January 8, 2012

0 Seven Tips For Your Visit to Barcelona

1. Barcelona Card.  The city cards around Europe are a tourist's dream- not only for the discounts and the free or discounted public transportation, but for the additional locations and sites we find in the booklets that come with each one!  We were quite pleased with several of the smaller museums around Barcelona, particularly the Pre-Colombian Art Museum and Disseny Hub's design museum.  Disseny Hub consists of several museums, and the design one is just a few small rooms displaying several interactive science and technology based designs. We had a lot of fun going through, and it took less than an hour, so we didn't feel like we had to sacrifice any other sites for it.

2. This is one of the first things you'll read in any Barcelona travel guides, but be careful.  Petty theft and pickpocketing is rampant in the city, especially on the metro.  We heard a lot of stories from friends, and so were very wary our entire trip.  I saw one instance of two young men in a metro station- we were walking down the stairs behind them, and they were behind a woman with a purse hanging from her shoulder and a large kings' cake in her hands.  The youth closest to me held up his jacket, obscuring my view very obviously, and the one in front of him bent over- not for long, so I am assuming he couldn't get anything with her downward movement and her purse being closed.  I did stare at them the entire time (Paul says I have a staring problem, really I usually am just off in la-la land) because, as long as I'm not at risk of violent behavior (and everything I read said that there is very little violent crime in Barcelona) I don't mind being rather obvious- if you're aware of pickpocketers they won't target you!  The one who'd been bent over stared back at me for a while as we waited for the metro to arrive, but I didn't look away, and he soon did.  The woman got on the subway that we did, and the youths didn't.  Paul said he saw another incident where a man who was watching us turned around and began following us, until Paul made it obvious he saw him- then the man turned back around and walked away.  The crime seemed lower, as it wasn't high season for tourism, but, if you do go to Barcelona, please be aware, especially on the metro and in La Rambla.

3. Make yourself aware of public transportation.  Barcelona has a comprehensive metro system, and it's free with the Barcelona Card- which also means you don't have the added crime-victim time of standing at the ticket kiosks or digging in your wallet.  We took the train to Montserrat, which wasn't included with the Card, but wasn't very expensive (sorry, I don't remember the exact total), and it was really easy to figure out.  There are also funiculars and a cable car up to Montjuïc, the hilltop site of the Olympic Stadium and other prominent sites.   Taxis can be pricy and quickly add up in a city as large as Barcelona- so take advantage of the built-in transportation systems!

4. Here's a new one: we opted to try a new type of residence and booked our room through AirBnB.  This is a clever site which residents can use to let out a spare bedroom or their entire home to tourists.  It's often cheaper, plus you (hopefully) get a local's eye to your trip.  We stayed with Sonia, and she and Daniel were amazing hosts- helping us with little details like the train to Montserrat, the Modernisme Route map, and even helping us pick and reserve a fantastic restaurant for my birthday dinner.  Sure, hotels can offer these services, too, but we also paid under $300 for five nights in the L'Eixample district of Barcelona- a steal!

5. Take part in local culture!  We were lucky to be planning our trip over the time of the Day of Epiphany, and got to see the Three Kings' Parade and I got a Kings' Cake.  We also saw a flamenco show at the Petit Palau- the smaller (but acoustically equal) side venue of the Palau de la Música.  Sure, it's a little cliché, but I believe some things are cliché for a reason!
*side note- if you do EVER go to any type of theatre, please don't act like the gentleman sitting in the row in front of us and not only leave your phone ringer on but ANSWER it.  TWICE.  Paul and I assumed this was common knowledge etiquette by now, but apparently he didn't get the memo. Oh, and he was an English-speaking tourist.  I don't know who he is, but I'm hoping internet-kharma gets him.

6. Plan your time!  Barcelona is a big city- and has tons of things to do and sites to see.  We were there four full days and two half days and we still didn't get up to Montjuïc.  Barcelona is divided into ten districts, including the Old City and Gothic district, Ciutat Vella, L'Eixample, which houses many of the modernisme buildings, Barceloneta, with the beach, and many more.  Most of the districts are within easy walking distance, but some of the outskirts require a little more planning- like Park Güell, in Grácia.  Montserrat required an entire day, with the distance, seeing the buildings, and because we wanted to do a little hiking, and many people stay there for a couple of days to truly embrace the landscape.  All-in-all, I doubt you can ever have enough time on a trip to see all of Barcelona, but if you pick your "must-sees" and have general route-itineraries you can easily make the most of the time you have.

7. Being a dummy-head (I like mature insults), I just sat back and figured Paul's Spanish could get us around the city no problem.  I didn't learn any words, assuming random "por favor" and "gracias" could fill in when he wasn't around.  Well... Barcelona is in Catalunya, where they speak Catalan.  Many people there know Spanish (Castilian) and many know English- but the language to attempt if you want to show respect and be appreciated is Catalan.  Oh, and even if your brain automatically turns to German when you hear ANY foreign language, answering the man at the bakery with "Nein, das ist alles" is probably gonna cause a lot of confusion...

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