Tag Archives: Barcelona

Falling Under the Spell of Barcelona’s Tibidabo

Below is my latest Huffington Post Travel post, Falling Under The Spell Of Barcelona’s Tibidabo. You can see the full article (with my favorite photo!) here.

Before touching down in Barcelona to live and study for four months I had never heard of Tibidabo. I was familiar with Barcelona’s major highlights otherwise, such as Gaudí’s masterpieces and the smaller mountain of Montjuïc. I would only see that episode of Friends later, and though I had briefly visited the city before, I had somehow missed Tibidabo entirely, an impressive feat considering it is the highest point in the city.

In one of my first weeks in Barcelona I saw Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Woody Allen’s amorous ode to Barcelona and its wiles. I remember the sepia-tone scene on Tibidabo most clearly and fondly of all: An angelic Scarlett Johansson walks past the rides of one of the world’s oldest amusement parks, meters and meters above the city, conversing with the irresistible Javier Bardem and pulling at tufts of feathery cotton candy. Even dubbed in Catalan, it was perfect. I remember feeling bittersweet and nostalgic, though I was in Barcelona and had never been to Tibidabo before. It looked and felt like a place I had already visited, a place to where I longed to return.

Within the week I was on Tibidabo. I ended up there in one of those opportune moments that materialize during travels when curiosity, boldness and serendipity coalesce, when circumstances just lead you there and you cannot say no, because you would only regret it later. They are the moments that you call upon months and years afterward, often with stories that begin with, “Remember that time…” This was that time I ended up on top of Tibidabo, otherwise hushed and empty except for us, with all of Barcelona sprawled at our feet, shimmering in the night right down to the edge of the Mediterranean. I sat on a bench of the cathedral, chills from both the temperature and the scene. Craning my head all the way back, the enormous Jesus figure topping the basilica seemed to touch the sky. Slightly below I could make out darkened outlines of the still rides.

I would return to Tibidabo on other nights, though not as high as to look straight up and see a stone Jesus embracing the sky, but far up still to the few bars perched on the mountain. They were my favorite nightspots in the city. While maybe only a few people knew each other, it always felt like some sort of intimate party thrown for those of us who had made it all the way up there. We were on top of the city and therefore we felt like we were on top of the world, but at the same we were in awe of it all. Conversing or dancing we would forget where we were, and then one spin or a glance to the side and there was the entire city spread out front for our admiration.

Below were the tiny, twisted alleys of the Gothic Quarter, the turrets of Catalan Modernist architecture poking into the sky and that arresting creative energy. Maybe those details were indiscernible from such heights, but it was there in Barcelona all the same and we knew it.

I wrapped up my time in Barcelona with a daytime visit to the Tibidabo amusement park. The place was classic, spellbinding and so old that no one was too old. Small families, affectionate couples and clusters of friends were zigging in and out of the antique rides, riding to the pinnacle of the Ferris Wheel, passing warped fun-house mirrors and circling on the carousel. In it all, behind and below it all was the grandeur of the city; the history of the park, mountain and Barcelona.

I snapped one of my favorite pictures at the end of that day right after the sun had set. The photo remains as the background of my computer, and I think it might always be. For me, Tibidabo became emblematic of Barcelona and of what made me fall in love with the city. Since Barcelona I like to think there is a Tibidabo everywhere I travel, that one place that can come to represent my connection to the destination and some of my favorite moments there, and I always try to find it.

Tibidabo Barcelona at Night

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Shot of the Week

La Boqueria

Barcelona’s La Boqueria is the largest indoor market in Spain and filled small restaurants and cafes, and stalls selling fresh produce, meats and fish, as well as — this picture shows — chocolates and candy.

Karina for TKGO

Shot of the Week

Parque de la Ciutadella, Barcelona

This photo is from the Parque de la Ciutadella in Barcelona. It was almost winter, so the pond had been drained, and it was also one of my final weeks in Barcelona. I found it a fitting scene.

Karina for TKGO

Shot of the Week

Barcelona Santa Maria del Mar

This bar, one of many in the Ribera neighborhood of Barcelona, faces the Santa Maria del Mar church. It was one of my favorite spots in the city, with bars, cafes, restaurants — even museums — tucked into the nooks of every narrow street. I walked through here almost daily, and no matter the time there was always, at minimum, a quiet buzz.

Karina for TKGO

Shot of the Week

When I lived in Barcelona, my dormitory was located on the same street as Gaudí’s incomplete masterpiece, La Sagrada Família. I walked up to stare at it in wonder many times, and this photo is from one of my late afternoon visits. The church looks like a different work from every angle at the base, and from this angle and the low sunlight hitting it, I love how it almost looks made of clay.

Karina for TKGO

Spanish Drinking Culture

A friend of mine from study abroad recently pointed me toward a Time article about Barcelona’s battle against drunk tourists. The “sensitivity campaign” the city launched includes posters with the universally understood stick figure instructing tourists how not to act, as well as a happy hour ban. It’s an admirable effort to get tourists to respect the city and send the message that Gaudi’s playground is no Cancun.

 

 

Mind your business along Las Ramblas! Photo by Albert Gea for Reuters

 

While studying abroad in Barcelona, my friends and I were quick to pick up on how Spaniards vs. visitors acted when out and about. The surest way to stand out as a tourist? Be visibly drunk. We never saw Spaniards stumbling around the streets or throwing back shot after shot at the bars, and even those in a state they might’ve considered “drunk” were in way better condition than “drunk” by American, frat house standards.

As our study abroad adviser explained to us in class one day — complete with a hand-drawn graph on the board — when Spanish people drink, it’s always socially, and they imbibe only to reach and then maintain their “point,” as he called it. From what I understood, that “point” is a tipsy state: feeling good about life but still fully functioning. (Fun fact: Tapas in Spain are prepared with generous amounts of olive oil because it slows the absorption of alcohol.)

Since the “sensitivity campaign” doesn’t seem to include any “point” drinking lessons to tourists entering the city, if you’re headed to Barcelona in the near future you might encounter the drunken bachelor party or two, especially on and around Las Ramblas. Instead of focusing on perhaps where to avoid, I’m using the Time article as excuse to share a handful of my favorite bars and clubs in the city based on what you’re looking for from your night.

Get a more extensive look at Barcelona nightlife on the TKGO City Guides, Barcelona page.

For a club packed with Spaniards: Sutton

For a relaxed bar scene: Ambar

For the best views of the city: Mirablau and Mirabe

For a historic, charmingly gritty bar (and absinthe): Marsella

-Karina for TKGO

Shot of the Week

The first trip I took outside of Spain during study abroad was to Amsterdam. It was early November and just starting to get brisk, and my friends and I found the weather perfect for a bike ride. We rented the city’s favorite mode of transport and set off in search of windmills and green pastures, both of which we found. (See above for the latter.) We spent hours biking, and toward the end of our trek one of my friends snagged a flat tire. We wheeled the bum bike to a small bar nearby, and the bartender fetched a repair kit from and patched it up with the help from some patrons. We bought them a round in exchange for their handiwork.

Karina for TKGO