When NOT to Visit Barcelona

by Amy Knauff

I’ve written before about why I love Barcelona in the off-season, but over the years I’ve become adamant that Barcelona should really be avoided during the major events and conferences that are held there annually. This is not a matter of your classic peak season crowds and prices: this is when accommodation owners raise their rates by, like, a zillion euros.

These events sometimes take place during classic “low-season” periods (so really, Barcelona, is hopping throughout the year), but not to worry – they don’t last more than a few days each.

Unfortunately, the price-raising frenzy doesn’t just go for hotels but also for B&Bs and private apartments with normally very reasonable prices – including the ones on Cross-pollinate. Much love to Barcelona, one of my absolute favorite cities, but do yourself a favor and avoid coming during these events if you can:

Formula Uno (F1) – The Formula One Spanish Grand Prix held close to Barcelona each May. https://www.circuitcat.com/en/

Primavera Sound Festival – A huge rock festival that usually takes place in the early summer. https://www.primaverasound.com/

Sonar Festival – A world-famous electronic music festival in mid/late June. https://sonar.es/en/2016/

Mobile World Congress (3GSM) –A conference and the world’s largest exhibition for the mobile industry, held in February. https://www.mobileworldcongress.com/

There are plenty of other events and local festivals that take place in Barcelona, but these are the biggies. Pick another city if you’ll be traveling during these dates – we have plenty to choose from!

La Taqueria – Mexican street food in Rome

For expats in Rome, and some visitors as well, the lack of good Mexican food is a hardship.  After living here over 16 years, we’ve given up on certain foods we used to love – such as Mexican and Chinese, either not finding any of it edible, or not being able to justify the high price tag for something “exotic”.  All that changed today when I popped in to La Taqueria for lunch.

Located right around the corner from the Piazza Bologna metro station, it’s impossible to miss – the three large, bright, colorful windows that face the street are in bright contrast to the monochromatic neighborhood.  Once inside, I was struck by the creative design.  Plastic crates, tires, and old gasoline cans have all be repurposed to become suspension lamps, and plant holders.

The menu has all the basics – tacos made with homemade, corn, soft-shell tacos, stuffed with either meat or a vegetarian bean and soy version.  Nachos, made with their own fried corn chips, and burritos, either with meat or vegan option, wrapped up in homemade tortillas.  They make fresh guacamole, pico de gallo, and a variety of other salsas.

All in all, I was seriously impressed with how good it was, and found it affordable as well (from 6-8 euro for tacos or a huge burrito).  The owner, a young guy from Honduras who speaks perfect English, was super nice and helpful and added the perfect vibe to his lively and delicious little place.

La Taqueria
Via Giacomo Boni, 26
Metro:  Bologna (blue line)

Open from 12-3pm for lunch and 7-11pm all week (except Sunday at lunchtime)

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The Framery Flat 1 - £125/night - £82/night (sleeps up to 3 people)

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The Framery Flat 3 - £125/night - £82/night (sleeps up to 3 people)

The Framery Flat 4 - £159/night - £104/night (sleeps up to 3 people)

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Alternative London – Street Art Tour and Graffiti Workshop

Both my daughter and I have been to London before.  We’ve seen Big Ben and St. Paul’s Cathedral, have visited the Tate Modern, and have walked the Portobello Road market.  We had a number of nights in London this trip, just her and I, and were looking for something different – something we could do together, and couldn’t do at home.

We were happy to find out about Alternative London and get off the beaten track into one of my favorite neighborhoods,  Shoreditch.  We decided on this particular tour and workshop because we liked the idea of doing and not just seeing.  We wanted to be exposed to something cultural, but also to create something.  Extra points went to the fact that it was one of the most affordable things we did on our trip (£25 per person for a 4/5 hour tour and workshop).

Organized by Alternative London, a local artist’s cooperative who do a variety of artistic tours and workshops – art walks on the streets and in local galleries, as well as bike tours and food/pub crawls.  We booked on-line through their website for an 11am Saturday tour with a meeting point by the Old Street tube station on the Northern Line – easy to get to from anywhere in London (took us about 20 minutes from Soho).

Our guide, Rae, an artist/skater who is clearly passionate and deeply involved in the local art scene, told us all about the history of graffiti and street art, and the differences between the two, in an intelligent, animated, and entertaining way.  She touched on the political and the economic messages without any hint of preachiness.  She was thought provoking and light hearted at these same time.  She was great with her subject, but also great at connecting to all of us on the walk, something that not all guides do well.

After the walk, we took a short break to get something eat, and then after a brief lesson on stencil making, retired to their double decker art bus to get started making our own.

She then gave us a demo of different techniques for spray painting and we took turns on a few boards outside before working on own stencils.

Those of us who wanted, had the option of buying a canvas bag or t-shirt for a few extra pounds, to paint our stencil on.

London  has a lot to offer and the choice of museums alone can be overwhelming.  If you want to do something that supports the local art scene, gives you a street-eye view of what’s going on, and makes you really feel the pulse of the East Side, this is a great, affordable thing to do.

Plus, you get to take home your own handmade, one-of-a-kind souvenir.

Alternative London
The Alternative London Bus
1-3 Rivington St
London
EC2A 3DT
Email: info@alternativeldn.com

Scooterino – Scooter Ride Sharing in Rome

I get excited about things that make life easier – even if they’re very simple and don’t really make life that much easier.  From low-tech office supply stuff, to great high-tech smartphone apps, I’m just attracted to the idea of things being efficient and functional.

So imagine my excitement when I discovered the Scooterino App for Rome.  It’s basically a ride sharing service for scooters.  When you need to get somewhere, you open the app, which knows where you are, and you put in your destination.  It gives you an estimate of cost, and shows you where nearby drivers are and how long it ought to take for them to reach you.

I’ve basically been dying to try it out and the other day I finally got my chance.  It was 4:00pm and I had to get from The Beehive Hotel near Termini to a lawyer’s office in the neighborhood of Parioli.  By bus it would have taken me 1,50 euro and approximately forever.  By taxi, it would have probably been 10-15 euro and slightly less than forever.

On the scooter, it was 3 euro, and took about 15 minutes, and was a fun ride.

 As far as essentials, the driver provides you with a helmet and a little skull cap to wear over your hair under the helmet.

Getting around Rome can be tough.  Public transportation is unreliable and crowded.  Taxis can be expensive and time consuming, especially if you’re alone.  Scooterino is the way to go.

As a tourist, if you’re feeling a bit adventurous and want the quintessential Roman experience – this is a great option to get from Point A to Point B at the lowest cost!  For a more comprehensive and guided scooter experience check out the folks at Scooteroma tours.

Download Scooterino here in the app store.