Barcelona, Spain

Perhaps Spain’s most lively city. And possible the city most full of tourists. That was one thing so evident in Barcelona, that the city was overcrowded with tourists. Everywhere you looked there were hoards of tourist, especially on La Rambla (the main tourist drag leading from Plaza de Catalunya to the sea at Barcelonetta), Park Guell (Gaudi’s, and everyone else’s, ‘Wonderland’) and La Sagrada Familia (Gaudi’s famous neo-gothic cathedral which has a 1 km line of tourist around its periphery).

I had heard so many good things about Barcelona from friends and family prior to my visit. So I was expecting the amazing. But unfortunately, there was something about Barcelona that didn’t quite grab me. The city was extremely crowded; you had to watch out for pickpockets, especially on La Rambla, where you must make sure you don’t keep any money in your pockets and hold onto your bags tightly; the beaches at La Barcelonetta were teaming with sunbathers (if you want to go to the beach, I suggest you hire a car for the day and head north to Costa Brava. More on that in my next post), the water was murky and you were constantly harassed by someone selling jewellery, water, beers, mojitos or even coconuts; and in comparison with everywhere else I had been up until then (northern Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, BiH, Berlin), Barcelona seemed so expensive.

Aside from this, there were a few positive things about Barcelona, and a few great experiences we had in the city, which are listed and described below.


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Things to see and do:

Seeing Barcelona with a local: Seeing Barcelona with a local is by far the best way to see the city. My friend Marc, whom I’d met in Bolivia the previous year whilst travelling around South America, lives in Barcelona and it the assistant director of an amazing hotel, Hotel Pulitzer. If you can afford it, I highly recommend this hotel. Not only is it stunning, but the staff are amazing (and no bias there). We were invite one evening to enjoy a private concert at the rooftop bar of the hotel – all food and drinks included. They have the most amazing cocktails. The perks of knowing a local. Marc also took us to some of the best, and least known, tapas bars in town – the ones that only locals know about. We were also lucky enough to experience a Barcelona verses Madrid football game with Marc and his friends. The zeal and passion of the Barcelona fans is indescribable.

La Boqueria Markets: For all those foodies out there, you cannot leave Barcelona without visiting La Boqueria Markets. These are some of the best fresh food markets I have ever seen. The variety and the quality is insurpassable. Amanda and I went every morning for a breakfast of refreshing coconut juices, fresh and dried fruits and a grand selection of nuts – oh so healthy! And so tasty too. In the markets you can also purchase fresh and cured meats, seafood, cheeses, deli goods, bread, vegetables, herbs, spices, the list goes on and on and on. Located just of La Rambla, it’s centrally situated and not easy to miss.

Gaudi’s Casa Batllo: As a lover of interior design and architecture (I completed a diploma in interior design a few years ago, but yet to work in the field), I could not leave Barcelona without visiting at least one of Gaudi’s houses. There is a bit of a debate about which Gaudi house is more worth seeing, Batllo, La Padrera or Calvert, and at first I was too sure which one to see. A friend of mine went to Barcelona a few years ago and recommended Casa Batllo, so that’s the one that I visited, and I wasn’t disappointed. The interior design of the house is utterly spectacular. So beautiful and unique. The lines, the shapes, the colours…. Gaudi was really a master of his profession. I highly recommend visiting at least one of the Gaudi houses, just to experience his genius.

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Essentials:

Stay:
Violeta Hostel: Although the location is great, being on the corner of Gran Via (the main throughfare in Barcelona) and Carrer Girona, about an easy 10 minute walk to Plaza de Catalunya, the hostel lacks character. It is neat and tidy, and constantly being cleaned, but it lacks a ‘hostel’ atmosphere – it seems more like a budget hotel. Their isn’t any air-conditioning, so the rooms can get rather hot in the middle of August. And unfortunately we had a room which faced the street, and being in the very centre of Barcelona, it was rather noisy. I would have to say that this was probably the hostel which we liked the least during our travels. It would probably be more suited to couples that are not travelling to meet other travels.

Eat:
La Boqueria Markets: My favourite, and most visited, place in Barcelona. A must for all foodies. There is everything imaginable. A great place to get a healthy breakfast of fresh juices and fruits. Try the strawberry and coconut juice – it was my favourite way to start the day.
El Vaso del Oro: My friend Marc to us to this amazing tapas bar (the best tapas we ate in Spain, except for in Seville, which you’ll have to read about in a few posts time – by far the best food in the country), located near Barceloneta metro stop. Hidden away down a dodgy looking side street, you wouldn’t find this gem without a local’s knowledge. We had a few drinks, some great food and many many laughs – there are always many laughs when both Marc and Amanda are involved. Try the fois gras (sorry to all those animal lovers, I’m also one of them, but I had to try it for the first time, and it was I have to say, delicious) or the Padron chillis (some are hot, some are not – I was a it paranoid whilst eating these, as I was afraid I’d be the one who picked out the hot one).

Getting there:
I flew direct to Barcelona from Berlin Schoenefeld with EasyJet. When leaving Barcelona, I flew to Granada with Veuling Airlines for about 80 euros for a 2 hour flight – that cheaper and more comfortable than the 10 hour bus ride.
Barcelona is also well connected with bus and rail to other parts of Spain and Europe.

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Scotts Head, Australia

On our way to Byron Bay (see previous post), we spent two nights camping at Scotts Head. Scotts Head is a quiet little beach side town located on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, just south of Nambucca Heads.  Although it is a popular tourist destination in the summer, Scotts Head has a population of only about 800 people, so I guess it would be fairly quiet during the winter. There isn’t a great deal to see and do (there are a handful of shops, a few real estate agencies and a bowling club), aside from spending your days at the beach or enjoying a spot of fishing. There are three beaches at Scotts Head – Main Beach, Little Beach and my favourite Wakki Beach, which is only accessible by a steep dirt path. Wakki Beach and the north end of Main Beach are the best for surfing, and the southern end of Main Beach is patrolled and their isn’t much surf, so it is perfect for families with young children.

Unfortunately, the two days spent at Scotts Head were overcast and grey, as you can see from the photos, but luckily we didn’t have any rain. We camped out at Scotts Head Holiday Park, which has the best piece of real estate in town, being located right on the main beach. We spent our days there relaxing at the beaches, exploring the town, going for walks along and beach and the headlands and simply chilling-out at our campsite, having a few drinks together and listening to the strumming of guitars of our fellow campers. In the evenings, don’t forget to head down to the main beach to watch children squealing as they try to catch the ghost crabs that race down the sand and into the sea.

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Essentials:

Stay:
Scotts Head Holiday Park: It’s cheap and has the best location in town. We paid $20 per night for a large powered campsite and were located only a few metres from the beach. The campsite has great and newly renovated facilities – a large toilet and shower block, a laundry, barbecue area, clothes lines, and even a tennis court. The park is supposed to have free wifi, but we weren’t able to connect to it. There is a general store, two cafes, a liquor store, clothes/gift shop and a real estate agency right outside the camping group, so you don’t have to travel far to get supplies.

Eat:
If you’re camping, cooking your own meals at the campsite is usually the best way to go (you’ll also save some $$$). The general store is well stocked and the prices aren’t much higher than your average suburban Coles or Woolworths. Alternatively, there are two cafes offering simple, yet tasty meals. They do good coffee too.

Getting There:
The easiest way to get to Scotts Head is to drive. It is located about 10km from the Pacific Highway. There will be a sign to Scotts Head, at Scotts Head Road. Keep a lookout for wildlife, especially if you’re driving in and out at dusk or dawn and also during the nightime hours

Byron Bay, Australia

I’m just going to butt in on my European travels (I’ve been so busy that my posts are lagging behind – it’s already been over three months since I got back!), with a more recent getaway to Byron Bay over the New Years break. When it comes to holidays, I’m usually more of an adventurous, overseas kind of girl, than one who likes to take short trips closer to home. But meeting a Portuguese guy on my European travels this year in Lisbon (stay tunned on my travels through Portugal – one of the most interesting and architecturally rich countries in Europe), who has recently moved to Australia, means that I’ll be keeping my feet a little more firmly on the ground, and showing him around this amazing country, known as Australia.

I spent a week in the most gorgeous house (originally an old church), with some of the best company (there were sixteen of us crazy kids in total), in one of the most beautiful places on this earth (I was so impressed with the lush green meadows and rainforests, and seaside landscapes around Byron Bay). We relaxed at the beach, went bushwalking and swam beneath an amazing waterfall, visited some cute little towns and ate some, well a lot of, delicious food (lovingly prepared by my fellow housemates each evening, and not forgetting a few breakfasts of beacon and eggs or blueberry pancakes). A holiday can’t get much better than that.

The entire week was extremely well organised, which is usually difficult to do with such a large group. We rented a house for the week, located in the small village of Newrybar, about a 10 minute drive south of Byron Bay along the Pacific Highway. The house was a magnificently restored old church, with an extension at the rear, making it large and comfortable enough for all sixteen of us. Originally there were only 12 people going, but 4 extras (including me) asked to tag along. This meant that we had about $1,000 surplus, which was used to purchase food for the week. Each evening 2 or 3 people were in charge of preparing dinner for the rest of us, which created a great group atmosphere as, no matter what everyone was doing each day, we all got together at sunset to enjoy a few drinks and eat a good meal. And eat well we did – one night ceviche and chicken enchiladas were magnificently served, another evening it was pikanja and a summer salad on the back deck, New Years Day was Moroccan green curry chicken with couscous to nurse those hangovers, one evening some of the best spaghetti and meatballs I’ve ever had were dished up, and on our final night Thai beef salad and mini pavlovas were a beautiful and delicious finishing touch.

The majority of the housemates were keen surfers, which meant that most mornings begin with them heading to the beach to check out the surf and hopefully spend their mornings catching waves. The rest of us sun-baked on the beach, went for a swim, read a book, or stayed at the house relaxing in the hammocks we hung in the backyard. Or playing a game or two of ping-pong. I’m always have itchy feet and am keen to go sightseeing, explore new places and take a photo or two. Below are listed some of my favourite places I visited during our week up near Byron.

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Here is the list of my favourite places to visit in and around Byron Bay:

Wategos Beach: The majority of people visiting Byron Bay tend not to venture far and spend their days at the overly crowded main beach. A few of the housemates were regular visitors to Byron Bay and recommended we visit Wategos Beach, located just north of Cape Byron Lighthouse (you can easily walk from the lighthouse to Wategos – it takes about 20 minutes). Wategos is a small beach, it can’t be more than 100m long and is popular with families. There is something about the beach that makes it beautiful and inviting and out of all the beaches we visited in and around Byron, it was my favourite.

Cape Byron Lighthouse: A must do when you visit Byron Bay. Cape Byron is the most easterly point on the Australian mainland and offers some of the most spectacular views. If you’re keen enough, get up before dawn and head to the lighthouse to be one of the first people on the continent to see the sunrise (we unfortunately weren’t so keen). When visiting the lighthouse, you can drive to the top and park your car for a fee of $7. If you want to avoid the fee and are don’t mind a good walk, you can park at either Wategos or Clarkes Beach (a little further away) and follow the path to the lighthouse. Aside from the landscape which is just breathtaking, the lighthouse itself, built in 1901, is a beautiful piece of architecture and is literary full of history (the ground floor of the lighthouse now houses a little museum).

Minyon Falls: One of the couples staying with us recommended we visit Minyon falls, located in Nightcap National Park, about 25km west of Byron Bay. Driving away from the coast, we passed through some of the most lush and green farming land that I have ever seen in Australia. It was just beautiful. And the falls themselves were indescribably spectacular. They can be viewed from a viewing platform at the top of the falls from which you look over a 100m drop. We decided to walk to the base, but we accidently took the long way, so if you visit and want to walk to the base of the falls, first view the falls from the viewing platform, but don’t walk to the base from there – drive back to Minyon Falls Grass from which you follow the path to the base – you’ll save yourself 2km of walking in each direction. As you near the bottom of the ravine, the dry bush turns into lush green rainforest. The path gets a bit tricky as you near the falls, as you have to complete an obstacle course of crossing creeks and climbing up and over enormous balders. But once you reach the base of the falls, all that hard work and effort would have paid off – you can jump into the crisp, cool water of the falls.

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Essentials:

Where to stay:

The Old Church, Brooklet Road, Newrybar: We stayed at The Old Church http://theoldchurchbyronbay.com/. It is an old church, built in 1911, which has been converted into a beautiful house. Although it is a little out of Byron, if you have a car, it’s only a 15 minute drive to the centre of Byron Bay. Highly recommended for groups.
Where to eat: 

The Harvest Cafe, Newrybar: A chic and stylish, yet rustic, cafe/restaurant located in the small village of Newrybar. It seems as though people visit Newrybar solely to eat at The Harvest Cafe – the place was booked out for lunch everyday we were there. It isn’t a cheap eat, but the food is just to die for. It’s easy to see why it is so popular. Just looking at the menu make you drool. Try the Harvest ricotta pancakes served with fresh local blueberries and maple syrup for breakfast, or warm goats cheese terrine with a fig and macadamia centre, served with fennel, asparagus and burnt orange sauce. And for all those sweet-tooths out there, you can’t go past the steamed mango and coconut custard, served chilled with toasted sesame and peanut brittle. Delish!

The Rails, Byron Bay: Your typical pub, but this one is on the railway lines. Serving upmarket and good quality ‘pub food’, this place is extremely popular with locals and tourists alike, and always full of people. Make sure you get there early, before 5pm, if you want to get a table. I’ve heard rave reviews for their chilli salmon linguini, they have a good range of delicious burgers, from vegetarian to fish burgers, and their steaks are big and tasty. There is also live music seven nights per week, so the place is never dull.

The Top Shop, Cape Byron: Your typical corner shop turn cafe, is situated near Cape Byron (a great place to stop for breakfast or lunch after a surf at Wategos Beach). They perhaps have the best burgers in Byron, not to mention their bacon and egg rolls, and their berry smoothies are to die for. For all those caffine addicts out there, they do pretty good coffee.

Where to shop:

Little Peach, Bangalow: I absolutely adored this shop. A little store selling beautiful Japanese homewares and gifts located on the main road in Bangalow, selling everything from chopsticks to tableware, jewellery to kimonos. I spotted some gorgeous Japanese blue and white porcelain plates and noodle bowls, and couldn’t leave until I purchased a set. It broke the budget a bit, but they were worth every cent.

Red Ginger, Bangalow & Byron Bay: This Asian supermarket/cafe/homewares store is a mecca for anyone visiting Bangalow (there is also a store in Byron Bay too). They have everything you need to cook up any Chinese, Japanese, Thai or Vietnamese meal, as well as other treats. It’s also a great place to stop for an afternoon snack – their steamed dumplings go down extremely well after a long day at the beach.

Drift Lab, Newrybar & Byron Bay: If you love theiconic.com.au, then you’ll love Drift Lab. Selling indi labels such Finders Keepers, Neuw, Status Anxiety, Sunday Somewhere, Raen, Brixon, ect, this is where you go for fashion. I’m a bit of a fashion lover and couldn’t resist a pair of Finders Keepers pants, nor a soft leather Status Anxiety wallet. Oooops. Another budget breaker.

Getting there:

Drive: We drove from Sydney up the Pacific Highway. The drive takes approximately 9 to 10 hours, depending on traffic. At the moment there are road works near Kempsey and Bulahdelah, causing delays of up to an hour. It a simple drive, you just continue straight until you see the sign for Byron Bay. Don’t forget to stop, revive and survive every two hours – there are plenty of rest points along the way.

Fly: There are flights from Sydney to Ballina, which is located about 35km south of Byron Bay. From Ballina you can take a bus to Byron.