Category: Cities to love

14 musts in Barcelona

Did you ever reflect over how some cities in the world seem to be loved by everybody? Like, when you’re having a conversation and the name Barcelona comes up, haven’t you noticed how everyone always goes: Oh, Barcelona! Yes, I freaking love that city, man. It’s so cool, it has everything! I really need to go back there. And if someone in that conversation reveals they haven’t been they’ll probably be told: What, you haven’t been? It’s such a must. Trust me, it’s the best! If the person himself didn’t already interrupt: I know, I know, Barcelona is definitely one of the places I have to visit asap. Everybody always tells me that. It’s on my bucket list this year.

No wonder you’ve been in a similar conversation, because sure thing; Barcelona is one of those cities you just fall in love with. In almost all rankings of Best Cities, Barcelona is among the top 3. The other highly ranked cities are almost always New York, Berlin, London, San Francisco, Cape Town, Rio de Janeiro, Copenhagen, Buenos Aires and Tokyo… Why is that so?

Personally I’ve been a devoted urban traveler for a long time and consider myself a bit over the top interested in trends within the travel industry. Although there obviously are several factors – e.g. geographical, historical and political – that count for a place to become a popular destination among many people (from many different countries), I personally think a city is amazing when it has a mix of great geography (sea, mountain, forest, rivers), friendly locals, vibrant city life (including a variety of food, art, night life & fashion), and a somewhat characteristic architecture. And that’s why I think Barcelona scores so high. It has all of that!

Since my first visit in 2003 and a six months stay in 2005 Barcelona has been one of my favorite cities – thus a city I make sure to visit every year (though I still haven’t visited half of the cities I’d like to). Out of my love for Barcelona I’ve decided to repost a popular city guide from my blog called 14 musts in Barcelona.

Starting off with the obvious temptations:

1. Gaudi, of course. The extraordinary architecture by the highly admired architect Antoni Gaudi (1852- 1926) is known for having made Barcelona into such a uniquely looking city. There is no place in the world you will see anything like the buildings he constructed over hundred years ago. Sagrada Familia, Casa Gaudi, The Guel park (see point 6), Casa Mila and Casa Batllo and much more. At the tourist information in the airport, or downtown (or at your hotel) you’ll get maps over where to find the marvelous constructions. There is also a Gaudi museum in Barcelona that can be good to start a full-on Gaudi day with. My recommendation however is to divide the Gaudi tours into two days according to where the spectaculars are and mix the go-see with other interesting things in each part of the city.

2. Understand the Spanish VS Catalan issue. The sooner you learn some about this, the better. It can in fact affect even a short stay in Barcelona, if the (wrong) person confronts you with this and feel you’re ignorant to the topic. Respect the locals’ feelings about this topic. Advice: Learn to say good day and thanks in Catalan – they’ll love you for it. “Bon dia” & “Merci” (NOT “Buenos dias” & “Gracias” – that’s Spanish!).

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The official flag of Catalunya

3. The beach! When cultural and vibrant cities have a coastline, they often get considered much more beautiful. This fact certainly concerns Barcelona with its not too polluted beaches, despite of occasionally being pretty over-crowded. The beach is long and I always make sure to spend one day strolling from one end to the other along the well-kept promenade. There is a good chance you’ll find whatever you consider is “the perfect beach slot” for you – it be more family-friendly, party-like, high-endish, or hippie-ish. There are small beach bars every 100 meter and good restaurants along the promenade. Make sure to choose local places over major chains like KFC.

4. The different barrios. In my opinion you don’t actually get to know a city before you get to know the features of its different neighbourhoods. Some cities may not have too defined neighbourhoods (something I quickly find boring), but luckily Barcelona does. You can say Ciutat Vella is what makes up the “city center” and within this area you’ll find the gorgeous and well-kept old towns Born & Barrigotic (see the Gothic Quarter!) on one side of the (extremely touristy) avenue La Rambla, and the vibrant (and very popular) immigrant area Raval on the other. And yes; all the barrios are brilliant for people watching, drinking, eating and shopping.

Then you got the area La Barceloneta & La vila Olimpica by the harbour. Here you can look at the boats, eat in a fine restaurant, stroll down the beach promenade and if you’re interested in such visit the Aquarium. If you got plenty of time, and/or are not interested in walking where all the other tourists are, consider visiting the surrounding Le Corts (a little west-endish), Gracia and Glories (though the most famous tourist attraction in Spain (La Sagrada Familia) is situated in between the two latter so you do indeed meet foreigners here too).

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El born, close to Barceloneta

5. The plazas. Because Spanish people love getting together for chats and drinks (and are privileged with a climate that allows it pretty much all year), small and big squares packed with restaurants, bars and fountains are characteristic in South European cities. In Barcelona they are everywhere, however not always that easy to find on a map. Plaza Real (at La Rambla) is one of the bigger and very touristy, Passeig del Borne (Born) is more of a street than a plaza but cool (young, hipstery) people hang here, Plaza del Sol (Gracia) is small, young and hippie-ish, the huge Plaza outside of MACBA in Raval is chilled and full of skaters and tourists, Plaza triangular (Barrigotic) is tiny and quite local, Plaza de Sant Jaume connects two barrios and this and that plaza, oh I could go on forever… Just sit down for a beer or a cold Clara (Spanish for shandy), some tapas and enjoy.

6.The parks. Barcelona has many small parks hidden between streets and buildings, but Ill highlight the bigger parks where you can spend a day relaxing and enjoying a taste of nature within the hectic city. (All the parks are perfect for people traveling with children). Parc de la Ciutadella is ground of both the Catalan Parliament building and Barcelona Zoo and part of its charm lies in its ornamental waterfall and artificial lake. You can take a boat out onto the lake, play table tennis, or enjoy any of the seasonal activities and events the park hosts every week.

Parc de la Ciutadella im Frühling, Barcelona, Katalonien, Spanien

Montjuïc park got world known during the 1992 Olympic Games and currently offers a green oasis for culture, sports and entertainment in Barcelona. It’s located on the mountain Montjuïc with a spectacular view of the city and offers theaters and museums, fountains and gardens, sports facilities and fairground pavilions.

The park Guell, built by Gaudi between 1900 and 1924 was originally going to host around sixty houses and a chapel, but was never finished. As a result, it became the property of the city of Barcelona in 1922 and is today one of the main tourist attractions in the city. The view from here is stunning and Gaudi’s particular style is clearly noticeable in the uncommon architectural forms and bright colors.

And for even more stunning views (and potentially some hiking) you go to Tibidabo, which happens to not only be Barcelona’s highest mountain but also represents an old amusement park. The place is well known from the movie Vicky Christina Barcelona and for yet another precious cathedral.

7. Tapas! Though some Nationalistic Catalans (they’re plenty) would disagree, Barcelona is in Spain, and the Spaniards love their tapas. Get used to eating your lunch and dinner like them – and remember tapas is to be shared between people. The classic ones: aceitunas (olives), pan con tomate (bread with tomato), aioli (thick white sauce made of garlic and olive oil, to eat on bread and with seafood), patatas bravas (thick fried potato chunks with a special spicy tomato sauce), tortilla (thick egg omelet with potatoes) and albondigas (meat balls with a touch) and gambas a la plancha (grilled shrimps, or shrimps cooked in a dry-fryish way on a pan).

For the seafood lovers there are plenty of options – especially for the valiant. Grilled pulpo (octupus) and calamar (squid) is very common and delicious! Chipirones en su tinta (mini squids served in their ink!!) as well, and trust me- it’s yummy! Grilled or dry-fried boquerones (anchovies) you eat whole, and various bacalao (cod in sauce) dishes are served many places. And don’t forget your sangria, it’s just a myth that Spanish people don’t drink it themselves.

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8. La Champañeria. Actually I was unsure whether to post about this, or not, as it’s one of these places you love just the way it is. But I hate it when others keep those secrets away from me, so here it goes. La Champañeria is a gem of an authentic Spanish cava & tapas bar. It’s located at the bottom of Born, in the small street Carrer de la Reina Cristina 7 (close to the harbour). You find it by noticing the crowd of people outside, especially around midday (lunch time for locals). In my opinion it’s the perfect place to go as a couple or with a small group before or after a day on the beach. The bar is tiny but takes surprisingly many people that don’t mind squeezing together..

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La Champañeria

Beware! You go to La Champañeria to get some local, historic vibes and taste their Cava and tapas (both simple, but delicious). Here you’ll kick your way through used carton plates and tissues, and order at the bar with jams hanging over your head. The old sweaty waiters are in a hurry and don’t speak much English, so be patient and speak clearly as it’s normally crowded and noisy. One bottle is served with three plates of tapas.

Open from 9am – 10.30pm, closed on Sundays.

Champaneria

 

 

9. La Boqueria. Originally called Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, this market is one of the oldest in town, dating back to 1217 (!). It’s easy to find on a map and by walking up La Rambla (with entrance from La Rambla). A perfect place to suck in some history and watch how a typical old Spanish market works, and to buy fresh bread, cheese, fruits, fish and meet (if you’re keen on a picnic in a park or live in an apartment and want to cook).

10. Get inspired! Absorb quirky art and fabulous street performance. Regarding street performance, many seem to think that the street artists in La Rambla are of the best in the world! Regarding contemporary art, visit MACBA in Raval, follow this and google where to find different galleries. Between Barrio Gotic and Born you have two streets full of photo shops and posters and quirky art that I love to visit. For graffiti-interested, the whole city is a gallery actually (just read this). You’ll also find plenty of inspirational stuff by googling the topic.

 

11. Bars! Oh yes: BARcelona! First of all; the nicest bars are obviously not the ones you find in the middle of La Rambla. Then again some of the most historical bars (and also frequently visited by locals) are very close by. Just google and mark them on a map and start your round. The level of cocktail making skills is high! In Raval you have Rabipelao, Ambar and Lobo bar: all stylish, yet odd, chilled & fun. Close by are the two old and unique bars Bar Marsella (be careful with the absinthe, they’re not joking), and Le Pastis (Raval). However Boadas in Barrigotic claims to be the oldest in Barcelona and you should definitely go here if you want a peak into the 1940′s. Sugar bar, Pipa club and Le Petit Jet lag are also all in Gotic, tiny and innovative. In Born around Passeig del Borne and its side streets (mentioned above) you have many more! Not to mention in Gracia.

12. Nightlife! My favorite club when I lived in Barcelona was Sala Apolo; An old small theatre situated in Raval (metro stop Paralel). It still exists and hopefully will forever, has amazing bookings and loads of experimental electronica and hip hop. Razzmatazz is also great, a huge venue with 5 rooms and good concerts from time to time (but check their events online first). La Paloma is a historical gem but be sure to check if it’s open. It constantly has neighbour trouble as it’s in the middle of a resident area in Raval. La Terraza is beautiful and located up in the hills of the city (perfect for warm summer night), though it’s not my kind of vibe (quite high-endish). City Hall (on Placa Catalunya) also had some good concepts going on, but I’m afraid you have to find out of these things yourself when first deciding to go somewhere. It really depends on your music and style, amigo, hence I’d check ResidentAdvisor.com and Timeout.com to find recommendations for the style/music I’d fancy.

El Row 14 is apparently a mad club where they play with inflammable toys and dress out. It typically offers electronic music and is probably for the more party valiant as it’s situated a bit outside town and in the Spanish clubbing-way open til early morning (I’ve heard many people start their daytime party here around 10am). Very good bookings of national and international DJs. (EDIT: This place is closest as of 2014)

13. Festivals. Sure thing, the Spaniards embrace their festivos (“holy days”) and find any excuse to throw a party or celebrate something with a festival. Ill mention the most known events for now. Late March: Sitges (gay) carnival has become a wild tourist attraction. Late May: Primavera sound. Mid June: Sitges gay parade. Mid June: Sonar: Barcelona’s biggest festival – and one of my all time favorites (thus promoted several times before). It offers electronic music but also all kinds of experimental stuff including old school hip hop etc. June 24: San Juan (celebration of a saint (generally speaking: a massive beach party). Mid September: Merce. A massive traditional carnival alike party in which locals, families and tourists gather to celebrate Catalan traditions, watch endless parades and intense street fireworks (!).

14. Avoid getting pick-pocketed or mugged! With mass tourism Barcelona – that unfortunately holds a large number of poor inhabitants – has become a Mecca for pickpockets. Like in any other place in the world you have to take precautions, and the typical advices are: Don’t watch street performers in crowded areas/ stand on crowded metros/ walk in crowded streets without having control of you valuables. It’s also common that poor kids wander around tourists’ tables asking for money, cigarettes or directions, but with an attempt to steal. I’ve been to many places considered more ‘dangerous’ than Barcelona (and it may of course be a coincidence) but I’ve honestly never heard of/ seen (and even stopped) as many robberies as here.

General points: Barcelona is perfect for a lot of walking so wear good shoes. To travel further you depend on taxis and public transport. The latter is more environmentally friendly and a cheaper and fun way to see the city. Also, Barcelona is very children- and gay friendly.

Have fun!

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I ❤ tandem biking

Venice beach and its neighborhoods are much more fun than the ones of West Hollywood (which I wrote about a few weeks ago). So, whoever advised us to rather stay in West Hollywood while here is a poop.

Truly, I didn’t get to know more than a fraction of what LA has to offer, so my opinion is probably not worthwhile to take as a travel advice…

However, it’s still my impression that the lifestyle offered in Venice is one of the best in LA. Sure, you got ubercool Silver Lake and some interesting spots further West in LA too, but I find Venice to be so much more real.

I know. It may be a touristy cliche strolling down Venice beach, gawking at the body builders at Muscle beach and getting surprised that the bay watch towers and cars look exactly like in the series.

But I loved every bit of it!

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The place itself doesn’t really appeal to the eye in terms of beauty, but its chaotic charm definitely do. The density of street art, skaters, tourists, bikers, restaurants, bars, random (and highly professional) street performances, souvenir & silly-sunglasses shops is nothing but astonishing.

The main attraction in the below picture for instance, is a rather old gentleman who lives by showing people on the street that he can stand on broken glass, with the supportive help of a random person or two holding his hands. Needless to say his engaging American entertainer skills were uncomplainable.

That we understood when realised we’d spend half an hour watching him do the same thing over and over, wooing and awing.

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Apparently one key thing to do in Venice is to rent a bike and go as far as we could by the shore. Everybody we know that knows LA told us to do so, and so did numerous bike-for-rent-stands.

To my surprise there were tons of places that rented out tandem bikes, and well…  isn’t it just everyone’s dream to bike around on a tandem and live happily ever after?

IMG_5790Off we pedaled in the baking sun, to soon remember how different the fresh breeze from the sea feels in the face when moving quickly.

Passing by smiling families on their day off. A waving hobo at a bench. Two joggers with each their dog in leash.

We pedaled all the way to Santa Monica which is a prettier side of the beach.

Pretty might be relative, but look at these funky houses.

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Pedaling all the way is relative too, as the man in front could do that perfectly fine on his own with me on the back. Another reason to love tandem biking!

This was I could shoot pictures of interesting stuff on our way.

Like this mini amusement park – right there on the beach!

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And yes! THAT color of the sky is real. It was like this every day of our visit, which obviously makes any Norwegian gal happy.

One of the things I liked the most in LA was the always bright blue sky and surprisingly fresh air – especially in Venice that is – as it reminds me of Cape Town somehow.

Also, the sand is a lot cleaner than Id assume and the water perfect for a quick dip after a long day biking.

African House expanding

During my first visit to South Africa in 2009 I got hooked on its culture, and over the past three years I’ve traveled in and out to what became my favourite city in the world; Cape Town. Like I said after the visit in 2009, I can say again after having spent two longer periods there: The city has everything: Wonderful welcoming people, an interesting and vibrant culture, breathtaking (and extreme) nature, amazing weather, delicious food and one of the things that fascinate me the most: a thriving MUSIC scene.

And I don’t know if you know this, but South Africa – and other African countries – are on a very interesting roll these days what concerns expanding their electronic musical scene. Without Europeans knowing much about it – as Eurocentric as we’ve become –  South African musicians have for long indulged in various electronic beats and developed their own specific sounds. Kwaito is one of them, and from there a certain local House music style emerged.

In the country’s fashion however the electronic scene has been very divided according to race, having blacks and whites predominantly producing and listening to separate styles, and this was one of the things we found a bit curious when first there in 2009. Wherever we went to party we found that the crowd was either white or black. And the music seemed to change according to it.

Though the explanations to this situation are many – and any situation obviously always is evolving and changing – observing what we did in 2009 gave life to the idea of a project based on the believe that electronic music is a universal language that can be used to break down socio-economic boundaries.. Two years down the line the launch of Bridges for Music became a reality and its first events took place in South Africa together with national partners and local and international DJs this year.

The below picture for instance is from the day Bridges for Music arranged a workshop with a following free popup party featuring Richie Hawtin and local artists like Culoe de Song, Euphonik, Dj Fresh, Vinny da Vinci and Nastee Nevin. It took place in Kliptown, a neighbourhood of the township Soweto in Johannesburg, and I’ve never ever been to anything like it really.

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Seeing how people in all ages and from different communities and races came together through music in these surroundings – dancing nonstop for over seven hours – was an eyeopening and unforgettable experience. In fact, Richie Hawtin later said: it was the proudest moment of his career. Personally I will forever recall that day and look back at it with a big smile on my face.

As much as the mentioned event was a success, so were the ones with Skrillex and Luciano who both joined Bridges for Music for township workshops and events in Cape Town and Johannesburg. And I can confirm that Luciano took some South African house tunes with him back to Ibiza where he made the audience go wild last summer.

Sure thing; bridges are being built from Africa to Europe as it suddenly seems as the global electronic music scene finally is opening its eyes to African sounds. A good example of that is South Africa being the topic of the upcoming Amsterdam Dance Event this year’s October, to what many South African artists are invited (some for their first journey outside of Africa).

Yup. Good stuff is going on in the world with regard to the spread of South African electronic music. Check for instance what BBC News just reported:

If you have spent any time in Johannesburg or Durban, South African house is a sound that you will have heard. This music is played everywhere, from taxis and barbers shops to bars and parties. Now that the hypnotic township sound has reached Europe and other parts of the world, it has helped some young Africans to reconnect with their roots.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely want more of this!

Watch BBC Africa’s Lebo Diseko report from the London underground club scene here.

Go here to see the video of Richie Hawtin’s visit in South Africa.

Sonar 2013 – the music

To be honest I find describing music and artists equally boring as describing art.. However, I’ve decided to give it a go this time, as it’s difficult to mention a music festival without mentioning its musical acts.

After discovering the new venue of Sonar day Thursday afternoon, V had some meetings regarding Bridges for Music, hence I decided to check out Richie Hawtin’s free popup gig in its new location. The annual and very popular off-Sonar show is known to take place in La boqueria in Raval (read my post from last year’s Sonar here) and see , but has now moved to El Parque Ciutadella, near the harbour.

Stepping out of the metro 10 minutes away from the park I felt the typical mega-excitement among young Spaniards that already had lined up along the way for their botellon (expression for the concept of drinking plenty somewhere public before entering a party), and smiled my way to the park. Sweating too that is, because oh my it was cooking..

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The above pic shows how it looked when I arrived

and the below pic shows the crowd from stage, just when Rich started.

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As you see what started as a secret popup gig isn’t very secret anymore.

I’m not convinced if it was worth it missing out on Gold Panda at Sonar, but it was fun to catch up with the Minus guys again over some Sake and talk about last time we met – in South Africa – (read post from it all here) while bouncing to techno in the boiling heat. Also fun to see Rich’s parents who always are in Europe around this time; both so fresh, happy and easygoing.

Heading back to Sonar I was super eager to discover an artist I’ve read about lately, but never heard of before; the pianist Fransesco Tristano. And WOW: What an explosion of classical and electronic music mixed together, a rather unique experiment of pure and rough piano playing accompanied with deep bass in both melancholic and dance-rhythm like tunes. Kinda reminded me of some of the old sets of the Norwegian electronica and jazz artist Bugge Wesseltoft in his glory days.. Point is: not one single person was sitting down during the second half of the concert. Just amazingly refreshing and surprising all together! I’ll definitely continue checking on him from now on.

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Before Tristano we got a quick glimpse of Sebastian Tellier whose song La Ritournelle is one of my favorite of all times. As much as I’d like to hear that song being performed live I must say there is something with Tellier that just makes me see a big banner with PRETENTIOUS written over it. Why the attitude?

Finally, the two DJs hired to close Sonar Village on Thursday were the two Norwegian cutie-pies Lindstrøm and Todd Terje, with nothing but a live act! We met some friends by the bar and loved finally being able to stand under the sun. What I liked the most from the gig was to see how intensely the DJs were concentrated on their set, which was a fun contrast to the crowd that was going absolutely mental on the dance floor. And – maybe it was due to the crowd, maybe it was due to the sudden blissful feeling of summer – that made the DJs put on Whitney Houston’s “I wanna dance with somebody” as a closing track (!)…

Hahaha, true story!

Anyway…

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The best festi-day of them all was of course Friday when Annabelle came, a friend from the time I lived in Buenos Aires in 2007. We were actually at Sonar 2009 together when I met V on the dancefloor (yup, we have our anniversary during Sonar), but she hasn’t been since. Loving this year’s lineup Annabelle decided last minute to come for one day. Meaning I got to spend a full day with my favorite giraffe!

Look at her!

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Luckily, she came on the day with the Bridges for Music conference, which attracted over 200 persons and was delivered amazingly well by Bridges’ founder Valentino Barrioseta (yes, I’m proud of him and already wrote a post about it all), and that way got to understand more about what Bridges for Music is about after having heard me talk about it for months.

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Later – just like in the old times – the men had to go out networking so Annabelle and I ran out to the sun for some fun. We got to see the funky group Foreign Beggars at Sonar Village before we met some Spanish friends and increased the party level. Super Sonia brought with her the bartender gene like always, and started serving us shots of Tequila on the very dance floor.

That’s the way!

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Everyone was keen to see Matthew Herbert during the sunset at Sonar Village, and got likely disappointed by understanding he was doing a DJ set and not a live act. But the tequila helped.. and then Jamie Lidell came on stage. I think these moments of good music, random encounters with plenty of friends in the sunset hours are of my top favorite thing when on festivals.

Here some handsome up and coming Spanish DJ friends; Edu Imbernon in the middle with his friends Los Suruba.

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When we started to feel perfectly blurry Friday night, we had a quick burrito dinner on site before we took the bus to Sonar Night. The group to open Friday night was Kraftwerk, whom we obviously all were keen to see.

Thing is now that the festival fixers are getting smarter for each year, making sure to put some of the main headliners on early, meaning one can’t sit too long around the table after dining (or sit at all).

Upon arrival we were handed 3D glasses and suddenly we found ourselves in a hall with 4000 others with these on. Fabulous idea.

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Unfortunately I was way too happy to get it at all in the moment, but I had a lot of fun dancing on right hand side (I’ve read reviews of their new concert concept saying that the trick is to stand rather close to stage to get the 3D thing) afterwards. The two V’s kept buying Vodka Redbull and Annabelle just seemed to be in heaven, but then we understood we were in a festival again with a loooong lineup. We headed over to the Sonar Lab to see Nicolas Jaar, which has been one of my favorite artists the last two years..

Apparently I’m not the only one because that stage was crowded, man. It wasn’t possible to even hear the music well as Sonar Lab covers one of these rectangular long open air dance floors that everybody seem to be crossing at the same time in a steady flow. Disappointing!

However, after some radio cars we cheered up …

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And were ready to see the next gig on the list: Bat for Lashes in the Sonar Pub. Since I read they were playing at Sonar this year they were highest on my personal lineup of must sees – and yes – they delivered! It feels a bit random with such an organic, slow-styled gig during Sonar night, but it worked thanks to their electronic elements, the energetic singer Natasha Khan whom by the way is truly amazingly good live! And SEXY! She got this little touch of Bjork going on, which I’m sure she won’t mind being tagged as (and that she probably is aware of).

Here is one of their more up beat tracks:

From there on the night turned into a backstage affair with reunions with artists that we’d met South Africa some months ago. First we spent half an hour with the super nice Skrill crew, – with bulging eyes over the sick space ship on stage in which he perform his set. Again I say what I said after the first time I saw him live, the music isn’t my favorite but man is he a cool DJ! His energy and way of engaging with the crowd is very impressive!

We moved over to Richie Hawtin’s stage and from there Sonar was loads of fun people, champagne, laughter and crazy ideas. Basically Annabelle and I swayed our 1.83 m tall bodies into Saturday morning alongside people like Skrillex – that had come backstage to see Richie after his own set. C U T E

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A great Maya Jane Coles set later we were tired and went home where we smuggled Annabelle in to our rented room and got a few hours sleep before party day 2.

This got long, man and I gotta dash so the music and fun from Saturday has to be continued… if ever..

Sonar 2013 -new airs

Splish Splash and this summer’s first festival highlight is over.

2013 was the year Sonar Day moved to another venue and part of town after over a decade in the venues of MACBA in Raval. As much as we are many that have loved Sonar Day at MACBA due to the viby city feel surrounding it, it’s also true it started to get very crowded in there. It’s also true that the residents around MACBA have been tired of the festival’s noise for years and deserved a break. Thus, after the announcements about Fira Mont Juic being Sonar Day’s new party dress, many of us were excited to see it.

And my oh my, a more perfect sight for Sonar Day is impossible to find. I’m a bigger fan of the festival already. Yes it did feel very big initially, but considering they’ve sold many more tickets this year and that MACBA indeed got over crowded the last years, I cant express how much I loved Sonar Day in bigger venues. Now there are enough bars, toilets and space to walk around for everybody, which feels particularly important in a place where the temperature easily exceeds 30 C.  Moreover it is obvious that the organisers have worked hard to give the place a typical ‘Sonar feel’, – with success! We were several Sonar veterans talking about it; it all feels like before and one quickly forgets that Sonar has moved. The only thing I could point my finger at is that there only is one open air scene now, as opposed to 1,5 (one smaller stage was inside of a tent) before. Besides: Sonar Village lacks some trees. However, all in all: WAY to go, Sonar!

This year was my seventh Sonar and as expected a bit more ‘industry’- like. Firstly due to the preparation and expectations regarding the Bridges for Music conference presented by my V together with the three ambassadors Richie Hawtin, Luciano and Skrillex. Secondly due to not having many of my own friends around, therefore mostly hanging with new acquaintances from the sector, rushing from a place to another to catch up with both artists, concerts and people. Thirdly due to finding myself constantly backstage rather than in front of stages. A slight exaggeration, but still a trend. And I have got some mixed feelings about it actually…

Though I seem to be very happy right here

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To be continued..

14 musts in Barcelona

Summer 2013 is around the corner and I’m looking forward to go back to Spain for a month or so this year. As always I’m off to Barcelona in June and the Sonar festival (this year even with a proud V that will present the South Africa launch of Bridges for Music), and hopefully to Ibiza & Costa Blanca (Alicante & Valencia). I’ve written a lot about these places before, and will repost some of it this week, starting with the oldest post.

It is a list I first wrote in 2007 over 14 must do/sees in Barcelona. I’ve been to Barcelona several times since and find the musts equally relevant today. Though I’m unfortunately not too updated on the nightlife scene (I haven’t been to more than one of the mentioned clubs for instance) I know they are all there. But do feel free to share your points of view on newer/ other clubs.

credentials: googleimages.com

credentials: googleimages.com

In 2004/2005 I was fortunate to work as a volunteer for a huge EU-initiated ONG in Barcelona, and lived for six months together with other young volunteers from various European countries. My particular work experience itself was a rather dark chapter, but that’s another story and anyway I wouldn’t change those months for anything. Besides I was obviously keen to go to Barcelona for much more than the job, just like all the other volunteers. We were there to meet others alike, learn Spanish and “have the time of our lives”. And we had! Some of the guys with whom I lived still live in Barcelona and I dream of living there again one day myself.

So. Here are 14 things to do/see in Barcelona, starting with the obvious temptations:

credentials: hdrcreme.com

credentials: landarchs.com

1. Gaudi, of course. The extraordinary architecture by the extremely innovative and very much admired architect Antoni Gaudi (1852- 1926) is known for having made Barcelona into the city it is today – due to its looks. There is no place in the world you will see anything like the buildings he constructed over hundred years ago. Sagrada Familia, Casa Gaudi, The Guel park, Casa Mila and Casa Batllo and much more. At the tourist information in the airport, or downtown (or at your hotel) you get maps over where to find the marvelous constructions. There is also a Gaudi museum in Barcelona that can be good to start a full-on Gaudi day with. My recommendation however is to divide the Gaudi- tours into two days according to where the spectaculars are and mix the go-see with other interesting things in each part of the city.

credentials: architectsandartisans.com

2. The beach! When cultural and vibrant cities has a coastline, they often get considered even more beautiful. This fact certainly concerns Barcelona with its not too polluted beaches, despite of being timely over-crowded. The beach is long and I always make sure to give a day to strolling from one end to the other along the well-kept promenade. On the way you can find the perfect slot for you whether that is the more family-friendly, party-like, high-endish, or hippie-ish…  There are small beach bars every 100 meter and good restaurants along the promenade. Make sure to choose local small places over chains like KFC.

3. The different barrios. In my opinion you don’t actually get to know a city before you get to know the features of at least 3,4 of its neighbourhoods. Some cities may not have too defined neighbourhoods (something I quickly find boring), but luckily Barcelona does. You can say the typically ‘of tourist interest’ “city center” is what is called Ciutat Vella in which you find the old towns Born & Barrigotic (see the Gothic Quarter!) on one side of the avenue La Rambla, and the vibrant (and very popular) immigrant area Raval on the other. Then you have Barceloneta by the harbour/beach with the areas La Barceloneta & La vila Olimpica. Look at boats, stroll down the beach promenade and if interested visit the Aquarium. If you got more time in Barcelona, or if you are the kind of person not interested in walking where all the other tourists are, consider visiting the surrounding Le Corts (a little west-endish), Gracia and Glories (though the most famous tourist attraction in Spain (La Sagrada Familia) is situated in between the two latter so you do indeed meet foreigners here too).

born.barceloneta

Born, close to Barceloneta

4. The plazas. Because people love getting together for chats and drinks in a climate that allows it pretty much all year, small and big squares packed with restaurants, bars and fountains are characteristic in South European cities. In Barcelona they are everywhere, however not always that easy to find on a map. Plaza Real (at La Rambla) is one of the bigger and very touristy, Passeig del Borne (Born) is more of a street than a plaza but cool (young, hipstery) people hang here, Plaza del Sol (Gracia) is small, young and hippie-ish, the huge Plaza outside of MACBA in Raval is chilled and full of skaters and tourists, Plaza triangular (Barrigotic)  is tiny and quite local, Plaza de Sant Jaume connects two barrios, etc etc. Sit down on the pavement with a taken-away beer, or order a cold Clara (Spanish for shandy) and enjoy.

5. Tapas! Though some Nationalistic Catalans (they’re plenty) would disagree, Barcelona is in Spain, and the Spaniards love their tapas. Get used to eating your lunch and dinner like them – and remember tapas is to be shared between people. The classic ones: aceitunas (olives), pan con tomate (bread with tomato), aioli (thick white sauce made of garlic and olive oil, to eat on bread and with seafood), patatas bravas (thick fried potato chunks with a special spicy tomato sauce), tortilla (thick egg omelet with potatoes) and albondigas (meat balls with a touch) and gambas a la plancha (grilled shrimps, or shrimps cooked in a dry-fryish way on a pan). For the seafood lovers there are plenty of options – especially for the valiant. Grilled pulpo (octupus) and calamar (squid) is very common and delicious! Chipirones en su tinta (mini squids served in their ink!!) as well, and trust me- it’s yummy! Grilled or dry-fried boquerones (anchovies) you eat whole, and various bacalao (cod in sauce) dishes are served many places. And don’t forget your sangria, it’s just a myth Spanish people don’t drink that.

6. La Champañeria. Actually I was unsure whether to post about this, or not, as it’s one of these places you love just the way it is. But I hate it when others keep those secrets away from me, so here it goes. La Champañeria is a gem of an authentic Spanish cava & tapas bar. It’s located at the bottom of Born, in the small street Carrer de la Reina Cristina 7 (close to the harbour). You find it by noticing the crowd of people outside, especially around midday (lunch time for locals). In my opinion it’s the perfect place to go as a couple or with a small group after (or before) a day on the beach. The bar is tiny, but it takes surprisingly many people if you squeeze your way inside to the corners. And beware! You go to La Champañeria to get some local, historic vibes and taste their Cava and tapas (both simple, but delicious). In here you kick your way through used carton plates and tissues, and order at the bar with jams hanging over your head. The old sweaty waiters are in a hurry and don’t speak much English, so be patient and speak clearly as it’s normally crowded and noisy. One bottle is served with three plates of tapas.  Open from 9am – 10.30pm, closed on Sundays.

IMG_8744 Champaneria

7. La Boqueria. This is one of the oldest markets in town, and easy to find on a map and by walking up La Rambla. It’s a good place to suck in some history and watch how a typical old Spanish market works, and to buy fresh bread, cheese, fruits, fish and meet (if you live in an apartment and want to cook).

8. Understand the Spanish VS Catalan issue. The sooner you learn some about this, the better. It can in fact affect even a short stay in Barcelona, if the (wrong) person confronts you with this and feel you’re ignorant to the topic. Respect the locals’ feelings about this topic. Advice: Learn to say good day and thanks in Catalan – they’ll love you for it. “Bon dia” & “Merci” (NOT “Buenos dias” & “Gracias” – that’s Spanish!).

9. Bars! Oh lord.. Where to start? I’d say the nicest bars are the ones you don’t find in the middle of La Rambla. Then again, some of the most historical ones (and also frequently visited by locals) are very close by. Just google and mark them on a map and start your round. The level of cocktail making skills is high! In Raval you have Rabipelao, Ambar and Lobo bar: all stylish yet chilled and great fun. Close by are the two old and unique bars Bar Marsella (be careful with the absinthe, they’re not joking), and Le Pastis (Raval). However Boadas in Barrigotic claims to be the oldest in Barcelona and you definitely go here if you want to feel like in the 40’s again. Sugar bar, Pipa club and Le Petit Jet lag are also all in Gotic, tiny and innovative. In Born around Passeig del Borne and its side streets (mentioned above) you have many more! Not to mention in Gracia. Long story short: BARcelona!

1o. Nightlife! My favorite club when I lived here was Sala Apolo! An old small theatre situated in Raval (metro stop Paralel). It still exists and hopefully ever will, has amazing bookings and loads of experimental electronica and hip hop. Razzmatazz is also great, a huge venue with 5 rooms and good concerts from time to time. La Paloma is a historical gem but be sure to check it’s open. It constantly has neighbour trouble as it’s in the middle of a resident area in Raval. La Terraza is beautiful and located up in the hills of the city (perfect for warm summer night), though it’s not my kind of vibe (quite high-endish). City Hall (on Placa Catalunya) also had some good concepts going on, but I’m afraid you have to find out of these things yourself when first deciding to go somewhere. Depends on your music and style, amigo. I’d check ResidentAdvisor.com and Timeout.com to find recommendations for the style/music I’d fancy. El Row 14 is apparently a mad club where they play with inflammable toys and dress out. It typically offers electronic music and is probably for the more party valiant as it’s situated a bit outside town and in the Spanish clubbing-way open til early morning (I’ve heard many people start their daytime party here around 10am). Very good bookings of national and international DJs.

credentials: bcneventsandcrawls.com

EL ROW 14. credentials: bcneventsandcrawls.com

11. Get inspired! Absorb quirky art and fabulous street performance. Regarding street performance, many seem to think that the street artists in La Rambla are of the best. Re contemporary art, visit MACBA in Raval and google where to find other galleries – they’re plenty! Between Gotic and Born you have two streets full of photo shops and posters and quirky art that I love to visit. For graffiti-interested google this too, -there is a lot of inspirational stuff to see in all neighbourhoods.

12. Festivals. Yup. The Spaniards love their holidays and any other excuse to throw a party. Feb/ March: Sitges (gay) Carnival – has become a wild tourist attraction. Each end of May/June: Primavera soundfestival. Mid June: Barcelona’s biggest festival (electronic music but also experimental and old school hip hop. June 24: San Juan (celebration of a saint (generally speaking: a massive beach party). September 24: La Merce (kids, families, tourists enjoying the Carnival parade with tons of crazy fireworks on the streets). Plus more, more, more. Google!

13. Tibidabo. Go hiking (and later watch/try the old carousels) in Barcelona’s highest mountain and get the most beautiful view over the city! On Tibidabo not only do you get nature and a spectacular view, you get to visit the antique amusement park (known from the movie Vicky Christina Barcelona) and see another precious cathedral.

14. Avoid getting pick-pocketed, or mugged! With mass tourism, Barcelona that also holds a huge number of poor inhabitants, has become a mecca for pick-pockets. Like in any other place in the world you have to take precautions, and the typical advices are: Don’t watch street performers in crowded areas/ stand on crowded metros/ walk in crowded streets without having control of you valuables. It is quite common that kids from marginalised backgrounds go over to tourists tables and ask for money, cigarettes or directions. They can put a note, or a map on the table and steel what’s under it without you noticing. I’ve been many places considered more ‘dangerous’ than Barcelona, and it may of course be a coincidence, but I’ve never been a place where I’ve seen (and stopped) as many robberies as here.

General points: Barcelona is perfect for a lot of walking so wear good shoes. To travel further however you depend on taxis and public transport. The latter is more environmentally friendly and a cheaper and fun way to see the city. Barcelona is very children- and gay friendly.

Have fun!

A day on the Spree river

Berlin, you little pearl!

In you I could definitely like to live. Also these days of tropical summer really looks goon on you!

Today Ross and I decided to take his little dengue boat down to the Spree river. We transported it in a supermarket trolley and inflated it by the riverside. Random, but then again everything with Ross gets random. With cold beers and a small stereo we’d got in a Turkish shop before departure we hit the river and drifted away with the stream. From a bridge close by we picked up some friends that already were jamming along to the old reggae tunes surrounding the approaching dengue.

Observing Berlin from the river is not like observing it from a bike seat. As if painted on canvas white swans are elegantly drifting around in beautiful contrast to the graffiti-painted river walls. The empty bottles floating on the water surface somehow manage to not look wrong to any of us or the lazy people spread out on the green grass behind. Brightly colored flowers stand high along the riverside as if they’re the peasants in a game of chess protecting their Queen (the arty riverside bars) and King (the tall grey industrial buildings) from invasions from the river.

What  an  unforgettable  L O V E L Y   D A Y !

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