[BARCELONA] — I know I’m in the minority in being a steadfast fan of boutique hotels these days, whilst the rest of you are Airbnb’n, but I still am bullish on the whole hotel experience. In fact, I usually book my vacations around the hotel, often traveling far and wide just to visit a special place. Barcelona has been almost overrun by Airbnbs, so much so that whole apartment buildings are being converted by investors into full-on apartment rentals — much to the scorn of local residents, pushed out by reasonable growing rents. But just before the HomeAway trend hit BCN, a flurry of boutique hotels were built, high on style, funky design and cool restaurants, dramatically increasing this great city’s inventory of cool places
[COSTA BRAVA, SPAIN] — This is a big, long, gnarly post of a whole region. But hopefully, a great overview to start planning your trip here. I haven’t spent a lot of time on the Costa Brava, but passed through here two different times over the span of three months on the way to other places, each time just for a few days. Once for a travel blogger conference in Lloret-del-Mar, another time to return a rental car on the way back from France, slowly picking my way along the coast for a week. So I just got a chance to dip a toe in and explore this beautiful coast. Here’s the best I found for you. Actually, each trip through I didn’t really get a chance
[CATALONIA, SPAIN] — So I was sitting in a cool hotel on the edge of the Sahara one day before I was scheduled to fly back to the States. I’d been on the road for a month in Portugal and Morocco, but I wasn’t ready to go back quite yet. So I cancelled my return flight, flew to Barcelona, walked up to the Hertz desk and asked “Can I rent a car for two months?” “Si! Si, Señor!” I didn’t really have a plan or destination in mind, but I looked at a map and the towering mountains of the Spanish Pyrenees and just headed in that direction. Didn’t really know anything about this area and, with little time for research, I just looked on
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(Madrid) — Perched high on a hill in Parque del Oeste is a true Egyptian temple given to Spain as the Aswan High Damn was about to swallow it up. Now it sits in a perfect park overlooking the hills of Madrid and the Royal Palace. Go at night when it and the Palace are both lit up. Also, there’s a chairlift contraption that takes you further into the parque, which is 2-3 times the size of Madrid itself and is Right There.
(MADRID) — Extremely nice people at the front desk. Amazingly helpful. The room I had was enormous. Great views. Very quiet. Nice bathrooms. Perfect location, easy to get everywhere walking, Gran Via metro stop just a block away. And the San Anton Market is just a couple of blocks away. Hotel de las Letras website. Room Tip: Splurge for the top floor suite #607. Two floors, two terraces. You won’t want to leave.
(Madrid) — I’d read about this redevelopment project a while ago and always wanted to check it out. Long abandoned and gone to seed, several years ago the massive redevelopment transformed the whole river. Over the last several years, it has really come together. What used to be sludgy is now sparkling, with walkways and bridges intertwined along the river, with kids playing, people jogging and chatting. A great place to get away from the crowds, even in the winter. Go at sunset so you can watch the lights of the city come on and the moon rise. Start on the south side, by the new Matedero arts center and move your way up north to the Royal Palace. Delightful way to spend an early evening.Here’s
(Madrid) — Take time out of eating, drinking and shopping to take a long stroll or do some eating or drinking in Madrid’s Parque del Retiro. Beautifully laid out, with different sections that beckon you to keep going on to the next site, there’s lots to see, summer or winter. (These shots are from winter, just imagine what summer looks like.)
(Madrid) — On the western side of Madrid, just below the royal palace is a typical looking European train station, but inside it’s not. The Estacion de Principe Pio was remodeled to incorporate all the metro and commuter rail stations, stacked up on top of each other like a toy train set, with trains criss-crossing above and below you in all different directions. Some of the tracks seem dormant, then all of a sudden a train comes shooting through. Definitely recommend killing a while here just taking it all in. Really is cool.
(MADRID) — Dry Cosmopolitan Bar, the cocktail bar from Javier de las Muelas. I’d read about it when I was in Barcelona last Christmas, put spaced making it there. But this year in Madrid, I saw they’d opened an outpost there and heard it was the bomb for cocktails. It was eerie walking in, almost like “The Shining”, but instead of Lloyd, it was just me and Ricardo. Nobody else in the place. I heard it was packed, always, but maybe it was the holidays, lack of tourists or Spain’s economy. In any case, I had Ricardo all to myself to understand the mysteries of making the perfect martini. The man was a master, going into detail of each step, from “dee ice must be
MERCADO DE SAN MIGUEL — Just like the Boqueria in Barcelona, the Mercado de San Miguel is the perfect place to go back to several times to load up on the best tapas, wine and beer. You just walk from stall to stall, looking for what’s interesting, step up to the bar and eat. Perfect if you’re with a group that can’t decide, everyone can find what they want and meet up at the common eating area. About as easy as it gets, but it can be jammed with people. Just be assertive. LA GABINOTECA — This was my favorite place to eat in Madrid. A very hip new place called La Gabinoteca. Truly a delightful place. When I
(Barcelona) — I debated and debated: “Do I really want to go all the way out there?” Boy, am I glad I did. Park Guell is a park set in the high hills on the edge of Barcelona. It’s a little bit of a hoof, but well worth it when you get there. There’s an amazing Guadi designed pavilion there, trails that loop up and down the mountain and stunning views over the whole city. Just keep going up. You will be rewarded. A great way to spend a half a day.
(Barcelona) — You’ve read about it in your school textbooks. You’ve seen pictures of it. But once you get inside, it all makes sense. Really magical. You should go hang out here, wait for when the sun is out and streaming though the windows. Don’t let the constructions cranes scare you away, they’ll be there for awhile.
(Barcelona) — If you’re going to Barcelona, you’re going to see a lot of Gaudi. After all those schoolbooks and tests, never really got him. Walking around Barcelona with my head up for a week, I do now. These are some shots of two favorite houses along Passeig de Gracia. Casa Mila and it’s rooftop where you can kill hours — make sure you go right at sunset. Just a block or two away, Casa Batlló Here’s a great article in the August 2012 Conde Nast Traveler called 5 Perfect Days in Barcelona and Girona. And another good article in the August 25, 2012 Wall Street Journal called Insider’s Guide to Barcelona.
(BARCELONA) — El Born is a cool, quiet neighborhood away from the crazy crowds. Perfect for walking around, cool shops, mellow restaurants and beautiful streets. There’s a great little square with four or five outdoor cafes, perfect to just sit and watch Barcelona go by. Go here. Here’s a good article from The Guardian. Last visited July 2015
(Barcelona) — Not much more to report here, just a nice surprise I ran into while walking along the waterfront over Christmas time. I don’t think Spielberg’s set designers could have come up with a more perfect looking Old School circus.
(25,000 ft) — Not a big story here, just a nice ride along the edge of the Swiss and French Alps on the way to BCN. On a crystal-clear morning, it felt like you could just reach out and touch ’em.