AnneLise Sorensen, author of 'DK Top Ten: Barcelona,' answered your questions on Barcelona and Catalonia.
AnneLise Sorensen: Hola--this is AnneLise, and thanks for joining me. Whether you're a first-time visitor or a smitten regular, Barcelona has a way of seducing all who pass through. As a travel writer and editor, I'm often asked two questions: 1) How do you become a travel writer? and 2) What's your favorite city in the world? The first question deserves its own forum, so that's for another day, but the second question is easy: Barcelona. Like many artists and writers before me--Miró, Dalí, Picasso, to name a few--I'm passionate about the Catalan capital. As for my roots, I'm half-Catalan myself: I grew up summering with grandparents, aunts, uncles and 20-plus cousins in and around Barcelona. And, I also cover Spain for guidebooks and magazines, including DK Top 10: Barcelona. I look forward to answering your questions about my favorite city, so bring them on!
Denver, Colo.: My husband and I will be celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary next year and want to go for a 7 - 10 day long trip (without our 3-year-old daughter!). We are thinking about going somewhere along the Mediterranean where we can meander through cute little towns, enjoy the water and views, eat incredible food, and drink lots of wine. We would like to stay in some local inns but wouldn't mind a splurge for a night or two on a luxury hotel. Our anniversary is in August but we're thinking a trip in fall will help us avoid crowds and heat. We're on a budget so we're looking for a destination area that will not drain our bank account. Where would you recommend?
Thanks so much for any advice!
AnneLise Sorensen: Jen, congratulations on your anniversary! First, one option is to spend a few days in Barcelona--which has an excellent mix of reasonably priced lodging and splurge-worthy hotels--and then meander north up the Costa Brava. As a natural phenomenon, this coast is gorgeous--all craggy bluffs, secluded coves, and transparent blue water. If you'd like a more intimate experience, skip the first set of tourist-packed towns north of Barcelona, like Blanes and Lloret de Mar, where it may be hard to see the sand for all the oiled throngs. Instead, push on to Tamariu, a sleepy beach town that has retained its village character, and after a languid day or two here, continue on to lovely Cadaques, with whitewashed houses and waterfront cafes, where you can tuck into the fresh catch of the day washed down with local wines. While you're here, don't miss the surreal and captivating Museu Teatre Salvador Dali, which lies in Figueres, a short distance inland.
Another option after hanging out in Barcelona is to head south to Tarragona and the Costa Daurada, which is an oft-overlooked coast, and therefore can yield some excellent deals. En route, you'll pass the laid-back beach town of Sitges, with cheery waterfront restaurants that serve up tasty paellas topped with fresh seafood, and plenty of Spanish wines. Further south lies Tarragona, once an ancient Roman stronghold, which sits on a rocky hill overlooking the sea, and offers an enticing mix of historic architecture and sun-speckled beach. As for timing--yes, you've made the right decision to come here in September, which is the ideal time to travel, as you can still enjoy the summer weather, but with far fewer crowds and, often, much better deals. Enjoy your anniversary in the Mediterranean!
Hanford, Calif.: I'm going with a large group of friends in September to Barcelona. We know that the club/party scene will be amazing but I was wondering what are some of the best sites to see and things to do that are not party related. I don't want our entire time in Barcelona to be spent in the clubs and recovering the next day. What are some of the fun things to do besides partying on Las Ramblas?
AnneLise Sorensen: Hola--once you've had your fill of the buzzy party and club scene, I'd suggest that you hit at least a couple of architect Antoni Gaudi's captivating creations, including the otherworldly Sagrada Familia. Also, stroll up stately Passeig de Gracia for a glimpse of more Modernista marvels, both by Gaudi and other Catalan architects. As for museums, head to the intriguing MACBA (the contemporary art museum), a gleaming, cutting-edge cultural center that sparked an urban revival in the El Raval district. Other interesting museums include the Picasso Museum, which focuses on the artist's formative years, offering the chance to discover Picasso as he was discovering himself. And, if you've been out late the night before, consider relaxing (a long siesta, perhaps?) at the Parc de la Ciutadella, a central, leafy respite with plenty of grass, walking paths and an eye-catching Modernista fountain. Enjoy your visit!
Deering, N.H.: We have tickets to see a concert at the Palau de la Musica. Would you recommend taking the tour as well?
AnneLise Sorensen: You're in for a memorable night. Watching a concert at the Palau de la Musica will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of your trip to Barcelona. The city's Modernista movement reached its aesthetic culmination in this magnificent concert hall by architect Domenech i Muntaner--and so, yes, I absolutely recommend that you take the tour as well. In fact, if your concert is in the evening, then make sure to take a tour during the day for the chance to truly appreciate the architectural details. Particularly impressive is to view the sunlight streaming through the concert hall's stained-glass inverted dome ceiling surrounded by 40 angels. Enjoy!
Charleston, S.C.: Partially aided by your wonderful book, I fell in love with Barcelona during a visit this past May. So much so, that I want to live there for the first 4-6 months of 2008. Any suggestions for pursuing volunteer and internship positions there? For decent, inexpensive housing? For Spanish language classes? For tutoring English on the side? (I'm a college English instructor.) Un mil gracias.
AnneLise Sorensen: Hola--and gracias for the kind words about my book. I can well understand falling in love with Barcelona--that seems to happen to me every time I'm in the city. I think it's a wonderful idea to live in Barcelona--you may even find your six months turning into a year, and then two years, and, well, you get the idea. You'll find plenty of decent, inexpensive housing, and to start out I suggest that you peruse the university bulletin boards, which are littered with offers for rentals and flatshares. There are six universities in Barcelona, but try the central branch first--which has a lovely, leafy courtyard--on Placa de la Universitat, near the Universitat metro stop. In addition to the classifieds in all the major papers, pick up Barcelona Metropolitan Magazine, which is the city's oldest English-language magazine, and has plenty of tips for finding an apartment and on other aspects of "ex-pat" life in the Catalan capital. Check out their webpage as well--barcelona-metropolitan.com--to find useful resources. Also worth perusing is loquo.com, a type of "Craig's list" for Barcelona, with numerous listings.
As for tutoring English on the side, with your credentials, I think you're very well poised to do so--and you can make a decent living at it as well. There are several routes you can take: The Institute of North American Studies is a great first stop, as they are often looking for qualified teachers. Do note, however, that they require you to have a work visa. Another option--and this works remarkably well--is to post a short ad about yourself and your qualifications on the bulletin boards of English-language bookstores, such as BCN Books (Roger de Lluria 118) and Come In (Provença 203). Once you have a few students, word of mouth will usually carry you on to more teaching jobs.
Best of luck with your Barcelona adventure!
Qualicum Beach, British Columbia: We are hoping to travel to Barcelona next Spring Break for a week after staying in Nice, France. My husband, 12-year-old son and I definitely travel in "budget" style. We are hoping to rent an apt. for the duration of our stay. Is there one area that you would recommend for a family without a car?
Thanks so much,
AnneLise Sorensen: First of all, it's a great idea to rent an apartment, especially if you're traveling in budget style. For furnished apartments for both for short- and long-term stays, try the friendly, local agency Habit Servei (C Muntaner 200, 93/209-5488, habitservei.com); the general cost is usually around 700 Euros and up per month. Note that you'll also see "aparthotels," around town; while central and well-appointed, these apartment-style hotels generally cater to upscale business travelers, so they may be out of your budget range. And speaking of budget, do also note that the city is crammed with cozy, very reasonable "hostales", which may be a good option for your family. Make sure to ask if they have discounts for longer stays, as many places offer cheaper rates if you stay for more than three nights. The cheerful, family-run Hostal Oliva (Pg de Gracia 32, 93/488-0162, lasguias.com) sits in a Moderniste building smack in the middle of stylish Passeig de Gracia--and you'll be paying just a fraction of the price of those staying in the nearby upscale hotels.
As for where to stay in the city: Barcelona is marvelously compact, so if your apartment is anywhere near the city centre--in or around the Old Town, Las Ramblas, Placa Catalunya, the Eixample, and Gracia--you can walk to many of the top sights and shopping areas. Note, however, that even if you stay further afield (say, in the "zona alta", or "upper zone") you'll almost always find a metro line or an FGC train (these are local Catalan trains) near you. Both the metro and FGC run until midnight Sun-Thur, and until 2am Fri-Sat.
Best of luck with your budget adventures!
Charlottesville, Va.: My family of four--2 adults and 2 teens (ages 15 and 17)--would like to plan a trip to Spain next March (21-30). High on the list is a soccer match. If we visit 3 cities (i.e. Madrid, Barcelona & Valencia), will the season be in progress? How do you get tickets in advance?
AnneLise Sorensen: As futbol enthusiasts, you've picked the right country--and your timing works well, too. The soccer season is between mid-September and mid-May. FC Barcelona, or Barça, plays its matches, as I'm sure you well know, at the legendary and massive Camp Nou stadium, and to watch a match here is a memorable experience, especially if it's against their arch-rivals, Real Madrid. To buy tickets in advance, check the FC Barcelona website, fcbarcelona.com, which has details on buying tickets online, and also at the stadium itself. Note that they sometimes offer same-day tickets. Try Real Madrid's website, realmadrid.com for tickets to their games.
And, even if you don't get a chance to see a match at Camp Nou, it's well worth visiting the stadium and touring the Museu FC Barcelona (Aristides Maillol 7/9, 902/1899 00, metro: Collblanc) which has a huge array of trophies, photographs and audio-visual displays of the century-old club. Learn FC Barcelona's slogans--"Mes que un club" ("More than a club") and "Visca el Barca!" ("Go Barca!") and you'll make new Catalan futbol buddies in no time.
Overland Park, Kans.: I would like to take my daughter to Barcelona at the end of September for a week. She is a chef in NYC with an impressive resume and can be a bit of a food snob. Who am I kidding? She comes home to Kansas, and I get sick thinking about eating out with her, she is so critical. I'm not a foodie, but would like to take her to a few really special places in Barcelona. I got the idea of taking her when I saw the market in Las Ramblas. I would rather it not be the most well-known, expensive places she has probably heard of, but rather hidden gems. Any ideas? Thank you.
AnneLise Sorensen: Dear foodie's mom,
Barcelona is brimming with culinary surprises--and one of the choicest spots for market-fresh Catalan cuisine is, in fact, the very market you mention on Las Ramblas--the pungent, cacophonous La Boqueria. Tucked away in the market are a variety of small, lively tapas bars, where you can pull up a stool and dive into tasty Catalan fare that's been whisked right over from the nearby market stalls. For further details, check out my article "Browsing La Boqueria."
As for restaurants, if you're up for a splurge, try Abac (Rec 79-89, in the Born-Ribera neighborhood), where chef Xavier Pellicer serves up inventive takes on traditional Catalan favorites. Buen provecho!
Stuart, Fla.: Anybody can shop at Armani and Chanel. We will be in Barcelona from the 1st through the 5th of July and want to visit truly Spanish designers. Any ideas? We prefer clothing of high quality, taste and sophistication. We have discovered new designers in Milan and Florence but this is our first venture in Spain. Thank you for your help.
AnneLise Sorensen: Sarah, you're absolutely right: you can find Armani and Chanel everywhere--including in Barcelona--but when in Spain, why not go Spanish? Head to Passeig de Gracia and the Eixample, the stylish street and shopping neighborhood that unfolds north of Placa Catalunya. Here you'll find all the fashion heavy-hitters, plus a variety of Spanish designers, including the high-end Adolfo Dominguez (two locations: Pg de Gracia 35 and Av Diagonal 570). Designer Toni Miro has a sleek store named Groc (two locations: Muntaner 382 and Rambla de Catalunya 100) which showcases modern threads for men, women and children. David Valls (C Valencia 235) also features a number of up-and-coming Spanish designers. Another area you might want to explore is the Gracia neighborhood, sprinkled with unique boutiques, many of which have clothing, shoes and accessories by Spanish and Catalan designers. And--a reminder that the funky, rubber-soled Camper shoes are Spanish (in fact, Mallorcan) so if you're fan, this is the place to buy 'em! Have fun shopping in Barcelona.
Princeton, N.J.: I am going to Barcelona in October...how many days do I need in the city to get the most from the trip i.e.: flavor of the culture, good sampling of the museums, historical sites, restaurants, night life, sports, etc? I enjoy walking and getting to know the locals and am fluent in Spanish.
AnneLise Sorensen: I'd say that you'd need at least five full days and nights in Barcelona to enjoy the flavor the city--this gives you enough time to visit the top Gaudi sights, along with a couple of museums, and then have ample time for leisurely evenings over tapas at outdoor restaurants. Of course, if you can extend your visit, then you could easily spend as long as two weeks here--or longer--and find plenty to fill your days. Enjoy Barcelona!
Seattle, Wash.: Hi. I have plans to go Barcelona for the weekend of October 3-5 for a concert. Please give advice on were to stay that is clean and cheap.
AnneLise Sorensen: Leticia, Barcelona is jam-packed with budget hostales and pensiones, particularly in the Old Town. One recommended spot is the Hostal Residencia Rembrandt (C Portaferrissa 23, 93/318-1011); you could also try Hostal Jardi (Pl Sant Josep Oriol, 93/301-5900). Enjoy the concert--and Barcelona!
Cherry Hill, N.J.: We will get to spend only 2 days in Barcelona, Spain this October. What do you suggest for a couple of first time visitors? Also, is there anything we should be wary of?
AnneLise Sorensen: Hola--with two days, I would suggest that you spend at least a morning or afternoon strolling Las Ramblas, from the sea to Placa Catalunya, and the Gothic Quarter to view the lovely cathedral, which rises above Placa de la Seu. A hint: if you visit on Saturday (around 6pm) or Sunday (around noon), keep your eyes peeled for people dancing the sardanes, Catalonia's regional dance. I'd also fit in a visit to at least one of architect Antoni Gaudi's fanciful creations--the Sagrada Familia, for example--along with a stroll on stately Passeig de Gracia, which is peppered with numerous Modernista buildings. As for museums, it depends on your interests, but as I've recommended to other readers, try the Museu Picasso, which is housed in a medieval palace complex.
As for what should you be wary of? Barcelona is relatively safe, but do be especially careful of your belongings when you're roaming Las Ramblas and the Old Town, where theft, generally by pickpocketers, can occur. Carry as little cash as possible, and what you do carry keep in a moneybelt or in a bag that's securely strapped across your front. Note that pickpocketers often work tag-team style, so that while one is catching your attention (a tap on the shoulder, spilling water at your table) the other could be swiping your wallet. Again, Barcelona is generally quite safe, but it always pays (quite literally!) to be cautious. Bon viatge!
Georgetown, Del.: I cannot drive. What are some transportation options for traveling between cities and sightseeing?
AnneLise Sorensen: Spain's train system, Renfe, is fast and efficient, and makes for an excellent way to travel between cities. Check their website, renfe.es, for details. Within Barcelona, you're spoiled for choice: there's the five-line metro system, which is convenient, easy-to-use and extensive; no matter where you are in the city, you'll likely be near a metro stop. You can also try the hop-on, hop-off Bus Turistic, which offers an excellent overview of the city. Have a good time in Barcelona!
San Francisco, Calif.: Dear AnneLise,
A friend's been badgering me to visit Spain. He doesn't speak Spanish, but is depending on mine (Mom's from Guatemala) to get us around. My questions concern going to Barcelona. If the native language there is Catalan, do Catalonians speak Spanish? Is it a wrong assumption that Catalan is a dialect of Spanish? Just wondering whether you think I'll understand Catalan and whether Catalonians will understand me if I speak in Spanish. I'll probably still go either way, since I've heard Barcelona is such a beautiful, lively, cultural city; it'd just be neat to know ahead of time. I intend to get your book, too. Thanks, Trip Coach!
AnneLise Sorensen: Miguel,
Hola--I'll begin by saying "Bon tarde" ("Good afternoon") and "Encantat!" ("Good to meet you!") Firstly, yes, all Catalonians speak Spanish fluently, so you'll easily be able to converse with everyone as a Guatemalan-Spanish speaker. And, that's right: Catalan is not dialect of Castillano, but a language in its own right--in fact, many linguists say that it's older that Castillano.
All that said, most of the street signs and metro stops are in Catalan, and much of the local news is also in Catalan. The El Periodico newspaper publishes both a Castillano and a Catalan version, which offers an interesting chance to compare the two languages.
After a couple of days, you'll likely find yourself adapting quickly, and even picking up a phrase (or three!) to impress the folks back home. And, you'll also impress the Catalanes themselves: try out a few Catalan greetings, and you'll be greeted with warm smiles. A few phrases to get you started:
- Em dic...
My name is...
- How do you say ... in Catalan?
Com es diu en català?
- Bona sort! Molta sort!
P.S. If I had to pick one other city that reminds me most of Barcelona, I'd say it would be yours: San Francisco!
New Ulm, Minn.: Does Barcelona have a "City Tour" hop on & off bus and if so, is it worth it to get a quick overview?
AnneLise Sorensen: Yes, the colorful Bus Turistic is a top-notch way to get around town, offering a great overview of the city, with routes through the north and south, and also a new one around the Port area. You can hop on and off at your leisure throughout the route; a central place to pick up the bus is in Placa Catalunya.
Portland, Maine: I will be in Barcelona for a week in October. I love taking day trips or other side trips on vacation. Some of the areas I'm looking to visit could include Valencia and the Dali museum. Are there any other day trips you would suggest?
AnneLise Sorensen: Hola--Day trips from Barcelona are an excellent way to explore Catalonia: I highly recommend the Dali museum, so that's a first choice, and here are a few others:
- The Montserrat monastery, northwest of Barcelona, is perched amid surreal, spectacular rocky peaks, which almost resemble giant, dribbled sandcastles. The 11th-century monastery itself is worthy of a visit, as is the nature park that surrounds it, which is crisscrossed by walking trails. Regular buses and trains travel here from Barcelona.
- You've probably seen Freixenet (in its signature black bottle) and Codorniu cava, especially around New Year's Eve. This is Catalonia's answer to champagne, and if you'd like to sample the Catalan bubbly at the source, head to the lovely Alt Penedes region, west of Barcelona, which is home to all of the region's cava wineries. You can tour the wineries, and sip plenty of samples; particularly impressive is the Codorniu winery, housed in a gorgeous Modernista building with a whopping 16 miles of cellars spread out over five floors.
- The sun-speckled beach town of Sitges, south of Barcelona, also makes for a relaxing day trip--and it's just a short train ride away.
Enjoy your time in--and around--Barcelona!
Bronx, N.Y.: Hello, a group of 4 ladies and I are traveling to Barcelona in the end of November. We would like to stay in a bed and breakfast; any place in particular you recommend? We would also like a 1/2 day tour to see La Virgen Negra. Can you recommend a tour that is affordable leaving from Barcelona? Muchas Gracias! Heidi
AnneLise Sorensen: Hola ladies--On bed-and-breakfasts: generally, it's outside of Barcelona, inland and north towards the Pyrenees or along the coast, that you'll find bed-and-breakfasts--or rather, farmhouses called "casa rural," or "casa de pages"; check the Barcelona tourist office for up-to-date listings. Within Barcelona, you'll generally only find hotels, pensiones, hostales or aparthotels. I'm not sure what your budget range is, but if you're up for a splurge, you could try the beautiful Condes de Barcelona (Pg de Gracia 75, condesdebarcelona.com) with a pentagonal lobby and marble floor.
As for seeing La Moreneta, or the Black Virgin, you'll find a number of tours, including those run by Julia (juliatours.es) and Pullmantur (93/318-0241). Note also that you can hop on a train from Plaça Espanya (trains run hourly from 8:30am to 6:30pm), which then connects with a funicular that will take you the rest of the way to Montserrrat.
Enjoy your trip, ladies!
Falls Church, Va.: My husband and I, who are 27 and 26 years old, are planning a week-long trip to Barcelona during the first week of October. Is it warm enough to go swimming at the beach during this time of year? Also, I read there are concerts at the Catalan Concert Hall...are these expensive?
AnneLise Sorensen: Brooke--October is a month where the weather can go either way; in the first half of the month, the warm weather from summer still lingers, and so you may find that it's sunny enough to take a dip in the Mediterranean. In the second half of the month, though, the autumn temperatures can begin to dip, in which case you might find it a tad chilly for a swim.
I highly recommend attending a concert at the Palau de la Musica Catalana; as I mentioned to another reader, a concert at this gorgeous, Modernista concert hall will make for a night to remember. Tickets prices vary, but are generally quite reasonable. Check their website, home.palaumusica.org, for more information and to buy advance tickets. Enjoy!
Columbus, Ohio: A friend and I are planning to go to Barcelona in Sept or Oct, 2008 to celebrate our 45th birthdays. (Her first trip to Barcelona; my second.) We'd like to spend about 10 days there and, instead of a hotel, we're considering renting a flat in the Old Quarter/Las Ramblas area. Is there a rental management company you'd recommend? There seems to be so many I don't know where to start! Also, what's your opinion on going in Sept vs. Oct? Last question: What day trips should we investigate? We both enjoy museums, local flea markets, sightseeing and good food. And both of us are pretty adventurous when it comes to exploring new cities.
Thanks for your help!
AnneLise Sorensen: Amanda! Congratulations on your joint 45th birthdays! As I've recommended to another reader, for furnished apartments for both for short- and long-term stays, try the local agency Habit Servei (C Muntaner 200, 93/209-5488, habitservei.com). As for dates, I think both September and October are great months to travel to Barcelona: You'll find September to be a tad warmer, of course, but overall this is an excellent time of year to be in Catalonia, because there are fewer crowds, more discounts, and relatively balmy weather. Barcelona is perfectly positioned as a base for day trips, so you'll find a wealth of options. This is a popular question today, and I've recommended a variety of day trips to several readers--so check my answers to them for more details--but in a nutshell I suggest day trips to the phenomenal Dali Museum in Figueres; to the captivating Montserrat monastery; and to sun-washed Sitges and the Daurada Coast, among others. And by the way, if you like flea markets, you'll find that Barcelona has a range of colorful flea markets, including Mercat Gotic, in Placa de la Seu, which fills the plaza in front of the cathedral on Thursdays; and the large Els Encants, on Placa de les Glories on Mon, Wed, Fri and Sat. Have a great trip!
Lexington, S.C.: I will be in Barcelona for 2 days prior to a cruise in September. What are the top spots my mother (age 81) and I would like to see? Any non-touristy tips for restaurants and/or sightseeing? We prefer doing on our own rather than large tour groups.
AnneLise Sorensen: Hola--With two days, I suggest you visit at least one Gaudi sight, along with flower-filled Las Ramblas and the Old Town; check out my answer to the reader in Cherry Hills, NJ, for more. As for restaurant and sightseeing tips: Many of the touristy eateries (hint: laminated, quadrilingual menus are a giveaway that they're targeting tourists!) along Las Ramblas tend to have inflated prices; instead try the tapas bars and restaurants nestled in the smaller streets of the Old Town. (As I mentioned to another reader--though this area is relatively safe, please remember to always be cautious with your belongings.) As for sightseeing: Note that a number of museums and sights are closed on Mondays. And, as with everywhere in the world, to avoid the crowds try visiting early in the morning, just after a sight opens, or at the end of the day, a couple of hours before closing. Bon viatge!
Long Island, N.Y.: Hello! We are taking our 3 daughters--ages 10, 13, and 15--to Barcelona during Christmas week of this year. We would like to do a "tapas crawl" with the girls but we really need tapas that would appeal to our children. Anything vegetarian or with seafood is fine. "Mystery meat" and pork are definitely out. Do you have any suggestions of a route that would could follow and different tapas that would appeal to kids? Thanks!
AnneLise Sorensen: You're in luck! Tapas offer a varied, bite-sized introduction to Catalan cuisine, allowing you and the kids to sample to your heart's content. And, many of the more popular tapas appeal to children of all ages. Start off with the tortilla de patatas--Spain's comfort food--a round, thick potato omelette, cut into wedges like a pizza. Kids will gobble it up--as will adults, especially if you add a generous dollop of alioli (in Catalan, this translates as "garlic and oil"), a rich garlic mayonnaise. Creamy chicken or ham croquettes are also perfect for little fingers, as is pa am tomaquet, bread smeared with tomato and drizzled in olive oil. If your daughters have a sweet tooth, let them do as Catalan kids do and sip a Cacaolat, a rich chocolate milk concoction, or orxata, a milky white beverage made from tiger nut. And since you'll be here in winter, you might also like to try the hot chocolate, which isn't just rich, but thick as pudding. Try dunking churros, beveled sticks of fried dough, into it. The best spots to indulge are at the chocolaterías along Carrer Petrixol, off Carrer Portaferrisa in the Gothic Quarter.
As for your tapas crawl, you'll find oodles of options, but perhaps the most enjoyable way to tuck into these baby bites is at an outdoor spot, where you can partake in Barcelona's balmy weather. Las Ramblas is dotted with tapas bars, but they tend to be overpriced. So, while you should undoubtedly stroll this celebrated pedestrian street--your daughters will delight in it for the sheer entertainment value, what with all the human statue performers and jugglers--start your tapas crawl north of Placa Catalunya, along the genteel, tree-lined Rambla Catalunya--popular with Catalan families--or on the elegant Passeig de Gracia, where you can graze on tapas on outdoor terraces in view of colorful, undulating Modernista buildings. Try the perennially popular Qu Qu (Pg de Gracia 24, 93/317-4512), which serves up oozing, three-cheese croquettes. You'll also find top-notch tapas as you prowl the narrow streets of the Old Town, including the lively Cal Pep (Pl de les Olles 8, 93/310-7961) and boisterous El Xampanyet (C Montcada 22, 93/319-7003). Buen provecho!
Tampa, Fla.: Hello, I'm traveling to Barcelona in October with my niece. I've been to Spain before, so I know that Corte Ingles is the main department store, but I'd rather shop at a store that's not so large. Where else can you shop and find gifts or souvenirs in Barcelona?
AnneLise Sorensen: Hola--the massive, well-stocked El Corte Ingles is great for one-stop (or last-minute) shopping, but it can be somewhat impersonal. Let's start out with what to buy--one word: leather. Spain is well-known for its high-quality leather at reasonable prices, so I would indulge in at least one pair of shoes or a handbag while you're here; Passeig de Gracia and Bulevard Rosa (a high-end mini-mall on Pg de Gracia) are dotted with upscale shops; Loewe (Pg de Gracia 35) has quality leather goods. If you'd like to go the budget route, try Av Portal del Angel or C Pelayo, which are both chock-a-block with discount shoe stores. And speaking of footwear, why not pick up a pair of Spain's traditional, rope-soled alpargatas, better known by their French name espadrilles? These days, particularly in New York and London, colorful espadrilles seem to be starring in display windows everywhere. Here in Barcelona, you can get them at half the price and in myriad styles; one of my favorite spots is La Manual Alpargatera, an old-style cobbler haven in the Gothic Quarter, where you'll find basic to fancy alpargatas, starting for as low as 8 Euros. For more, check out an article I wrote: "The Soul is in the Sole."
As for unique souvenirs, peruse Montfalcon, La Rambla 111, a historic store that sells traditional Spanish fans, from lavish lacquered ones to basic wooden numbers. Another great gift is turron, Spain's traditional nut-and-nougat candy, which you can purchase at Casa Colomina (C Portaferrisa 8), which was established in 1908. (Note: pick up the non-oily variety for easier transport home in your suitcase.)
Rock Falls, Ill.: I'm heading with a group of 8 friends to Barcelona at the beginning of August. I'm not a shopper, nor do I feel profoundly compelled to do tons of site seeing. I just want to chill out with my friends in some place with character and possibly live music. Any recommendations? I also speak Castellano Spanish. Would it be better for me to make attempts to speak to Catalan speakers in Spanish or just stick to English? I don't want to offend anyone, and I know I don't have enough time to pick up enough Catalan to get me by between now and then.
AnneLise Sorensen: Korah, to chill out in Catalan nightspots with character, I suggest either the Raval or the El Born/La Ribera neighborhoods, both of which exude Old Town character, but without quite the number of tourist crowds that you'll sometimes find in some other parts of the Gothic Quarter. For a proper martini and maybe some alterative jazz, try the bars and cafes along and around Passeig de Born, like the 1950s-style Gimlet (C Rec 24). For ethnic and world music in a groovesome, laid-back setting, kick back at Al Limon Negro (C Escudellers Blancs 3), north of El Born. In El Raval, try Marsella, a dimly lit Modernista bar, which serves up cocktails and absinthe to crusty regulars--and travelers in the know. Finally, though the secret has long been out about London Bar (C Nou de la Rambla 34), this cluttered, amiable watering hole--once a hangout of the likes of Hemingway, Picasso, and Miro--is a cool spot to ease into the evening to the accompaniment of live jazz and folk.
As for speaking Spanish--yes, by all means feel free to chat with Catalanes in Spanish, as everyone here is bilingual in Catalan and Castillano. And, as I mentioned to Miguel from San Francisco in a previous post here, if you pick up a few phrases in Catalan, you'll be sure to make plenty new local amics (amigos).
Phoenix, Ariz.: My last trip, with an aunt, to Barcelona taught we why they called hostals "HOSTILE". Can you suggest affordable hotels at good prices, for the trip I am planning next summer with my husband? We love Gaudi and street fairs, but sure won't book that same place.
AnneLise Sorensen: Sorry to hear about your experience. A note about hostals in Spain: hostal or pension in Spanish is, in fact, more of an inexpensive hotel, very different from a hostel (as in youth hostel), as we say in English. In Catalan, a youth hostel is called an Alberg (which is often accompanied by an English sign saying "youth hostel"). That said, while quite basic, most hostales in Spain offer the best accommodation deals--so if you're looking for affordable, that's usually the way to go. I've recommended several hostales in my earlier posts, so do look at my previous answers for further options. One central, reasonably priced hotel is Hotel Suizo (Pl de l'Angel 12, 93/310-6108, gargallo-hotels.com); ask for a room with balcony to enjoy lofty views of the plaza below. And, if you'd like to go more budget, you could try the simple, family-owned Hostal Ciudad Condal (C Mallorca 255), in the Eixample neighborhood; for some quiet, opt for a room facing the interior courtyard and garden. Enjoy your stay!
AnneLise Sorensen: It's time for me to say adios. Thanks for joining me today, and best of luck on your visit to Barcelona and Catalonia. I regularly write (and wine-taste) my way across Spain--and the rest of the globe; if you'd like more information or links to my articles and guidebooks, email me at email@example.com.