Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Barcelona, Spain, *Stephanie Stroud*

The Official Barcelona Guide
Dear whoever you are,
It may seem strange that a total stranger is writing you a multi page guide to the best city on earth, but Barcelona is very near and dear to my heart. I'm also doing it for several friends. I think everyone deserves a shot at attempting to even have a fraction of the fun that I did in BCN. I'm sure you have one of those little guide books with the goofy fold out map of the city, but living there for nearly half a year taught me a lot that those books can't tell you. A week isn't nearly enough to see the glory of Barcelona, but hopefully I can help you have a legit vacation!
Quick background info. Madrid may be the capitol of Spain, and a slightly larger city, but Barcelona is the heart of Spain. I think a good comparison for Madrid and Barcelona is like the difference between New York and New Orleans. Both cities are fun, and you will have a great time, but Madrid is very impersonal and stuck up like New York. There is amazing Spanish Baroque architecture everywhere, hundreds of years of history, world class museums and art galleries, and of course some sick clubs. But Madrid doesn't capture the passion of Spain. It is trying too hard to be a modern European capitalistic city. Barcelona is huge, but it is just small enough to where everyone is friendly, musicians play on every street corner, everyone you see is smiling and laughing in cafes, with all the aforementioned benefits of a major city. It is Madrid with some personality, plus amazing beaches. Barcelona also has the classic flamenco dancing and bullfights that most people think of when they hear Spain, which actually originated in the south (if you get a chance Seville is an amazing city that really shows that historic side of Spain), but I think Barcelona is a lot more fun.
I get carried away when people ask me about Barcelona, so I will try to stay on track. When I travelled to different places, I liked to see and do things that were unique to that culture and location. Therefore I will try and pick some experiences for you that define what makes Barcelona different, and so damn fun.
  • Las Ramblas – The main street of the city, famous for all its street performers and crazy vendors of all sorts of things. It has become very touristy, so watch your purse, and skip the restaurants on Las Ramblas. It is overpriced, and there are better places to eat anyways. But the music, the dancing, and all the life on Las Ramblas is very unique. Start at Placa Catalunya and take your time to walk all the way down to the waterfront and the statue of Columbus and Port Vell. Prostitution is legal, so at night Las Ramblas will be full of interesting people.
    • Mercat de la Boqueria – a must see of Barcelona! It is hidden on the side of Las Ramblas, but look for the stained glass and wrought iron entry near the Liceu metro stops. It is amazing to see so much amazing, beautiful, delicious food in such huge quantities. You can buy anything and everything, and the fruit is especially delicious. Look around the perimeter for good wine shops, and check out all the crazy butcher stands…
  • Port Vell and the Waterfront – Port Vell is at the bottom of Las Ramblas, and is touristy as well but worth going to visit. It even has a new mall, and aquarium, and lots of museums. This is one of the locations to take the Gondola ride up Montjuic. Lots of street vendors set up shop here as well. Once you have had your fill, I suggest that you take a walk along the water or better yet rent one of the bicycles. You can ride along all the artwork and yatchs down to Barceloneta Beach and Port Olympic, home of some nice clubs. There is a path along the beach just for riding bikes, and the beaches are fun as well but be informed that there is no dress code…
  • The Catalan Modernist Architecture of Barcelona
    • The entire history of Barcelona is a struggle for power and independence with Madrid. This is clearly reflected in the architecture of the city as well, when the modernist movement of the late 1800's broke the traditional model for what buildings and cities should look like. The heroes of this movement were Domenech i Montaner, Puig i Cadafalch, and of course the famous Antoni Gaudi. They sculpted the city with their revolutionary, and sometimes abstract forms. Check out these key buildings:
      • El Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia – more commonly known as the Sagrada Familia cathedral. In Spanish this literally means the Temple of Expiation of the Holy Family. It is an apt title, as Gaudi devoted the majority of his life to create this crowning work. He spent every last dime he had trying to get it constructed, and even died as an old man crossing a street while preoccupied with work. His life is very interesting, as he was rejected by a woman and consequently became celibate and zealously religious. Unfortunately he only lived to see the beginning of construction, which also paused for the Spanish Civil War, and continues today with private donations. Every square inch of the entire cathedral tells the story of the Bible and the life of Jesus through sculpture, architecture, and even music. The entire building was designed as one large organ. Gaudi wanted it to be a complete work of art, and his love for organic forms also shows through in much of the design – ex: palm forest nave and the shape of the towers themselves. The towers represent the Holy Family, and the 12 apostles, and it will be the tallest cathedral in the world when finished. The sheer size and verticality of the building is enough to take your breath, not to mention the insane amount of detail in the ornamentation. It is worth the wait in line to climb the towers for the view. I hate to ramble, but I could talk for hours on each building, and it is so hard to condense that into a paragraph…
      • Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau – often overlooked by guide books, this place rocks! It is right down the street from the Sagrada Familia, and is a must see for architecture fans. This was designed by Domenech i Montaner, and totally breaks the mold for what a hospital can be. It is aesthetically beautiful, and spatially interesting with its plazas and underground tunnels. Lots of fun, check it out. You can even see it from Sagrada.
      • La Illa/Manzana de Discordia – the "block of discord" is a unique block of the Passeig de Gracia that shows the work of all three of the great modernist architects. Casa Batallo by Gaudi is the most famous and radical, but the works by Domenech and Puig are awesome in their own right. These were houses commissioned by the social elite at the time who were trying to out-do one another on the most posh street in town. As much as I want to talk about them, I'll leave the long history lesson to your guide books.
      • Casa Mila – one of Gaudi's more famous works, shows off his organic design philosophy. There is a story behind every shape and form of the building. I'll let the guide books fill you in because it is so famous, but don't miss the view from the roof, you can see Sagrada, the city, and the ocean.
      • Park Guell – Pronounced "Park Goo-Waaay" Gaudi's spectacular park has great view of the entire city, and lots of cool features within. It was designed to be a new housing development, but never took off. Make sure to kiss the salamander, and hang out on the world's longest bench. A must-do is to watch the sun set over the hills and ocean from the "three crosses" at the end of the park.
      • Palau de la Musica Catalana – Domenech's finest work, in my opinion. Gorgeous. Inside and out. It is a functioning concert hall, so if you get the chance go see the symphony, choir, or some band play there! Located in between Born and Gothic, near Plaza Urquinouna.
      • Universitat de Barcelona – this is the University where I went to school. It is beautiful architecture for a school. I recommend stopping by even for a minute to just walk through the campus once. It isn't that big for a University, it looks more like a palace! Check out the main entrance hall, go upstairs and see the very ornate rooms, and enjoy the gardens.
      • There are hundreds more, but those are the major ones that you shouldn't miss!
  • Santa Maria del Mar – one of my favorite cathedrals in the world. It is not the most ostentatious, largest, or famous cathedrals, but it has meaning to the people of the city and its interior is gorgeous. It was built by the poor workers of the city in the Middle Ages to have their own place of worship. The main Cathedral of Barcelona is a completely different place, and was built for the rich by the powerful and oppressive church leaders of the time. Santa Maria del Mar might not be too impressive outside, but the purity of the arches, columns, and bare architectural forms inside has me sold. It doesn't need all the decoration to be beautiful, it's pure design does all the talking. Take a minute to just sit in the nave and enjoy. There is also a legit ice cream shop outside the South entrance. This entire Born district is beautiful and has great food.
  • Cathedral of Barcelona, La Seu – the main cathedral of the city. Built by the corrupt clergy on the backs of the citizens, it is nonetheless gorgeous. My favorite part is the courtyard accessed from Carrer Bisbe. It is filled with swans, fountains, and chapels where locals literally light thousands of candles for their loved ones. Also, if you walk down Carrer Bisbe from the Cathedral to Placa Jaume, there is a very pretty bridge that I liked. Ask around to find Ryan's bar/pub, which has the best hamburgers in Spain (hard to find anything but pork and seafood in Spain).
  • Montjuic – this huge park features a gorgeous palace, and all the facilities used for the Barcelona Olympics of 1992. The palace houses a historic museum, and out front they have big water shows at night called the Magic Fountain. Lots of lush gardens and cool hiking as well. You can choose to take the Gondola ride up to the top instead, where there is a cool castle to explore. It also has an area called Poble Espanyol, which is a replica of monuments from all over Spain. Tourist attraction, but it is filled with restaurants and awesome artisan stores and shops like glass blowing, guitar making, and sword smithing.
  • Arc de Triumf – Did you know that most cities in the world have their own Arc de Triumf, not just Paris? This one is all brick, a symbol of the people of Barcelona and the Catalan Nationalist/Modernist movement. Right next to the park, see below.
  • Ciutadella Park – Huge park created for the world's fair of 1888. I suggest seeing the Arc de Triumf and walking down the promenade to the park. The park has lots of cool museums, nice architecture, water features, its own zoo, etc. It is also next to Born district, which has great food.
  • Born District – Next to Ciutadella Park, has the best food in the city, next to Passeig de Gracia. Lots of cool architecture, like Santa Maria del Mar and the Mercat del Born. Fun to wander the narrow streets and shops, but watch your pockets and belongings as pickpockets are everywhere.
  • Gothic District – Next to Las Ramblas on the other side of the Born district. Has tons of little churches and plazas to visit, cathedrals, amazing stores, and decent food. Fun to wander around, but watch for pickpockets! It is a more popular area than Born, but they are both awesome to hang out around. Home to the Picasso museum, it houses some great examples of his early work when he was a realist, and the building is beautiful as well.
  • Placa Reial – Off of Las Ramblas, in Gothic District. Beautiful, full of sun, people, and palm trees. There are clubs here, but they are more like cool jazz clubs to visit on a mellow night and listen to music. The best restaurant in Barcelona is in the corner of the plaza. I forget the name, but it won't be hard to find – sometimes the line is hundreds of people long. It has amazing food for ridiculously cheap prices, which is why everyone and their uncle go there.
  • CAMP NOU! - This is the soccer stadium for FC Barcelona, the more popular of Barcelona's two teams. They are one of the best teams in Europe, and one of my favorites. They have a ton of superstars, so their games are always exciting. It is quite an experience, and on big games the streets are packed wall to wall with fans. I highly recommend getting tickets to a game! Even the back rows have a good view, and those tickets are pretty cheap.
  • More things to try:
    • Shopping on Passeig de Gracia and Diagonal – top fashion designer names, as well as some stores with reasonable prices. Also lots of great restaurants.
    • Flamenco Show! – Great idea for a dinner show. There are a couple places in town that do great shows.
    • Festivals – talk to visitor information to find out what is going on while you are there. There is always some kind of celebration going on. La Merce in September is absolutely amazing! It has fire runs, free concerts, dancing in the streets, fireworks, water shows, etc. There is literally almost always something to go celebrate in Barcelona.
    • Get a massage on the beach for a couple bucks from the old ladies that walk around. Glorious hands. There are also vendors that walk around selling beer and temporary tattoos. Barceloneta Beach is full of cool art and sculptures. The big copper fish at Port Olympic was designed by Frank Ghery.
    • Food to try:
      • Paella - classic dish, rice mixed with all kinds of seafood or chicken or vegetables
      • Buy and eat a roasted sweet potato from one of the street vendors all over Barcelona!
      • Tapas! These are hors de oeuvres of all types, from the common piece of bread with tomatoes, oil, and vinegar to all kinds of unimaginable extremes! Go big or go home, they might look funny but they taste great.
      • Galician Octopus or Squid – tastes amazing if you aren't offended by the name itself.
      • Patatas Bravas! My favorite tapa of all time. It is like french fries, only in wedges with a special tangy marinara type sauce. Some put mayonnaise in it as well. Delicious. Each restaurant does their own variation, and it is a good indication to how good the rest of their food is.
      • Jamon Iberico – The staple of the Spanish diet is pork. Since the Spanish Inquisition, everyone in Spain has eaten primarily pig to avoid persecution. It is a lot like prosciutto, or smoked bacon. These are the pigs' legs that you see hanging absolutely everywhere! They come in a bazillion varieties. Goes great on a loaf of bread with olive oil and tomato for a sandwich.
      • Doner Kebab – I almost don't want to put it on here because it isn't authentic Spanish food. These places are dirty little holes in the wall that shave meat off a huge rotating spindle and put that in pitas or wraps. It is Middle Eastern food, usually run by immigrants who were extremely nice. Usually pretty cheap and easy when you are low on time.
And of course, the best for last: Nightlife in Barcelona. The clubs in Barcelona were so fun that sometimes we would go a few days without ever seeing the sun. The schedule is very different, as dinner starts at 9pm, bars get good around 12am, and the clubs get going by 2-3am. You go home at 6-8am when the metro opens again (metros go until midnight on weekdays, 2am on Friday, and all night on Saturday, open around 5-6am) and salute the sunrise as you drag ass back home. You can tell who is a local and who is a tourist every morning, because the locals are the ones stumbling the streets drunk as hell and just going to bed. House parties are non-existent, due to the high density housing (noise) and the great bars and clubs. Like Vegas, you can have a great time just showing up and standing in line at clubs, but it is all about who you know. Promoters are legitimate businesspeople in Barcelona, and make bank doing their job well. Venues/clubs are different from night to night, as the quality of the party depends on which promoter is working which venue on a given night. Some nights it is fun to just go salsa dancing with locals at some hole in the wall, but there are some big clubs you should visit that will rock your socks off. I'll give you a list of some sick clubs, as well as contact information for some promoters that can get you on guest lists to great events.
  • Razzmatazz – where my ashes will be scattered when I die. I love this place. It is a huge wearhouse-style club that is mostly Euro-rave and hip-hop. They have five different rooms though that play all styles of music. Open Thurs-Sun, the only place that is so legit it doesn’t even need promoters. $15 cover to get in, but it comes with a drink and well worth it. Clubs in Spain are expensive, get over it. Take out a loan, sell your car, whatever you have to do it is worth it for the experience. Have a good time and try not to worry about the gaping hole in your bank account.
  • Sutton – the Ritz Carlton of Barcelona clubs. Full of gorgeous people, superficial and posh. The bouncers are seven foot ex-Russian military and won't hesitate to punch a girl in the face. Don't eff around. Need to be on a guest list or a supermodel to get in. Dress extremely well or you will get kicked to the curb. Don't be discouraged by these drawbacks though, they throw awesome parties and it is always an epic night. Very nice VIP lounge but pricey.
  • Otto Zutz – another favorite. I spent many a night there. Multi level, crazy dance parties. Again, it depends on the promoter, but they often have some free drinks and great DJ's. More Americans and students than locals. Thursday nights were great here when I was abroad.
  • Lotus – up and coming in the club world, it really took off recently. Great setup with a huge bar, good dance floor, stage full of scantily clad dancers. Lots of fun, used to be our default for Wednesday night but I hear Saturdays are getting pretty good there as well. Has some intimate seating areas as well as a good VIP.
  • Catwalk – this is one of the Port Olympic clubs, a hotspot for nightlife. It is a two story purely dancing club. This is where you go to get hammered and grind away on some sweaty Spaniard all night long. Be ready to rage, expensive bar.
  • Carpe Diem – one of the three beach clubs at Port Olympic. Very chill environment with a dance floor to rage, verandas and lounge areas full of pillows to hang out on, and an overall very cool semi-Eastern design. Has an outside patio to cool off on some pillows with a friend, overlooking the beach.
  • Opium – next to Carpe Diem on the beach at Port Olympic. More technoish than the other clubs. All white inside, usually with an older (late 20's) rich crowd. They throw some sick concerts too, like DJ Tiesto.
  • Shoko – the third beach club at Port Olympic. This one is all Asian in design, sometimes has an older crowd as well (20's-30's), but it a lot of fun. Several good dance floors, with a whole VIP lounge area.
  • Bikini – great place to go salsa dancing!
  • There are lots more, these just came to mind first…
  • George Payne – my main man. There are lots of Irish Pubs in Barcelona, but this one is the biggest and the best. Great happy hour, great food, and they even have karaoke nights. Placa Urquinouna.
  • Marselle – the original absinthe bar. Ernest Hemmingway, among many other famous historical figures frequented this place. Very old fashioned inside, hidden on a back alley in Raval/Poble Sec area.
  • Ice Bar – this entire place is literally made of ice. It is pretty cool. They give you a coat, gloves, hat, and cups made of ice. Legit. Right next to Carpe Diem, good place to start the night.
  • Port Olympic has an area with like 30 bars in a row. First drink is usually free. Those of you who are good at math just figured out how to get 30 free shots.
  • So many others…
Concluding Tips:
  • Pickpockets are everywhere. Watch your stuff, hold purses and packs closely!
  • Spanish men are ridiculously aggressive. Go to clubs with guy friends. It can get ugly.
  • Roll in packs when walking home at night. Use common sense. There are lots of African vendors, drug dealers, and pimps illegally in Spain with nothing to lose.
  • Drink prices increase as the night goes on.
  • Have a blast!
Club Promoters in Barcelona – Here is the contact info for the promoters. Join their Facebook groups and you will get tons of info on upcoming parties, and they can put your name on guest lists. Just shoot them a message, tell them your friend Ryan knew them during study abroad, and that Ryan says hi. They will hook you up like it is their job. Oh wait…it is. And don't get the Kyke's mixed up! They are different people.
Kyke Navarro Gimenez
Oliver Moon De Navas
Kike Barcelona
Alex Barcelona