Category Archives: Notes from Barcelona

Gary Child: Back In Barcelona!

Veteran Notes from Spain contributor and guest blogger Gary Child, is back in his other favourite city in Spain…

So then, back in Barcelona for the New Year, this time a little more up market. Usually I stay in the summer in student accommodation with a charming English lady close to Mercado Sant Antoní. On this occasion as I am traveling with she who must be adored we have elected to stay in a hotel, albeit in the same block.

On arrival at BCN I took my erstwhile landlady’s advice and elected to travel on the A1 airport bus. Though I had my doubts initially I have to say I won’t use the train again unless I am traveling beyond Barcelona to the Costa Brava. The service stops immediately outside the terminal door and runs every six minutes to the middle of town, stopping at Plaça de España, Gran Via and Plaça Cataluña. Less than half an hour door to door is great value at just over €4.

As the pound is currently being hammered on the foreign exchange markets, the first thing you notice when you arrive is that, though prices have remained stable here, things cost you a lot more. As I speak a pound is more or less worth a Euro, two years ago a pound would get you €1,40 – big difference! The hotel price, from being a reasonable £75 has shot up to £95. As the Minister for the 2012 Olympics said, “If we had known then what we know now…”, but that being the case, she probably wouldn’t have been in government.

Still, we are where we are.

Our hotel, the Hotel Market, is a boutique hotel created somewhat piecemeal out of a number of apartments. To get from reception to our room, which is 405, you get the new stainless steel, shiny lift up to floor 2. You go down a corridor and through a door into the stairwell of the apartment block into a lift which may well have been designed (and used!) by Gaudi himself and press for the 3rd floor. Because of the strange convention of naming the first floor Pra L this puts you onto the fourth floor along with Alice, the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit. The main thing is that you must manually close all three doors of the second list or no one in the building can use it. All this is difficult enough when sober, heaven only knows how we’ll manage after a few drinks on New Year’s Eve…

Anyway, we dumped our bags, sauntered down to Els Tres Tombs for a beer and returned at ten o’clock to eat in the hotel restaurant. Clearly the number of covers in the restaurant way outstrips the number of residents they could be expected to feed, though clearly the master plan is to take over the whole building eventually. Even as a resident I would advise booking as the place is very popular with locals. The meal was very good and, as always in Spain, you find yourself thinking the portions are a bit small and three courses later find yourself very adequately fed. Amazing.

Next morning we set out to reacquaint ourselves with the town; up to Pl. Cataluña, down Poratal Del Angels and through Bario Gotico to El Born before crossing over to Barceloneta for a lunchtime beer. As we passed through Plaça san Jaume there was a delightful series of tableux depicting the Nativity.

On the way back for our siesta we stopped for tapas. A a gentleman of a certain age, following the beer at Barceloneta, I needed to answer the call of nature and left Mrs C in charge of ordering. I returned and eagerly awaited our repast; there was pan con tomate, empanadillas, huevos rotos and patatas bravas.

So basically there was bread, pasties, egg and chips and a portion of chips. Ne’er a pimiento de pardon, chocos nor chipirones to be seen – you can take the girl out of Yorkshire…

Mind you, I suppose I’m as bad, there’s an excellent Indian restaurant not too far from here that Pepino introduced me to in the summer, so tonight is curry night.

Hasta pronto…

When not living it up in Barcelona, Gary Child works on great Free educational resources for the Primary classroom.

What Frank and I have in common – Barcelona do’s and dont’s

While Marina and I are away for the week, we’ve turned over the blog to veteran Notes from Spain contributor and guest blogger Gary Child, who was recently let loose for a fortnight in Barcelona. In this final instalment, how to survive in Barcelona…

Mr. Sinatra’s most famous offering begins with the lyric, “And now, the end is near…”, and so it is for me. I have just finished my last intercambio of the fortnight and there is one grammar session and two conversation classes between me and the flight home.

The fortnight has flown by and “…regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention…”.

But I will anyway. I booked the course which included a fiesta and so lost a day’s tuition. No biggy. The thing I did that I won’t do when I repeat the experience is to book so many intercambios. Two a day is wa-a-a-ay too many when added to three ninety minute classes. No, next time, the standard course of two sessions in the morning and probably three intercambios in each week will be enough. You get all Spanished out.

But “…I did what I had to do, and saw it through without exemption…”, thank God I had two cancellations.

Of the seven people that I have met there are two with whom I have an arrangement to meet for a drink and a chat at New Year when I’m back in town with my beloved. Strictly social though, no classes and no formal intercambio.

I love Barcelona and I have been here often enough now that I feel no compunction to traipse round all the usual tourist gaffs unless there is someone with me that necessitates ‘tour guide’ mode. I have always tried to do something on every visit that I haven’t done before. This time it was to be a visit to Tibidabo, but with all the intercambios I just couldn’t face the hassle. Maybe next time, maybe not.

I stay in a shared flat with a charming English lady to whom I was introduced via the language school. I have also stayed with her on weekend breaks with my son, and though student accommodation may not be appropriate when traveling with Mrs C, we will make a point of calling in when we are in town. It has become a home from home, a pied-a-terre in BCN, and it is sufficient for me that I come and live in the community for a couple of weeks, learn a bit and relax a lot.

I suppose it must fall upon me to write a little about the city at the end of this series.

If you’ve never been then do make the effort. It has taken me the best part of five years of visiting a couple of times or more a year to get round all there is to see and, as no series of articles on the web would be complete without a list of dos and don’ts here’s mine: Continue reading

All Spanished out – Nearly!

While Marina and I are away for the week, we’ve turned over the blog to veteran Notes from Spain contributor and guest blogger Gary Child, who was recently let loose for a fortnight in Barcelona. In this fourth instalment, Spanish overload…

So, I’m half way through the second week of my fortnight’s Spanish course in Barcelona. The mornings continue to be excellent, 90 minutes grammar followed by 90 minutes conversation. Different teachers this week but, looking at the logistics of organizing a new crop of students each week and jigging the groups to match the teaching talent, this is neither surprising nor, it transpires, a detriment.

This week we have Rosina for grammar and Daniel for conversation. Both are good at what they do and the lessons are well planned, with good photocopied resources, and well executed.

WOAH! Heaven forfend that this should turn into some kind of clandestine OfSTED report on an unsuspecting language school somewhere in Barcelona – back to the gossip…

In a previous post I explained how I intended to dip the pm session in school. After a long weekend – the 15th of August is a national holiday in Spain – my batteries are re-charged and I decided to give it another shot. The star-crossed lovers have shuffled off (to quote Bill twice). Things are better, so I’m still on board.

Yesterday was a hard day: Continue reading

Intercambios in Barcelona

While Marina and I are away for the week, we’ve turned over the blog to veteran Notes from Spain contributor and guest blogger Gary Child, who was recently let loose for a fortnight in Barcelona. In this third instalment, The Joy of Intercambios…

It is peculiar to this day and age that everyone has the potential to put themselves in contact with complete strangers, and enter into a mutually beneficial relationship, at the click of a mouse. I refer to the intercambio and not the numerous nefarious activities which, allegedly, take place with the assistance of modern technology.

My mother would have a fit. I can hear her now:

“You’re what!? You’re going to travel to a foreign country, full of foreigners, and meet a complete stranger, a foreigner, in a bar, a foreign bar, in a foreign city you barely know? What for? You’re just going to talk? Talk!? Don’t come running to me if you end up in the gutter with your throat slit, your wallet gone and your passport being sold on the black market..!”

Just as well I didn’t tell her then, eh?

Intercambios, I have discovered to my great delight, are a wonderful thing. So much so that I have elected to dip my arranged classes in the afternoons and do intercambios instead. Invisible Ruben and the star crossed lovers wont notice I’m not there, which leaves the lovely Laura having a one to one with the teacher. Everybody wins.

There is, apparently, misconception that intercambios are what you do when you move to live in a country for a period to learn the language. I suppose I was concerned that this might be the case. But, no, it seems that the Spanish are keen to speak to a wide sample of us native English speakers to experience the whole breadth and depth of our mispronunciation and mangling of our mother tongue.

So much so, in fact, that I have needed to be careful to try to make sure all respondents get a slice of the cake, so to speak. What’s the best way to go about arranging intercambios? In short I have no idea but what follows has worked for me: Continue reading

And so to school…

While Marina and I are away for the week, we’ve turned over the blog to veteran Notes from Spain contributor and guest blogger Gary Child, who was recently let loose for a fortnight in Barcelona. In this second instalment, Notes from the Language School…

I do not do mornings well. For this reason I need to be up and about for a good while before I am ready to interact with the rest human race, more so when this is going to take place in a foreign language.

When in Barcelona to study Spanish for my annual fortnight, on school days I am up at about 7.15. The school is a 20 minute walk from where I stay but, as the arthritic knee I mentioned previously doesn’t work so well until I get it going, I get the Metro to school and walk back.

Two flights of stairs down, a 90 second ride and three escalators up puts me on the terrace of a bar outside the school by just gone eight o’clock. My daily routine will see me order café Americano and a glass of hot water to pour in to create a longer drink.

I arrived this year in my usual spot and within ten minutes was approached by probably the oldest hooker in Spain. She certainly is persistent, having now been graciously declined by yours truly for the second consecutive year. Continue reading

Nothing is ever easy… Gary Child in Barcelona

While Marina and I are away for the week, we’ve turned over the blog to veteran Notes from Spain contributor and guest blogger Gary Child, who was recently let loose for a fortnight in Barcelona. In this first instalment, something anyone living in Spain strives to avoid: sorting out anything medical…

Domingo. A day of rest before I start my fortnight’s intensive Spanish course in Barcelona. Or so I thought. I was awakened earlier than I would have liked by the arrival of a text from home that just said “Ring me”. Naturally, panic set in. Rather than ring and clock up a bill bigger than the national debt, I texted back, “On Skype in 5 mins”.

I have to confess it was a long five minutes. Had there been an accident? Was the dog ill? Were the grandkids okay in Mojacar with their mum and dad? Had the roof fallen in?

It was none of the above. It turned out that I had left my medication on the work surface in the kitchen. No biggy for me, but ‘her indoors’ seemed concerned that with the sunshine, the relaxed atmosphere and the two weeks complete lack of stress, I might have a problem with my blood pressure. ‘Don’t be silly’ wasn’t working and so I agreed to set out on a quest to source an alternative supply of little asprin and felodipine, lest she had to repatriate me for terminal snoozing.

So to la farmácia, my first intercambio of the fortnight.

Little asprin, no problem. Ibuprofen for arthritic knee, no problem. Felodipine? Nowhere to be seen. Of course it would have helped had I spelt it correctly on the paper I handed to her with my list of requirements. They even went on ‘Google for Chemists in Spanish’ and could find no trace. I returned to the flat convinced I would sort it out but, of course, I couldn’t spell it so couldn’t find it either. Still, I could always go back to cilazapril. It gives me a cough but it would do for a fortnight.

Back to the farmácia for cilazapril, but still no luck. I would have to see a doctor for a ‘receta’ for cilazapril. I was told that there was a Sala de Urgencías two blocks away and my heart sank at the prospect of spending the rest of the day hanging about to be seen.

And so to my second intercambio, with los médicos… Continue reading

Forget the Elections, how about Spanish Office Politics?

Dave Hall lives and works in Barcelona. You can read more of his great posts on his blog, and his guest blogging posts here on Notes from Spain. He is currently somewhat of an expert on life in a Spanish office:

After listening to the Notes in Spanish Advanced podcast about life in a Spanish office recently, I thought I’d write a little about my experience of some of the most striking differences from my viewpoint as a long term UK office worker now working in various Spanish offices over the past 18 months.

The biggest (and the most obvious) thing that I still struggle with at times is how to get my head around the well publicised relaxed attitude to timekeeping.

In my old UK company, we would routinely receive emails reminding us that 9 am was the start of the "working" day, and not the time you should be stubbing your fag out against the wall outside and thinking about dragging your lazy, no-good, workshy carcass into the building only to then go for an unfeasibly long pee, get a coffee and chat to your colleagues about last night’s television (OK, I’m paraphrasing). Something along the lines of "You should be at your workstation, ready to work at 9 am" was the usual message.

Lunch time was a fixed 45 minutes and the same rules applied then. In fact, this was so well drummed into us that, if you strolled back in 5 minutes late, your own dear colleagues (from outside your department) would look at you with scorn and pass comment either behind your back, or to your face in the form of a lame joke. The management had clearly done their job on us, as the staff were effectively policing each other in the form of an internalized company Gestapo!!! (Although, we’d of course swapped finger screws for finger pointing). A sad situation indeed.

Here in Spain, it’s very different. Last week, when I asked what the hours were in my new job, my boss kind of shrugged, expelled a lot of air, umm’d and arr’d , then finally said, "Well, come in about 9am ish, lunch is roughly 13.30 until whenever, and most people start leaving about 18.30, or earlier if it’s a Friday." (She then immediately asked if I wanted to go for a coffee with her). Ah well, that’s clear then, thanks!

So, not a bad situation, but totally useless for an anally retentive, logically minded Virgo like me who can only cope with life if there’s a "rule" of some kind to help avoid unnecessary confusion! I still find myself rushing back to work after lunch, only to find an empty office, and then chastising myself for being such a pillock. For someone who prides himself on having done a reasonably good job of fitting into Spanish life, this work timetable thing is an irritatingly persistent problem that I still need to shake off before my hair falls out or I start cultivating a stomach ulcer. Continue reading

Guest Blogging: Dave Hall – Life beyond Parc Guell..?

El Laberinto de Horta

Photo by Dave Hall

In today’s guest blogging post, Dave Hall, who can also be found blogging at pepino-bcn.blogspot.com, asks if there is life beyond Barcelona’s Parc Guell:

Everyone who comes to Barcelona should of course be sure to check out the many Gaudí­ designed buildings and parks that the city has to offer, with Parc Guell probably very high on their list, but how about all those other parks and gardens that don’t have the guaranteed draw that Gaudí­’s name brings? I decided to head away from the crowds today and take a closer look at a hidden gem of a garden that you might just recognise..!

El Laberinto de Horta is located on the mountain side of the city, set back just a little further than Parc Guell, and is a relatively small, but nonetheless stunning neo-classical park dating back to the 1700s. It used to be the home of Joan Antoni Desvalls who was the Marqués de Llúpia i d’Alfarrí s, but was acquired in 1971 by the local authorities and subsequently opened to the public. The centrepiece of the park is an immaculately manicured maze made up of cypress trees overlooked by a Romanesque style balustrade complete with classical statues and stone pergolas.

Continue reading

Guest Blogging: Dave Hall – Broken Barcelona!

Holes in Barcelona

In today’s guest blogging spot, Dave Hall writes in with another great taste of life in Barcelona Dave can also be found blogging at pepino-bcn.blogspot.com:

Has Barcelona been earmarked for a G8 summit? Are the Olympics back in town again? Or is it that the Queen is coming to make a white-glove fingertip dust inspection at any moment?

Well, maybe it’s none of these, but you could certainly be forgiven for thinking the mother of all events was on its way to Barcelona given the sheer scale of improvements and roadworks going on around the centre of the city (apparently concentrated on the Eixample districts). It seems that I can’t step outside my front door these days without being almost swallowed up into a monumental-sized cavern that’s suddenly appeared courtesy of the local authority planning department. For example, where I live is just 4 short blocks from La Rambla de Catalunya, but navigating a way through on the most direct street has become a real chore. And then when you get there, you’re faced with more of the same between La Diagonal and roughly until you get past Aragó.

Continue reading

Living the high life in Barcelona!

If you’re looking for a restaurant for a special occasion and the budget isn’t a problem, then you won’t go far wrong in the restaurant within the Hotel Omm, just off the Paseo de Gracia in Barcelona.

Some of you may know that my flatmate has 24 carat gold "enchufes” and can always be relied on to get me into some pretty classy places that I’d normally never get to try, and that was the case again this weekend, as a friend of his that I met at a party a few months ago invited me to celebrate her birthday in this restaurant. At first I was a little reticent as, knowing this particular lady, the venue was never going to be within my budget, but the magic word to listen out for from a Spanish person is of course the verb "invitar”, which instantly helped me to relax as it automatically has the assumption built-in that the person doing the inviting is genuinely happy to pay.

The restaurant has a very exclusive air and the security is firm but very discreet, but the most important thing was the quality of the food. Each of the 6 courses comes with an individually selected and matched wine, so when the food arrives, each of you is brought a different bottle, and the waiter explains the reasons for its selection. Now, I’m no connoisseur, but I know what tastes good, and each wine was truly excellent and accompanied the food perfectly. There was even a white rioja at one point which went down particularly well!

For the dessert course my flatmate, being Cuban, homed-in on Recuerdos de Havana which included an amazing chocolate-coated ice-cream "cigar” which somehow had been infused with the taste of a genuine Havana cigar! It was truly unique and very highly recommended – and we all tried some of course. The second dessert course was the house speciality, a type of perfumed mousse which strangely came with a small pot containing pieces of card, the idea being that you eat a little of the mousse, and then waft the card with a complementing perfume under your nose. Very odd indeed, but incredibly effective! I caught a glimpse of the bill when it came and couldn’t help but let out a tiny gasp, but if you do ever get the opportunity to eat here, I thoroughly recommend it. And as if a bonus was needed, a little "free extra” for us was that, just across from our table, was the extremely easy-on-the-eye Spanish TV presenter Jesus Vásquez having dinner with his partner and friends. ¡Que aproveche!

Dave Hall lives and works in Barcelona.