Travel Wishlist: Barcelona

Barcelona has a bit of everything: Undeniable charm in its cobblestone streets, stunning architecture, sun, sand, sea and sangria. It’s one of the European cities I could easily live in and one of my favorite destinations. As with most places in Europe, it can be stiflingly hot in the summer and crammed with tourists, so May, September or October are my most desired times to visit.

To Stay:

  • Hostal Grau: This little hotel is on an active little street parallel to the Ramblas and a short walk from Placa Catalunya, so you can’t beat the location. Don’t be fooled by the name, it’s not a hostel but a small hotel. It’s had an update in recent years to minimalist furnishings and eco-friendly design. We stayed in a two-bedroom apartment in an adjacent property which was fantastic and budget-friendly.
  • Hotel Granados 83: A boutique hotel in the heart of the Eixample, you’ll be close to some of my favorite tapas restaurants and walking distance to Casa Mila. the décor is more modern and industrial but with warm touches like exposed brick in the rooms. A lovely rooftop pool area completes the experience.
Hostal Grau
Calle Ramelleres, 27
08001 Barcelona, Spain
Hotel Granados 83
Enrique Granados 83
8008 Barcelona, Spain 

Gaudi:

  • ParkGuell:   Gaudi is obligatory in Barcelona and my favorite without question isParkGuell. Youusedto be able to visit for free, and while always full of tourists, I still found thisparkto be a perfect place to come for hours at a time to read, sun myself and relax whileenjoyingGaudi’s spectacular mosaics. Now you must pay to enter the historic center of the park, andticketscan be purchased in advance for a specific time slot. The park is about a 20 minute bus ride fromthePlacaCatalunyaorRamblas, but worth spending the better part of a day.
    • Your turn! If you visit, please fill me in on the experience with the new paid entry. Your experiences will help others – good traveler karma, dontcha know. 😉
  • Casa Mila/La Pedrera: This incredible apartment building in the Eixample is well worth the 20 Euro entrance fee. your experience includes winding up the building itself, exploring the alien-like sculptures on the roof and touring an apartment boasting early 20th century style as residents would have when it was built. Again, you need to book online for a time slot but this allows you to choose your favorite time of day to take in views of Barcelona from the roof.  A magic hour treat.
  • Sagrada Familia: Gaudi’s most famous work, the unfinished Sagrada Familia church. It’s a must to see from the outside, though I’ve been unwilling to dodge the crowds to tour the inside.
Park Guell
Carrer Olot 5 
08024 Barcelona, Spain 
Casa Mila
Carrer de Provenca 261 - 265 
08008 Barcelona, Spain 
From March 3 to November 2: Monday to Sunday, from 9am to 8.30 pm (last admission: 8.00 pm)
From November 3 to March 2: Monday to Sunday, from 9 to 6.30 pm (last admission: 6pm)
Basilica of the Sagrada Familia
Carrer de Mallorca, 401
08013 Barcelona, Spain

Tours and Experiences:

  • Fat Tire Bike Tours: Bike tours are an incredible way to see a new city and Fat Tire’s tours are exceptional. I’ve taken the tour in Paris twice, once in London and once in Barcelona.  The tour generally takes four to five hours and hits many major sites at a good clip, fast enough to get you acclimated to the city which makes it that much easier to navigate in subsequent days by foot. The Barcelona city tour has a break in the middle on the Barceloneta beach complete with refreshing sangria to share. Fat Tire tours are run by English speakers, last about 25 Euro per person and can be reserved online. http://barcelona.fattirebiketours.com/
  • Cook & Taste Barcelona: This fabulous cooking class begins with a tour of the Boqueria market to gather fresh ingredients for the day’s menu. The class is then conducted in a kitchen on the top story of a building overlooking the bustling Ramblas. As you sip wine, you will be divided into small groups and tasked with preparing classics like gazpacho, tortilla and paella. Our crema catalana with fresh figs was a highlight. Tours start at 65 Euro per person and can be booked online. http://www.cookandtaste.net/
  • Tapas Tour Barcelona: Like many big European cities, eating in Barcelona can be tricky if you don’t know where to go or how to abide by local food customs. With a tapas tour like Tapas Tour Barcelona, you literally get a taste of what the city has to offer. On my tour there were some standouts like La Plata and Can Paixano, but there were also some mediocre choices too. Use this as a jumping off point to get familiar with the tapas scene and then venture out on your own! Tours start at 39 Euro per person and can be booked online. http://www.tapastoursbarcelona.com/#_=_

Tapas: Oh, where do I begin?!?! You can find my definitive post on Traipsing the Tapas Scene in Barcelona here. But here are a couple of musts for any Barcelona travel wishlist.

  • Can Paixano – “La Xampaneria”: Just off the Barceloneta, you’ll likely hear this hopping spot before you see it. Known for it’s house made cava for about 1 Euro per glass, it’s likely to be packed with tourists and locals alike gearing up for a night out. Just join the fray and make some new friends, you’ll have to get cozy in order to grab a drink or a bite. It closes early by Spanish standards – around 10pm – so plan this as a first stop before tapas hopping elsewhere in the city.
  • La Bodegueta: In the Eixample, this is a great stop before or after visiting Casa Mila or if you’re staying in the area. Just great quality dishes and a casual, friendly atmosphere. The fried artichokes are special.
Can Paixano - "La Xampaneria"
Carrer de Reina Christina, 7
Barcelona, Spain
La Bodegueta
Rambla de Catalunya, 100
08008 Barcelona, Spain

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2015.

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Paris Tips & Tricks – March 2014

1. Make a reservation at Les Papilles. Seriously. Do it now. Okay, done? Read on.

2. Several parts of Paris are currently undergoing a bit of a facelift. Some of my favorite sites had portions closed, including the magnificent circular stained glass window at Sainte Chapelle. It was my first visit to the top of the Arc de Triomphe and part of the terrace was closed – inconveniently, the part that gives the best views of the Eiffel Tower. Both are still worth the visit though, just be aware.

3. Fat Tire Bike Tours continue to be one of the best ways to see the city and get oriented early. My first bike tour was back in 2007 on that inaugural trip to Europe. The night bike tour includes a little boat trip on the Seine and some wine. Rachael was our tour guide this time and she’s absolutely lovely!

4. A Paris picnic sounds idyllic right? Just be aware that most shops are closed on Sundays, except on the Ile St. Louis if you’re in a bind. Make like a Parisienne and choose some treats from your favorite fromagerie, boulangerie and cave, find a scenic spot or enjoy the chairs in the Tulleries or Luxembourg gardens and dig in! Or, if you need some help, consider taking a Paris Treats Food Tour and let Michelle guide you through a Parisian culinary adventure.

5. You want Laduree macarons? The big shop on the Champs Ellysees also has a several dining areas. I popped into the bar for a coffee and breakfast and ordered my boxes of macarons while I ate. They were delivered to me with my bill. No waiting in a huge queue. And while the food is not the cheapest, it was surprisingly tasty!

6. One of my favorite areas is the Latin Quarter and specifically Rue Mouffetard. Be sure to check out the nearby Le Pot O’Lait Creperie. Yum.

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

Beers and Brats

Oktoberfest Lesson 1: You really do need all those brats (or some chicken, or some pretzels, or some schnitzel…) to soak up all of that beer.  It’s essential if you want to keep going all day and enjoy several Masses (liter stein) of beer.  Oktoberfest Lesson 2: Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE wears traditional dress.  If you don’t have on lederhosen or a dirndl, you need to get some or you’ll be stopped in the line for the bathroom at the tents, looked up and down and asked “what are you wearing?”

We didn’t manage to secure a spot within the tents during Oktoberfest Munich 2011 but we did find ourselves at a lovely table outside in the sun, making new friends.  Our last day in Munich was the only time I sat at a table inside the tent. It was on a Sunday, family day, and extremely tame.  I would love to go back for the full tent experience with the whole live band, dancing on tables bit. 🙂

All in all, Oktoberfest was pretty incredible.  I was surprised at how orderly it really was.  I couldn’t help but think that it would not have gone down as smoothly in the states. 🙂  Sure, there were moments of drunken debauchery, particularly when the tents were closing at around 11:30pm and the inevitable reality of all-day drinking set in, but otherwise it was just a bunch of people having a good time.

Aside from the festival, we also did a bike tour of downtown Munich through Mike’s Bike Tours.  We started in Marienplatz, waved at the Glockenspiel, biked through the English Garden, took a break in the beer garden and stopped to see a surfer in the river.  The English Garden itself was definitely a highlight for me and was absolutely beautiful the day we visited.  We also left Munich one day and did a tour of Neuschwanstein Castle.  While I will never, I mean NEVER, do that again, it was however some of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen.

I had an amazing time in Germany and I’ve never been in a country with more genuinely friendly and helpful people.  We were asked several times if we needed directions, always unsolicited, and always with a smile.

A beautiful country, beautiful people and a beautiful Oktoberfest.

Prost. 🙂

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2011.