Barry’s Super Journal Adventures

Travel Stories – Area 19

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Love Milan!

See: The glorious main attractions: Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper and the spectacular Duomo. Seek out treasures this chic city doesn’t fuss about, such as masterpiece paintings in the Pinacoteca di Brera and Ambrosiano (featuring such greats as Raphael, Titian, and Caravaggio) and modern wonders in the Triennale Design Museum.

Wandering around Milan’s grand vias and piazzas, you’ll be gawking at fashion models AND calcio stars, as Milan is home to Italy’s two top teams, A.C. Milan and F.C. Internazionale Milano. Join in with Italy’s passion for sport at San Siro stadium, or go on a San Siro tour.

Shop: Experience the Fashion Capital of the World! Near the Duomo, admire the Belle Epoque Galleria, world’s oldest mall, and the new Excelsior Milano, Italy’s first luxury department store. Slip back in time at Pettinaroli fine stationery, that’s been around since 1881. For the high fashion heart of Milan, head to the nearby Golden Triangle (Quadrilatero to locals), that’s tucked into a few blocks, centering around Via Montenapoleone. Sigh over dazzling window displays amidst this Mount Olympus of designers: Dolce & Gabanna, Versace, Valentino, the Armani Superstore, etc. A few blocks away is the bohemian Brera district, full of antique shops and boutiques, such as Patrizia Pepe and Luisa Beccaria. And 10 minutes further out is a secret favorite of designers: 10 Corso Como, a warehouse-sized dazzling place packed with goodies.

Eat: True to its sophisticated style, the Milan restaurant scene features excellent food from all over the world and every region of Italy. If you choose to dine alla Milanese—meaning risotto, ossobucco, and costololetta (veal cutlet)—they are delicious at Antica Trattoria della Pesa and the very casual Latteria di San Marco, perfect for lunch. Or there’s the extraordinary Michelin-starred Cracco Peck, part of the wonderful Milan Peck enterprise, that includes a gourmet food hall for exquisite take away. Also, it’s delightful to get in on Milan’s hip weekend brunch scene at such places as the Sheraton Diana Majestic and Cantina della Vetra.

A not to be missed Milanese snack is panzerotti (fried turnover stuffed with tomato and mozzarella), served from the busy counter of Luini, around the corner from the Galleria.

Extraordinary cakes, cookies, and pastries can be enjoyed in elegant surroundings at Cova Pasticceria, that’s been around since 1817.

We drove from the airport with a prearranged automatic car hire. One of my companions refused to drive any other type.

Drink: A prosecco at sunset on Obika mozzarella bar’s rooftop terrace, which faces the awe inspiring roof of the Duomo is heavenly. Thenget in on Milan’s apertivo tradition, from about 7 to 9 pm, when lots of bars put out a delicious buffet, so for the price of a cocktail, you can eat very well. Top spots in the center include the old school Moscatelli,Bar Basso and the super-posh Radetzky. Further out in the Navigli neighborhood, a hotspot for bars, pubs, and restaurants, you’ll enjoy the Café El Brellin, Spazio Movida, and Tango bar, which serves Spanish style tapas.

Stay: There is no shortage of luxury choices here, including the world’s first and only 7-star, Town House Seven Stars Galleria, the 5-star Bulgari, with its awesome garden and spa, and the Grand Hotel et des Milan, that’s been around for over 150 years. Recommended 4-stars range from the ultra-chic Hotel Milano Scala, to elegant Petit Palais and Antica Locanda dei Mercanti, which features beautifully designed rooms with terraces. Budget digs are easiest to come by outside the city center, with the Indochine-themed Vietnamonamour B&B, located in the quiet, old fashioned Piola arearanking as a primo choice. There are also low cost options near the train station, including the clean and basic Hotel Casa Mia.

Walk: Parco Sempione, Milan’s centrally located park, is perfect for a stroll amidst quiet shaded paths, English gardens, children’s playgrounds, a large lake and kiosks for food and drink. For a smaller greenery experience in the center, there’s the Giardini Pubblici, which features beautiful statuary and The Museum of Natural History. Or you may enjoy exploring the artsy Navigli neighborhood, where Milan’s old canals have been uncovered, by wandering on your own or on a guided boat or walking tour.

Get Out: To glamorous Lake Como, that’s graced by Villa d’Este, a 17th century grand estate, exquisite for lunch on the terrace or a stay of a lifetime. Or explore the magnificent hilltop town of Bergamo, stopping for lunch at a traditional restaurant, such as Da Mimmo or Trattoria La Colombina, to enjoy delicious polenta dishes. For nature lovers, there’s Monte Barro park , where you can explore forest paths surrounded by flora, fauna, and butterflies.

Listen: Mecca for classicists is Teatro La Scala, one of the world’s most prestigious opera venues, built in 1778. Though afficianados grumble that quality has fallen, it’s still a splendid experience to mix with the black-tie set. For Milan’s symphony orchestra or choral concerts, the Milan Auditorium, opened in 1999, has amazing acoustics and a varied schedule of events. Classical music can also be enjoyed in the Conservatorio, Italy’s top music academy. And do check to see if there’s a concert at the Duomo while you’re around—it’s guaranteed to be an event for the memory books.

Jazz fans love that a branch of New York’s famous Blue Note has come to Milan, or there’s Caffe Doria, near the train station, for jazz and Dixieland music. RocknRoll and Tunnel are fun for rockers, and disco rules at Hollywood or Shocking Club, where you’re sure to see fashion models grooving to the beat.

Avoid: Disappointments that will come if you don’t make advance reservations for dinner, or to see The Last Supper, opera at Teatro La Scala, or a football game at San Siro. Unlike other Italian destinations, Milan requires planning. And take note that many restaurants are closed on Sunday.

Fun in Barcelona

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See: From contemporary artwork to historical Baroque architecture; bustling food markets to magical fountains, the list of Barcelona’s attractions is endless. An emblematic symbol of the city is the Sagrada Familia Cathedral, a profoundly eccentric creation of the talented Gaudi. Catch the lift up to the top of the building for a panorama of the city. Another funky masterpiece from Gaudi is the magical Parc Güell: a mishmash of colourful, mosaic-tiled spirals and green spaces.

Dig up the city’s past in its historical quarters, Barri Gòtic, and get lost amidst the medieval buildings – Catedral de la Santa Creu, Els Quatre Gats and Basilica de la Mercè. Nearby is the Jewish Quarter, an original ghetto converted into a charming labyrinth of cobblestoned pathways.

Bustling with much energy and vigour, La Rambla is a mile-long pedestrian boulevard that cuts through the heart of the city. Packed with restaurants, acrobats, statues, fortune-tellers, florists and newspaper stands, this wide walkway has gained quite a name for itself. Veer off the road into an alleyway and you’ll find the colourful La Boqueria market where rows upon dizzying rows of fresh seafood, dried fruits, tapas and liquor promise to seduce you.

To see Barcelona from above, weave your way up to the hilltop of Montjüic, where several attractions stand – the Barcelona Football Stadium Camp Nou, Botanic Gardens and Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. It’s easy to spend days exploring this area, and you’ll often have the place to yourself as less tourists head this way.

Shop: Shopaholics are in luck.Barcelona’s main shopping street stretches over 5 kilometres – from the start of the La Rambla, cutting through Plaça Catalunya all the way up to Avenue Diagonal. A jumble of boutiques, high-street fashion stores and massive departmental stalls concentrate in Barcelona’s commercial district.

Designer stalls like Cartier, Vogue and Bally appeal to the high-end shoppers, while alternative local brands like Custo Barcelona, MTX and Camper draw in those with unconventional tastes. Those with a budget will be happy to see high street brands like Blanco, Mango and Zara scattered throughout the city.

Those looking for a bargain can head out of town to La Roca Outlet Shopping Village where over eight brands are on sale, at reduced prices. Just a 50-minute train ride away, this shopping village is seriously a dream come true for many.

Eat: You seriously can’t leave Barcelona without trying all of its local fare. Catalan cuisine has kicked up quite a storm worldwide, all thanks to the Michelin-starred restaurants and the creation of nouveau cuisine. At the frontier of this new wave of avant garde restaurants are Alkimia, the brainchild of Jordi Vilá, as well as Comerç 24, that serves up luxury tapas inspird by Ferran Adria. Other upscale restaurants worth checking out are Vinya Roel, Moo Restaurants, Els Pescadors and Escriba.

For a taste of something more traditional, head to the seafood restaurants along the beachfront boulevard of Barceloneta. Ranging from trendy chic bastrobars to traditional taverns, the key ingredient that strings them together is seafood. Those with a refined taste might like to check out the stylish Mar 24, Xup Xup or Torre d’Alta Mar – all offering Catalan cuisine with a contemporary twist. Traditional fare is at its finest in Suquet de l’Almirall and Can Ramonet.

But good food in Barcelona is not just for the well-heeled traveller: for affordable and fresh, organic cuisine, sample the tapas on offer in the Boqueria Market. One stall in particularly has made a name for itself: El Quim Restaurant in the market dishes up crispy boquerones and savoury arroz negro for those who have the patience to wait in line. For economical eats, other areas worth checking out are Plaça Gracia and Barri Gotìc.

Drink: Like a chameleon, Barcelona sheds its bright and funky skin and puts on a coat of elegance by night. From groovy jazz lounge to feisty flamenco tablaos and raucous dance clubs, the selection of nightlife venues in Barcelona impresses even the most hard-core party-goers.

For a taste of tradition, clap along to the infectious beats at the Tablao de Carmen in Poble Espanyol. Don’t let the Disneyland-like atmosphere here fool you, the flamenco performances here often feature veteran dancers and well-known guitarists. Alternatively, closer to town is Los Tarantos in Plaça Reial which stages nightly performances.

Pre-clubbing drinks are best enjoyed in atmospheric bars like el Quatre Gats, a vintage teak-wood tavern that’s popular among artists and poets. Add a little sophistication to the night at el Xampanyet, the coolest champagne bar in town, serving up sparkling Catalan cava.

Stay: As one of the most visited cities in Europe, hotels in Barcelona are often packed to the brim and booked up way in advance. If you’re visiting in summer (the peak season), be sure to make your reservations early. But as you would expect from any major European city, the variety of accommodation options in Barcelona is staggering. One of the top hotels in Barcelona is the Hotel Arts Barcelona, an iconic landmark that stands by the beach and famed for its world-class facilities. Other stylish, world-renown hotels include the W Barcelona, Eurostars Grand Marine Hotel by the port and the Gran Hotel la Florida located near Mount Tibidabo. For slightly more affordable prices, check out the design hotels B Hotel and Hotel 1898.

Mid-range accommodation is aplenty – try out the NH Diagonal Center and Hotel Alexandra Barcelona. Young and budget-friendly hostels like Hostal Express, Pension Picasso and Hostal Alogar will surely keep your pockets happy.

Walk: Barcelona is a relatively big city, and the best way to explore different parts of the city is by underground metro. Beware of pickpockets though – they’re often at work especially during peak hours when metros are packed to the brim. In the gothic quarters, however, it’s compact and easy to navigate on foot. The Barcelona Tourism Office organizes several themed walking tours in the city – including the Gothic Quarter by Night, Picasso Walking Tour and Marina Walking Tour.

For food-lovers, you’re in the right place. Barcelona has an impressive array of tapas bars that can be visited on tapas walks. Barcelona Urban Adventures arranges Barcelona Cycle and Tapas tours which makes tapas-sampling even more exciting. It also brings tourists on a ‘Hidden Barcelona’ walk where you meander through back streets, alleys and local markets to see the city from local perspectives.

Get out: Nature-lovers will be surprised to know that Barcelona pockmarked with nature – even within the city itself, you’re enveloped in greenery and surrounded by sloping mountains. Head up to Parc del Collserola on Mount Tibidabo for a breathe of fresh air and an impressive panorama of the city from above. This is an excellent spot for hiking, biking and just wandering.

A popular half-day trip is a visit to the Montserrat Mountains and the Royal Basilica. Enroute, you’ll see the Black Virgin carving (from the 12th century) and perhaps hear some choir singing. Beach bummers can head out to Sitges, just a stone’s throw away from Barcelona – and also one of the best party beaches in Spain. We used a http://www.9seatercarhire.co.uk/ website so we all could fit comfortably.

Listen: Barcelona’s summer music festivals are some of the best in the country and they attract thousands of revellers here each summer. Sónar is an international festival of progressive music and multimedia art, held in various spots all over the city each June. Primavera Sound, on the other hand, feature more mainstream music and world-recognised artists.

Avoid: Tourist traps along the beach – some seafood restaurants in Barcelona have ridiculous prices especially in summer; be sure to compare prices when choosing a restaurant.

Malaga and all it has to Offer

See: Malaga’s iconic landmark, La Alcazaba, stands on a hilltop overlooking the city. The Moorish fortress offers the best views of the city and is best visited at sunset. Other monuments worth checking out are the nearby Castillo de Gibralfaro, a 14th-century castle, and the Malaga Cathedral. For culture vultures, get under the skin of world-famous artist Pablo Picasso at the impressive Museo Picasso Málaga or check out the Municipal Museum of Malaga for temporary exhibitions of contemporary art.

Golden stretches of beach run for miles in Malaga: head to the city beach of la Malagueta, just 10 minutes from the city centre or Playa Palo next to the marine for some aquatic action.

Shop: For high-street fashion digs, wander through the swanky shopping street of Marqués de Larios, home to many famous Spanish brands like Mango, Zara and Massimo Dutti. The most popular Spanish department store, El Corte Inglés offers a myriad of products from electronics to accessories and food. Alternatively, check out the historic commercial centre of Félix Sáenz that plays host to a selection of fashion shops, hairdressers, electronic stores and supermarkets. The architectural gem of Atarazanas Central Market gives a crash course in Spanish culinary with its plethora of fresh seafood, dried fruits and cured meat on display. Featuring 14th century Moorish architecture, the building was once a shipyard before being transformed into a modern-day market.

Eat: With its seafront location, Malaga rightfully claims fame to having some of the best seafood restaurants in Spain. A fixture of Malaga’s culinary scene, Marisquería Sal Gorda dishes up seafood platters as how you imagine them: colourful, savoury and in generous portions. Those with a refined taste for gastronomy will be delighted by La Moraga Antonio Martin, a contemporary gastrobar that serves up funky tapas created by world-famous chef Dani García.

For something more wallet-friendly, head on the popular el Refectorium for traditional Spanish fare. Not a fan of seafood? Meson Los Robles de León is famed for its roasted meat – carne a la brasa – and other meat dishes like ox entrecote and sirloin steak.

Quiet bites and cheap snacks are available at the humble tapas bar, Rincón de Mata where tapas are priced at €1.20. From gambas al pil-pil (spicy prawns) to stewed snails, this bar certainly gives you a bang for your buck.

Drink: As night falls, Malaga transforms into a vibrant, palpitating hub. With bars and discos stretching all the way from the Marqués de Larios to the port, the choice is endless. Most clubs are concentrated around the districts of Malagueta and Pedregalejo, while beach bars and lounges are scattered around the port.

Start the night at E!vissa Biocafe, a chillout lounge serving some of the best cocktails in town. With its cosy sofas, café del mar music and Ibiza-inspired décor, it’s a great place to meet locals and relax before a night of partying. Continue the night crawl at Weekend in Plaza de la Merced, the most popular hangout spot for young revellers. The music at Weekend is an eclectic mixture of blues and funk, a magnet for a stylish and alternative crowd. One of the trendiest hangouts in town is D’angels in Teatrino. Featuring swanky black-tiled interior and plush suede sofas, this joint is the place to be seen. For one last drink before dawn, Café Boulevar Copas in the University district promises to end your night with a bang.

Stay: Whether you’re a backpacker or a luxury traveller, you’ll be spoilt for choice by the list of accommodation options available in Malaga. The best hotels in the city centre of Malaga include the Vincci Posada del Patio Hotel, Barcelo Malaga Hotel and Sallés Hotel Málaga Centro. Stylish boutique hotels like Hotel Molino Lario and Ataranzanas Boutique Hotel provide a rather unique and artistically-designed experience. For mid-range accommodation, try out the cushy three-star Campanile Hotel,Eurostars Astoria Hotel and Suite Novotel Malaga Centro. Lastly, backpackers can easily find affordable and atmospheric accommodation at all-time favourites like Oasis Backpackers, the Melting Pot Backpackers Hostel and Hostal Domus.

Walk: Boasting a compact city centre, the narrow streets of Malaga are best explored by foot. You can easily see the main districts and port in one day, although that would probably leave you wanting for more. Most walking tours cover the main attractions like the Alcazaba, Cathedral, castle, Roman amphitheatre and Picasso Museum. Foodies alert! The tapas tour with Malaga Walks educates you on local tapas culture and and includes sampling of sherries and several tapas.

To explore the greenery of the city, wander through the tropical gardens surrounding the Town Hall and Bank of Spain. A seaside stroll by the Malagueta beach and lighthouse along with a visit to the nearby bullring also gives great insights to the typical Malagueño lifestyle and their history.

Get out: Beach lovers can head out to the nearby beach towns of Torremolinos and Fuengirola for a change of scenery. Particularly popular with tourists, these towns may be crowded but they are lined with golden beaches and seafood restaurants. Nerja, an hour away by bus, is home to one of the most impressive caves in Spain, featuring massive auditoriums and gigantic stalagmites and stalactites. For a cultural fix, drive out to the picturesque city of Ronda that sits on a dramatic gorge and the world-famous Moorish Alhambra palace in Granada.

Listen: While Malaga is not the birthplace of flamenco music, there’s no shortage of live flamenco shows in the city. One of the most famous spots in Malaga is Flamenco Diquela, where veteran dancers perform to passionate beats and feisty rhythms every night.

Avoid: Tourist traps along the beach – some restaurants jack up their prices especially in summer; be sure to compare prices when choosing a restaurant.