Sunday, December 28, 2008

Barcelona Restaurants - Los Caracoles

If you live in Barcelona you've probably walked past "Los Caracoles" restaurant a hundred times but if someone asked you the name of the restaurant and where it was, you might reply that you don't know. "The Snails" is located in an extremely central position in the Gothic Quarter, and is on the corner of Nou de Sant Fransesc and Escudellers. You can usually smell it before you get there, as there are chickens roasting on a spit outside the restaurant (which is on a corner). Now that's the point where you all go, "Ohhhh.....THAT's "Los Caracoles" and for those of you who don't live here, it's on one of the main thoroughfares of the Gothic Quarter, and very likely somewhere you would walk past on a night out.

Barcelona sights - Los Caracoles

Los Caracoles is one of the oldest restaurants in Barcelona, and is great fun. It's hearty food, with lots of traditional dishes and some great desserts, too. I have no idea if this is correct, but it seems like the restaurant bought the flats that were sold above the restaurants and turned them into rooms. When you enter the restaurant, you can enter directly through the kitchen (I recommend it!), and then you may well be taken upstairs, then down some stairs then up some more stairs to another room, depending on how busy the restaurant is.

Barcelona sights - Los Caracoles Interior
The great thing about the restaurant is that it has it's history right there on your table. Previous guests are photographed at their (your) table, and then sign the photo along with a menu, which is framed and put on the wall beside you. Last time I went there, I had a few black and white politicians and Lenny Kravitz! Other famous names include Robert de Niro, Giorgio Armani, and even O J Simpson!
Barcelona sights - Restaurant well in Los Caracoles
Los Caracoles is located on Carrer Escudellers, 14 in the Gothic Quarter and is open 365 days a year from 13:15 until Midnight.

For more details on Barcelona, visit this great Barcelona Guide.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Why Being a Kid in Barcelona at Christmas is So Cool.

Christmas is all about the kids, right? You know the feeling as a youngster, the wait up until Christmas Eve with unbelievable excitement. you've wittled your Christmas list down to maybe 45 serious contenders for the big present, but that changes each time the adverts come on TV, and you've marked out in the TV and Radio Times those un-missable Christmas specials and network premieres of the movies you'll want to watch again. The house is decked with Boughs of Holly, Christmas cards, and the smell of pine from the Christmas tree, begging to be moved away from the radiator. And Christmas night finally arrives, with the I don't want to go to sleep/I need to go to sleep dilemma.

OK, well maybe back in the UK. Here in Catalunya, they do things differently. The Christmas celebrations last for ages!
Barcelona Sights - Reis Magos
First of all, the 25th of December is no big deal. sure, it's a public holiday and if you happen to wander down Las Ramblas at lunchtime on Christmas Day, then you'll probably be the only people there. I'm not sayng it's completely overlooked, but it's not the big day. Kids stuff themselves with sweets on Christmas Eve with the delights that the Cagatio has (how should I put this) "deposited" them, so are hardly ready for a full turkey with all the trimmings. no, no, the week of festivities continues as the children look forward to the "cabalgata dels Reis Magos" - the arrival and procession of the 3 "Magic" Kings.

The traditional Bible story of the birth of Christ tells of the Epiphany or the arrival of the 3 wise men, who folowed the star and brought the baby Jesus gifts of Gold, Frankinsence and Myrrh. So it's very fitting that Catalan children wait until the arrival of the kings to receive their Christmas gifts - even if they do have a lot less time to play wit the new toys as school starts usually the day after.

In Barcelona it's also a public holiday, and children and adults alike crowd the cordened-off streets with paper crowns and flags, waiting for the arrival of the kings (who make a spectacular entrance on speedboat, of course, not camels) who then follow a route all the way around the city, throwing tonnes of sweets to the children hanging from balconies or following the parade. It's a televised event and really a thoroughly good laugh.
Barcelona Sights - King's Parade detail of route

Late on, everyone trudges home, happy and content, and the children usually crash out in bed after leaving their shoes out for the kings with a gift, and something for the camels. Presents are left for the good children and a piece of coal for the not-so-good. the following day is a holiday with toys galore, leaving Mum and Dad to try and squash and cram all the empty boxes and wrapping paper into the recycling bins downstairs, and wonder why they didn't get enough batteries from the Chinese shop this year.

If you're lucking enough to be in Barcelona for "Kings Day" on the 6th January, try and rent a Barcelona Apartment with a balcony to witness the parade (on the night of the 5th) yourself from the comfort of your own home away from home. I assure you, you've never seen anything like it!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Santa Eulalia - the Forgotten Saint of Barcelona

Most people know that Our Lady of Mercy is the parton Saint of Barcelona - celebrated in the week long festival of "La Merce" in and around the 24th September. However, Barcelona has a second Saint, often referred to as the Children's saint - Santa Eulalia.

Eulalia is buried in the crypt of the Barcelona Cathedral, and if anyone deserves to be a saint, then poor "Laia" as she's affectionately known, ticks all the boxes!
From a well-to-do family from Pedralbes, 13 year old Eulalia was an early crusader.
The story goes as far back as the year 303AD, so no-one really knows the full story, and everyone who tells you the story will add on their own details.
Barcelona Sights - Santa Eulalia
The govenor of Barcelona, Dacian, was enraged by the girl’s outspoken views on his treatment of the Christians, that he ordered a punishment for each of her years, which were all extremely barbaric. The 13 punishments are not all clear, but what is clear from all accounts is that she never spoke a word during each torture. The poor girl was maimed with hooks, put in a barrel with broken glass and nails and thrown down a hill, hot oil was put on her wounds, she was whipped, placed in a box with fleas, and finally nailed to a cross in the place that is now Plaça Padró in the Raval.
Barcelona Sights - Placa Padro
You would think that would be enough for the title of saint to be bestowed on the little girl, but the story doesn’t stop there.

Until the 9th century, her body lay in the basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, when it was decided that her body be moved to the cathedral. A great procession of the city’s wealthy population followed the pall bearers until the gates of the city. Legend has it that the whole procession stopped, that the coffin had become too heavy to carry through the gates. Prayer ensued, and an angel descended and pointed a finger at one of the Canons, who admitted to having taken a finger from Eulalia’s body, as a keepsake. Once the finger was returned, the procession continued and to this day Santa Eulalia’s body rests – intact – in the cathedral’s crypt. The city’s gates were re-named “Puerta de Santa Eulalia” (gate of Santa Eulalia) until the city walls were torn down, and the spot is still called “Plaça de l’Àngel” or Angel Square.

The church at Plaça Padró (which used to house local radio station) has been undergoing extensive renovation work – I think part of it is to become a nursery – and locals have petitioned for the body to be moved again, to what they say would be her rightful burial place, and for the Plaça to be re-named. However, in this case and considering the history, I think it’s perhaps better to leave Poor Eulalia where she is!

For more information on Barcelona, see this Barcelona Eixample Guide. And for your next trip to Barcelona, consider these Barcelona apartments for groups as a great alternative to your normal hotel booking.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Barcelona Scams. The Reverse Parking Scam.

This one invloves a few scammers, an empty car parking space, and a tourist in a car - the locals don't fall for this one. Like the flat tyre scam, this involves theft of something left visible on the back seat, on the dashboard, or on the back shelf, for example. Here's how the scam unfolds - I've seen it happen in broad daylight, just near the bottom of Las Ramblas.
Barcelona Sights - Reverse Parking Scam
A car approaches a free car parking space, and lines up to reverse park into the space. There may or may not be a few people hanging around on the path/shop fronts nearby. As soon as the car reverses in, an angry member of the public approaches the driver, to complain that they've just bumped their car/stolen their parking space. Of course this hasn't happened, and any driver will know that you can almost always tell if you've hit another car whilst reversing into a space and that even if you did it would be bumper to bumper, so shouldn't cause much damage. As the person is so insistant, you get out the car to either confront the person or see what they are jabbering on about. As the door opens, the accomplice takes whatever it was you left on view. In the confusion, the victim often is unsure that the scammers are together, and usually gives chase to the theif - giving the perfect window for the angry protestor to slip away.

The same rule applies - if you have nothing on show, then this scam will probably not happen to you. If it's impossible to have everything squashed in the boot/trunk, then just try and keep your less valuable things, or things like food you might have in the car on view, rather than say the laptop or portable DVD! And if anyone does come up to you angrily, claiming you have taken their space, drive off. If they claim you've bumped them, then be aware if you need to step out to check.

For more information on Barcelona, see this Barcelona Guide.

Barcelona apartments for groups

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Strange Catalan Traditions at Christmas - Part 2

Now, after my recent post on weird Christmas traditions in Catalunya for the Festive Period, and then reading this one, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Catalans have a bit of an obsession with poo. Yes, you read right.

Another perfectly normal tradition in the Catalan household is to have below the Christmas tree, a decorated log. Not a chocolate log, but a proper, wooden log with his little wooden face, and red cape. I give you the "cagatio" - (crapping uncle?!).
Barcelona sights - Cagatio

The idea of the cagatio is that young children "feed" the cagatio in the run up to Christmas, and then on Christmas Eve night, children line up with their sticks, and beat the cagatio, and he...well, he poos out sweets, of course! There's a traditional song to be sung at the same time:

"Caga tió, caga torró d’avellana i de pinyó, no caguis arengades que són massa salades, caga torrons, que són més bons. Caga tió sinó et darem un cop de bastó."

Barcelona Sights - Turrones
The translation is more or less that the cagatio has to give them sweet "turrons" of almonds and pine nuts, nothing salty, otherwise they'll hit him with the stick. Turrons are like sweet bars kind of like marzipan, and are very traditional at Christmas time.

Whatever you want to think about these Catalan Traditions, I find them really funny and a light-hearted look at the Christmas period, and a great way to celebrate and have the kids involved, too!

For more information on the Catalan Capital, see this Barcelona Guide. Also, as an alternative to a hotel for your next visit, try Apartments for rent Barcelona for more freedom and space.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Las Ramblas of Barcelona

Ask anyone who has never been to Barcelona before anything about the city, and you usually have a maximum of 3 replies - FC Barcelona, something about Gaudi or Las Ramblas. Indeed many tourists always want to be close to the city's most famous street, despite knowing about the noise levels and petty crime that can often give the Ramblas such a bad name (more often than not blown out of proportion by certain travel forums).
Barcelona sights - Las Ramblas of Barcelona
Les Rambles in Catalan, is actually a collection of boulevards/promenades all seamlessley joined to form the plural "ramblas". The old Roman walls of Barcino like many a Roman town, were flanked on one side by a river. This dry river bed is what is now today Las Ramblas. Any trip to Barcelona is incomplete without strolling up and down Las Ramblas, and I would say a Sunday is the best day.

Rambla de Canaletes is the first stretch, named after the fountains at Plaça Catalunya - if you drink from the fountains, legend has it that you will one day return to Barcelona (and more than likley have a funny tummy for a few days, too). Here pensioners huddle to put the world to rights and celebrations for any Barça games overflow here from the Plaça.

Subject of much discussion for the tardis-style animal seller stands is the next Rambla de los estudios - more than likely making refernece to the nearby library on Carrer Hostpital. The lizards, rabbits and birds provide a bit of entertainment for the kids and at night get folded up like an origami duck into the smallest possible space that passers by don't even notice that this was the same place they passed earlier. I'm not animal rights activist, and it might be warm and cosy as far as I know but it must be a bit squashed, right?!

Rambla de Sant Josep is so called after La Boqueria market, which not everyone knows is called Saint Joseph's market. This also has the great Mirò floor plaque just at the entrance of Carrer Hospital/Sant Pau. This is where the main stretch of cafes appear and the Liceu Opera house, giving it's name to "rambla de los capuxinos" which speaks for itself.
Barcelona Sights - Las Ramblas
Finally we have Rambla Santa Monica, which is where all the artisits collect. There are the usual charicature artisits, Chinese artists who write your name in script or colourful representations of letters, etc. but there are also some amazing portrait artists (the guy who works only with brushes in black and white is AMAZING!) and some great ethnic art, too. They store their work in the communal store room down on Arc del Teatre (readers of shadow of the wind, that's where the bookshop is!) and I remember once out on a night out, and seeing some of the guys setting up at around 4am! They told me that if they didn't start at that time, they didn't have enough space.

If you're thinking of coming to sample the sights that las ramblas has to offer, then try a self catering apartment for rent in Barcelona , instead of a hotel option. Also, see this Barcelona Guide.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Strange Catalan Traditions at Christmas - Part 1

Christmas in Catalunya, and Barcelona in Particular, is not all that different to other Western cultures, with the festive period being a celebration and reflection of the ending of the year, anticipation of the coming year and a reason for families to get together and eat, drink and be merry. Spain is traditionally a predominantly Catholic Nation (although you wouldn't know it nowadays!), so Catalunya enjoys the typical traditions of Christmas - Christmas trees and decorations, winter scenes in shop windows, and of course the traditional Nativity scene. However, if you look closely at the Catalan Nativity scene, you might be more than a little surprised to find an extra character in there - and I'm not talking about another donkey or sheep. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present you with....the Caganer.
Barcelona Sights - Barça cagando
Dating as far back as the 18th Century, The Caganer (Literally the "Shitter" in Catalan) is not a joke and is a very serious traditional part of a Nativity scene - I think the idea behind the presence of the traditional country labourer crouched over, reflects the need to re-fertilise the earth for the coming crops and harvest. Fine idea if you ask me, odd way of presenting this, right?!

Either way, it doesn't matter what I or anyone else thinks about the Caganer, who has been around for years and is here to stay. In fact, so popular has the Caganer become that he now takes the form of a famous politician, football player, or anyone who's become particularly famous that year in Catalan culture, or who has grabbed the world's attention. So it's completely normal to have a traditional Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, accompanied by the shepherds, oxen and of course, Carles Puyol - Captain of FC Barcelona. Or perhaps Ivan de la Peña from rival locals RCD Espanyol. You get the picture.

No Christmas Market Stall is complete without the varying rows of Caganers on sale, and they always seems to be someone buying one. One of the great new additions for Christmas 2008 is of course, new US President, Barak Obama!!
Barcelona Sights - Caganer of Bartak Obama
Christmas in Barcelona is a great time to visit, with bustling shops and markets such as the Christmas Market in the Gothic Quarter, mild weather and fantastic food. Look into finding a self-catering apartment for rent in Barcelona, to really live like a local.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Barcelona in 4D

This is something I came across, and even though I've seen a fair few of them around, this one really has been done very well, and the resolution of the images is breathtaking.
Barcelona sights - sagrada Familia 4d image
The clever people at VRWAY Communication have created some amazing virtual tours in 4 dimensions for various cities, Barcelona being one of them. This serves various purposes in my opinion including planning a trip and what to see, to simply seeing the sights you already know if you live here/have been here before - but on a gloriously sunny day!
Barcelona Sights - Palau de la Musica
Imagine the situation, you've only got 3 days in Barcelona and have been scouring the web for information on what to see and what not to see - some people say you must visit one thing and you're not sure if to go for it or not. Problem soved! Go to the website here and have a good look around!
Barcelona Sights - Park Güell
I've included a few screenshots here of what some of the images look like, but you really have to have a look at the site yourself, and have a little play around - it's great fun!! If you're looking for some accomodation for your stay in Barcelona, why not opt for an alternative to the usual hotel room, and go for a self-catering apartment for rent in Barcelona ? There are some great deals to be had, and it gives you much more freedom to explore the city and it's sights, too.

Property Crash

Barcelona sights - A JCB
It's no surprise to anyone that the current property market all over the world has plunged into a nose dive, but Spain has been particularly badly hit. Property prices have fallen by an astonishing 35% in the last 12 months - 4 times that of UK, for example. Official statistics reveal that Spanish building companies built 750,000 new houses and apartments last year - that's more than France and Germany combined. The ministry of finance says that the demand for new properties is around 60% of that figure. The result has left many new groups of buildings in smaller "uranizaciones" like literal Ghost Towns, with no public transport, no shops, bars or anything convenient.

Barcelona itself won't suffer from this problem, but I am still amazed by new buildings that are constructed at varying rates of speed. Some seem to spring up in a matter of weeks and other times I happen to walk past a building site on a street I rarely wander down, and see that it looks exactly the same as 6 months ago.

Here are some links to some of the best buildings in Barcelona - some of which are also still under construction!!

La Pedrera Barcelona
Sagrada Familia
Barcelona Sights - Sagrada Familia
Casa Batlló
Palau Güell

Sunday, November 30, 2008

7 Deadly Sins on the Same Night Out ?

Many of us living here in Barcelona are accustomed to wandering the streets of the old town late at night, trying to remember where that cool bar was that someone showed us a couple of weeks ago. The labyrinth of alleyways and dead ends, dimly lit by the street lamps, is confusing enough at any time and it's easy to forget just how much history you're soaking in, treading the paths of the old Roman town of Barcino.

Well if you fancy an alternative night out round the old town, I suggest you get in touch with Edu Garcia, and follow him on his 7 deadly sins tour of Barcelona. This is an ingenious idea, and combines the fantastic Historic knowledge of Edu (English and Spanish) with streets you've walked down a million times! There are several routes, including the upper and lower Raval (think Shadow of the Wind, guys!), Barceloneta, and of course 2 routes through the Gothic Quarter.

Barcelona sights - Gargoyles in the Gothic Quarter

The tours take in some of the old town's famous sites, such King Michael's palace (now the Ajuntamiento/Town Hall). Here we have Sloth - King Michael was said to be so lazy he even had windows installed in the palace walls so he could watch the festivals and processions from the comfort of the palace. Garcia swiftly points out that it was in fact that he had a foot impediment meaning it was difficult for him to move about. There are many buildings in the Gothic Quarter built using gravestones from Montjüic cemetery that will be pointed out.
Barcelona sights - Boadas BarThere are the holes bore into the marble steps at the old brothels on Las ramblas from the click of prostitutes' high heels, the sheild of the Spanish inquisition and it's tourture methods to extract confessions and of course the Plaça Padro in the Raval - where Poor Santa Eulalia was crucified (I'm going to do a seperate post on her soon). No trip around the old town at night would be complete without a stop in some of the famous bars, and Edu doesn't disappoint, with the Umbrella bar and Boadas cocktail bar on Calle Tallers being just a few.

The tours really do make for a fantastic evening - although Edu goes with no microphone, so be sure to stick close by him to hear the gems of wisdom. The best way to make a booking is through Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Catalan Cuisine Gone Mad?!

Barcelona Sights - Ferran Adria
Ferran Adria is the owner and head chef of El Bulli restaurant north of Barcelona, not far from Girona, and there are not many people who haven't heard of him or the restaurant. El Bulli was voted the world's best restaurant for the 4th time this year, and receives over two million requests for just 8000 places per year. Spectacular creations and amazing techniques are now re-created in Adria's new book "A day at elBulli", and the man himself is currently touring to promote the book - on Monday 24th November he is guest (and even answering questions) at Queen Elizabth Hall in the UK, and needless to say they are expecting a great turnout. Adria has also branched into fast food in Barcelona itself with his Fast Good restaurant.
Barcelona sights - ElBulli Food
From what I have been told, the whole experience of eating at elBulli is a tirade against the senses, and something like 32 courses are served throughout the course of the evening, all with accompanying wines and an excellent waiting staff. Barcelona itself has spawned some "creative" kitchens such as Comerç 24 and the like, with chefs working under Adria also looking to cash in on the concept. So why the title of this post?

My question is this - if you were one of the lucky 8000 people of 2 million that managed to actually get a place on a table - and you can't choose the date, by the way, it's pot luck, and also is around 2 years from now, such is the waiting list - then given the wait, the hype and the price tag, do you not think that you would force yourself to be pleased and convince yourself that it had been such a wonderful experience, even if it wasn't?

I have never been to el Bulli, and won't be applying to be one of the hopefuls (if I did get a place, I'd buy the Christmas lottery too) and at the same time I'm not belittling the achievements of the man and his empire. However, there is just a small part of me that thinks that surely 8000 people can't walk away completely and utterly satisfied ? That wouldn't be human, right? So as I say, if you managed to get in, paid your money but had that niggling thought that it was going to be a lot better than it was, would you say anything?! Go on, be honest!

For more information on Barcelona, see this Barcelona Eixample Guide. And for your next trip to Barcelona, consider these Barcelona apartments for groups as a great alternative to your normal hotel booking.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Googlemaps goes interactive on Barcelona!

Recently I've noticed that Google Maps have increased their usability of their already incredible maps service, offering real street images for the majority of the streets in Barcelona. This feature is shared with other cities in Spain such as Valencia, Seville and Madrid.
Barcelona sights - Google interactive streetmap
As well as the hybrid or aerial views from the normal maps, the new feature allows you to pin point a little yellow man, and then literally "view" the street from this perspective, and actually move around. The images are very up to date (see below, the scaffolding on Las Ramblas is still up). Considering that many people are using mobile telephones or devices that can display fairly large images on screen, this makes for an even better companion that a simple GPS, as you can even see the horizontal viewpoint of where you are going, and mark landmarks along the way, in case you get lost, or miss a turning!

For more information on the Barcelona image above, see this Las Ramblas Barcelona Guide.

Also see Cheap Barcelona Apartments for your stay in the city next time you're here!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Barcelona Graffiti in Danger?

I have recently posted about how much I love some of the Barcelona Graffiti in and around the city, and I don't mean the scrawls and tags you tend to see around almost all of the old town that are continually being re-painted by the BCNeta teams. I also don't mean some of the great art work you can see at the bottom end of Paralello next to the Plaça Carbon, or some of the stunning images in the 3 Chimney's park, close by. No, I mean I love the shop shutters that are often decorated to depict graffiti style artwork related to the commerce.
Barcelona Sights - Grafitti Door
Well, this could now be in danger, according to the circular from the Barcelona council received by me this morning. The council has plans to erradicate definitely all graffiti in the old town. Later in the year, an open invitation will be given for various companies to put forward their proposals and costs for the scheme, and a winner will be announced. This company will be in charge of cleaning/re-painting the shutters and walls of the shops, bars and warehouses located in the old town as well as the doors to apartment block buildings. The council has offered to pay 25% of the cost of this, and will include a maintenance of 2 years. In the case of the living community of an apartment block, this 25% donation is subject to the community also taking on a further 2 years service of maintenance.

I think this means big bucks for the company involved. As I move around the old town most of the time, I always see the current BCNeta vans spraying away on walls with those high pressure hoses, or painting over scrawls and other useless graffiti. In the same article, there were comments from local citizens and although most welcomed the move, one guy commented that he thought it was useless, as the graffiti will always come back as soon as it's been cleaned. I'm inclided to agree, and even 9 years ago when I first moved here, I noticed almost immediately that Barcelona had a problem with "useless graffiti". What was not clear about the article was if they would allow those with "art" on the shutters to remain so, or if this was a real wipe-out of the whole genre. Let's hope not.

What do you think? Do you think it will work? Comments welcome as always guys...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Portaferrissa - the Old Iron Gate of the City

Most people nowadays pass through what was once the Old Iron Gate to the Roman City of "Barcino" without even thinking about it, and straight into Carrer Portaferrissa with one thing in mind - Shopping. This is one of the best streets to start your shopping visit to Barcelona with a plethora of shops squashed into this famous street of the Gothic Quarter.
Barcelona sights - Portaferrissa Fountain
Portaferrissa roughly translates to Puerta fierro/hierro which means "Iron door". At the entrance to the street there is a fountain, one would imagine from Roman times for the horses with carts to drink on their arrival. The fountain or trough has been decorated with coloured tiles, explaining the history of the fountain. I myself have passed by many times, but had never stopped to read the text. I have taken photos and joined the image below, which you can view for yourselves.

"The "Porta Ferriça" was one of the entrances to the second wall of Barcelona, built in the 13th Century. The Iron bar - one of the longitudinal measurements used in the city - gave it's name to (the gate) as well as the street that lead to the gate from the centre of the old town. In Calle Portaferrissa at the beginning of the 16th Century, the Casa Gralla was built; a beautiful Plateresque building which disappeared with the opening of Calle del Duque de la Victoria (Duke of the Vicotry) and the Casa Pinos (Pine House) belonging to the Marquis of Barbera was demolished in the middle of the 19th Century. The construction of the "Moya" Palace (today "Comillas") in 1774, finally proved motive to demolish the old gate."

Barcelona Sights - Portaferrissa fountain detail

For more information on Barcelona, see this Barcelona Guide.

Cheap Barcelona Apartments

Monday, November 10, 2008

Barcelona Scams - 3 cups.

This one is not really a Barcelona Scam and is practiced all over the world - I once saw it on the back of a bus in New Orleans with 3 draughts pieces, a draughts board and a pea.
The one in Barcelona had disappeared for a while and the local council even went as far to hang notices up on the lamp posts on Las Ramblas with "It's a trick!" and an image of 3 cups and a ball. However, walking recently through town and I saw the unmistakeable crowd with the usual suspects. This scam invloves various people, although it's not necessarily apparent at the time.
Barcelona Scams - 3 cups on las ramblas
One guy is on the floor with the usual follow the ball/pea, and there are a few others who step on the box and appear to be winning. These are the ones in on the scam, and they usually convince the "mark" to have a go - it's easy! Once the mark falls for the trick, they usually offer them a double or quits option, which again is more often than not taken and the game ends. However, recently I've seen a variation on this move, and foreign bank notes are used to make the mark "win". I have seen the guys with a 50 Soles from Peru held in such a way that it looks exactly like a 50 Euros note. There are a few look outs above and below where the scam is happening, in case the police arrive and they are also easy to spot. Next time you're near to the group, just take a step back and observe for a few minutes, it's really easy to see the ones in on it, and the look outs. I sometimes want to interrupt and tell people "Don't do it!" but some of the guys are huge!

The lamp post warnings came down and the scammers came back. The annoying thing is that according to the civil code, if they have less than 300 Euros on them it's only considered a minor occurance by the police and they are given a warning! If they have 400 Euros (almost all of them), they receive a fine. Easy, they pay the fine and continue when the Police have gone.

For more information on Barcelona, see this Barcelona Guide.

Cheap Barcelona Apartments

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Old Town Districts

So you thought the Barcelona Old Town had 4, maybe 5 districts, right? Raval, Gotico, Borne, Ribera and Barceloneta (or maybe include San Pere). Well that's what I thought too, until I saw this signpost recently in a street in the Raval.
Barcelona Old Town
I love the old image of the man leading the horse to show the direction of the street. No arrows here my friend.
It's located very close to Calle Carretas - a name which also suggests that the once cobbled streets would have been used by horse and carts delivering and collecting merchandise from the local factories (Raval has loads) and other bars, restaurants, etc.

So according to the plaque, the old town, or maybe it refers to the city as a whole at that time, has at least 8 neighbourhoods in at least 4 districts. I've seen old maps and city plans of Barcelona at various times, but I love the fact that these old plaques still exist, as it gives it all much more character. OK, so many of the buildings need a facelift (!), but I like the old and new together. Feel free to comment on places that have caught your attention, or if you can expand on the old districts and barrios and manzanas, etc. then I'd also love to hear!

For more information on Barcelona, see this Barcelona Guide.

Cheap Barcelona Apartments

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Barcelona Scams. The map readers.

Time for another heads up on some of the common scams in the city. This one is a clever little trick and involves a map, usually two girls, and someone wearing a backpack. When I was a teacher this happened to 4 of my students in 1 month, so again it's not just the tourists who need to be aware.

The success of the scam relies on the fact that the people performing the scam look perfectly innocent. I've seen it mainly performed by young girls of around 10-13, who seem to fit in with the touristy look - they have back packs on themselves, and are carrying a map. The thing is that they are BOTH carrying the map with one hand (one left one right) and then their other hands are used to lift a clasp or unbuckle a bag, whilst the other takes anything inside the bag on top within reach - all under perfect cover of the map.
Barcelona Scams - Map cover
This sounds like it would be so easy to spot, but the scam is always performed in crowded areas, where it's not uncommon to see people carrying maps and consulting them. It's also performed in an area where pedestrian congestion is perfectly normal - an escalator, or the path/sidewalk of a busy street, for example. I've seen it done in broad daylight on a Sunday morning for example, and they are very very good at it. The Police often catch them as they know them but as they are minors, they are let off with a slap on the wrist and a don't come back here again. Which of course they do.

For more information on Barcelona, see this Barcelona Guide.

Barcelona apartments for groups

Monday, October 27, 2008

Barcelona Scams. The Football Dance.

This is a continuation of my recent post, informing you of some of the Barcelona scams to watch out for - not all are for the tourists here. Today's post is a classic pickpocketing scam. It has been around for a long time, and I remember it being tried on my friend and I a couple of times when we first got here - problem was that we always got it on the way home, so never had any money left, and neither of us carried a wallet.

It is usually performed in and around Las Ramblas and Plaça Reial, and usually to men who have had a little to drink. It's almost always the cocky young North Africans performing the lift. The scam involves them approaching you and asking if you like football. The most common answer is yes, and even if it isn't they can continue with the scam. They then ask if you want to "Dance the Ronaldinho dance?" (when I first arrived it was Rivaldo, for example). This is a simple distraction technique and they proceed anyway. Whilst they are saying "ok, you put your foot here, and I hook my leg around here, and then we jump 3 times" or other such rubbish, they are in fact fleecing your back two pockets and taking your phone and wallet, or anything else you might have left in there. I've seen it done a copuple of times, and the victim has even walked away, happy to have met such "friendly locals" showing them the "funny dance"! There was also a documentary filmed from the balconies of Las Ramblas about 3 years ago highlighting the ease and apparent lack of action by the local cops. It looked sooo easy, it was freightening!

For more information on Barcelona, see this Barcelona Guide.

Barcelona apartments for groups

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Spot the Difference.

OK, first I'd like to apologise for the quality of the image, but this was literally something that I came across this morning and thought it would be interesting to add - but the pic was taken really quickly. However, you should get the idea. First click on the image below to see a bigger version.

There are two buildings in the photo which are undergoing work on the facade. At first glance you can easily see the huge promotional canvas that is covering the building on the right with the car ad. So, where's the other?

No, it's not a trick.

Many blocks of Barcelona Apartments in the city have the scaffolding covered in a replica image of the building itself. I have no idea if this is some kind of rule by the council that certain buildings are not allowed to have ads , or if they want to put a cap on how many ads a street can have, or if it's something to do with too much distraction for drivers (this pic was taken at the intersection of Diagonal and Paseo de Gracia) - so please feel free to comment if you know.

Many of the buidlings receive help from the local council, subsidising the costs of the works on facades, as they do with the installation of elevators, for example. These buildings also have a banner/advert with "Barcelona posa't guapa" to show the support given by the council(literal translation is Barcelona, "get yourself pretty") and I think it's a good idea. Often some streets, especially in the Old Town of Barcelona are spoiled by derelict, imposing edifices abandoned and in ruin. That the council wants to help in renovation plans, can only be a good thing. I remember when I first arrived here, though, that I thought it was so funny replacing the building's facade with a cover....of the building's facade! I'm encouraging comments here as to your opinions and thoughts, so feel free to add something!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Barcelona Scams. The Flat Tyre.

This is another scam that has been going for decades, and there are numerous variations. Car rental compaies in France, Spain and Portugal often alert drivers of rental cars to this scam, but foreign number plates are often a giveaway for this scam to kick off. This scam also relies on the fact that most modern cars have central locking.

The worst case is that your car tyre is slashed by someone - usually on a motorbike - at a traffic light or roundabout just comng into the city. The same motorbike then alerts you to the fact that you have a flat tyre, at an appropriate place (for them). As you open the car door, to crane your neck and have a look, you are also unlocking all of the other doors. This is the perfect opportunity for the robbers to open the back door and take off with anything you happen to have left on view, on the back seat or on the parcel shelf. You are then stuck with a slashed tyre, and lost belongings. The motorbike gives a perfect and speedy getaway, and often people can't even give an accurate description, as it all happens so fast.

I must insist that the actual slashing of the tyre is obviously very very rare, as for this scam to work, you don't even need to have a flat tyre. Very often the simple suggestion that you do have one is sufficient for anyone with common sense to stop and have a quick look.

The variation usually happens very cheekily in the city centre, at a relatively busy pedestrian crossing or traffic light again. As your car stops at the front of the queue, a pedestrian crossing the road in front of you grabs your attention to alert you that it looks like you have a flat tyre, or that your headlights/indicator are not working. The same procedure occurs - the accomplice is cunningly waiting by the back seat or even the passenger door, and runs off with a bag or a phone.

One way to protect against this scam is to be wary agaianst any kind of alert or unsolicited help. If you feel that the suggestion is genuine and that you may have a flat tyre, find a safe place to stop in your own time, preferably away from the people who have told you about the supposed flat. Of course, the best way to protect against this scam is to not leave any valuables on show in your car. It's also essential that you drive with all the doors locked while you are inside the car, and only open them if you can clearly see around you and have everything inside the car accounted for. The reason for the success of all of these scams is that they are so easy to fall for, as they use a series of distraction techniques, and you always feel so silly after it has happened, and even as you read this you may be forgiven for thinking that it would never happen to you, but believe me, it's easy to fall for - I've seen it a few times on busy streets like Via Laietana, for example. Hopefully my tips will help it from happening to you next time!

For more information on Barcelona, see this Barcelona Guide.

Barcelona apartments for rent

Friday, October 17, 2008

Barcelona Scams. The ketchup squirt.

This is another clever scam, and a variation was also featured on BBC's the Real Hustle a few years ago, same as the Barcelona Dancing Dollies scam. My uncle fell victim to this scam around 8 years ago in Gaudi's Park Güell. It's often known as the bird poo scam, the mustard scam, etc. So I'll give his version.

Whilst walking in Park Güell with my young cousin, 2 men aproached him, and in very broken English, drew attention to the fact that my uncle had what appeared to be bolognaise sauce on his shoulder (his words, not mine). This gives you an immendiate distraction, and makes you wonder where have you been, where could this have come from, etc. Out of nothing, this helpful citizen produces a bottle of water and some serviettes, and at the same time points out that my cousin has a similar stain on her backpack and along her shoulder. So hey, here's an idea - I'll clean your back and you clean hers - considering that neither of you can reach.

You can guess where this is going, and yet again, is seems soooo easy to spot now, but this has been going on for years, and is still a killer. The scammers have been hiding behind bushes/wall, etc. and usually squirt whatever the substance is from a distance, and then approach you. As you can imagine, in the "cleaning and rubbing" of jackets and backpacks, wallets were lifted, and the guys make a speedy escape. My uncle even incredulously told me that he thought the guys were so kind and helpful that he thought to at least tip them for the bottle of water they had used to help clean the mess! As always, there are many an escape route, and as soon as my uncle realised his mistake, the theives were long gone.

As I mention, variations have been seen on Las Ramblas, for example with the mayonnaise and mustard sachets from the fast food chains, and salted water being used as saliva. etc.

Rule is: if someone approaches you to attempt to "help you clean something off your person" or any kind of unsolicited help, be aware of those others around you - these people rarely work alone, and the pass off is the key to the scam working. Often even if you catch up with the real pickpocket, the goods have been passed on maybe once, maybe twice - leaving you no cause for reclaiming or making a scene.

For more information on Barcelona, see this Barcelona Guide.

Barcelona apartments for groups

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More Barcelona Graffiti

As I mentioned on a previous post, I love some of the graffiti in Barcelona, and the great way that some shops decorate their dull grey shutters. This has the double effect of a big free advert in a modern art form, and also serves as a deterrant for the wanting to scrawl their tag on an open canvas, or in this case shutter.

The best place to see some of these quirky artworks is the old town, but not exclusively. I've seen some others in Eixample, for example - including the witch cafe shown here.

These pics are 2 of my favourites. The sausage makers in Raval for it's cheeky pig, warming and burning it's behind on the bonfire, and the other, running through the hills like Maria in The Sopund of Music. Classic.

The witch cafe, just because I think it's brilliant, and shows what amazing talent these guys and gals have - no prushes, all cans.

For more information on Barcelona, see this Barcelona Guide.

Barcelona apartments for groups

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Do's and Dont's for visiting Barcelona

Barcelona is a great city to visit, and in recent years has overtaken such European cities as Venice and Berlin as a top destination. If you've visited or live here, then you'll know what all the fuss is about, but if not, then it's wise to have a few ideas of Do's and Don'ts with regards the city.

DO visit the city's stunning architecture and great museums. Barcelona was awarded 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites - 8 of which are in Barcelona (the 9th is Colonia Güell, just outside the city) - and all are worth a visit, even just from the outside, sitting on the tourist bus, for example. There are some great museums, too, such as the Picasso Museum, the Erotic museum (!) on las ramblas, and the Chocolate Museum. Make sure you visit these places, but....

DON'T turn up in beachwear, or inappropriately dressed. I don't mean as these are religious places, so you need to cover up, but it's a real pet hate of the locals to see guys in trunks and flip flops with no tops, or Girls in bikini tops and a "pareo" waltzing along las Ramblas, or even worse stopping into Carrefour or Corte Ingles. Keep the beachwear for the beach, guys.

If you travel by car to Barcelona, DON'T leave your valuables in the car when you street park. I know of some people who parked right in front of the restaurant they were eating at in Barceloneta, and even sat outside, almost in full view of thier car. When they returned to the vehicle, the back window had been smashed, and they lost a mobile phone that had been left in the back, and then had the annoying episode of having to report the incident to the police for their hire car company.

DO hydrate yourself around Barcelona, especially the young ones in Barcelona. I could restrict this to the summer, but often temepratures are just as great in April and late september, so use this rule as a norm.

DON'T fall for the street scams - the dancing dollies (see my recent post here ), the 3 cups game, and the Barcelona dance. These are all easy to see, and if you watch the beer intake you should be ok!

DO visit the Boqueria market on Las Ramblas to try the "pata negra" Iberic ham (black hooved ham). It's one of the best, and is fed only on acorns. They also have some chorizos of the same animal for you to either try there, or take back to your Barcelona apartment to prepare. However, ...

DON'T stand on street corners with a big map, announcing the fact that you're lost! Try and find a phone booth, or a well lit shop entrance to find your bearings, and don't be afraid to ask. Things have got a lot easier recently with the installation of map-posts and directional arrows, to help you along your way.

For more information on Barcelona, see this Barcelona Guide.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Barcelona Scams. Dancing Dollies.

This is going to be a post that I'll constantly add to, as it's far too long to all squeeze into 1 post. After living here for 9 years, I have seen and heard of loads of scams, and I'm surprised that the majority of them still work today. There is a guy who has compiled a whole website to do with Barcelona scams and it's huge and spans a fair few years. I've read a fair bit of it (a couple of years ago I stumbled accross the page) and whilst some are real one offs, some of them are still going on today.

The one I'm going to mention this post is the Dancing Dollies. There are variations on this scam, using coins as weights for the feet of the little dollies, but the concept is the same. This scam has been revelaed on BBC's "The Real Hustle" as well, and was even easier to scam the public.

The scam involves a portable cassette player and some loud dance music. You see 2 little paper dollies, next to the music "dancing" away. It looks so cool, and is something that every music system needs. The dollies are usually your favourite cartoon characters, like Homer and Bart Simpson, Mickey and Minnie, Buzz lightyear and woody, Pokemon classics, and other variations. There is the intuition to ask "how does it work?" and the guy selling them simply stops the tape, and the dollies stop dancing, and then he presses play again, and they start the dance again. He speaks just enough to be understood "2 por 4 Euros, 2 for 4 Euros" and this is also part of the scam which I'll explain. You'd be surprised at the joyous faces of children walking up and down las Ramblas with a new packet of worthless colour paper cut-outs and string legs.

So here's how the scam works - I've even seen it being set up in broad daylight. The cassette player has a mechanical wheel on the back of it, with a peice of fishing wire, or some kind of transparent wire on the back whioch makes a loop, and is then either stuck to the back wall, or to a corner, or to a bag. In this photo, you can see that the guy's rucksack is conveniently placed so that you can't see the back of the machine. So the wheel is turning around like a bobbin, and the only thing needed is to "hang" the little dollies on the invisible wire and wait for the punters. All it needs is one to work as the convincer, and everyone else stops, and forks out the cash. In a very short space of time, the seller can be out of his stock.

The great thing about the scam is what I mentioned, that the seller never speaks enough of whatever language it is you ask him the question, so you just have to accept that it's cool, and as it's cheap enough for the gamble. This way the seller doesn't need to answer any "how does it work?" questions, and the best part of the scam is that by the time you get back to your hotel room or Barcelona tourist apartment to try it out on the stereo system, the seller will be long gone.

For more information on Barcelona, see this Barcelona Guide.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Don't bite the hand that feeds you!!

I've noticed over the years of living in Barcelona as an ex-pat, that the Catalans like to complain. I mean, everyone complains and more often than not we have our innate human right to complain about something.
I remember for example being absolutely amazed at the sights in Barcelona just a few days after the "War on Terror" and the invasion on Iraq. People would coordinate for 21h and bang pots and pans outside their windows, honk horns (if you were on the way back from work and hadn't had the chance to get back to your kitchen)and this would go on for at least 20 minutes, at first for successive days. This struck me as a very humanitarian episode, but at the same time a futile exercise. Who is going to hear you? The Spanish government, maybe (it made the news for a few days), the people or the soldiers in Iraq? I doubt it.

And this has gone on ever since - not so much the pots and pans banging, but many manifestations and gripes about one thing or the other. My family and I were out walking one Sunday, and happened upon a group holding up traffic on Las Ramblas. Problem was, as much as I tried to read 15 metre-long the banners they were holding, one end was held by a person smoking and chatting and the other was at least 5/6 steps behind making it almost impossible for anyone to read just what they were complaining about. Unfortunately I have no hard evidence to show for these ramblings, but I do have two new ones, which again strike me as odd. I may well ruffle a few feathers here, so beware.

The recent festivities of "La Merçe" festival for me have been the longest in recent memory. I think the fact that the actual feast day of Our Lady of Mercy this year fell on a Wednesday made the whole festivities stretch out that bit longer. Events started on the previous Thursday, and continued right up until the fireworks on Montjüic on Wednesday night. A typical stroll though the Gothic Quarter on this week is a great way to visit Barcelona and appreciate its popularity - with residents and tourists alike. So, lo and behold, what do we see on every free space available on walls but "flyers/posters" in (it has to be said fairly arty) protest to the activity brought about by La Merçe.

The poster says "Neighbours - a species in danger of extinction". Now, I know that there is a high proportion of tourism be it hotels or Barcelona apartments for rent within the old town, but it's the centre of the city, so it's to be expected. Spain's main income (and that includes Catalunya) is from Tourism, and according to the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism of Spain, Catalunya (read Barcelona) has the Lion's share of this influx. There are so many low cost airlines arriving daily to BCN, Reus and Girona, it's impossible to keep up!

Another poster that I saw today caught my attention. This was also a prostest, but against the whole system - the poster invites you to "celebrate 20 years of social and urban destrucion...dirty war...mobbing (what the Barcelonans have dubbed as aggressive estate agencies hounding you out of your home), tourist exploits..." you get the idea. This protest was to be housed on the Rambla del Raval - just as the new 4 star (well overdue) Barcelo Raval hotel opened it's doors. I don't think anyone would disagree that the new hotel will shine like a beacon in the new Raval (kind of like the original idea of the rambla del raval) and that it can only have a positive effect on the area. The new Filmoteca is underway (again, well overdue), and it's great to see development in the middle of the Raval, to follow suit with upper Raval (MACBA, CCCB, etc.) The poster depicts the new hotel as a backdrop to slums and a cheesy yougster smiling in the foreground.

I suppose the puzzling thing is that all of these new improvements are geared towards the end user - which is not always the tourist. This summer has seen an amazing amount of new "bicing" points scattered around the city (in fact you can't go too far without finding a new one), not to mention huge overhauls in bike lanes and the removal of Zona Blau (zone parking). How is all of this funded? Tax payers - main income = tourism. Many, many industries thrive on Barcelona tourism (and I'm not talking about the tourist shops dotted along las Ramblas) and not just the hotels. I sympathise with the house pricing in Barcelona which according to minimum wage is an absolute joke, but to generalise the whole system as including tourism as a negative aspect, I find ridiculous. Just ask Madrid how tourism and businesses were affected after the atrocious bombings - this is by no means a "be careful what you wish for" message - just a confused foreigner in the old town, maybe missing the point.

Barcelona apartments for groups

Friday, September 26, 2008

Last chance of the summer for La Terrrazza!!

Barcelona has got some cool clubs. Everyone knows that. It's a shame that recent public complaints have had an adverse effect on some of the best clubs in Barcelona - or maybe not the best but the best fun! For example, not long ago "La Paloma" on Calle Tigre was a favourite haunt to step back in time and watch the ballroom dancers worm the floor for the ravers, in an old style theatre/Moulin rouge setting (as an aside, the real Barcelona Moulin rouge - El Molino - is also undergoing a bit of a facelift currently). Sadly La Paloma has gone.

Another cheesy but always full place - Baja Beach - has made way for Opium down on the beach front - cue sighs and groans from all the stag and hen parties. It also seems the Discoteque, although name changing to new club D and the like did nothing for it in the normal location of poble Español has also recently moved to Space's venue up on Calle Tarragona.

So it's great when one of the classic clubs manages to keep going. I'm talking about La Terrrazza. This is also in Poble Español, and right next to the old Discoteque, and has had it's fair share of troubles in the past. A couple of summers ago, it didn't open - sufficient complaints from the Montjüic/Poble Sec residents had managed to ruffle the feathers of the council, and soundproofing was allegedly installed (although I have no idea where, as it's an open air club!).

Well, anyway, this weekend sees the last night of the "summer" (so lets not hope for rain) in the über-cool club. Partying along under the stars is a privilege not many clubs in Barcelona can boast to having and it's sure to be a great end to the season. See you there!!

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Barcelona Graffiti

This is all about Barcelona Graffiti. Certain cities in the world are renowned for their graffiti - I remember being handed a leaflet as a backpacker in New York City years ago with "10 free things to see in NYC" and one of them was to take the "X" train (can't remember, sorry) to see the amazing graffiti. Now Barcelona is not far behind with some amazing artwork, especially at designated places that the artists are let free - bottom of Paralello going round to Montjüic and the Parc de 3 chimineas nearby are 2 great examples, but there's some local graffiti that you can just as easily see, and this is more than legit - it's even paid for.

It's funny, as I've actually been preparing this post for a while, as the pics I'm going to add speak more than the words I could add to describe, and recently Barcelona Metropolitan had the exact same feature but obviously more in depth and with interviews, etc.

The idea is that local shop owners are sick of having drab, stupid scrawls and signatures on their already grey metal shutters at night, so what better way to combat this than siding with the enemy, and getting a graffiti ad for your bar/shop/venture. This is obviously at a prime in the old town, especially Raval and the Gothic quarter, and as the graffiti code goes, you never graffiti over another artists work, so the result is a great peice of modern art, an ad for your business if you happen to be closed at the time people pass by, and also pretty much a guarantee of saving yourself from gritty scrawls and nonsense in the meantime.

There are so many I see when out and about that I love, and I'm probably going to add to this as I see more that impress me, but here are a few. Enjoy.

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