Tag Archives: study abroad

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

Double Take: Two Weekends in Bariloche

The timeless questions: Do I travel with friends or family? With natives or tourists? Finally, an answer.

While it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, Argentina is in the dead of winter — making Bariloche one of the hottest tourist destinations. Think of Bariloche as the Colorado of Argentina: Whether you go to ski in the winter or hike in the summer, it’s an active place loved by the Argentinean people for its natural beauty (and heavy chocolate production). I visited in the summer on two separate weekend jaunts, once with my family and once with a huge group of study abroad students. So which group offered the best trip? I wouldn’t trade one for the other.

Weekend #1: American family vacation

With my two parents and grandmother, I expected a touristy trip. Private tour guides are a dime a dozen, and they’ll haul you to chocolate shops galore and all the spots off the highway with the great views. This highway pit stop provided a great vantage point of our posh hotel: the Llau Llau.

The Llau Llau is the creme de la creme of Argentine hotels. When I told my co-workers at Radio Jai (where I translated articles for the web site) that I was going, their jaws dropped. I had to promise to post photos to Facebook so they could see after I’d left Buenos Aires. Lucky for Americans, the exchange rate makes it affordable. As a consequence, only very wealthy Argentineans vacation there, and most of the guests are European. Our suite had three rooms (living room, bedroom, bath) and a porch. Gran and I had a little too much fun with this photo shoot of the room…

We took a chairlift to the summit of a nearby mountain for a spectacular view of the city of Bariloche and the surrounding area…

…and stopped in the city of Bariloche, far from the Llau Llau, where we toured a chocolate shop that made fudge and candies through a clear window for observers. For these two activities, we found four was the perfect number, and 3:1 (of English speakers to Spanish speakers in our group) was the perfect ratio.

Weekend #2: Group travel on an Argentine itinerary

Because it was built for tourism, Bariloche is surprisingly accessible to large groups, assuming you do some planning ahead of time. Still, I had doubts about how much you can get from a place when the entire study abroad program crashes for a weekend, even during the summer low season. When this group ended up touring the same chocolate shop and mounting the same chairlifts, I wished I was with my English-only family again. But no fear — when the director of our COPA study abroad program and Buenos Aires native Mario Cantarini plans the trip with his Argentine co-workers, he does it the way any other Argentinean tourist might. Unlike the luxurious Llau Llau weekend, we spent our days hiking up waterfalls…

…swimming between huge rock formations near the highway…

…and traveling in huge coach buses. While unusually upscale compared to buses in the rest of South America, coach buses are common in Bariloche because of its heavy European and American visitor traffic. Unfortunately, these luxurious things also get stuck easily when landslides block the only road (below). Our porteño city slicker guides laughed and (tried to) help the Bariloche-native bus driver tow the bus out of the mud.

The work was worth the pain. On the other side of the “construction” (read: landslide debris) was Cerro Lopez, a steep hill with terrain that varies from soil to boulders to snow. The hike is between two and three hours, but offers rewarding views every step of the way.

After reaching the little pink house — our rest stop — we paused for lunch and watched the hawks soar overhead as we shared a mate, a traditional Argentine tea-like beverage.

Sometimes you want to vacation like a local, and sometimes you just want to be a tourist with your family. Regardless of your mood, good company — in a group of any size — will guarantee a great trip.

Tara for TKGO