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
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