only returned once after my summer on the island, and it was actually during that three-week trip that I discovered much more of the hidden Ibiza off the tourist paths than during my six months there. I am currently planning a long overdue trip to one of my favorite places in the world, which is why I thought it was time to share some interesting facts about one of the most beautiful islands in the Mediterranean.Ibiza Cala Vadella

It’s not (only) a party island

Over the past few years, every time I mentioned that I lived in Ibiza, people start talking about how they want to experience one of the epic parties there. The island is well known for its electronic music scene, its mega clubs that hold crowds of up to 10,000 people, the chill out sunset bars – Ibiza even made it into a J Lo song! And admittedly, I came for the parties as well, at least partially. But during my three-week visit a couple of years later, I didn’t go to a club once. Because Ibiza is so much more than a party island! There are only a handful of these mega clubs on the island, and the main DJ season only lasts from late June till mid-September. If you are looking for a tranquil island getaway, you can still have that during this time – simply stay outside of San Antonio or Playa d’en Bossa.Ibiza: Es Vedrà islet from Pirate's tower

Sophisticated tourism

Many people don’t know this, but Ibiza has considerably pushed high-end tourism over the past five years. As much as the island loves the revenue that the clubbing crowd brings in, Ibiza is actually looking to attract a more sophisticated clientele, and be a year-round destination instead of depending on the club season. That’s why in 2007 a bill was introduced that every new hotel built had to be a five star property – the £30 a night cheapie package tourists aren’t what Ibiza is after. The yacht marina has been enlarged and modernized, expensive boutiques line the streets of Ibiza Town and fine dining establishments have been popping up increasingly over the past few years. Ibiza Villa Dieguito Olivers TravelsAccommodation has changed from the large concrete hotels in Playa D’en Bossa to small boutique hotels and villa rentals have become more and more popular. Villas in Ibiza are more sought after than ever, for one thanks to the rich and famous that visit the island every year and have an entourage of friends, chefs and assistants with them, but also regular vacationers appreciate the amenities of a vacation villa: having your own kitchen, space for dinner parties, a private pool and several rooms so that people can have an exclusive getaway with their friends instead of staying in hotels.Ibiza Villa Meridiana Olivers Travels

UNESCO World Heritage

The island doesn’t only want to attract the rich and famous though, it is aiming at a clientele that appreciates its natural beauty and heritage, its pristine beaches and little calas – small bays with crystal clear water and pine tree fringed sand beaches. Ibiza doesn’t only have dozens of beautiful little beaches, but also a myriad of hiking trails, which add to the island’s attraction outside of the hot summer months. In 1999, UNESCO declared Ibiza’s Biodiversity and Culture a World Heritage site, recognizing its outstanding natural beauty and honored remarkable landmarks such as Dalt Vila, Ibiza Town’s Old City, the Posidonia of Ses Salines Natural Park, the Phoenician settlement of sa Caleta, and the cemetery of Puig des Molins. Ibiza is full of ancient sites dating back to the various groups of settlers who inhabited the island over the centuries, particularly the Phoenicians, who founded the first settlement on the island in 654BC. When visiting Ibiza, it definitely pays off to buy a well-researched travel guide that includes hidden beaches, hiking trails, maps and scenic drives. Amazon has a great selection of Ibiza travel guides.Ibiza

Ibiza has its own language

Ibiza is part of the Balearic Islands, which include Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera. Together with its little sister island Formentera and the tiny nearby island S’Espalmador Ibiza forms the Pityusic Islands, the Pine Islands. While in all of the Balearic Islands Spanish and Catalan are spoken, the Pityusic Islands have their own dialect – Eivissenc. This is a dialect of Catalan and is, together with Spanish, the official language of Ibiza and Formentera.Flickeros en Cala Tarida - Hdr - Ibiza 2009 Eivissa

Ibiza produces wine

This is a little-known fact about the island, but Ibiza is home to several small wineries. While the scale of the production is far too small to be considered an export product, it is possible to sample some of the island’s fine wines during a visit. The grapes that are grown in Ibiza are ganache and mourverdre (red wine) and Malvasia (white wine). Sant Mateu, Sant Josep and Buscatell are the villages where you find the vineyards and where you can try the wines that are known for their excellent quality among wine connoisseurs.Wine Glasses

Ibiza feels like stepping back in time

What surprises most visitors is how rural and how simple life in Ibiza is outside the main tourist areas. It is hard to believe that less than a 90-minute drive from San Antonio, you find small villages that still live off agriculture and that don’t even have a big supermarket. Instead, you can shop in small village stores, watch people sit on benches in the main square or chat over a Clara (beer with Sprite) at the village bar and enjoy the tranquility and simplicity of a bygone era. This is another reason why villa rentals are so popular – nothing is more authentic than staying in the middle of an olive tree plantation, enjoying the views over the fields and cooking with fresh ingredients picked up from the local produce market. If you’re looking to get away from the busy tourist spots, I recommend renting a villa in San Agusti des Vedra, Santa Gertrudis, San Miguel, San Carlos or San Juan. In some of these villages, there are regular artisan markets and you can still experience traditional dances.Santa Gertrudis de Fruitera

Photo Credit: (1) Ibiza Cala Vadella by Josep M, (2) Es Vedra by Xosé Castro Roig, (4) Ibiza Dalt Vila by Xavi, (5) Cala Tarida by Jose Jamon, (6) Ibiza Wine by Tom Heath, (7) Santa Gertrudis by Sonja Pieper. All images via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.
 
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See Barcelona like a local: My six favorite off the beaten path experiences

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Barcelona is without a doubt one of Spain’s most popular cities, and it’s easy to see why. Located right by the Mediterranean, it has some of the best city beaches I’ve seen anywhere in the world so far, the bar scene is exceptional and the architecture outstanding. With Gaudi’s spectacular constructions, the marvelous Gothic Quarter and the notably different neighborhoods, Barcelona is more diverse than most other Spanish cities and can keep you entertained for weeks. Most people only have a couple of days to explore the main sights, such as the Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Church, Park Güell and Modernist buildings, the Ramblas pedestrian street and La Boqueria Market, the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc, and not to mention all the world-class museums and art galleries.

Barcelona gaudi park guellIf you have more time though, I highly recommend venturing off the beaten path and visit some of the places that most tourists don’t get to see. The great thing about Barcelona is that most of the city’s hotels are located very centrally, particularly hotels in Barcelona from HCC chain, which means you can do a lot of exploring by foot, and for the further-out places you can use the reliable metro system.

Here are my six favorite experiences off Barcelona’s well-worn trails:

1 Els Encants flea market

Els Encants is not only Barcelona’s biggest, but also its oldest flea market. Over 500 vendors gather here to sell everything from vintage clothes, jewelry, accessories, furniture and antiques. You can find some amazing deals here, and if you speak at least a little bit of Spanish, you’ll be able to snatch some real bargains at Els Encants.

When? Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 9am-5pm.
Where? Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes (Metro station Glòries on the L1)

2 Hang with the hipsters in Gràcia

Trendy Gràcia has become Barcelona’s hipster hangout over the past few years, and you find countless trendy coffee shops, quirky independent stores and creative eateries in this neighborhood. The area is great for shopping – especially fashion – but also people watching: Sit down in one of the many cafés with outdoor seating and watch Barcelona’s hip and beautiful crowd go about their day. Coming from central Barcelona, Gràcia with its narrow alleys was able to maintain some of the village feel it used to have when it was a separate village from Barcelona. If you’re a fan of ethnic food, you’ll love the big range of international restaurants here, ranging from Lebanese to South East Asian cuisine.

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Gracia by Steph on Flickr.com

When? Anytime
Where? The closest metro stations are Fontana and Lesseps on L3

3 Santa Caterina Market

If La Boqueria is too touristy and too crowded for you, head over to Santa Caterina Market in the Sant Pere neighborhood instead. The neighborhood itself is worth a stroll, and Santa Caterina market is also very photogenic with its stunning architecture, specifically the wave-shaped multicolored ceramics roof. This is a very local, typical fruit and vegetable market where the locals shop for fresh produce, meat, cheese, flowers and fish. Pick up some local ham, olives, cheese and wine and head over to Parc de la Ciutadella for a picnic. Or alternatively: Right across the main entrance from the market you find Cuines Santa Catarina, an excellent taps bar.

When? Mondays 7.30am – 2pm; Tuesday & Wednesday 7.30am – 3.30pm; Thursday & Friday 7.30am – 8.30pm; Saturday 7.30am – 3.30pm; closed on Sundays
Where? Francesc Cambó, 16 (closest Metro Jaume I on the L4)

4 Explore multi-cultural Barcelona in El Raval

El Raval is the most ethnically mixed neighborhood and while it’s located right in the city central and very close to Las Ramblas, not a lot of tourists make their way here. The area is a little seedier than the rest of the city, and while that might scare off some people, it actually shows you an authentic corner of the city. The area is becoming more and more gentrified as well, and the clash of hipsters and immigrants is interesting to see. The narrow streets invite to wander and get lost, cheap kebab shops make for cheap (and delicious!) lunch stops and thanks to the gentrification, some cool stores have moved into the neighborhood as well. If you’re into art, don’t miss the MACBA (Contemporary Art) and the CCCB (contemporary culture center with changing exhibitions).

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El Raval by Alain Rouiller on Flickr.com

Where? The closest metro stops are Drassanes or Liceu on the L3, Sant Antoni on the L2, Paral-lel on the L2 or L3.

5 Get lost in the labyrinth park of Horta

The Parc del Laberint d’Horta is the oldest garden in Barcelona, and is a gorgeous place to bring a date to! The labyrinth opened in 1791, and is a wonderful quiet space away from the hustle and bustle in the city center. In addition to the labyrinth, you’ll find beautiful sculptures, gardens and ponds. Bring a picnic and enjoy one of the most underrated green spaces in the city.

When? May to September: 10am – 9pm; March & October: 10am – 7pm; April: 10am – 8pm; November – February: 10am – 6pm.
Where? Pg Castanyers, 1 (Closest metro stop: Mundet on the L3)

6 Discover a lesser known Gaudi

Eusebi Güell, one of Gaudi’s main patrons, actually gave Gaudi his first commission when Güell wanted to extend his family vacation home in Barcelona’s Sarrià neighborhood. He landscaped the vast garden and built two gatehouses, plus a remarkable wrought-iron gate in the shape of a dragon between 1884 and 1887. The gatehouses, known as Güell Pavilions, have the for Gaudi typical colorful ceramic decorations in geometric shames

While you’re here, take a stroll around the Sarrià and Pedralbes neighborhoods, two quieter neighborhoods of the city up in the hills, with silent squares and narrow streets sloping downwards to the city center. Apparently Bar Tomàs has the best patatas bravas in all of Barcelona!

Güell Pavilions
Güell Pavilions by Kent Wang on Flickr.com

When? Open only for guided visits; Saturdays and Sundays tours in English start at 10.15am and 12.15am- you can see the gatehouses and the gate from the outside for free, though.
Where? Av. Pedralbes, 7 (closest metro stop is Palau Reial on the L3, closest bus stop is also Palau Reial on the following lines 7, 33, 63, 67, 75, 78 and H6)

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Barcelona hotels

Have you been to Barcelona? What’s your favorite off-the-beaten path thing to do in Catalunya’s capital? Share in the comments below!

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Our top three places in Spain to escape from winter

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If we were to spend a full year in Europe, we would most definitely need to escape snow and freeing temps, so it’s a good thing we already know that Spain is our go-to destination for a European getaway. There are just so many spots in Spain that are still on our travel wishlist like Oviedo, Toledo, Cadiz, Elche, Almeria and the Costa Tropical, but we have a handful of places that we already know well that we would return to again and again. It is super easy to escape winter with low cost flights to Alicante or Barcelona, especially with several budget airlines competing for customers by offering amazing deals on airfare. Plus, being only two to three hours from Germany, it is the best option to jet into and out of the country when we want to spend the holidays with our nieces and nephews.

Read on for our top three places in Spain, all of which we recommend you visit at least once!

Seville

seville white housesWe love the mix of Moorish, Jewish, Muslim and Roman influences that you can still see woven together throughout the city, with clean, white buildings congregated in the historic center. Streets are lined with orange and lemon trees, horse carriages drive around town, palm trees populate the parks…There is something magical about Andalucia’s capital. We love sitting on a little plaza at night, enjoying a glass of wine and some tapas while watching the world go by. There is always flamenco somewhere, and nightlife in general is fabulous thanks to the city’s student population. Even though it has a population of nearly 1 million, Sevilla never feels too big and is easily explored on foot. Don’t miss the Jewish Quarter, Plaza Espana, the 15th century cathedral (one of the biggest in the world) and tapas in one of the many al fresco restaurants! Even in January, the coldest month, temps here still reach an average of 60 F.

Ibiza

I might be biased, having spent an entire summer season working here when I was younger, but this little island in the Mediterranean is simply one of the most beautiful islands I’ve ever been to. Notorious for its mega clubs and parties during the summer months, there are still places to escape from the tourist crowds, such as the little villages San Josep or San Miguel. Further away you have the calas, or little bays, like Benirras, Cala Salada or Cala D’hort. The narrow alleys in the old town invite you to get lost exploring here, and a day trip to Ibiza’s sister island Formentera is also in order. Here the clear turquoise waters will transport you straight into the Caribbean. Although Ibiza rolls up its sidewalks and shutters its doors for the winter season, adorable bed and breakfasts on the island offer seriously great rates to visitors willing to spend the off-season with them on what can sometimes seem like your own winter island.

IBIZA
Ibiza by Binu Nair on Flickr.com

Barcelona

Barcelona is easily one of Spain’s coolest cities – if not the coolest of all. The atmosphere in the Catalan is unlike anywhere else in the country, and there is enough to see to keep you busy for weeks. We appreciate that it sits right on the Mediterranean, with several beaches in walking or cycling distance from the city center. Even though it is touristy, a visit to the Ramblas, a long pedestrian area with shops and cafes is always fun, especially when you include a visit to the Boqueria Market. Gaudi’s dreamy architecture is seen throughout town, most notably his masterpiece, the unfinished Sagrada Familia cathedral and Park Güell. We love getting completely lost within the narrow alleys of El Raval, home to some of the city’s most interesting bars and restaurants. During the winter months the temps are nowhere near the 100 F heat we prefer, but it is always just warm enough to wander, walk and breathe in the fresh sea air as well. The combination of buzzing city life, relaxed beaches, world-class museums and stunning architecture makes Barcelona our favorite spot in Spain.

Gaudi building barcelona

Have you been to Spain? Tell us what’s your favorite city in the comments below!

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Why Spain is our go-to destination for a European weekend getaway

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Our hearts go out to our friends and family in the northern hemisphere right now. Snow and below zero temperatures day after day at the end of March? When will this winter ever end and whatever happened to March going out like a lamb?!

It’s even snowing in London, which only ever happened twice in the three years we called the city home. Even so, the long, gray winters took their toll on us back then, which is why we got very good at escaping on short breaks. Sometimes we based our decision on where to go on cheap deals we found with budget airlines. Doing this we flew to Scandinavia, France, Scotland, Germany and Austria, to name a few.

But sometimes we knew exactly what we needed and exactly where to get it. Our favorite European weekend getaway by far was (and is) always Spain. No matter where we went – Madrid, the Costa Brava or Southern Spain – we could find just what we needed to recharge our batteries: bright sun, good food (and wine!) and satisfaction for our inner culture vulture.

Spain plazaThe winter before becoming nomads, for example, an amazing last minute vacation deal in Spain caught my attention and just thirty minutes later I had booked a long Easter weekend getaway to a small town in southern Spain near Malaga. For just 199EUR, the deal included return flights for the two of us and 5 nights in a vacation apartment with terrific ocean views, just five minutes from the beach.

Another time, we escaped a dreary London autumn for a ten-day train in Spain getaway. We flew to Seville, took the train up to Madrid and then over to Barcelona and flew back to London from there. Whether we go for a sun and sand or city break escape, Spain never disappoints. So for those of you who are looking for a spontaneous escape at the moment, read on for why we think Spain is your best bet.

The weather

Even when it is cold and snowy in Northern Europe, Spain benefits from its Mediterranean climate. Even in the coldest months of January and February, southern Spain has average daily temps of 15 C (60 F) and 20-22 days of sun each month.

seville plaza de espana

The prices

Spain has always been an affordable destination, but in recent years the dire economic situation has meant even more deals can be found for hotels and tours looking to fill up in a financial crisis. Traditionally a summer destination for Europeans, Spain has hundreds of thousands of hotel rooms that need to be filled during the months outside of June-September. We easily found rooms at half-price or better – after all, a booked room is always better for a hotel than an empty room.

The food

You can’t go wrong with Spanish cheese, wine and olives, and though omnivores often indulge in Spanish ham and other meats, we love love love Spanish tapas – from green peppers in sea salt to our all-time favorite, Tortilla Espanola (Spanish Omelette). The best thing about tapas – they are cheap and easy to share!

churros con chocolate spain

The people

We find that Spaniards are some of the most welcoming people in all of Europe, though this perception might have been skewed coming from London where no one talks to each other. Either way, in Spain we were always welcomed with smiles and people chatting with us, showing genuine interest in our story and where we are from, and sharing their stories with us as well.

The culture

Spain is one of the most culturally diverse countries in Europe – Barcelona is nothing like Madrid, Oviedo is nothing like Bilbao. Little towns in the countryside couldn’t be more different from the beach side resorts, and no matter where you go, cities are rich with historical buildings, beautiful 15th century churches and region-specific architecture. More than anything we love how many places in Spain combine the all-in-one beach and city escapes we crave like Barcelona, Valencia or Malaga. A weekend in Barcelona can be themed around Gaudi, or you can take in some world-class art galleries in Madrid, or delve into the remains of the mix of Jewish, Muslim and Christian culture in Toledo. Most cities in Spain are small enough to be explored in a day or two and we could live in a self-catering apartment on the beach for weeks at a time.

Barcelona gaudi park guell

The Transportation

Spain’s high-speed AVE train network connects all the dots on the map, both large and small, making it super easy to criss-cross the country and stop off wherever you’d like, easily combining two cities during one visit, like we did – Barcelona and Madrid are within a two hour reach, or you can head down to the coast after a visit to the Moorish Alhambra Palace and a couple of days in Granada. And if you book your train tickets in advance, they are quite inexpensive, as are flights with all the well-known budget airlines that connect major Spanish cities both to each other as well as to cities throughout Europe. For anyone based in Europe, Spain – and all the sun and sand that comes with it – is easily within your reach.

What are your favorite destinations in Spain? What is your favorite European country for a weekend break?

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Gaudí in Barcelona: A Primer

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Any itinerary for exploring Barcelona, Spain, should include a visit to Sagrada Familia, one of the most notable (and controversial) buildings in the entire world. The still-as-yet-unfinished church, which has become the symbol of Barcelona, has been called everything from the greatest architectural achievement of all time to the strangest, most hideous building in the world.

Sagrada Familia BarcelonaThe Sagrada Familia was designed by Antoni Gaudí, a Spanish architect credited with extending the concept of modern architecture and developing a new style, largely influenced by nature and organic forms. However, his style defies any definition, making his buildings some of the most imaginative and unusual anywhere in the world. For a student of architecture or anyone interested in art, Barcelona is a veritable treasure trove of Gaudí’s work, well beyond the Sagrada Familia.

Sagrada Familia Gaudi Barcelona

Gaudí: “God’s Architect”

Born in 1852 in Spain’s Catalan region, Antoni Gaudí began studying architecture in his early 20s, after completing his compulsory military service. He wasn’t a good student and often failed his classes, but when he received his degree, the headmaster noted that Gaudí could in fact be a genius.

Signs of that genius weren’t exactly obvious in his early work, which included lampposts and newsstands, but as word of Gaudí’s talent grew, so did his commissions — including the Sagrada Familia, a project that began in 1882. By the turn of the 20th century, the influence of nature on his work became more prevalent. It was at this point that he worked on projects including Park Guell, Casa Milá and Casa Batlló, some of his most iconic works.

Gaudi balconies BarcelonaIt’s the Sagrada Familia, though, that is most emblematic of Gaudí’s growth and the changes in his style. The early parts of the building maintain a more classical, neo-Gothic style, which evolved into a more modern style as construction progressed. He also began incorporating additional crafts into his designs, including ceramics, stained glass and ironwork, and he developed new techniques for using materials, such as trencadis, which used waste ceramic pieces.

Gaudi building barcelonaAs Gaudí’s talent grew, so did his faith, and much of his work incorporates religious imagery. He lived a life of piety and simplicity, despite the grandiosity of his designs, choosing to devote himself to God and his profession, which resulted in the nickname “God’s architect.” In fact, despite his wealth, Gaudí maintained a shabby, almost dishevelled appearance, leading many to mistake him for a beggar. His appearance may have inadvertently contributed to his death. In 1926 he was struck by a tram, and thanks to his appearance, mistaken for a beggar he was only given basic medical care. By the time he was recognised and doctors determined he could afford treatment, it was too late.

Must-See Masterpieces

While the Sagrada Familia should be at the top of any Barcelona tour itinerary, there are other notable Gaudí landmarks to explore as well.

  • Park Guell. When you’re looking at Barcelona hotels online, you’ll find some listed near Park Guell, an ideal location for visiting the unusual park and other Gaudí-designed locations. The park contains stone structures, unusual buildings, terraces and mosaics designed by Gaudí, and it is the ideal place to explore his nature-inspired structures.

Gaudi Mosaic Parque Guell

  • Casa Batlló. From the street, this unusual building, designed for aristocrat Josep Batlló, looks as if it was constructed from bones and skulls. The façade uses colours inspired by marine life, and the entire structure is a shining example of the use of natural light in architecture. There is a fee to tour this home.
  • Casa Milá. At the time it was built, Casa Milá was controversial, as Gaudí eschewed the traditional building style of flat, rectangular walls in favour of an undulating façade punctuated by wrought iron balconies and decorations. However, Casa Milá, also known as Le Pedrera, is one of the world’s most famous buildings, and it has been fully restored to its original glory.

Gaudi BarcelonaWhile these are among the most notable of Gaudí’s works in Barcelona, other sites to consider visiting include Casa Calvet as well as the museum of Gaudí’s life and work in Park Guell.

The works of Antoni Gaudí are unlike any others in the world — and certainly worth exploring when visiting Barcelona. Even if you aren’t a student of architecture, it’s easy to appreciate the shapes, colour and style used by this legendary designer.

Barcelona gaudi houseAbout the Author: Writer Cat Westry was first introduced to the work of Gaudí on a class trip to Spain in high school and was inspired to become an architect.

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The Gems of Andalusia

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Andalusia is Spain’s largest region and you could spend months exploring it. But many visitors – particularly those from the USA – tend to focus on the three cultural gems of the interior: Granada, Cordoba and Seville. You can get through all three in a 10-day itinerary, but it will be at high speed. If you can spare two weeks I’d recommend it. Best times to visit are spring and autumn when it’s bright and sunny without the stifling heat of mid-summer and everyone seems to walk with a spring in their step and a smile on their face. Many visitors fly into Madrid and then take the high speed AVE train Cordoba – which takes around 2 hours – and pick up a hire car there.

Sultry Seville’s must-sees
Seville is a quick 90 minutes down the autopista from Cordoba. Base yourself in the bustling streets of the old town and the minute you step outside the door, you’ll be enthralled by its atmosphere. The must see is the Alcazar – this fairytale royal palace is still used by the King today when he’s in town. It’s a feast of rooms and cool courtyards with intricately carved ceilings and walls.

seville plaza & horse drawn carriageClose second comes the vast cathedral which dominates the skyline of the old town. Take a walk up La Giralda – the belltower – for great views over the city. I’d also try and fit in a visit to the Casa de Pilatos or the Casa de la Condesa de Lebrija – two gorgeous private houses both stuffed with interesting artefacts and paintings. Art lovers should make time to visit the excellent Museo de Bellas Artes which is particularly good for the highly romanticised paintings of the Seville school of painters – in particular Murillo. In the evenings make sure to go to at least one flamenco show – my favourite is the paired down, simple and authentic dance and song on offer at the Casa de la Memoria. Real fans should also visit the Flamenco museum which has live evenings too. And for food – it has to be tapas – snacking on small bites stood at the bar with an ice cold beer or a glass of wine alongside is the quintessential Seville experience. Casa Morales and Bar Europa are two of my favourites – both located in the old town.

Cool Cordoba’s key sights
If you start your tour in Seville, you’ll find Cordoba immediately feels smaller and easier to manage. Like Seville its cathedral – the Mezquita – dominates the old town and, like Seville, it’s built on the foundations of the former mosque that existed here when the region was under the control of the Moors. The difference here is that a big chunk of the mosque remains – a forest of horseshoe-shaped red and white striped arches disappears into the gloom as you step inside. Planted like some alien invader in the centre is a huge domed cathedral – a light-filled space that’s in total contrast to the Moorish elements that surround it. There really is no building like it in the world. If budget is not issue then consider doing a night visit – it’s wonderfully atmospheric. Tickets need to be purchased in advance from the ticket booths in the cathedral courtyard.
maimonides
A wander around the narrow lanes of the Jewish quarter (Juderia) is another must-do. History buffs should check out the synagogue here one of just a handful from this era left in Spain. The nearby Casa de Sefarad recounts the history of the Jewish population of the city in more detail too. If you’re in the mood for shopping look for Taller Meryan a wonderful artisan shop selling exquisitely carved leather goods – one the specialities of the area. It’s tucked down a pretty side street called Calle de las Flores.

Granada’s gorgeous royal palace
Granada is another three hours or so from Cordoba by road. Make sure you’ve worked out how to get to your hotel before you arrive as driving around the city is a complex affair. The highlight of a visit to Andalusia awaits here. The amazingly elaborate Alhambra palace is one of Europe’s most exotic and romantic. Be warned though – unsurprisingly, it’s very popular. Book your entry ticket ahead of your arrival using the Ticketmaster website. There’s a night viewing option available here too and again, it’s well worth considering, particularly because you avoid the queues and crowds of daytime. (But you don’t get to see the gardens if you take this option). The palace is a series of exquisitely decorated rooms and courtyards from the era when the Moors ruled this part of Spain. There are stunning golden domed ceilings, peaceful pools reflecting the detailed carvings on the pillars and walls that surround them and courtyards with fountains.

Sunset in Granada, Granada, SpainThe views from some of the corridors out across the city are spectacular too. The gardens are also delightful. A series of playful water features – like streams that flow down the bannisters of stairways – are particularly wonderful. Make time too to wander the old Arab Quarter. Called the Albaicin, it’s a labyrinth of narrow whitewashed housed-streets and tiny squares. Stay at a hotel here to really sample the atmosphere. There’s a real north African vibe to parts of the area in particular Calle Caldereria which is lined with atmospheric little tea shops – perfect for relaxing to the sound of water fountains with a perfumed cup of tea in the heat of the day.

Getting there
You can fly to Madrid from most major UK and US airports. Cordoba has no commercial airport and there are currently no direct flights to Granada either. You can fly direct to Seville from the UK however – from London Gatwick. If you plan to park at Gatwick, check out the official website for the best Gatwick airport parking prices.

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Snack-sized Spain – Tapas for everyone!

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Served hot or cold, snack-size tapas are possibly Spain’s best culinary invention. Although we usually need at least three to really fill up, the endless selection of tapas plates keeps even vegetarians full and happy. Tapas go best with beer or wine, and the best part is that, sometimes, tapas come free with your drink.

Madrid mercado San Miguel Olives

tapas green chilis patatas bravasEach tapas bar tends to have a few veggie items, and the options vary according to city and type of restaurant, so we made sure to eat at least at one tapas bar in every city while touring Spain to maximize the variety of delicious dishes. Here are some of our favorite vegetarian tapas:

goats cheese tapas sevilleWe had this delicious dish of warm goats cheese in a honey sauce in Seville and loved it! One of our all-time favorites is goats cheese baked in phylo dough, and then honey drizzled over it once you take it out of the oven… Honey & goats cheese in any combination, really.

zuccini TapasThinly-sliced zucchini marinated in olive oil laid on a bed of feta cheese, spiced up with paprika.

spinach & chick peas tapasSpinach and chick peas, similar to an Indian dish, was to die for!

mushroom risotto tapasA tapas-size portion of mushroom risotto, baked in this little dish.

papas bravasPatatas Bravas, or spicy potatoes. The quality of this dish seriously varies – our advice is that at a tourist trap, avoid them at all costs. If at a locals joint – go for it!

tortilla espanola & SalsaAn all-time favorite of ours: Tortilla Española – we get a Spanish omelet almost every day when we are in Spain! The one pictured, which we had in Seville, was a particularly good one, with a fabulous tomato salsa on top.

The desserts!

Chocolate desert sevilleThis heavenly chocolate cake was one of the best deserts we’ve ever had!

Yummy almond cake spainThis cake is filled with an almond cream and comes with a caramel sauce. If you go to Madrid, we highly recommend ordering this desert at Cafe Oriente on Plaza Oriente, and enjoy it with views of the Royal Palace.

churros con chocolate spainNot necessarily a tapas desert, but we cannot NOT mention Churros con Chocolate. Comparable to doughnuts, these pieces of fried dough are dipped in a cup of steamy melted chocolate for breakfast, lunch or dinner at a bakery, restaurant or tapas bar.

Have you been to Spain? What are your favorite tapas?

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Street Art in Valencia, Spain

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As passionate street art fans, Valencia is something similar to our Mecca. The Spanish city is teeming with unique graffiti and murals, which makes for fascinating sightseeing throughout local neighborhoods!
valencia street art faceBarrio Carmen in the historic center is a neighborhood filled with quirky bars, shops and restaurants, along with some terrific street art:
valencia street art
valencia street art headless
valencia street artNot only walls are used as a canvas – doors, roller shutters of the shops – any flat service really:
Valencia street art skull
Shop Art valenciaValencia is bursting with talented urban artists, whose paintings are so good they almost look like photographs or computer graphics:
valencia street art parachutes
valencia street art wall
valencia street art cornerWe also spotted pieces a la Banksy, in the form of stencil sketches:
Valencia street art girl
Valencia street art paintingHow about this spot-on Lisa Simpson piece – listen to Lisa and stop eating meat!
valencia street art lisa simpson
valencia street art lisa simpson save animals

Click through our complete Valencia Street Art album for more incredible works of art:

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Are you a fan of street art? What’s your favorite city for street art?

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Cities in Europe we could live in

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Our recent flight to Toronto was bittersweet and as Europe disappeared behind us, a feeling of melancholy won out over the rush of excitement we normally feel when stepping into our next major phase of travel. We reminisced about the amazing fourteen weeks we spent in Europe this spring and summer, where we discovered new treasures, re-visited old favorites, reveled in the comfort, beauty and style of European life. It had been awhile since we had been in Europe and we found ourselves wondering – if we were to ever stop traveling, which European city could we see ourselves actually living in? There are so many great cities in Italy, Germany and Spain, we loved spending time in Prague, Oslo and Amsterdam, had a wonderful time in Innsbruck and so many other places, but putting down roots is another prospect entirely. We may have narrowed it down to the following cities in Europe we think we could live in.

Lady in Lisbon, Portugal

London

A wise man once said, “If you tire of London, you tire of life,” and even after three years of life in London before becoming nomads, we never got tired of exploring the city’s neighborhoods. Creative Shoreditch, glamorous Chelsea, the punks of Camden and up-and-coming areas like Dalston, Deptford and Stoke Newington. London is easily the greenest city we have lived in, with massive open spaces in Hyde Park, Greenwich Park and Richmond. London is also a foodie paradise – Borough Market and enough eateries to keep us chowing down all year round. We loved cycling along the Thames or through unknown neighborhoods, finding cute independent shops, pubs and street art.

London Camden High StreetThe accommodation options are endless, too, ranging from cheap hostels to five-star hotels, free couchsurfing options to affordable hotels in London. At times, you could easily feel as if you are in the center of the pop culture universe  – art exhibitions at London’s free museums, blockbuster movie premieres on Leicester Square and the concerts…never in our lives have we been to so many shows as the time we spent in London.

Despite the city’s fascinating cultural diversity, international cuisine and constant stream of new things to discover, there is a major drawback to London life  – a serious vitamin D deficiency. The gloomy winters and frequent rain keep us from laying down permanent roots here for now, but we would definitely spend a summer in London again soon.

London market coffee house

Barcelona

We spent less than a week here, but Barcelona is easy to love – from the fabulous Gaudi buildings to the hip hop dancers on Las Ramblas, the city and its people ooze a kind of creativity that we immediately connected with – passionate, yet practical, anti-establishment but success-driven. In Barcelona, we walked the beach and discovered the former Olympic area, devoured fresh gelato, undertook the task of infinite tapas tasting, discovered retro bars and modern art galleries and never once did we get bored.

Barcelona gaudi park guellWe also both feel very comfortable speaking Spanish and would be excited to learn to converse in Catalan. Whether or not Barcelona could be forever remains to be seen, but we would most certainly attempt an extended stay.

Barcelona beach at sunset

Paris

We love Paris! Before you get to any oh-so-typical eye-rolling, we couldn’t believe it either. After our first few hours in the French capital, however, we were both hooked, and after several subsequent trips over from London to Paris on the Eurostar express train, there just isn’t much about Paris not to love. We pick up a baguette  for under a buck, some gruyere or brie or camembert, a good, cheap bottle of Merlot or Beaujolais and head to Parc de la Villette or Jardin du Luxembourg or along the river Seine for a picnic.

Paris sweetsWe munch  on macaroons, eclairs, croissants as we explore the streets of Le Marais or the Latin Quarter and sneak up to Montmartre, the artists quarter, in the morning before the tourists arrive. We could spend countless afternoons strolling through the extravagant cemeteries like the Pere Lachaise and evenings watching French couples dance tango on the shore of the Seine as the sun sets. For all the flowery fine art, there is just as much angst-inspired contemporary urban work, and there are as many hang-out spots for intellectuals and artists as punks and fashion icons.

Paris Je t'aimeHowever, our French is fairly basic (but we could learn), and Paris can be expensive, so while the dream exists to spend a glorious life in the City of Lights, it might be more logical to consider a month, maybe two, housesitting in a French apartment, eating, drinking and exploring Paris.

Lisbon

It was a risky last-minute, on-the-fly decision to spend nearly the entire month of June in Lisbon. The decision turned out to be the best we’ve made in a long time. Neither of us had ever been to Lisbon, we knew almost nothing about it and when we arrived, it took us a few days to fall for the city.

View over LisbonOnce we got out and explored, however, we discovered narrow city streets filled with tiled houses, countless neighborhood pastelerias (bakeries), seven hills with unbeatable views of the ocean and the Tagus river, nearby golden beaches and the Ponte de 25 April bridge, which looks like an exact replica of the Golden Gate Bridge.  We found the trendy area of Bairro Alto teeming with creative concept bars and countless Indian restaurants. There are galleries, markets, sun and sand, and a cosmopolitan composition rivaled only by London.

Lisboa street art graffiti lisbonBest of all, Lisbon is easily the most affordable capital city in Europe – food, drink, transportation and accommodation are fairly priced and manageable. The people are laid-back, friendly, and we picked up enough Portuguese to get by. Of all the cities in all of Europe, we could not be happier to have discovered Lisbon, and the city is now our top choice to live in Europe.

Lisbon tramWhat European city could you see yourself living in? Let us know in the comments!

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