Localization World Barcelona: 30 May - 1 June, 2006
Disclaimer: Localization World has asked Michael Cárdenas to write about the city where our conference will be held. This is Mike's first conference site write-up. We will see how he does. If it is a success, we will renew his contract. If he fails, he will be forced to stay in the localization industry.
An Insider's Guide to Barcelona
Michael R. Cárdenas
President, Local Concept
A little history of Spain
The ethnic diversity of Spain is a reflection of historical influences from a number of cultures, including the Greek, Roman, Moorish, Celtic and Germanic.
Spain has gone through dramatic changes in the last 50 years. In 1975, Spain became a constitutional monarchy with a democratic and representative government. And in 1985, Spain became a member of the European Common Market.
The Spanish passion for living is deliciously contagious. They love life and squeeze all they can from what life has to offer. It seems that there's no time for sleep in Spain.
Everyone is active: the young and the not-so-young (no age discrimination here!). Spaniards enjoy a slower and more relaxed pace of life and fill every moment of it. You will always find people strolling along the streets, stopping for casual conversations, or window-shopping.
The nightlife is energetic, which is great for the conference attendees, but not so great if you are going to be a morning speaker.
Spaniards are routinely more affectionate than people from other countries. In casual conversation, you will notice that there's no such thing as "personal space" for a Spaniard. Spaniards are more touchy-feely than people from other countries, so don't be surprised if you are greeted with kisses and hugs. Just make sure you don't go back home with this kissing habit if it is not part of the culture where you live! Another thing you'll notice is how everyone greets one another. When you go in and out of the elevator, people will greet you even though they don't know you.
Barcelona offers a taste of Spain and more. Barcelona is a coastal city oozing with charm. A lot of this success is due to the hard work ethic of the "Catalans" and cultural pride. The Catalans remain fiercely politically independent from the rest of Spain. Word to the wise: don't touch on this very sensitive issue of political independence unless you can agree to everything you hear. Flair and creativity flow through the Catalan culture.
For those of you taking out your Spanish dictionaries for your upcoming travel to Barcelona, I encourage you to focus on Catalan. Catalan is the official government language of Catalonia, and Barcelona is the capital of the region. Many street signs are in both Catalan and Spanish. Although most Catalans speak both languages, they might decide not to (it's a political thing).
Barcelona can be enjoyable any time of the year. The ideal month to visit Barcelona is May. Kudos to Localization World for choosing this month for the conference.
Don't yell at Michael if his weather forecast is incorrect but he expects the weather will be an average high of 74ºF with an average low of 62ºF.
What to wear
Barcelona is not a city to walk around in shorts and a tank top. Spaniards put great importance on clothing, and people will think much better of you if you are dressed nicely. Even if you're just shopping or sightseeing, you're better off looking sharp.
The anti-smoking campaign has not been a total success in Spain, so non-smokers must be prepared to be in the minority. You won't have much sympathy if you complain about the smoke blowing in your face, so those of you with sensitive respiratory systems may want to find some nice outdoor restaurants.
The Spanish people are just as honest as anyone else. However, in Europe, pickpocketing is a highly developed art, and like all Spanish artists, the pickpockets of Barcelona really put their heart into their work. The authorities have been known to film crowded public areas and show the pickpockets in action. I've seen this, and let me tell you, those people are good!
So . . . Although my intention is not to have you walking around Spain in a state of bug-eyed paranoia, I do suggest that you put your wallet in your front pocket. Some people even keep their money in a separate pocket from their wallet to keep the thieves off track, or you can go for the ever-popular money belt.
Tipping is not a big deal in Spain, although tips are always appreciated. At most restaurants, service is included, so you don't need to tip more than 5 - 10%. 5% is fine for cab drivers, or 10% if you're riding in from the airport. A small tip is also appropriate for porters, maybe 1 Euro per bag. One exception does exist: tip the author of this article 100 Euros when you see him.
What to see
Barcelona is a city you must explore (outside of the conference schedule). Here are Mike's picks for what to see, culture-wise.
Templo de la Sagrada Familia
This Gaudí masterpiece is impressive, even though it is an unfinished church. As with most of Gaudí's work, the haters hate it and the lovers love it. You choose. Open daily.
Five separate wide streets strung end to end. This tree-lined pedestrian boulevard packed with statues, mimes and stores is the heart and soul of Barcelona. It's the place for dinner, people-watching, shopping and strolling. Open all the time.
An interesting collection of Picasso's early Spanish work is housed and displayed in this former 15th century palace. Open daily except Monday.
This fascinating medieval quarter represents centuries of Spanish architectural history.
No doubt you have never seen such a park. Gaudí directed this construction for Eusebi Güell as a luxury villa where 60 houses for the richest families of Barcelona would be built. These houses did not sell well, so a few years later, it became a park. Open Daily 10am to dusk.
Ah, my favorite part! Mealtimes in Spain are long and glorious, but you must remember to keep both hands above the table (it is bad manners not to do so), and - even tougher - be prepared to change your biological clock! Spanish schedules are built around late hours, so the meal program looks something like this:
Breakfast - 7:30 - 9:30 - is not a serious affair. Expect coffee and a roll, or - for the health nuts out there - deep-fried churros con chocolate (with dipping chocolate).
Lunch - 2:00 - 4:00 - is the main meal of the day. It usually consists of three courses (including dessert).
Dinner - 10:00 - Midnight! -- is another three courses, and yes, you do have to wait that long! You may be able to find dinner by 7:00, but no self-respecting restaurant will open up before then.
If you're thinking that there's no way you'll adjust, there is one source of salvation - the tapas bars. These establishments are open all day, and you can feast on a variety of foods (and wine) without paying too much. Some of the items you may find are: mushrooms, chorizo (spicy sausage), shrimp, squid rings, salads, cheese, jamón serrano (cured ham) bocadillos (otherwise known as sandwiches), tortilla española (potato omelette), and. . .well, you'll see.
Aside from the wonders of tapas, I recommend that you try paella, a dish composed of saffron rice, topped with seafood, sausage, chicken, vegetables, or whatever else the chef thinks you'll like. You may want to wash it all down with a sangria, a refreshing fruit & wine punch, but don't let that fruity taste fool you - sangria is often made with a walloping combination of different types of alcohol. If you're in a cheap joint, you should steer clear of this one altogether.
Okay, on to where to eat. Barcelona has both traditional Spanish cuisine plus a modern haute cuisine. If you are looking for tapas bars, you will be able to eat some creative tapas.
Euskal Etxea - This is a popular tapas bar in the Old District. Address: 1-3 Montcada, Barcelona.
Barrio del Borne - This is an area where you can visit several tapas bars.
Els Quatre Gats - This is a cafe/restaurant where Picasso spent quite a bit of time and where he got his first commissioned job. He designed the front cover of the menu. I would go there for a light lunch or coffee. Address: Montsio, 3 bis 08002. Metro Catalunya.
Can Culleretes - This is the oldest restaurant in Barcelona and second oldest in all of Spain. Very traditional food from the area. Address: Quintana, 5.
Botafumeiro (a must - but expensive!) - This is the best seafood restaurant in Barcelona. The service is quite good (don't forget, Spaniards do not follow our "client is king" rule). Address: Gran de Gracia 81, Gracia.
Els Pescadors (a must!) - Although this restaurant is not close to the Center, it is worth visiting. Address: Placa Prim 1, Barcelona.
If you have not been to a Flamenco show and don't think you will be visiting Madrid or Sevilla soon, then I would go to see a Flamenco show. They typically have a dinner show or you can go for a cocktail. Go for a cocktail--the food is usually not good.
Clubs in Spain are very different from the clubs in the U.S. In Spain, you will definitely be mixing with 25-year-olds, which is okay in Spain.
Porquesi - This club is less than two years old. It is close to la Gran Via. It is not only a bar, but also a restaurant serving food from all over the world. Address: Comte Borrell 122.
Zelig (Michael's suggestion) - This is a relaxed bar with the bouncer choosing only the good-looking to come in and enjoy the fun. Address: c/ del carme 116.
A note on bullfighting in Barcelona:
In April 2004, after a petition drive garnered a quarter of a million signatures, the Barcelona City Council voted to ban bullfighting. La Monumental, once the city's premier bullring, now houses a bullfighting museum, and Las Arenas de Barcelona, another Barcelona bullfighting venue, is currently being redeveloped as a leisure and shopping district.
If you have any questions or want additional information on what to see, do, drink or eat in Spain, e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org.