Transcript: Spain

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Mike McCready answered your questions February 10, 2004

Mike knows not only the city of Barcelona but also the surrounding towns and villages on the coast, the interior and in the mountains and can speak intelligently about almost any aspect of the regions social and cultural customs.

Mike speaks nearly native Catalan and Spanish. His insight and understanding of both American and Catalan culture make him uniquely qualified to answer almost any question regarding the city, its people and their view of the US and the world.

Mike answered your questions Tuesday, February 10, 2004 at noon EST.

Mike McCready is a Nebraska native and has lived in Barcelona since 1986. He's seen the transformation of the city from a dirty provincial and industrial capital with it's back turned from the sea to THE Mediterranean city of reference and international cultural and nightlife Mecca. He's an international music industry executive with a deep interest in art and politics. Mike is friendly with several of the Catalonian politicians such as the current president of the autonomous government, Pascual Maragall and was fortunate to have met Salvador Dalí and to have become friends with Joan Brossa.

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Suwanee, GA : We will be flying in to Barcelona to board our cruise ship in July of this year. We will then have an evening and all of the next day to "do" Barcelona. What would you recommend as the "don't miss" thing for us to do? It will be our first visit there. Thanks.

Mike McCready: If you're really into taking in the city quickly I suggest you go to Plaza Catalunya in the center of the city and getting a tour sightseeing bus. It will take you to all of the very important sights. You can get off the bus at any of the ones you're most interested in and catch the next one when it comes by. It allows you to stay at each sight as long as you want or even skip some. I think the best sights are the Gaudi building including the Sagrada Familia. Of course you'll also want to see the old Gothic Quarter and perhaps the Olympic Ring on Montjüic Mountain.

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Weston, NE: How has security interfered with the Old World setting?

Mike McCready: Hey, a fellow Nebraskan. I grew up in Broken Bow! Barcelona is a very cosmopolitan city. Security is an issue but not more or less than in any other major city in the US or Europe. Barcelona is a very safe city. If you need to be on guard for anything it is petty crime which is increasingly a problem.

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Fresno, Ca: Mr. McCready, Thank you for entertaining the questions from the online public. I am glad I found your article online. I fell in love with Spain during a one-week trip to Madrid in 1993. After lots of soul-searching, I have decided that my future is in Spain. I plan to relocate there as soon as I finish business school. You have your pulse on the life of the country. What is the job market for MBAs in Spain? I speak perfect Spanish and English. My goal is to obtain a position in the field of investment banking. Which city offers the best opportunity for someone with my qualifications and ambitions?

Mike McCready: I think that either Madrid or Barcelona can offer you what you're looking for. One of the best things to do I think is to get in touch with the American Embassy in Madrid and get a listing of the US companies with branches and subsidiaries in the country and start your job search there, perhaps contacting in the US first. MBA's are well received and the University of Chicago even has a Graduate School of Business campus in Barcelona.

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Boston, MA: I have not been to Spain since the Euro currency conversion. Is it still the "bargain basement" of Europe, or has the Euro currency made the country less affordable to travelers?

Mike McCready: Spain is still affordable and if you spend any amount of time in NYC Spain seems downright cheap. Real Estate is rising sharply in the major cities but you can still get great deals on property. Shopping for fashion and other higher end items is just as expensive as the rest of Europe however. You'll notice a bigger difference in the super markets.

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New York, NY: I am going on an exchange trip with my high school on February 12th. I and a group of other students will be visiting Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca and Soller. My question is, how is the weather during the winter season? Do the lower temperatures of winter take away from the scenery? Any tips on places to visit? Thank you.

Mike McCready: The scenery is still beautiful but the beaches are not very used and the water is very cold in February. But you can have a great time seeing the sights and the weather is usually very agreeable in the 60 and 70's on the islands.

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Alexandria, VA: I am visiting Lisbon but want to travel to Segovia and Seville. What is the best (and cheapest) way to do this for 2 people? What cities in Spain would you recommend visiting (out of Lisbon) instead, if not those 2?

Mike McCready: More than Segovia I'd visit Toledo, although it is a little more touristy. I think your best bet for economic travel would be the train.

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Wichita, KS: We are planning a cruise out of Barcelona in mid-October. What is the weather like then? We are planning to go a couple of days early so we get a chance to see the city and acclimate to the time change. What would you recommend for us to see?

Mike McCready: October weather can be either pleasant or rainy. It's very unpredictable but is actually my favorite month for Barcelona weather. It is cool in the evening and the mornings but the days can be bright and sunny and very nice. You'll need a jacket most likely. The city will be covered with fallen leaves.

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Paris, France: I live in Paris 9 months each year. I'm flexible with time & date since I travel alone. When is the best time to go to Barcelona from October through April? I use a cane but it is just a balance problem versus a painful health problem. I'm happy to live in a pension, B & B, small hotel. I travel alone and like to be around people - locals as well as travelers (versus tourists). I usually arrive with no reservation, asking the taxing to find me a safe, clean, inexpensive, & quiet accommodation - it works. Thank you.

Mike McCready: Wow. Sounds like a very nice routine. If you don't mind the cooler weather one of my favorite times in the city is right around Christmas. Seeing the city all decked out in lights and visiting the area of the Cathedral is very impressive. The Catalan Christmas traditions are very unique and worth looking into. There are many inexpensive places to stay around the city so I'm sure your technique will work in Barcelona as well. If you're not into spending Christmas there perhaps you'd like to go a bit earlier and be in Barcelona on September 22 - 25 approximately. That's when the city celebrates it's patron saint's day, La Mercé. The city is one huge party for an entire week and end with one of the world's most impressive fireworks displays.

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US: Why is the Northern cuisine of Spain so underrated in the US? And why are Latin American cultures using the term "Spanish food" when it's really not Spanish food? It's Mexican, Caribbean, or from somewhere else!

Mike McCready: Yes. Good question. Outside of France there are only 8 restaurants (as per my understanding) that get a rating of three Michelin stars. There are two in Catalunya (El Racó de Can Fabes and El Bulli) and one in Santander (Arzak). The New York Times Magazine recently called Ferran Adrià, the chef and owner of El Bulli the best chef in the world and said the world's greatest cuisine in general has moved south of the mountains that divide France and Spain. The food in general is amazing in all of Spain and yes, even more so in the north.

As for why some people confuse Mexican, spicy food with Spanish food I'm not sure. Lack of information I guess. Please help spread the word.

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Swanee, ID: I've noticed in visits to Spain, and Barcelona in particular, that American students traveling there take the "party" culture to the extreme. Should this worry me about a parent who's thinking of sending their daughter to study abroad in Barcelona?

Mike McCready: Not really. Barcelona, Valencia and Madrid are known as party towns more because the northern European youngsters can go there, the beer is cheaper than in the north (especially countries like Sweden) and the drinking age is mostly non-existent. Kids with even less money have what are called El Botellón (the big bottle party) where they buy big bottles of beer and drink them together in the plazas and streets. It's is more of a public nuisance than anything else. It is mostly harmless. If your daughter is responsible and knows to take care of herself she should be ok. Kids party everywhere and at least they do it in the open in the cities and typically no one is driving home because public transportation is so good.

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Clemson, SC: My wife and I are vegetarians (ovo-lacto-veg). Will we find food that is compatible to our diet in Barcelona? What other places would you recommend? Thanks.

Mike McCready: There are several vegetarian restaurants in Barcelona. One is on the corner of Gran Via and Rambla Catalunya...more on Gran Via toward Passeig de Gràcia. Other than that I don't really know much about that. Sorry. But I can tell you that the open markets such as La Boqueria sell a lot variety of fresh produce, eggs and almost anything else. You will not have any trouble at all maintaining your lifestyle.

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Seattle, WA: I've heard great things about the Parque Nacional de Ordesa near the French border in the Basque country. What are your favorite open spaces for hiking in Spain?

Mike McCready: That's a great place. I recommend Mountain Aneto for great hiking in that area. I also think La Vall d'Aran in northern Catalunya is amazing.

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Dracut, MA: I will be travelling to Spain in June with my 14-year-old niece. This is her first trip to Spain. She is torn between Madrid or Barcelona. Which would you recommend to a first-time visitor to Spain? We will be traveling for 1 week only.

Mike McCready: I cannot recommend Barcelona highly enough. Madrid is a great city, don't get me wrong but it doesn't have the attraction and energy that Barcelona has. Barcelona has a very rich and old history that you can live and breathe. Madrid is good for a few of it's museums and the nightlife but don't forget that it was just a village until the king decided to move the capital there about 300 years ago. So the city is not as much of a natural capital as Barcelona is. Plus it's landlocked.

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Astoria, NY: Hi! We often hear alot about the big cities in Spain. Please talk about some off-the-beaten path places that represent the old Spain. One of my favorites is Merida in Extremadura. Thanks.

Mike McCready: Off beaten... well, I think some of the most beautiful places to go are in the rural Catalunya areas. I mentioned earlier that I like the Vall d'Aran in northern Catalunya. It is so typical of a quaint mountain area where things haven't changed for years and years. It is worth visiting. I also like an area in northern Catalunaya near Andorra called La Cerdanya. In the rest of Spain I think that a lot of Murcia and Andalucia is beautiful and you can see the olive country. There a re a lot of little villages to see there.

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US: We want to go to Spain for the first time in 2005. What are the best times of year to go to beat the crowds yet have nice weather??? What towns are a must-see and are there villas that we can rent on the water at a reasonable price??? Thanks.

Mike McCready: A reasonable price for a little beach apartment might be about $7,000 per month in the summer months. If you want more than an apartment it can get very expensive. $15,000 and up for a decent villa or house. The best time of year to beat the crowds and still have good weather is without a doubt, May.

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US: I will be traveling to Valencia on March 6-13. How much of Spain will I be able to see in a week? Do I need to speak Spanish fairly well or is English common there? Any recommendations on things to see and do?

Mike McCready: Most tourist places have people that can generally get by a little bit in English, but taking a good Spanish / English dictionary is a good idea. But if not you will have no trouble. It's not like rural China where you can't find anyone to even understand you. Everyone knows someone who speaks English if they themselves don't.

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Cherry Hill, NJ: I am a woman contemplating a guided tour to Spain this year, but will probably spend some of the time on my own. How safe are the cities in general, but especially for American tourists?

Mike McCready: They are extremely safe. Please just be careful for pickpockets. Petty crime can be a problem and losing your documents can be a nightmare. Keep that stuff in your hotel safe or in an inside pouch under your shirt. Otherwise you should have no problem at all. Oh.. and I don't want to scare anyone because it truly is a very safe place. I've never felt insecure there. But there is a robbery tactic of having someone come up to you and ask directions or something and while you're distracted talking to them they have a partner who may try to take the stuff you've left out of sight. So, be cautious but not scared. No one will try to hurt you.

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Los Angeles, CA: How safe are cities like Madrid and Barcelona compared to Los Angeles in terms of street crime? Also, I'm thinking of visiting areas in the north like San Sebastian and Galacia. As a tourist, should I worry about the separatists in the Basque country? What can you tell me about Galacia?

Mike McCready: Basque terrorists are usually targeting Spanish politicians. In the last couple of years they've tried to hit a couple of tourists areas but it is more of a scare tactic to worry the government about losing tourism money than to actually hurt anyone. They always call the police about 30 minutes before the bomb goes off so the police evacuate everyone from the tourist area. They don't want to get a really bad reputation and kill a lot of innocent people when what they are fight for in the independence of their homeland. People have been injured but rarely killed in these tourist targeting attacks. As I said earlier I have lived in Spain for 18 years and have NEVER felt insecure or in danger. You shouldn't either.

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Huntington, NY: We went to Barcelona and Madrid three years ago we thought that it was dirty and the people weren't nice. In other words, we didn't like it, but we hear so much about Spain that we want to give it another opportunity. What other cities would you recommend to visit? We love to travel alot and we don't mind taking trains, renting cars, but would like a nice and friendly city to visit in Spain.

Mike McCready: Hmmmm... I've never felt that way. IN fact I've felt that Barcelona is a lot cleaner and friendlier than NYC even though I LOVE NYC and spend a lot of time there (like right now). But you might like to try Seville and Toledo and a couple of my personal favorites. Seville is generally kept very well groomed and the streets are lined with Orange trees and when in season make the city so beautiful.

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Whiting, IN: Hello, Mike. My wife and I will be going to Spain for an extended stay (2 to 4 weeks) in the foreseeable future with the intention of learning Spanish in a total immersion setting. This second language will be a professional asset to both of us since we work in the diverse Chicagoland area. Is it practical to learn the Spanish spoken and taught in Spain considering we interact with people mainly from Latin America? If so, can you recommend a language school in a memorable locale? P.S. We are festive, outdoorsy types.

Mike McCready: I think Spanish Spanish as opposed to Latin American Spanish are about as different as British and American English. However the language is the same for the most part. One interesting thing is that in English we hear the difference in accents on the vowels and in Spanish it is on the consonants. In Barcelona there is a great school called ESADE that has some very good intensive courses. You can fide them on the Internet.

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Rochester, NY: We may be traveling to Spain late March or early April. Is there a Mediterranean cruise to one of the nearby islands for 2-3 days that might be reasonable price and yet charming going out of BCN, say the first week of April?

Mike McCready: From Barcelona you can take a hovercraft to the Islands and it only takes a few hours and that gives you time to spend on the Islands. Otherwise you can take an overnight boat both there and back which is nice because if you've rented a car you can take it with you.

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US: What's the value of the dollar today versus last year or two years ago?

Mike McCready: The dollar has gotten weaker to the Euro over the past couple of years. But Europe is still not "expensive" for Americans... or at least no more than it is famous for.

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Orlando, FL: I used to live in Spain, enjoyed it a lot, but I presently am concerned about security and safety issues regarding everyday life in Spain. Also interested in Barcelona, architecture (mainly Gaudi's), and classical music events.

Mike McCready: Please see my previous posts regarding security. Not something to be overly concerned about any more so than in any other major city in the western world. Barcelona and Madrid are very safe cities. Usually there are more murders and violent crime in general in any one major US city each year than in all of Spain combined.

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Long Island, NY: For retirees, when is the best time to visit Spain both weather and budget-wise? Is it vital to be able to speak Spanish? How much would it be to rent a small house with a Mediterranean view for a month?

Mike McCready: A small house with a Mediterranean view can cost from between $10,000 and $20,000 per month in the summer. If you want that in the winter (November - March) it can be very significantly less. I think the best time for budget and weather is April and May.

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Sanford, MI: We have enjoyed Barcelona in the past as well as the Marbella/Malaga area of Costa del Sol. We are thinking of spending some time soon in Seville. Any suggestions for things not to miss there?

Mike McCready: Seville is a great city. The Cathedral is a must see and where one of the King's daughters was married a few years ago.

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Huntsville, AL: Hi Mike, Last May, I spent a month walking the "El Camino" de Santiago. Had a great time!! Enjoyed speaking my very limited Spanish with the locals. My first day out on the way into Roncevalles from St. Jean Pied de Port, I met a couple of guys who were definitely not fellow peregrinos. It turned out they were hiking the Pyrennees, the GR11 or GR10, I believe. It sounded really fascinating. They were hiking the entire width of northern Spain from east to west. I'm really interested in a true backpacking experience. Is it possible to camp and not use the huts? Can you recommend some guidebooks/maps preferably in English? BTW, how long is this and is resupplying a logistical problem? Thanks.

Mike McCready: I don't really know a lot about this but I have friends that do this. I know that resupplying is not a problem at all because there are so many villages along the way. Also, it is possible to camp and not use the huts at the camp sites but you'd need to take your tent or have other shelter plans. Best of luck. Sounds fun!!

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Long Beach, CA.: Mike, my life-long dream has always been to live abroad in Barcelona, Spain. How can I accomplish that goal without having to pay a great amount of money? Do you know of any jobs where I may be able to work or just do voluntary work? I really don't care much about the pay, as long as I have enough to live off of and realize my dream.

Mike McCready: There are a lot of opportunities like this. I know someone who just did this. She found a program in Barcelona that teaches native English speakers how to teach English the Spanish. Then the same school tries to place you with companies that send out teachers to companies and private homes. You should probably go with a little bit of money in your saving account because getting established there to a point where you're making enough money to support yourself can take a while. Also, you'll want to look into legalizing your situation with a work and residency permit after a while so it's best to go there and find a different job as quickly as you can.

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Mike McCready: Thanks for joining me here online. I'm sorry I couldn't get to all of your questions but I hope there's been something for everyone in my answers. - Mike

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