How to visit Austria: Introducing Vienna – the most civilised city. Ever!

One of the best types of sausages in Austria – A most wonderful hotdog. In Vienna!

My! My!

I’m doing rather well!

So far this year, I’ve been to Amsterdam, I’ve been to Zaandam, I went skiing in the Czech Republic, and I’ve just got back from Vienna.

In Austria!

You know the one!

The hills are alive with music n’ all that….!

Visiting Vienna is quite delightful!

I’ve been to Austria before of course, and I’ll be telling you soon enough all about it!

Myself on the balcony of our room at the 25 Hours Hotels, Vienna!

This time however, the reason that I decided to choose Vienna was to celebrate the “0” birthday of my husbandThe Music Producer.

I wanted somewhere “nice.”

And I wanted somewhere connected to music.

Voila!

Austria!

Let’s get a little bit of history.

AUSTRIA

A horse & carriage in Vienna!

Austria, otherwise known as Österreich, is a federal republic, and a country of just over 8.7 million people.

It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Hungary and Slovakia to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west. Most of Austria is highly mountainous in the Alps with its highest point 3,798 m or 12,461 ft! In fact, only 32% of the country is below 500 m or 1,640 ft!

Most people speak a local Bavarian dialect of German as their native language, although Austrian German is the actual official language of Austria!

In fact, the last time I went to Austria about 10 years ago (cough! cough!) we went hiking for a week in the Austrian Alps.

Austria, Hungary and Slovakia are so closely connected that you can easily travel between them!
p.s. Not by the alpine lift obviously!

And it was all rather pleasant until we went mushroom-picking in the forest.

The guide was explaining where we were going, and the safety of identifying edible mushrooms.

Now I speak and understand German.

In fact, I’ve done a few TV / radio programmes and spoke quite successfully (I think), in the Germanic tone expected.

But I couldn’t for the life of me understand a single word he said!

I couldn’t for the life of me, understand a single word he said!

I was standing in the middle of our mushroom-picking crowd, so I moved to the front.

No can do!

I stood literally eyeball to eyeball with the fellow, in order to enhance my hearing.

Nope!

Nothing!

Nada!

I was quite distressed.

I was quite distressed.

And my husband wasn’t with us.

So I turned to my son who was five (5) years old at the time, to see if the guide was speaking utter nonsense, or if it was just me.

It was just me!

My toddler had to translate things so that we wouldn’t get poisoned, and die!!

Ooops!

I needed to know what we doing, so that we wouldn’t get poisoned with mushrooms, and die!!

Back to the history!

The origins of modern-day Austria date back to the time of the Habsburg dynasty, when the vast majority of the country was a part of the Holy Roman Empire.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, Austria retained its position as one of the great powers of Europe. However, after the fall of Napoleon, German Prussia emerged as the leader of the Germanic-speaking countries with the Austrian Empire reformed into Austria-Hungary, thus excluding Austria from the then new German Empire.

Sadly, it was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on June 28th, 1914, and the troubles thereafter, that ultimately led Europe into World War I!

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, 1914 – whose death brought the onset of WWI.

After the collapse of the Habsburg (Austro-Hungarian) Empire in 1918 at the end of World War I, Austria attempted a union with Germany which, by the Treaty of Saint Germain and the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, forbade both the union and the continued use of the name “German-Austria” – Deutschösterreich. Until Adolf Hitler invaded and annexed Austria in 1938.

As a result, the Republic of Austria ceased to exist as an independent state, and officially became a legalised part of Germany, until 1955!

If you’re worried, don’t be.

Present day Austria is a lovely country, and the locals are hilarious!

Present day Austria is a lovely country known for it’s human rights policy, democracy, skiing, hiking, music, classical ballroom dancing, art and culture.

Austria has a very high standard of living, and is one of the richest countries in the world!

In fact, even Germans flock to Austria because of it’s wealth of opportunity!

And many of them go to Vienna!

WHY GO TO VIENNA?

The majestic sight of St. Peter’s Church, probably the oldest church in Vienna!
Photograph ©Frank Böster

OhMiGosh!

Where do I start?

Vienna is an imperial beauty!

It’s the capital of Austria and the cultural. economic, and political centre of Austria.

With a population of just 1.8 million, Vienna is the second (2nd) largest German-speaking city in the world, after Berlin!

Vienna is located in the eastern part of Austria and is close to the borders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. In fact, Prague, Slovakia, and Budapest, are but a few cheap hours away!

And just in case you have a couple more days to spare, this is what I wrote about them:

Myself as lovely as Prague!

PRAGUE:

BUDAPEST:

BRATISLAVA:

Look how wide and green Vienna is!

Vienna is not only the capital of Austria, but also the city in Europe with the highest ration of green space, woods, grasslands, parks, and gardens which make up almost 50% of the city, beating even my most beloved city of Berlin!

Vienna also has the most frequently photographed monument in the city – the golden statue of Johann Strauss, has the circus fairground of Parter, the beautiful Schönbrunn Palace Gardens, the Vienna Woods, vineyards, farmlands, and the wetlands of the legendary Danube River!

A genius such as Ludwig van Beethoven.

Vienna has a history to be jealous of, going further back than roughly 15B.C!

A precious heritage, charming traditions, imperial architecture, museums, art collections, works of art, the world’s first psycho-analyst – Sigmund Freud, the home of musical geniuses such as Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Brahms and Mahler, as well as the era of the Habsburgs who reigned for more than six (6) centuries!

Vienna is rich in baroque, historicism, art nouveau, as well as a nod to a world-class cultural complex and a future-oriented design of 60,000 square meters of space for a highly creative cultural scene in the Museums Quartier where we stayed, and in fact, all of the city!

Vienna is a city of beauty.

What not to like?

Wow!

Myself outside one of the Habsburgs palaces in the Museums Quartier, Vienna!
Photograph ©Frank Böster

I’ve got lots to say about Vienna, so I’ll tell you all about it next week. If you really can’t wait, there are loads of pictures and funny quips on Twitter!

Book your hotel here!

HOW TO VISIT AUSTRIA: INTRODUCING VIENNA – THE MOST CIVILISED CITY. EVER!

How to visit Austria: Introducing Vienna – the most civilised city. Ever!

This article is part – sponsored by the Vienna Tourist Board and I received a press discount from the 25 Hours Hotels, but all opinions and the charming traditions that I experienced, are my very own! Thanks so much!

In April & May, I’ll be visiting Croatia, Sweden & Finland!

From 07.03.17 – 09.03.17, our friends – the British musical and comedy duo – Carrington Brown – will be performing Germany’s premiere of Carrington-Brown feat. The Swonderful Orchestra: Comedy meets Classics at Tipi!

I’ll be there. Will you?

If you’re not in Berlin in March, I really can’t help you!

How to visit Austria: Introducing Vienna – the most civilised city. Ever!

Watch this space!

Note! I never travel without insurance as you never know what might happen.

I learnt my lesson in Spain. And obviously, in countries like Qatar, where technically the risk is higher, I can’t imagine going that far beyond, WITHOUT INSURANCE. No siree! You can get yours here, at World Nomads!

Please note that there are now affiliate links (for the very first time) connected to this post. Please consider using the links, because every time some sort of accommodation or travel insurance is booked via my links I get a little percentage, but at no extra cost to yourself!

A win-win for all!

Thanks a million!

How to visit Austria: Introducing Vienna – the most civilised city. Ever!

Have you ever been to Austria? Is Vienna a civilised city? Share & let me know below! 

See you in Berlin.

If you have any questions send me a tweet, talk to me on Facebook, find me on Linkedin, make a comment below, look for me on Google+ or send me an Email: victoria@thebritishberliner.com

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How to spend 48 hours in Berlin – DAY ONE – #bestofBerlin

Glühwein or mulled wine to go - at the German Christmas Market

So last week, I took part in the Berlin campaign #bestofBerlin as part of a tourism initiative to discover new and old parts of Berlin.

Let me tell you, if you live in Berlin, you don’t know how lucky you are as Berlin is one of the most attractive cities in the world not only to live in, but to visit. And if you’ve never been here, I don’t even know what you’ve been thinking.

Why not, should be the question?

When, should be the answer!

Last week, I gave you A Short Introduction To Berlin so if you missed it, go ahead, read it and catch up! As promised, this week’s post is all about what you can do in a short period of time, so without further ado:

HOW TO SPEND 48 HOURS IN BERLIN: #bestofBerlin

© visitBerlin - Philip Koschel
© visitBerlin – Philip Koschel

First of all, get yourself the Berlin Welcome Card for either 2015 or 2016. I wrote about it last week here.

If you decide to stay for a couple of days and need the Berlin Welcome Card for 48 hours only, then get yourself a Day Pass or a Day Return ticket too which you can use to supplement the extra day or two, as necessary. I explained how to buy BVG (Berlin public transport) tickets and what to do with them here. Note that they cannot be used to see tourists sights only to take you around the city.

Taking the shuttle bus. © Photo: Sergej Horovitz
Taking the shuttle bus.
© Photo: Sergej Horovitz

The Berlin WelcomeCard can be bought pretty much everywhere really, and not only does it include transport tickets for 48 hours including the city of Potsdam, but 200 discounts, inside tips, information on top attractions, a city map and a mini guide-book written in English, German, Italian and Spanish! I don’t know if you can get the guides in other world languages, but I guess you can always ask!

Please note that the VisitBerlin website is available in 14 languages – German, English, French, Dutch, Polish, Russian, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Turkish, and Korean!

I was given a complimentary Berlin WelcomeCard and it also included a €5.00 discount for the TV Tower restaurant or bar and a free voucher for a glass of glühwein (mulled wine) at the Christmas Market on Alexanderplatz!

Now once you’re all sorted with the Berlin Welcome Card, you’re all good to go and we can now begin.

DAY ONE

© visitBerlin - Wolfgang Scholvien
© visitBerlin – Wolfgang Scholvien
  • Leave your hotel, hostel or apartment and take a bus, tram or train. Use the Berlin WelcomeCard transport ticket.
  • Start at Alexanderplatz and go to the World Clock. Take a couple of pictures. If it’s in the summer, take pictures at the fountain too.
  • From the World Clock, turn right. Follow the tram line. Watch the trams. You’re in East Berlin so most of the transportation you’ll see in this part of the city, will be trams. If you don’t see any trams at all, you’re in West Berlin!
The TV Tower or Fernsehturm in Berlin.
The TV Tower or Fernsehturm in Berlin.
  • Right in front of you is a huge block TK Maxx building. Walk in front of it and just around the corner you will see a very tall building. This building is called the TV Tower or Fernsehturm. Go inside. There are usually long queues so pre-book your ticket if you can. Use the Berlin WelcomeCard. You get a 25% discount and €5.00 off your bill in the restaurant or bar (with a minimum spend of €15.00). There are magnificent panoramic views. It really is brilliant to see and is the tallest building in Germany! Also if you’re in the gentrified district of Mitte or Prenzlauerberg (where I live), you can generally see the TV Tower from most parts of the region. If you can’t, you’re in West Berlin lol!
  • Leave the TV tower and there’s another fountain right in front of you (or in December, one of the Christmas Markets), turn left. Go straight down until you get to a huge red building. This building is called the Red Town Hall or Roten Rathaus. This is the seat of our Town Mayor. It’s usually free to go in and has an impressive fantastic ceiling, entrance and hall. Take a few photos.
The historical Nikolai Quarter or Nikolaiviertel in Berlin.
The historical Nikolai Quarter or Nikolaiviertel in Berlin.
  • There’s a lot of construction work going on at the moment so take the time to read what the buildings will look like in the future! Cross the road in front of you. You will soon find yourself in the oldest part of Berlin. It’s called the Nikolai Quarter or Nikolaiviertel and it’s one of my most favourite parts of Berlin to visit. Even if I say so myself!
  • Wander around and take photographs.
Not the Weeping Angels of Dr. Who! Thank goodness!
Not the Weeping Angels of Dr. Who. Thank goodness!
  • Visit the St. Nicholas Church or the Nikolaikirche. It’s not only a church but a museum too and an audio guide about Berlin’s history in different languages, is provided! The church is over 800 years old and has a hidden basement floor that is considered to be one of the oldest existing rooms in Berlin, interactive screens and lots of stone statues. It quite reminded me of the Weeping Angels in Dr. Who! Use the Berlin WelcomeCard. You get a 40% discount and children under 18 are free. There’s also free admission the first Wednesday of every month. Tickets are usually €5.00.
The Knoblauchhaus in Berlin. © Stadtmuseum Berlin | Photo: Cornelius M. Braun
The Knoblauchhaus in Berlin.
© Stadtmuseum Berlin | Photo: Cornelius M. Braun
  • Visit the Knoblauchaus. I didn’t have enough time this time around but I’ve written about it before. The Knoblauchhaus is a museum and the former residence of the Knoblauch family. It’s one of my favourite places to visit and also one of the few remaining 18th century town houses still standing, and gives visitors a glimpse of Berlin upper-middle class life in the Biedermeier German Romantic era! Entrance is completely free but donations are welcome.
  • Find your way out of the Quarter. Use your map and then walk back up to the Karl Liebknecht Straße.  You can then do four things:

You can walk straight down into a street that will lead you to Hackescher Markt.

You can cross the road and turn slightly to the left and in warmer weather, take a cruise.

You can cross the road and turn left and walk down into the lovely boulevard called Unter den Linden.

The DDR - East German Museum in Berlin.

You can cross the road, turn slightly left, walk along the Liebknechtbrücke (bridge), go down the steps and right in front of you is the DDR Museum. If you can see the Cathedral in front of you and the river, you’re in the right place, if you can’t. Use your map!

  • Visit the DDR Museum. I was lucky to get a personal tour of the museum by the PR spokesperson before the museum opened, as it can get crowded quite quickly.
Die "Schwalbe" or East German moped at the DDR Museum © DDR Museum, Berlin 2015
Die “Schwalbe” or East German moped at the DDR Museum © DDR Museum, Berlin 2015

I loved it! It’s a lively, interactive museum with lots of cubicles with sounds, games, noises and things that you can touch, hold, smell and feel by pressing buttons and flicking or sliding pages with a single finger! The DDR Museum presents everyday life in the former East Germany or GDR experienced by ordinary people focusing on their homes, schools, jobs, politics and family life. It’s the 6th most visited museum in Berlin’s and very popular with teenagers and families with kids. In fact, I spent about 3 hours there myself!

  • Use the Berlin WelcomeCard. You get a 25% discount and tickets are usually €7.00, online tickets are €5.00. Children pay €4.00.
  • Once you’ve had your fill, go to Hackescher Markt. Have lunch or go shopping. I’ve written about excellent German food in the past and most of the places I mentioned are not too far away. Use your map and the Berlin WelcomeCard or just wander around. There are lots of great little places to eat and boutique / independent vintage shops to rustle through.
©Victorgrigas
©Victorgrigas
  • Take tram M1 or 12 to Sbahnhof Friedrichstrasse or take the train (one stop). Take in the view along the way on a road called Oranienburger Straße. This road is extremely popular with tourists and locals for the nightlife. Bars are hidden on roads linking off Oranienburger Straße and in every corner you will find, brilliant restaurants and trendy hipster bars. This part of Mitte used to be a prominent Jewish area before WWII and only the New Synagogue and various small Jewish outlets remain as the area has been fully gentrified. Not far from here was the Kunsthaus Tacheles which you can see in the film The Fifth Estate played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Germany’s Daniel Brühl. In the old days, it used to be an open air exhibition of metal sculptures, artistic studios, an alternate cinema and a really banging club but it’s closed down and is now a car park!
  • Come back at night and take in the view along the way. Be polite and respectful as this street is known for being a highlight of the sex industry. And just like in Amsterdam. It’s legal.
Drag Queen at THE WYLD in Berlin!
Drag Queen at THE WYLD!
  • Once at the Friedrichstrasse train station, either walk backwards and take in a show at the Friedrichstadt-Palast to watch the glamour and suspense that is THE WYLD or walk backwards and take a river-side stroll and have a drink or two at the riverside bars or at one of Berlin’s political historical bars called Ständige Vertretung. It’s a popular place which we take our friends to, as it’s the only place in Berlin in which you can get top kölsch beer only brewed in the city of Cologne! Use your map and the Berlin WelcomeCard for the Friedrichstadt-Palast and most of the main theatres in Berlin. You get a 25% discount and ticket prices vary depending on seating.
  • From the Friedrichstrasse train station, you can of course, walk straight down. You will see the Dussmann KulturKaufhaus Bookshop. You can buy books and small gifts here and it’s opened until midnight, except on Sunday!
© visitBerlin - Günter Steffen
© visitBerlin – Günter Steffen
  • Continue on until you get to Unter den Linden. Cross the road and go straight down. This is Berlin’s most famous High Street and also the street where East Berlin meets West Berlin. You can either take the underground train for a few stops or keep walking down. If you’re interested in seeing more of Berlin, I recommend walking on. If you easily tire, take the train 3 more stops down.
  • If you’re walking, take in the various car showrooms on both Friedrichstrasse and Unter den Linden. There is the Opel Museum and showroom, and the Automobil Forum.
  • Go further down and nip into a shop or two for a snack, and a drink.
  • If you’re really into it, go to the delightful French Galeries Lafayette department store in Berlin, for oysters, champagne and a little light shopping!
The very famous Checkpoint Charlie border sign English, Russian, French & German, in Berlin!
The very famous Checkpoint Charlie border sign in English, Russian, French & German, in Berlin!
  • Take the underground train two stops down and stop at one of the most iconic stops in all of Berlin – Kochstrasse also known as Checkpoint Charlie!
  • Get your photo taken by the “soldiers” there and really get to grips with the history of Berlin before WWII and after it.
  • Turn right and go into the The Checkpoint Charlie Museum or Mauermuseum – Haus am Checkpoint Charlie. This museum is an exhibition that explores not only the history of the Berlin Wall but also examines infamous escapes from East Germany via hot air balloons, homemade mini-submarines to hidden flaps in cars and even inside a fake cow! Use the Berlin WelcomeCard. You get a 25% discount. Tickets are usually €12.50 and children pay €6.50.
Two sides and periods, of the Berlin Wall.
Two sides and periods, of the Berlin Wall.
  • Once you’ve finished, go backwards again and follow the many large-format photos and info boards hung up showing photographs of this most famous border crossing point and the impact of the Berlin Wall on the history of Germany . The boards outside are free but you can also go into the Black Box at Checkpoint Charlie. I haven’t been personally, but if you use the Berlin WelcomeCard. You get a 30% discount. Tickets are usually €5.00. and children under 14 are free.
  • Walk on for about 2 minutes, and you will see the fantastic Currywurst Museum which I wrote about last year. Use the Berlin WelcomeCard and you can get a 25% discount. Tickets are usually €11.00 and children pay €7.00: Under 6’s are free. On #MuseumMonday all visitors get a 20 % discount if not discounted prior!
  • Tickets can also be combined with Yadegar Asisi’s Panorama DIE MAUER exhibition which shows the viewer the daily life of people in the vicinity of the Berlin Wall, on a fictitious autumn day in the 1980s. Use the Berlin WelcomeCard and you can get a 25% discount. Individual tickets usually cost €10.00 and children under 6 pay €4.00.
Outside the Trabi Museum in Berlin.
Outside the Trabi Museum in Berlin.
  • After this, turn right down Zimmerstraße and pop into the Trabi Museum which shows a large collection and varieties of trabis. For those of you who don’t know, a trabant also known fondly as a trabi, was a car produced in the former East Germany. It was a small car and very, very robust. It was meant to last a life-time and it did! You can also take photographs at this museum. Whilst there, I was the only visitor!
  • Use the Berlin WelcomeCard and you can get a 50% discount. Individual tickets usually cost €5.00 and children under 12 are free.
  • Walk further down and you reach Trabi World with a Trabi-Safari.
Trabi World with a Trabi-Safari, in Berlin.
Trabi World with a Trabi-Safari, in Berlin.

This place was amazing. You get to walk and wander around the shop and premises where they not only have trabis but mustangs and special E-cars too.

This is the place where tours start and then, you get to go on a trabi safari.

Yep!

You get to take over the wheels of a trabi!

As most of you know.

I don’t drive!

And I didn’t really think about it when I booked my ticket. Luckily, I was able to sit in with the trabi travelguide – Martin and his young driver – Zauri!

Our convoy of trabis in single file! In Berlin!
Our convoy of trabis in single file! In Berlin!

I arrived about 10 minutes before the safari tour was to actually start. Before the tour takes place there is an introduction of people present and a briefing as to the rules and regulations of driving in Germany, driving a trabi and following the exact instructions of our guide as he speaks through a microphone which can be heard in each and every car. A valid driving licence is necessary.

Our group was the English-speaking combination of people from England and Holland. There was also a German-speaking group.

Our convoy was a single file of 8 cars and our car was an E-car rather than the traditional manual car.

I sat in the back and even though I’m petite, it’s a little small so I’d say about two – three people in the car should be sufficient. We started on the border-corner of Kreuzberg and thus, West Berlin, and then drove to the main tourists sights of Berlin. We drove near the river, we went to Alexanderplatz and the Town Hall, Unter den Linden, Potsdammer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, the Denkmal / Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the War Memorials, Tiergarten, the Reichstag (parliament building), past the oldest hotel in Berlin (the Adlon Hotel), on the Oberbaumbrücke or Oberbaum Bridge over the lovely River Spree  and touching through both Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg. Both suburbs were extremely important as they were divided by the Berlin Wall otherwise known as East Side Gallery.

In driving a trabi, we even became tourist attractions ourselves!
In driving a trabi, we even became tourist attractions ourselves!

The trabi safari tour was great. And let me just say that Martin – our guide – was a hoot! We got to take photographs and little rest stops. We even became tourist attractions ourselves as a convoy of eight (8) little trabi cars is not something you see everyday.

Highly recommended!

I went on the Berlin Wild East tour but there are a variety of four (4) different tours to choose from.

The tours take 1 hour and 10 minutes and take place on a regular basis, throughout the day. Definitely use the Berlin WelcomeCard and you can get a 25% discount. Tickets are usually from €34 – €60.00 per person, depending on how many passengers are in a single car. Children under 15 are free!

That’s all for now.

You can see all the places that I went to previously by following me via #bestofBerlin on Twitter & Facebook.

See ya next week!

This post is not sponsored and even though I received a complimentary Berlin WelcomeCard to try out, the experience travelling by an East-German Trabi is all my very own!

I have so much to share with you so next week I’ll be writing about how to explore Berlin in just 48 hours – DAY TWO!

Yo Ha!

Myself actually being driven in a real Trabi, in Berlin!
Myself actually being driven in a real Trabi, in Berlin!

As usual, you can also follow me via daily tweets and pictures on Twitter & FB!

If you have any questions about Berlin, don’t be shy, I’m an expert! Go ahead and ask me!

It’ll be Xmas soon!

Watch this space!

How to spend 48 hours in Berlin - DAY ONE - #bestofBerlin

Have you ever spent 48 hours in Berlin? Do you think it’s enough time to see aspects of #bestofBerlin in two days, or would you stay longer?

See you in Berlin.

If you like this post or if you have any questions send me a tweet, talk to me on Facebook, find me on Linkedin, make a comment below, look for me on Google+ or send me an Email: victoria@thebritishberliner.com

Please Share it! Tweet it! Or like it!

10 reasons to go to Barcelona – And it’s not only for tapas and sangria, but you know, I’ll take it anyway!

The headless man in Barcelona, Spain.
The headless man in Barcelona, Spain.

So last week, I told you how I got abandoned at Barcelona Airport and it was pretty traumatising. Not only did I have to go through a flight delay with Vueling before I got to Spain but I went through a horrendous flight delay with Norwegian, on the way back to Germany too.

You really couldn’t make it up.

The fact is, whenever you go through an unpleasant time, it leaves a slight taste in your mouth and then you have a negative image of that destination.

The fact is, you begin to think it was that place rather than that airline.

Spain - Here we come!
Spain – Here we come!

The fact is, Spain is a great country to go to and Barcelona is just a thrill and I reeeeeally do like Barcelona and don’t want last week’s post to spoil the good time that I DID have in Spain so perhaps, I might go back to Spain again sometime this year.

It deserves a second chance.

One of the best things about going to the TBEX EUROPE conference is that you get the opportunity to be introduced to other organisations and outlets that you might not have thought of. You also get interviewed. I was asked, by the Travel Massive community in Spain, whether it was worth attending TBEX. Here’s the link to what I said!

Catalonia or Catalunya, Spain. Spain - Catalonia
Catalonia or Catalunya, Spain.
Spain – Catalonia

Now, I’ve actually been to Barcelona about four (4) times now, and this was the fifth (5th) time so I knew Barcelona as a fun city, but I didn’t know Barcelona as a cultural city!

As you know, my time was extremely limited in Lloret de Mar and I really only had one day to play with as the TBEX EUROPE bloggers conference took place from 30.04.15 – 02.05.15. Basically, three (3) days and nicely done over a public holiday and the weekend.

My initial plan was to use May 3rd to go to Barcelona, as you can’t be in the region and NOT go to Barcelona. That would be sacrilege!

Moventis, Sarfa.

As a TBEX EUROPE accredited blogger, the city of Lloret de Mar and the region of Costa Brava did their very best to provide either complimentary, or reduced-priced transport.

Now for those of you who have been following my blog in the last year (thank you so much!), you know that I attend quite a few parties, festivals, and events and I’m not averse to having a jolly good time LOL! I do however, also like history and culture, so I signed up with a company called Context Travel or #DeepTravel.

Context Travel had tours operating in Barcelona and in order to join the tour, I had to make my own way down …

Barcelona isn’t actually that close to Lloret de Mar and depending on where you are going, can take up to two (2) hours…..Since I wasn’t going to the airport, I decided to make use of local transportation which would comprise of either taking the bus or the train. Would you believe it if I told you that travelling by bus was much faster?

shutterstock-92810047-zob

You know how I love coach-bus travel so by bus it was to be.

On the last official night of TBEX EUROPE there was a closing party at a local club in Lloret de Mar. I was still quite exhausted from sleeping at the airport the previous day so I decided to go back to my hotel a little after midnight! Thankfully, the lovely 4-star – Hotel Gran Garbi in Lloret de Mar was about just seven (7) minutes away from the local coach-bus station so I sprinted towards it and took the 09:30 bus to Barcelona early on Sunday morning!

The fantastic thing about the Lloret de Mar coach-bus station is that not only could you go straight to the airport, but you could also travel to Toss de Mar, Barcelona, Girona and France!

I didn’t have any time for France but I did have the whole day allocated to spending as much time as possible in Barcelona.

Train & Bus tickets in Barcelona, Spain.

In order to get a return ticket, you have to choose and book the time that you wish to return. It’s a long journey so I chose the outward journey of 09:30 and a return time of 19:15. A return ticket would usually cost €10.75 but with a TBEX “pass” it cost just €9.75. Every penny counts.

The bus was quite comfortable, very clean, and pretty much fully booked. I ended up sitting next to an Italian guy who lived in Switzerland and had travelled to Spain to get his suit custom-made! He was pretty worried about getting his suit squashed and spent the whole journey holding it. He was fun to talk to though!

The bus is described as having WiFi but it didn’t work all the time, and on the return journey didn’t work at all!

From the Land of the Dead.
From the Land of the Dead.

I was set to meet Context Travel at 11:00.

Our meeting point was at the Hard Rock Cafe on Plaça Catalunya. When I got to Est Nord – which is the Barcelona Central Coach-Bus Station – I realised that I only had twenty (20) minutes to get to the meeting point, so I took a taxi.

You hear many things about the unscrupulous taxi drvers in Barcelona.

And the cost?

€5.00!

I didn’t get cheated at all and I managed to get to the Hard Rock Cafe with two (2) minutes to spare!

And then I looked around.

No tour guide but very creative students in Barcelona, Spain. Getting "married!"
No tour guide but very creative students in Barcelona, Spain.
Getting “married!”

No tour guide!

No person, man or woman holding-a-context-travel-sign-with-the-name-of-the-tour as instructed.

No umbrella person.

No groups of lost-looking-tourists-also-going-on-the-tour.

Nothing!

Sigh!

He was in the Shopping District in Barcelona, Spain. Gorgeous!
He was in the Shopping District in Barcelona, Spain.
Gorgeous!

I spent fifteen (15) minutes staring into the faces and peering at random strangers, hoping that they were the guide. Or lost tourists.

And then I saw a woman constantly looking at her phone and wearing pedal pushers. Could she be?

Yep! She was a blogger – Luxe Travel Family.

A fellow TBEX EUROPE blogger.

Hurrah! I’m not in Kansas anymore Toto!

And she was standing next to a young lady. She was a blogger too! – Travel Geekery.

And then not more than a few minutes later a woman came huffing and puffing. Another blogger! – Rachel Heller.

Hurrah, for TBEX EUROPE bloggers.

But wait. Where was our guide?

We’re experienced travel bloggers. We have social media at our finger tips. We’ve climbed volcanos, interviewed top artists, and sat on the front row at Fashion Week, surely we know what to do with all that technology at our finger tips?

Yeeeeeah!

So we called up.

Yep! We used the telephone LOL!

Anyway, it transpired that the organisers had messed up. There was a guide who was at the other side of Barcelona who had been waiting for a group of tourists who hadn’t turned up, and we were on the opposite side of the city thinking the same thing….!

Biel - our guide in Barcelona.
Biel – our guide in Barcelona.

In less than twenty minutes, our lovely guide arrived. His name was Biel. He was an absolute top fellow, in his late twenties, and professional. After making sure we were all together and brief introductions, off we went.

I’m an eager beaver, so I booked up for two (2) tours. The first one was called: The Gothic Quarter and the second one was called: Gràcia and the Spirit of Catalan Independence!

The Festival of The Day of the Virgin Mary, in Barcelona, Spain.
The Festival of The Day of the Virgin Mary, in Barcelona, Spain.

For the Gothic Quarter Tour, it was just the four (4) of us so Biel was really flexible and let us concentrate on the things that we were interested in or in anything we saw. And we saw a lot of things not even included in the tour because May 3rd was a public holiday in Barcelona, and the locals were celebrating  the festival of The Day of the Virgin Mary!

Loads of local Spaniards were out and about and I saw lots of families with children putting their blanket on the cool stone stabs and simply having a picnic, right there in the historic quarter of the Roman era! The festival turned into a bit of a musical parade which was in full force, and we even left the tour for about 20 minutes and joined in the parade itself.

Barcelona, Spain.

Now this is being in Barcelona!

It was a great day, extremely sunny and the feeling that I was really in Spain, began to slowly settle in.

Si!

So let’s have some history:

BARCELONA

Parc Guell in Barcelona, Spain.
Parc Guell in Barcelona, Spain.

Barcelona,, although not the capital of Spain, is indeed the capital of Catalunya or Catalonia and with 1.6 million people, is the second largest city, after Madrid, – Spain’s real capital city! It’s an old city founded by the Romans and emerging in importance in the Middle Ages. It’s a city that is over 2,000 years old and is open to the sea and influenced by many cultures.

Barcelona is a cosmopolitan city and a capital of business and commerce as well as a leading tourist destination, with some of the world’s finest architects having left their mark that integrate with the elegance of the Eixample district, and the down-to-earth squares of the Gràcia districts.

Barcelona, Spain.

It’s a fantastic city of both history and culture and it’s no wonder that millions of people flock there.

Catalonia’s fight for Spanish independence was based on political and historical ground, as far back as the 14th century, but was lost in 1714. The region got a resurgence of Catalan nationalism in the 19th century but with the dictatorship of General Franco, all of Spain was in dire straits.

Today however, Barcelona is a mediterranean city  that invites you to stroll on it’s streets filled with life and atmosphere, or to breathe in the rich ancient language of the Catalan people.

 THE GOTHIC QUARTER AND GRACIA AND THE SPIRIT OF CATALAN INDEPENDENCE

There be dragons in Barcelona, Spain.
There be dragons in Barcelona, Spain.

Barcelona’s Barri Gótic, or the Gothic Quarter is one of the best preserved medieval districts in the world, where you can ramble through the squares and hidden corners and discover the charm of buildings that are hundreds of years old.

We certainly did.

Our guide – Biel – took us through the layers of Barcelona from ancient Roman times, through the Middle Ages and until the 19th century.

The ancient Barcino Temple in Barcelona, Spain.
The ancient Barcino Temple in Barcelona, Spain.

We were shown the remains of a Roman gate, parts of the Roman wall and some Roman architecture. You all know the saying that “All Roads lead to Rome.” Not only that, but did you know that the saying in Barcelona goes – “All Roads lead to Rome and to the Gate of Augustus!”

It’s certainly true as in practically every twist and turn in and in every back alley, you could see a part of Roman history and Roman architecture and ideas that comprised of guilds, sophisticated professional and merchant classes, and a rich religious life for many religions.

FC Barcelona.
FC Barcelona.

Later in the day, I went on my second tour to Gràcia and as I was the only guest, it ended up being a private tour of one.

I also got to know a little bit about Biel as we sat in the Spanish sun and drank a can of non-alcoholic beer!!!!

Biel – the tour guide – was actually a young academic and an Art Historian who had not only been working with Context for three (3) years, but was also teaching at the local university AND was also involved in a local street festival, that took place once a year. The celebration was called the Festivity of Gràcia or the Fest de Gràcia and was a community effort.

Barcelona, Spain.

I had a look at his workshop which had signs asking for the locals to send in their recyclable products that he and his team needed, and they did. In fact, the project was so successful that last year, they won first prize for creativity.

Gràcia is very different from Barcelona Central and quite working class. There were hardly any tourists around and lots and lots of locals sitting in the sun, drinking, playing or just chatting.

I saw many churches, places of worship. And flags. I also got a peek into the history of the rise for independence by the Catalan people and even though Biel said nothing to suggest his feelings, I could feel the passion in his voice.

The Catalan people are proud. Proud of their language, proud of their culture, and proud of their soul.

Iberico ham.
Iberico ham.

If you’re thinking of going to a warm European city where the sun always shines, Barcelona is a good bet.

Here are ten (10) reasons why:

  1. Barcelona is easy to reach by plane, train, and by ship.
  2. If you like “living” history, there are so many open-air museums, squares and streets that you can stroll through. Take your time, close your eyes and imagine that you’re right back in time. At every turn and nook and cranny, you can bump into medieval bridges, romanesque chapels and gothic arches.
  3. The most brilliant works of Catalan Art Nouveau such as the marvellous beauty – La Sagrada Família –  are to be found all over the city through it’s most talented son – Gaudi.
  4. The Catalan people have a patron saint called Sant Jordi who happens to be the exact same patron saint of England – Saint George. I couldn’t believe it. I was enthralled and delighted.
  5. Look for dragons which are hidden. You can find them everywhere. If you look! Take a closer look at the architecture, in the stones and on the windows. They’re all over the place!
  6. The traditions of Catalonia are so rich that it is packed with carnivals, festivals, dances, bonfires, streets and squares filled with “Giants” and human towers that are such an exquisite sight, that the castellers have been declared a World Intangible Heritage! It was such a shame that I missed seeing them personally on my first day, due to my flight delay…
  7. Catalonia isn’t just Barcelona but consists of a diversity of land and regions ranging from the rugged Pyrenees, charming villages and towns, and farmed fields of the plain, not to talk of the beautiful sea, and has 16 natural parks and nature reserves, and a collection of sea scapes and mountains that are as wide in size, as the country of Belgium!
  8. Check out Barcelona’s most modern stadium and visit FC Barcelona filled with such beauties and talents, as Neymar and Lionel Messi!
  9. Visit Barcelona’s open-air or Historic Trail Markets and stuff yourself with the abundance of extremely tasty natural produce and gastronomy, based on seasonal produce such as paella, tapas, seafood, fideuà (a type of noodle casserole), black rice, home-made desserts and Cervesa.
  10. Discover and hang out in Barcelona’s underground scene that includes wild jam sessions, techno dancefloors, film screenings and flamenco!
A special Catalan dish at Carmelitas Tapas in Barcelona, Spain.
A special Catalan dish at Carmelitas Tapas in Barcelona, Spain.

I only had roughly eight (8) hours to spend in Barcelona in which I went on two (2) walking tours, had a local lunch at a Spanish bistro that served traditional tapas and typical Catalan dishes, with the bloggers. The bistro was called Carmelitas Tapas. After that I had some ice-cream, and still managed to take a couple of selfies at the Arc de Triomf, and in plenty of time to take the coach-bus back to Lloret de Mar!

if you’re interested in history and art then Context Travel or #DeepTravel might be a good fit for you.

I loved my day out and found Barcelona utterly charming!

Barcelona, Spain.

Here are the details:

WHAT IS CONTEXT TRAVEL?

Context Travel also known as #DeepTravel, is a network of scholars and specialists who specialise in archaeology, art history, cuisine, urban planning, history, environmental science, and the classics, and who design and lead in-depth walking seminars for small groups of people who are intellectually curious.

Their vision is to bring together local scholars and specialists, with visitors who are curious, so that they can learn and allow them access to places and cultures that might otherwise remain out of sight. Their biggest goal is to take visitors off the tourist track and into the real life of the people, history, and culture.

My type of people then!

WHAT IS THE GOTHIC QUARTER TOUR ABOUT?

Barcelona, Spain.

The Gothic Quarter Tour goes through the heart of the town, learning about the evolution of Barcelona, going through the neighbourhood, walking through Barcelona’s main market, into La Ramblas and taking a look at how modern development has changed the city in the 18th and 19th centuries. You get to learn about the rich religious life and Barcelona’s history through the remains of the ancient city, the medieval splendor, the modern technology and the cosmopolitan urban mix.

WHAT IS THE GRACIA AND THE SPIRIT OF CATALAN INDEPENDENCE TOUR ABOUT?

St. George AND the red cross on the streets of Barcelona, Spain.
St. George AND the red cross on the streets of Barcelona, Spain.

The Gràcia Tour is about the loss of independence in the region of Catalan and the neighbourhood of Gràcia. The walk introduces us to the intricacies of Catalan history and culture, the difference between the Catalan and the Spanish and why they continue to fight for independence. The tour also shows the wealth of the area during the Industrial Revolution and at the same time, the village-like feel of the tiny squares, the places of worship, the narrow streets and the romantic architecture.

Phew!

DO I NEED TO UNDERSTAND SPANISH?

Nope!

These tour are in English. If English isn’t your native-language not to worry, as the company can arrange customised tours.

Some Spanish biscuit and cake!
Some Spanish biscuit and cake!

WHAT DO I NEED?

A pair of good shoes, a pair of sunglasses, suncream, a hat, a huge bottle of water, a few Euros for a snack, and a huge smile!

ANYTHING ELSE?

Yes. The tours are extremely small and have no more than six (6) people at a time. It’s a little pricey at $91.00 or €80.00 but if you want professional art historians who really know their stuff, then it’s worth the price.

The tour is three hours long so don’t make an important appointment immediately after. You might want to hang-out with the tour-guide and other members of your tour group, over a beer or two.

MY VERDICT:

Barcelona, Spain.

I’m aspiring to be an art history and culture buff, so it was just perfect. If you’re not that well inclined, then they do customise tours for individual groups. As my last tour was just me, my tour guide did just that. We focused on the things that were of interest to me and skipped the ones that weren’t!

Everyone should do a walking tour every now and then, if only to make sure that you know exactly what you’re talking about or can follow up with someone who does LOL!

I really enjoyed the tours but I don’t recommend them for children or young teenagers. Highly recommended for a more intimate, hands-on experience.

Many Thanks to TBEX, TBEX EUROPE, the Catalunya Experience, Costa Brava, Lloret de Mar, Context Travel and all the wonderful bloggers that I met, for the good times and for their warm hospitality.

See you in Stockholm, 2016.

This article is not sponsored, and even though I was a guest of Context, all opinions and the Iberico ham and lovely red wine that I consumed, are my very own!

I have so much to share with you.

Stay tuned!

Paletilla Iberica at Carmelitas Tapas in Barcelona, Spain.
Paletilla Iberica at Carmelitas Tapas in Barcelona, Spain.

Next week, I’ll be back about the secrets of Estonia and what we did in Tallinn with the help of the Tallinn Card, what the view was like on the ferry crossing from Estonia to Finland with TALLINK SLJA LINE and what we thought about Helsinki in Finland!

The Berlin Music Video Awards will be taking place from May 27.05.15 – 30.05.15. It’s going to be great.

The Berlin Fashion Film Festival will be taking place on 05.06.15.

I’ll be there. Will you?

As usual, you can also follow me via daily tweets and pictures on Twitter & FB!

If you’re not in Berlin right now, then you’re losing the experience of Berlin – the place to be!

May is going to be exciting.

Watch this space!

About to leap outside the Arc de Triomf in Barcelona, Spain!
About to leap outside the Arc de Triomf in Barcelona, Spain!

 

Have you ever been to Barcelona? Are you a fan of Gaudia or a fan of sangria?

See you in Berlin.

If you like this post or if you have any questions send me a tweet, talk to me on Facebook, find me on Linkedin, make a comment below, look for me on Google+ or send me an Email: victoria@thebritishberliner.com

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