Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Barcelona Shopping Night Kicks Off Christmas

I wasn't sure I'd be writing practcally the same as I wrote last year regarding the expectations of the nation (practically) on two upcoming events - the Christmas shopping campaign and the Christmas Lottery - but it appears that not a lot has changed in 12 months (save a president). Press releases all week have been praising the sales of the lottery tickets as per usual, and despite the cyber Monday plodding along yesterday and the fact that the 23rd December is the best day for retail in Spain, the initiative to get people digging deep early starts tomorrow night in downtown Barcelona.

Yes, for those fortunate few with rather deep pockets, many of the city's most exclusive (read expensive) shops open from 20h till "the early hours" of the morning to participate in the shopping night. Don't be fooled by the link, people, the site is in Catalan or Spanish, not English. There are also many of the chain stores dotted along the same streets (this year Caspe and Rossello join in, too) to pick up some late night bargains, too, don't worry ;o)

Heavily concentrated around the city's most chic street, Paseig de Gracia, almost all of the shops and hotels have activities going on to entice the locals into the shops. Bands, cooking, Tapas, etc. all co-inciding with the turning on of the Christmas lights, too. Similar to last year, you can get a Passport to travel around the shops - only this time you can download one from their facebook page, and tying in nicely with my recent post on Android apps for visiting Barcelona, the shopping night even have their own andriod app too.

If you're coming to Barcelona this winter, check out BCN Rentals for their selection of last minute barcelona deals. And for a quick llok into the neighbourhood where the event is happening, see this guide to Eixample.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Smartphone Android Apps for Barcelona

This is a post I've been thinking of doing for ages. It's by no means a definitive list and the only reason why I've titled the post Android Apps, is because my phone is android - many of these will work on an iphone and there may be equivalent apps out there. Also, many items of the following list could really be tailored to any city you visit - I just sometimes think that they're very under-used. So, let's dive in. Make sure your battery is charged.

Google maps (street view)

It goes without saying that one of your best friends visiting any new city would be google maps. Apart from pinpointing your location and then being able to see map/satellite version to see just how far/close you are to major points, you can use Navigation to find directions to any street/monument/metro station, etc. The routes can re-calculate if there are streets closed/roadworks/you don't fancy the frst route suggested and you can even zoom in to street view with the pegman and actually follow the route as if you're following your camera.

Street View Navigating to Palau Güell

If there are a few of you in your group, you can also each turn on latitude, which will follow you around and if you decide to split up, you can "spy" on your friends to find out where they are - so girls go shopping and get lost from the boys, it's easy to find them again instead of wasting a call. Maps also lets you "check in" to places, similar to Foursquare and Facebook and similar sites, and then there are many apps to find useful places near to your location - the default one in Android is just as good as some of the others I've used, and will show you cashpoints/ATMs, Restaurants, pubs, petrol stations, etc.
Fancy some food at the Boqueria, but don't have a guide book ?

It also goes without saying that services like Viber, whatsapp and the like are also great for keeping in touch (but roaming applies, so it depends if your mobile plan works out cheaper/more expensive as many have bundle packets of sms thrown in). There are a couple of decent Wi-Fi Finder apps out there, too, to scan your surroundings and find free wifi hotspots to connect to and send messages to each other in these situations.

Google Goggles Capturing Casa Batllò
Google Goggles.

I really love this app. Apart from the possibility of taking a photo of (for example) a menu and having goggles directly translate the text for you, one of the best uses is pointing your camera at a random building and then Goggles will tell you what it is. It's surprisingly accurate and the photo here is even me in the car taken through the windscreen (as a passenger, don't fret) and the app recognised Casa Batllò in about 2 seconds. So instead of just wondering what that cool building is, flick out your googles. It is really really clever. Goggles also works perfectly as a QR reader, so those posters you'll see in and around the city for the upcoming nights in the cool Barcelona clubs can be a "Wonder if that's any good/wonder where that is?" thing of the past. I used it recently to find out more about the Cat Garden that I've passed by a million times and always wondered just who the cats belonged to and how they were taken care of, etc. For those of you not quite sure what those QR codes are, they're those black and white squares with lots of dots that work a little like a barcode.


Conversation mode in Translate
Translation apps are often a bit hit and miss, but if you're really shy or need something very urgently like a trip to a chemist, you can use Google translate. I know that most chemists will speak English (!) but you get the idea. All android phones have voice input, so once you've played around for a bit with it (usually before you arrive/when you first get your phone!) you can forget typing on a mini keybopard and just say what you want. Translate on a mobile will offer not only a text-based answer but a spoken version of the phrase in many languages. Specifically for Spanish, you can also enter in conversation mode - where you can hold your phone/mic to the other person to reply to your query (in Spanish, not Catalan, sorry) and then the app translates it back to you - like a real conversation.

Twitter is an awesome social tool to have at your disposal. Before you go, make sure to do a bit of research and start to follow people who might be able to help. The social community on Twitter is mainly there to help and as long as you don't bombard people with usesless tweets you could easily find online, then most people are really willing to help. Hashtag searching can help, too, to see what's happening in #barcelona at any time, and some great people to follow are obviously Barcelona Yellow, Barcelona Guided Tours and Barcelona Unlike for up to date stuff and a keen eye on the city.

Obvously I've found a few other apps in the market, such as metro maps, etc. mostly free, as well as loads to do with FCBarcelona of course, but didn't include here as not everyone would use them on a daily basis. I'd love to hear any comments on apps or things on your mobile that you've used to help enjoy your stay or you think I should have included. Leave me a comment below!

If you're looking for accommodation during your stay, then check out BCN Rentals late deals for some bargain prices.

Disclaimer. I purposely haven't linked to the apps themselves, as this is not a promotional post or anything, just a helpful idea. You can find them easily in the android market.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Christmas Ice Rink at Plaça Catalunya ?

A recent post in La Vanguardia has reported that Barcelona council has given the green light to "considering" turning Plaça Catalunya into an ice skating rink, similar to the famous New York rink in front of Rockerfeller Plaza. The idea would need a pretty quick implimentation as the plan would be to co-incide with the traditional turning on of the Christmas lights and the annual late night shopping event this coming 30th November. It also reports that it would be a good incentive for those looking to vote for Barcelona for the Winter Olympic Games of 2022 as well.

The idea is to create a rink of around 800m2 with an artificial tree in the middle which would be paid for by the private sector - some companies such as Damm breweries (who else?!) have come forward in support of the idea. I think it would be really cool, and despite the usual criticisms in the comments on the vanguardia site, I'm all for it. I'm still very traditional when it comes to Christmas and love the lights and the festivities, and to be honest I think for the space that Plaça Catalunya occupies, it's a bit of a white elephant and could be put to much better use.

Of course, there's another reason why the rink has been proposed - to stop another occupancy of the Plaça Catalunya like in May from those in the 15-M movement. Christmas is always a time that the shops and city as a whole like to enjoy a bit of a peak again after the summer slump, so anything that could potentially disturb that  (i.e. a manifestation) is something the authorities will want to avoid.

What are your thoughts? Do you think it's a good idea, or it might look a bit limp compared to other cities ? I remember being in Brussels close to Christmas one time and there was a rink there that was pretty small, but really popular. Let me know in the comments.

Coming to Barcelona this winter? Rent a Barcelona apartment instead of a hotel room. And for a quick look at the best sights to see, check out this Barcelona guide.

Image credit

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Woo-Hoo! It's the Raval(s) Cultural Festival 2011!!

As I've said before, I love my neighbourhood. Everyone chats to each other and there's no air of superiority like I've found in many other barris that I've lived in. I often wish I could speak so many other languages to be able to really chat to the various people I have come to know in their own language. I remember feeling frustrated in my first few years here, learning Spanish at that just-getting-by stage, as I couldn't really have proper conversations. Pleasantries were a breeze but if I was annoyed about something, then I could rarely make my point.

Anyway, enough about me. Starting tomorrow is the 9th edition of Raval(s) - a culture festival involving loads of different social groups, and celebrating the great variety of walks of life we have in the neighbourhood. According to the Fundacio Tot Raval, this year's participation is the highest yet, and if you live here, too, you'll have seen the funky posters haning up and around everywhere.

There's a really varied selection of events with Theate, poetry, dance, concerts and many guided visits to the main museums and historical buildings of the city, such as the newly re-opened Palau Güell, MACBA, CCCB, Liceu, and Sant Pau del Camp amongst others.

The festival kicks off tomorrow evening with an open concert at the Rambla Raval, and everyone is encouraged to come along and participate at 8pm. Organised by Taller de Musica in the upper Raval, it's an excuse to get those vocal chords a-warbling!

Plenty of daytime activities with painting and Henna for the kids and games of the world like cricket (!) and other stuff.

There are great deal of plays and theatre performances in the avried spaces around 08001 and for a full program of events, download the pdf here.

In recent years, I've been disappointed by the absence of live music in the raval during La Merçe festivities. When I first moved here, there was always a huge stage at the top end of the Rambla del Ravaln and it was great. During the summer, in the Festival del Barri del Raval, every little square and plaça had a concert going on with such variety - some really cool Bollywood at Nou de la Rambla, Rock in Hort de la Bomba and open mic rapping on the Rambla Raval. I made it up to MACBA late as it was raining and had just missed the concert! But you get the idea.

So I was pleased to see this year has some (early-ish) concerts each night, with Jazz on the menu as well as Cuban music, and the ever popular Raval's band. Go on, you know you want to....;o) See you there!
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