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Cristy’s Ultimate Barcelona Travel Guide! May 23, 2012

Posted by lifealgo in Barcelona!.
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Continuing on my series of guides, I also made one specifically for travel since it’s such a big part of the study abroad program. Hope you enjoy, and let me know if you have any feedback!

Cristy’s Ultimate Barcelona Travel Guide!

Main ideas are bolded for the tl;dr’ers.

General

  • BE KIND TO OTHERS.  Whether it’s the hostel owner, tour guide, locals, other tourists, vendors, or your travel partners, please treat them with kindness and respect.  Obviously, some of those are more likely than others to be rude, but please don’t be the first one to initiate the rudeness.  This may not apply to pushy vendors, but I discuss that further down this list
  • BRING YOUR BCN INSURANCE CARD AND SOME PHOTO ID WITH YOU FOR STUDENT DISCOUNTS.  A lot of museums/tour guides/exhibits offer student discounts if you’re a European student.  Since you’re taking classes at UPC this includes you, and your laminated insurance card is the only way to prove that if you don’t have an international student card.  Just make sure you have some photo ID to go with it.  I showed my insurance card and my driver’s license and it was always accepted
  • On the same vein as the first point, being nice pays off in a lot of places – usually in the form of discounts
  • Haggle.  Unless the store has a price tag on everything, you can almost always haggle – this is especially true if they’re about to close for the day.  Look up tips online
  • Use common sense.  Please don’t walk back to your hostel by yourself at 3AM while drunk
  • If you fall in love with a purse/souvenir/etc, just get it, since you may not always be able to pass by again later

Scammers/Thiefs/Safety Advice

  • At one point you will stick out as a tourist and pushy vendors will target you.  Unless you’re interested in haggling with them, tell them a firm no and ignore them
  • Be wary of vendors/people at touristy areas that seem too nice.  Examples below:
    • Two friends were in El Corte Ingles (department store) and some guy started talking to them in broken English for quite a while. It was only after that they noticed that the guy’s friend had been rummaging through their bags while they were distracted.
    • Some scammers will attempt to get ahold of your hand so they can tie a bracelet around your wrist that they’ll charge you for.  They might do this by offering a handshake after introducing themselves, or by asking other seemingly innocent requests
    • Girls: some guy may hand you a worn-down rose and start complimenting you.  He will eventually ask you to pay 10-20 euro for the rose
    • In front of the Coliseum some guys dressed as Roman Warriors were inviting others to take pictures with them.  Then they ask you to pay for the pic
  • Restaurants right next to tourist attractions will almost always be the most expensive/have the worst food quality

Transportation

  • Try to get to the train station at least half an hour before your train leaves.  Triple check the departure times.  Also, locate exactly what track your train leaves from – you don’t want to realize that you were facing the wrong side of the tracks 5 minutes after your train departs
  • Most train stations will announce your train’s track within half an hour before its departure time, but that may go up to 5 minutes before it leaves so don’t assume it’s cancelled and always ask around – info areas at stations are more likely to know English
  • When I went to big cities I bought multiple-day passes for tour buses.  That way I could go from attraction to attraction and still see the city.  Cities without tour buses are usually small enough for you to walk from place to place

Language Barriers

  • If you’re visiting a place where you don’t know the language, “hello” and “do you speak English” are the first two things you should learn
  • For the love of everything that is beautiful, don’t go up to locals and start asking them stuff in really fast English.  That’s rude.  Ask them first if they speak English, then talk to them clearly/slowly/pantomiming stuff depending on how much they know
  • That said, you should try asking locals about stuff!  Some might tell you the best times to visit certain attractions, best places to eat, etc
  • If you don’t know the language but you know a related language, try speaking it instead of English, i.e., Spanish in Italy

Hostels

  • I’ll just say this right away: you’ll be fine.  You won’t die/come back with a missing kidney.  Hostels are less fancy than a hotel, but pretty much the same otherwise
  • Some of them have lockers but do not come with locks, so bring some of your own just in case
  • You shouldn’t spend much time in your hostel aside from sleeping
  • Always ask the concierge for tour info, places to eat, about the tourist attractions, etc.  They might not always be the best deals/what you’re looking for, but a lot of them have partnerships with awesome tours
  • Some of them will not accept cards.  Bring lots of cash with you and keep it safe.  Also, some will split the bill evenly, which may be an issue if one of you paid the reservation fee online

City-Specific Advice

  • In Paris, you can buy tickets for the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay at an info kiosk in one of the main train stations.  They cost the same, and you don’t have to make either line
  • Also in Paris, entrance to Notre Dame is free.  The line you see outside is to go up to the towers and costs a couple of euro
  • In Venice, there’s a tour called Alilaguna (or something like that) which covers the boat ride to 3 specific islands and entrance to a glass-blowing factory for 20 euro.  The trip to the island where the glass-blowing factory is (Murano) alone costs 14 euro, so this is a really, really good deal
  • In Rome, the tickets for the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill are exactly the same.  You can imagine how ridiculous the line for the Coliseum has to be.  Just go over to the Roman Forum (it’s right next to the Coliseum), and get your Coliseum ticket in 5 minutes
  • At the Vatican City, try to go in with a tour group.  You won’t have as much freedom, but your admission will be included (which is nice ‘cause the estimated time for the line was about 2 hours).  As a bonus, when you go into the Sistine Chapel with your group there’ll probably be too many people for the guards to prevent you from taking pics.  That said, you can buy your tickets at least a week in advance online
  • In Florence, the line for the museum where the statue of David is has line of approximately an hour and a half throughout most of the day.  Instead, go there about an hour and a half to one hour before the museum closes.  The museum is not that big, so you can still see the whole thing and it’ll be less crowded.  If you go early enough there might still be tour groups passing through, so you can sneak a picture of David [there are guards walking around in case you try to]
  • Also in Florence, try to stay at Hostel Gallo d’Or – it’s owned by a lovely young married couple.  They’re extremely nice and offer free internet, breakfast, postcards…
  • In Madrid, the Prado museum offers free entrance to students after a certain time

Have fun and be safe! :D

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