Blogging around the world: Homage to Barcelona

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I’m really pleased to begin posting some interviews from my favourite travel and expat blogs as there are so many awesome bloggers out there that help you to virtually travel via the web.

Our first stop is Barcelona, Spain which is the inspiration for English expat, search engine marketing consultant and super nice guy, Rob Dobson.

I discovered Rob’s Homage to Barcelona thanks to a link from InterNations and have been a frequent visitor ever since. Apart from the general travel advice, photography, sightseeing suggestions and culinary eats, I particularly love how different people describe how they would spend their perfect day in Barcelona, these posts literally take you to an authentic side of Spain.

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Lets hear more about Rob and his love of Barcelona with a few questions:

Tell me how you became an expat and how you ended up living in Barcelona, Spain?

I had some friends living in Barcelona and they encouraged me to come out for a while and it all started from there. I have the luxury of being able to do my job from pretty much anywhere so that wasn’t as much of a hindrance as it might have been for a lot of people. I had no plans to live abroad at the time. So really I have them to thank for giving me a push.

 Do you ever suffer from homesickness and how do you cope with it?

I don’t really suffer from homesickness. I love London very much. But Barcelona has such a better pace of life. I really feel at home when I’m here. And of course as everyone knows the weather is better. It does make your day that little bit more pleasant when the sun is shining. Of course I miss my family and friends but I’m back enough that it doesn’t get too bad. It’s only a couple of hour’s flight between the two cities. I have friends who have emigrated to Australia. That would be tough I think.

 What’s been the most rewarding/high point and then the most frustrating/low part of your time in Barcelona?

The most rewarding thing has been to build a life in another city. Especially such a beautiful city as Barcelona. It really does make me smile when I’m walking around it. The low part – being in intensive care for 4 days after getting a piece of steak stuck in my throat and the hospital perforating my oesophagus while trying to push it down. That was pretty bad. But that could have happened anywhere I guess.

 If I was coming to Barcelona to do this interview where would we meet and what would we be drinking?

I think we’d probably have to meet in my favourite little bar in Barcelona called Cala del Vermut. It is a tiny place that serves locally brewed Spanish vermouth which is very typical of Catalonia. They also serve wonderful tinned seafood which is another speciality. Tuna, salmon, anchovies, mussels, clams and other molluscs that I’m still not sure what they’re called in English. The quality of tinned goods in the region is very good. They can be very expensive. And not looked down upon as they might be in England.

 Would you recommend the expat life in Spain to everyone and for what reason so/not?

It really does depend on your situation. Of course Spain is a lovely place to live. And I’m biased in saying that Catalonia is one of the nicest regions. But Spain does have its economic problems like so much of southern Europe. I am lucky that my company is based in the UK and my clients are there. I’m sure things would be more difficult if they were here. For older expats I have heard some terrible stories of their properties losing value along with their pensions being affected because of the exchange rate. And now I think they have lost free healthcare here too. On the bright side it is a lovely place to bring up a family. And of course if you’re young, free and single then it is great too!

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Name five things I should see and do in Barcelona?

Barcelona is full of wonderful sights. Of course Gaudí has a big influence across the city and probably the most important things to see in Barcelona have been designed by him. The Sagrada Família, Park Güell, La Pedrera and Casa Batlló would be the main ones.

But for a slightly different take on the city here are my top 5 must sees.

Turó de la Rovira – You get some of the best views in Barcelona from the top of this hill. It used to be completely unknown but has since been prettied up for tourists. It’s still much quieter than most places. It is sometimes known as the bunkers at Guinardó as at the top there are remnants of old anti-aircraft installations used in the civil war. More recently the hill and these anti-aircraft placements were made into shanty towns for the huge post-war immigrant population. That was all cleared away in the 90s and you’re left with 360° views.

Montjuïc Cemetery – I find cemeteries very relaxing, and this one more so than most. It was built on the far side of Montjuïc and looks over the port. The steep sides of Montjuïc give the cemetery its distinct character of winding paths and terraced levels. The plots are not in the ground but are largely in chambers set in towering walls. There are also some stunning tombs and mausoleums. And due to the location, more great views.

Jardins del Palau de Pedralbes – The more famous parks of Parc Güell and Parc de la Ciutadella are well worth a visit. But this one is slightly further away from the centre and is often missed. It contains the Palau Reial de Pedralbes (the Pedralbes Royal Palace) and is a beautiful place to walk around on a sunny day.

Barcelona Cathedral Cloisters – The cloisters of the Catedral de la Santa Creu iSanta Eulàlia are to the right of the cathedral. They are not always open and these days you have to pay. But they are well worth it. They are a small oasis (except for the crowds) in the middle of the city. There are wonderfully intricate altars around the edge and the garden in the centre contains the Font de Sant Jordi that has my favourite statue in Barcelona (it is also probably the smallest). It is a statue of St. George slaying the dragon. St. George is the patron saint of Catalonia as well as England. The cloisters also house a collection of geese that symbolise their own terrifying story.

Mercat de La Boqueria – Finally, on a lighter note there is the famous Boqueria market. This is definitely on the tourist map but is not to be missed. It’s all about the food here. Not only is the market wonderful but there are bars within the market to enjoy it at. Get there early before the crowds, have a breakfast of fried eggs and baby squid at El Quim de la Boqueria. Then wander round the market tasting and (if you are catering for yourself) purchasing as you go. Then sample more delightful food at either Kiosko Universal or Bar Pinotxo. Both are very good.

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 What should I definitely taste in Barcelona?

For me Barcelona is so much about the food. It is a way of life. I’ve already mentioned some great food you can try in Barcelona but there are some other dishes you should definitely try while you’re here.

Catalan stews – Catalonia has some hearty meat and vegetable stews, using mainly pork, that also often have white beans in them. They are well worth checking out.

Botifarra – A type of pork sausage with varying ingredients. There is a black botifarra that contains pork blood in the mixture. They are eaten with white beans or used in stews. I don’t like them all, but most are delicious.

Coca – A type of pastry/bread dough, similar to a pizza base. There are sweet ones but the savoury ones are the best. They are usually baked in a rectangular shape and sold in slices. They can be topped with many different combinations that include red peppers, anchovies, botifarra, sardines, courgette and mushrooms. They savoury ones are all delicious.

Calçots – A type of onion, like a large spring onion. The Calçotada is an annual event celebrating the harvesting of the calçot. The calcots are grilled on a barbecue and served with a romesco sauce for dipping. A messy, fun-filled day out.

Crema Catalana – the Catalan version of the more famous crème brûlée. Traditionally it is flavoured with lemon or orange zest. It is very good.

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 Do you have any culture shock stories to share?

Not really. Barcelona is a fairly cosmopolitan city much like London. It is very modern but does a very good job of preserving and integrating the past into the present. Something it does far better than London I think. The famous siestas of Spain don’t really apply here as much as they may in the south. The bureaucracy is definitely in effect though. That can be a shock even though it is quite well known to be the case.

 Did you have much of a problem with learning the language, what advice do you have for English speaking expats?

I do still struggle with the language but am able to get by. If you have the time and are prepared I would definitely try and learn at least some of the language before you arrive. And then be prepared to work at it once you’re here. If you have the time for an intensive course then great. Again it depends on your situation. If you’re living and working with Spanish people then you will pick it up far easier. And of course, Catalonia has its own language too! Spanish is pretty much spoken by everyone (even if they reply to you in Catalan) and obviously has more use around the world. But if you learn Catalan you will definitely be accepted. The history of Catalonia means they are rightly very proud of their language.

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 I notice you have a bookshop on your blog. Books can take us places without leaving home. Which books do you think best describe Barcelona for those who are unable to physically travel there.

For the history of Barcelona and Catalonia you should probably read Colm Tóibín’s book, ‘Homage to Barcelona’ or the book by the famous Australian commentator Robert Hughes called simply ‘Barcelona’. For more modern stories on the situation in Catalonia you can dip into Matthew Tree’s ‘Barcelona, Catalonia: A View from the Inside’.

For old school crime fiction try anything by the prolific Manuel Vazquez Montalban. He has some great crime novels set in Barcelona. And for more modern fiction try ‘The Summer of Dead Toys’ by Antonio Hill, again set in Barcelona. Or Max Camara’s, ‘Or The Bull Kills You’ which is set in Valencia.

 Tell us about your perfect/average day in Barcelona?

An average day – I’m not sure I have one. I’ll tell you a typical day I might have when I’m not working. I’d go out on my bike. Down Avinguda Diagonal to the beach and along the front. On the way back I’d stop at a cafe called Federal for a coffee and croissant. For lunch I’d meet some friends and go for some tapas in a district called Sant Antoni. Or on a Sunday to L’Arros for a paella with a walk along the beach afterwards. Depending on the day I might either go to the market and pick up some food for the evening or go out for an apertivo at my favourite vermouth bar, with dinner and drinks afterwards somewhere in town. As I said, it’s all about the food. And the outdoors/weather.

 Tell us about your blog

I started my blog, Homage to Barcelona, shortly after I arrived in Barcelona. I thought it would be a good way to learn about the city. The blog doesn’t really have any particular theme except the city of Barcelona itself. I write about anything and everything that I come across or discover about Barcelona and to a greater extent Catalonia. It’s tough to keep it up so I had the idea of getting other people to write about the favourite things they liked to do in the city too. Not only did it help me with content for the blog but it proved to be a perfect way of discovering secret little places that I may not otherwise have found out about. I do enjoy doing it. But sometimes it is difficult finding as much time as I would like to devote to it.

Are there any other fabulous travel blogs that you are following which you’d like to share with us? Either in Spain or anywhere else?

I don’t really read travel blogs. Just blogs about Barcelona. I have listed a few below.

http://lascallesdebarcelona.blogspot.co.uk/

http://foodieinberlin.com/ (she was in Berlin but now Barcelona)

http://cbarcelona.net/

http://dawniex.blogspot.co.uk/

http://thecafecat.blogspot.co.uk/ (she was in Barcelona but now London)

Thanks so much for taking a moment to talk to Unwilling Expat.

I love your blog and how it takes us to one of the most fascinating cities in the world.

Happy blogging to you at Homage to Barcelona!

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P.S: Thanks to Rob Dobson for the wonderful images!