Monday, March 25, 2013

THE ALOTT5MA TRAVEL DESK:  We don't have Maddy around as much as we used to, though "I'm going to college" is as good an excuse as any. This morning, college junior Maddy couldn't help but wonder:
I'm studying in Italy this semester and for spring break some friends and I are traveling to Barcelona and Greece (Athens, Hydra, and Aegina). We'd love some suggestions - must-see museums, (cheap) restaurants, beaches, clubs, etc. We are definitely on a student budget, and would be more inclined to go to a pricey museum than a pricey restaurant. Also, if anyone has experience with gluten and dairy allergies in those places, input would be very welcome. Thanks!


  1. victoria10:56 AM

    Hi, Maddy. I haven't personally used them, but folks I know with allergies have recommended these cards for explaining your dietary needs at restaurants:

  2. It's been a while, but I did the Bus Turistic thing in Barcelona, which was, well, touristy, but a cheap way to get to stuff like the Olympic Village and Parc Guell.

  3. Parc Guell!

    And I hope everyone's dietary restrictions allow for copious intake of coffee, pastry, ham, and wine. Not because there aren't other things on offer; just because those are highlights that I find myself pining for whenever Barcelona is mentioned. Some of the more rustic eateries out in the neighborhoods away from the Ramblas were very rewarding, but all my specific recollections are a decade out of date at this point.

  4. Christy in Philly12:32 PM

    Hi Maddy! A few things about Barcelona--I was there exactly at this time of year three years ago and the weather was nice enough to sit outside-- just have a jacket.

    (1) I definitely recommend anything Gaudi related. Sagrada Familia is pure genius. If you only have time to see ONE Gaudi site in Barcelona, that's the one.
    (2) I also loved the Picasso museum there. It's on a tiny side street-- so charming! His study of Velasquez's Las Meninas is so amazing-- the museum visit is worthwhile just to see that series.
    (3) La Boqueria-- I recommend doing at least one meal in any European city fresh from the market- cheese, bread, fruit, local spreads. You can do it at a reasonable price-- especially since you'll be sharing.
    (4) Every guide book is going to tell you to go to Las Ramblas. I found it a little overwhelming. (sort of the way I can only spend about 30 minutes total on South Street in Philly. It's just TOO MUCH!) One thing I did like though was finding a place to eat on La Ramba and WATCHING the crowds go by-- through the windows!
    (5) Leave some time to sit in the afternoon and get churros and chocolate and just watch the people go by. There are lots of squares with restaurants around them. Find someplace and just watch people. It's nice not to be on the go every second in a new city. You're young and in Europe-- chances are that you'll visit again. Don't feel like you have to see everything in one trip.

    Most of all, enjoy and be safe!

  5. I heartily second all of this, especially a market-bought picnic or three, and especially especially (especially) the people watching. There is a magical combination of very old culture and culturally-ingrained iconoclasm in Barcelona. (ni espana, ni franca. cataluna!) I like to think that's what made the people endlessly diverting for me -- the odd alchemy of old dignified tweed and Ani Difranco-green hair -- but it may just be that I'm a great big gaper at heart.

    As a digression: The Picasso Museum gave me a little bit of dysphoria by the end. It's totally worth going, but arranged chronologically. There is a long tail of bloated Meninas and sub-Mo-Willems-quality pigeons at the end that left me with a strong impression of a muse gone mad with boredom and/or exhausted and repeating itself compulsively, and of an artist well past the height of its powers either way. (Take that with a grain of salt; you can put what I know about Picasso in pint glass and still feel like the bartender ripped you off.) It's an amazing museum. All I'm saying is I left feeling sad.

  6. Genevieve3:34 PM

    I third everything Christy said. I would hit the main Gaudi sites -- Sagrada Familia was my husband's favorite, while I preferred Casa Battlo (one of three houses by different architects in the Illa de Discordia - block of discord - in Passeig de Gracia), which you can tour inside, and Parc Guell, which was fantastic though more inconvenient to reach.

    Agree on not seeing much interesting in las Ramblas, in getting food at La Boqueria, and in sitting somewhere with churros y chocolate (we liked the place in the placa at Hostal Jardi, in the Barri Gotic - but this was 15 years ago). The Barri Gotic, the old quarter, is very much worth walking around and exploring. That's where the Picasso museum is, if I remember right.

    The Miro museum was also interesting for any modern art fans. There is now a chocolate museum, I am intrigued but don't know anyone who's been.

  7. Genevieve3:38 PM

    I third all of Christy's (and agree with Phil about feeling a little sad after the final rooms in the Picasso museum, but was still very glad I went). Go to Passeig de Gracia, to the Illa de Discord (the block of discord), with three very disparate buildings by different architects cheek by jowl, and tour inside Gaudi's Casa Battlo. I loved Parc Guell, though it was a little harder to get to. Remember that you're on the waterfront - the seafood was amazing, especially in the Barceloneta neighborhood. the Barri Gotic (old quarter) in general was lovely to ramble through and explore.

  8. Stacey7:43 PM

    I have used the Portuguese one and while it absolutely was sufficient, I was laughed at for it being way too wordy. My daughter is celiac and both places should be easy to travel in gluten-wise thanks to abundant sea food and fresh produce. We used as a resource for a recent trip to Africa and found some of the general ideas/resources to be helpful. Have so much fun - sounds like a great spring break!

  9. I totally second the Barri Gotic! We went in summer 2011 and had an awesome time. As for food in Spain, lots of places will have a daily special (certainly for breakfast and often for lunch and other things) that is cheaper than the rest of the menu and we always loved it. For breakfast where it was most common it was some sort of combo of bread cheese and ham and a coffee (although less helpful for the gluten intolerant) that was like 2 euro. Also fresh squeezed OJ is everywhere but ask for a zumo instead of the real spanish word for juice.

    Also we enjoyed exploring the olympic park hill. But the main parts of barcelona were really easy to get around.

  10. Athens big historical sites are amazing and all walkable from each other (at least the ones near the Parthenon) but for the love of God get up super early and climb up before it gets too hot! We were there last October on our honeymoon and it was sooo hot!

  11. For Athens: I don't know if you have a place to stay yet, but when I went there during my year abroad in London, we stayed at Athens Backpackers hostel:

    It was fabulous--cheap, clean, friendly staff, less than a block from the Metro, and a five-minute walk to the Acropolis and to the Plaka. We did our own thing but the hostel staff does offer walking tours. The biggest ancient monuments in Athens are connected in somewhat of a circle, so it's an easy touring day from the hostel.

  12. Maddy8:30 AM

    Hey everyone! Thanks for all of your suggestions! It's been hovering around freezing here in Parma, so I am ready to explore some new (warmer) cities!