E: Kate Lisa Lola Barcelona – Spain

IMG_6503

Great history, incredible food and vibrant people, why don’t people obsess over Barcelona like they do Paris or Rome?

The root of my fascination with Barcelona stems from the 2008 Woody Allen film ‘Vicky Christina Barcelona’. The eccentric characters, ambient music and panning camera shots of Gaudi’s buildings were more than enough to carve a romanticized Barcelona firmly in my mind. Any mention of the film within my circle of friends almost instantly leads to ‘Isn’t that the film with a threesome?’. However, what my good friends fail to acknowledge, is in accompaniment to Penelope Cruz’s alluring accent and charm, the film showcased the city in a way which I had not seen or thought about before. Barcelona was portrayed as an amorous beacon of culture, composed of streets exuding life and character. Much like the way many people view Paris, but Barcelona drenched in the Mediterranean sun appeared far more enticing in my eyes.

I had been invited to Barcelona courtesy of my good German friend Lola, who had spent the previous year studying something related to finance within the city. Lola seemed the perfect match for Barcelona, motivated and positive, yet very easy-going. Always appearing in control of whatever situation she would find herself in. My first ever encounter with her was during university in Singapore, I was invited to tag along with a trip to Cambodia via a mutual friend. I had been invited to this trip regardless of Lola’s opinion. Showing up to her flat one night, having never even being properly introduced, she smiled at me as if she had known me for years, offered me a beer and handed over their flight details. I approved.

Lola was caught up in a job interview at the time of my arrival but I had previously assured her that I would be capable of temporarily surviving in a foreign city despite her absence, and would locate a bite to eat until she finished her tasks. The coach from the airport dropped me off in the city centre and within two minutes of strolling the side streets off La Rambla I was in love.

Bustling with people, much like any other city, it was busy but somehow in a different way. Unlike the people back home, the crowds here did not seem to be in a particular rush to be anywhere. The usual composition of suits and ties were almost completely absent from sight. Youngsters whizzed past on skateboards and scooters unsupervised, something unheard of back in London. Shockingly even the tourists blended in to some degree, due perhaps to the large mix of people and my good mood.

Whilst weaving in and out of side streets, I discovered a little side door to a 365 café. “Great, a distinctive name that Lola will easily be able to find,” I thought to myself. A ping from my phone’s speaker alerted me that Lola was headed to the café now. Unfortunately however, a good deal of time had passed since I had finished the remaining crumbs of my baguette, and there was still no sign of Lola. The café was much nicer than the chains we had at home so I had presumed it was an independent store. I was wrong. 365 cafés can be found almost everywhere in Barcelona.

When Lola did eventually manage to hunt me down, it was glorious to see her again. Suddenly all the imagery from the previous times we had spent together was vivid once again. In true Lola style I was not surprised in the slightest when her first suggestion was “I have some friends who are at the beach right now, they’re playing volleyball, we can join them if you want.” Once again, I approved.

The evening was spent drinking beer and failing at playing volleyball near Port Olympic de Barcelona. The easy-going atmosphere of the city was echoed by the beach and refreshing compared to the drab weather back home, I felt ever so happy and relaxed to be there. I was treated to some German ‘Spätzle’, and watermelon for dinner, before heading to the bus terminal to meet the others. Approaching us at full velocity in the darkness, Kate and Lisa let us know they had arrived.

Lola’s flat despite lacking much space was incredibly charming. Room and corridor floors were blanketed by colourful tiles, adding to its Spanish charm. The miniature balcony overlooked a labyrinth of rooftops and gardens, which housed various plant pots and odd furniture. One even became an extension of a nearby bar at night. A breakfast of muesli and local fruit on Lola’s miniature balcony kick-started our day of exploration of the gothic quarter of the city. Many of the buildings here date back to Medieval times and some go as far back as the Roman era.

Although it was difficult to divert my attention from the movement on the streets and the stonework surrounding us, glancing above at the residents in their balconies was my favourite component of the morning. A young couple played cards together on a small table, while sipping beer. A woman stepped outside for a quick cigarette, herself checking out the entertainment the street traffic below had to offer. An older couple dined together whilst sharing conversation. The neighbourhood was brought to life simply by these people stepping onto their balconies, sharing small personal moments of their lives with the outside world. They gave the neighbourhood a personality. Suddenly ‘knowing’ the people who lived there made the buildings so much more intriguing. Seeing short glimpses of their lives left me curious to find out more, how long had they been there? What profession do they have? When did they first buy the plants on their balconies?

IMG_6288

We proceeded to gather the required picnic materials from a grocery store nearby, later reconvening with some of Lola’s friends from the previous day at Parc de la Ciutadella. After we finished deliberating where to sit down in the shade, a man took his place at the foot of the tree adjacent to us and began to play his guitar. Talk about hitting the jackpot. He was not a busker, there was no hat or guitar case in sight, he had just come to the park with the sole intention to play music, as a Londoner, this again was an idea I found difficult to comprehend.

Where to get your groove on: El Bombón is a lively salsa bar set in the gothic quarter which offers the perfect getaway from the typical Top 40 clubbing scene. Incredibly affordable €2 Mojitos and an exciting Latin atmosphere should make this place a must on your to do list.

Table tennis in the afternoon sun was a satisfying (and free) way to spend a couple of hours. Food combined with a bit of friendly competition had left me in a content mood. However, this calm feeling was cut short upon our return to the flat as Lola commanded us to put on our running shoes and depart before sunset. Running is such a brilliant way to see a new city. By the time you get the chance to blink, your surroundings change and you find yourself on a completely different street. Lola being familiar with the layout of the streets led us from the heart of the town to the seafront.

The transition of the whole city from day to night was clearly visible from our viewpoint at the base of the W hotel building. The lights initially emerged like distant stars scattered on the peaks behind the city, increasing in frequency as you followed the slope towards the shore. The combination of the rugged terrain’s natural beauty and the electric influence of the cityscape brought the picture to life. Saddened at the fact I was without my camera, a quick plunge into the seawater made me feel much better, despite the fact we were now soaking wet and had nothing to dry ourselves with before commencing the run back home.

  • Sample the local cuisine at: Bitacora With mouth-watering food, drinks and dessert for roughly €20 per person, Bitacora was undoubtedly the best food we had during the trip. Options include tantalisingly spiced potatoes, fresh mussels and tangy green peppers. The restaurant offers a great casual setting with outdoor seating available during the summer.
  • Gotta be a tourist: Learning about Gaudi’s visions of having the scenes of the bible illustrated on the façades of the Sagrada Família through the audio guide was fascinating. Subtle elements which were not obvious at first became illuminated through the explanations. For example the glass at the top of the building behind the alter was left unstained so as to symbolise the pure light from heaven, and the columns and ceiling were crafted in an attempt to recreate the scenery of a forest (pictures below).
  • Gotta be a tourist again: Despite the swarms of people Park Guel is still worth a visit. It was essentially Gaudi’s idea of the ideal housing complex, complete with a central market for residents to be encouraged to interact. Financial instability prevented the project from completion, leaving only the first two buildings constructed (top picture).
Advertisements

The High Life in Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz early summer this year was stunning, at first glance the city seems much like the rest of Tenerife, confused and slightly out of place. Yet if you take some time out to just explore the microcapital by foot Santa Cruz’s exotic warmth manages to charm you like no place can. The Retro council flat style apartments aren’t an eyesore at all like back home, painted in bright colours with chunky designs. All of Santa Cruz feels like a movie set. You can go from central LA to Gotham to Rio, to London and back again in no time at all. Very surreal yet very exciting.

Once you start it’s difficult to stop, your curiosity takes hold of you and you want to take a peek at every street. We stumbled into three communal gardens shared by blocks of flats. Old women were sat outside knitting, children played by the doorsteps, the neighbours yelling greetings at each other. All this time surrounded in lush foreign flora and newly painted pavements. The layout of the living space was so open and social. Whilst pacing across you occasionally catch a glance of Tenerife’s red mountains peering over you.

Then there’s the landmark theatre which simply demands your attention. Inside it’s sleek modern, much like a spaceship. The plazas that surround it are filled with families resting and simply enjoying their day. The people seem calm yet fast paced. Almost relaxed but simply getting things done efficiently.

It amazed me how quickly my opinion changed as we pulled into the city where I was judgmental and dissaproving then four paces out of the bus I was immersed in the feel of the place. My advice, don’t go on a typical tenerife holiday sun, sand and the chlorine. Take a city break like no other and if you demand a beach head to Playa en Teresitas a huge man made beach coated in African sand and coconut palms. The whole city is a wrongly understated surprise.

Streets lined with both Canarian and foreign palm treesI’m still drunk (for the first time) in this picture, can you tell?Communal GardensAuditorio de Tenerife looks different from every angleThe typical red mountains of Tenerife in the backdrop,An Example of the Retro Architecture in Santa CruzYou can see the contrasting green housing block in the backgroundThe landmark is small, but seems large, and smallAll small gardens impressedThe Central Bus terminal felt more like an airport

Tenerife, The Island With An Identity Crisis

Now don’t get me wrong, jetting off to Tenerife for a whole week with some great friends was a blast. I had the best time and was too out of it to pitch in any complaints about the devastating effect tourism has had on the south of the island.  The level of sophisticated architecture is below zero, every building seemed as if it had drawn it’s inspiration from a variation of Cycladic, Spanish, Grand Theft Auto style and British warehouse designs. (Skip to the end for the gory clubbing details)

Beach

All the beaches in the south of Tenerife are man made, so you won’t get that breathtakingly beautiful natural cove that no one else has discovered but you will fine some very striking golden sanded beaches with some amazing shades of blue. The water tends to be choppy so not ideal for snorkeling. Some beaches are so cut off by wavebreakers that fish do collect amongst the rocks close to the shore. The waters are filled with life and not too many cigarette butts either. What surprised me though is just how little sand there is on the beach, just about deep enough to cover my hand. Some beaches vary in clarity and sand quality but even the uglier looking ones were sufficient for a good swim and catching some rays.

Food

There were hardly any Spanish or Canarian dining options even though I browsed frantically every day up and down the pedestrian path.

A word of advice, don’t look too hard as once we were bribed in by a restaurant rep stealing our beach ball and sat down there were a few tapas and paella options on the menu. We were promised the fish was fresh and it tasted good however you can never be too sure with the food in Tenerife. The safest thing to go for is probably a premade and reheated pizza, the ones I had where fairly cheap and were a lot better than expected. There is no in between expensive and cheap restaurants however so be prepared to cook yourself something for lunch if you want to avoid spending your money unnecessarily. Supermarkets were reasonable

So whilst strolling along the dated beach path, you notice the south of Tenerife really doesn’t seem to have a particular desire to be anything in particular. There are too many palm trees. Yes I couldn’t believe what I was thinking either, there are too many palm trees in Playa de las Americas. Due to the fact there are so many they lose their effect. They end up looking like more of a weed. Apart from the Coconut Palms, which I saw for the first time. The coast is damaged by endless numbers of Steak Houses/Pizzerias and none of the meat I had at any of the restaurants was worth writing home about. To add to that there wasn’t anything worth buying for those back home either. Usually I’ll settle for a good fridge magnet, but not a decently made one to be found.

What was good was the relatively new water park, Siam Park. It’s probably the best water park in Europe/Africa. The best ride was the dragon in my opinion, completely unexpected as while you are queuing you have no idea what the ride will be like as your vision is blurred by tons of trees. Then you go through a tube and when you least expect it are thrown out into a huge bowl going from side to side uncontrollably. The transport in Tenerife also deserves to be applauded 14 euros will get you a return ticket to Santa Cruz from Costa Adeje from the main bus station next to the impressive Magma Theatre. 

Santa Cruz 

The journey to Santa Cruz was very enjoyable, it was amusing seeing bus stops in the middle of what seemed like nowhere and people getting off and wandering into the desert. Whilst passing hills filled with cactus’ you stumble past slums which are brightly painted and you almost get the feeling you’ve been shipped to Latin America. It’s quite enchanting.

Arriving into the city initially it’s easy to be underwhelmed by the suburbs only when you pull into the central bus station and see the Auditorio de Tenerife is when your curiosity starts to grow. Out of all of the blurred confusion and Identity crisis which clouds the south of the island, the confusion is still present in the capital yet Santa Cruz manages to draw together all the fragments of Tenerife’s mixed history well. It takes a while to find it’s essence but after about an hour of walking aimlessly it’s easy to stumble into a green plaza surrounded by apartments where the locals stroll carelessly by. The city is clean and striking, looks like it’s brand new. I’ll do a proper post on the city later on.

Nightlife

Now to the clubs, the Veronica Strip back down south is a truly…. unique, met some interesting characters, there is a variety of clubs and bars, the strip itself is quite small. I would recommend ‘envy’ for starting off staff not pushy at all. The reps are brilliant at convincing you into their bars just keep walking and speak in different languages to avoid them. ‘Joyce’ was good for dancing, ‘Anthony’s bar’ had the best deals on drinks and we heard many things about Tramps yet never actually got the chance. ‘Level’ had some great foam parties but be warned your eyes will sting like mad and there is a possibility if a girl leans in for a kiss she will bite as I had the displeasure of finding out. The crowd seemed older roughly 18-27 so best to go with a large group. We went on a bar crawl which was rather expensive but thankfully the majority of the crowd was around our age.

Unfortunately no Europeans in the clubs, everyone was from the UK. I was hoping to meet some people from other countries but it didn’t end up happening. Whilst happily waddling through the street at 4:30 you realize it’s quite safe as there are plenty of police patrolling the area from a distance, yet that didn’t stop me nearly getting mugged by some span-yards who looked like they were on drugs.

Another unexpected highlight was the Africans guarding the toilets forcing you to cough up your precious euros in exchange for dry hands after washing. Another thing you should be warned about is how the music in Tenerife is not great, after  you’ve had some drinks everything seems fine, but every night pretty much every DJ would lay down the same lines, same jokes and same music. There was hardly any house music available to my disappointment however you grow to love the songs you hate. 

The last highlight of the trip was ‘whale watching’, pilot whales specifically. Not really whales at all more like dolphins yet they were very friendly and come right up close to the boat. Boat had shade and was spacious, with an open bar and paella. I think the boat we took was called MaxiCat? So that the dolphins natural behavior isn’t disturbed you aren’t allowed to spend an awful lot of time with them but according to what time of the year you go other whales and dolphins can also be seen.

So that’s the summary of my time in Tenerife. I missed the chance to see the botanical gardens and the traditional village of La Ortova but i guess you don’t really do those things on a guys holiday. I was quite lucky they let me get away with whale watching and Santa Cruz, I couldn’t have gone with a better group of people. Met some hilarious personalities had a lot of first and last time experiences and will hold the memories closely to my heart and mind for the rest of my life. I hope you guys enjoyed reading about it and keep posted as there will be more to come.

Chris

No more posts.