Oh Trip – A good blog resource for European Holidays

In the realm of other blogs that I have come across, if you are looking for a blog about travelling in Europe (mainly Paris, Rome and Barcelona), try Oh Trip (it’s the travel blog of the European accommodations site, Oh-Holidays). For example, if you want to know about the 10 most romantic things to do on Valentines in Barcelona, I say start with going to Barcelona, a romantic city in itself. Or, if you want some sightseeing tips for Paris, there are a few good ones here. It’s a good site with lots of resources if you want to find out what to do; it covers local scams and-tourism as well.

Parking Red Light Innovation at Parking Lot in Aix-en-Provence

Little inventions that make the world go round…

Ever driven around and around in a parking lot looking for a free place? Some parking lots mark on a digital board outside that there are X number of free spaces on certain levels and sometimes, judging by hard it is to find a free spot, you would have thought there was a zero too many. Aside from the waste in petrol and time, as you swing down yet another crammed aisle, you have the growing frustration and the intake of additional toxic air in underground locations. Well, I found an answer to that pain below. This is a small little innovation that just tickled my fancy and I felt merited a post.

Aix-en-Provence parking lot
This underground parking lot in Aix-en-Provence [pictured above] installed a small lighting system, whereby when the spaces are taken, there is a red light above each spot in the alley and, if there’s a free place, a green light indicates its location. Ironically, there was no dearth of free spaces in this parking lot… but love the idea.

Since coming across this system in Aix, I have found out, of course, that Aix was not the first city to have such a system…. There are many other parking lots that have been similarly equipped many years ago: Barcelona via Pogue’s Post, LAX and in Baltimore’s BWI Airport among others.

Have noticed it yourself and thought, wow, that’s a great idea! What about commenting on any other small little innovations that help improve our daily existence?

Barcelona’s City Bicycle Program – Nice Bicing

Barcelona features–like Paris’ oh so grey Vélib or London’s bright yellow OYBike–a city-sponsored rent-a-bicycle-easily program called Bicing. The small-wheeled red bicycles (photo to right) can be remarked easily, being ridden by mostly Barcelona citizens on grey days and sunny days alike. Started in March 2007, the Bicing program is notable for one thing: it is thought to be only for the Barcelona residents! Every local person (e.g. taxi drivers and pedestrians) to whom I spoke said that these bicycles could only be rented out by the locals. This is in contradiction to the brochure which clearly is written in English (as well as Catalan and Castillan, of course) and states that the bike can be rented out for all your touristic visits. Moreover, the majority of the bike stations are located at the highly touristic centres. Even the Bicing website, which is only in Catalan and Castillan, talks about the usage for tourism purposes.

For further reading on Barcelona’s Bicing, please go here: Treehugger or BlastBlog.

The Barcelona program is an overriding success if you listen to the citizens. That said, with only 1500 bikes (100 stations), there must be some challenges in terms of availability, etc. Paris’ Velib now boasts around 20,000 bicycles. London’s program, begun in August 2004, is largely focused on the western region of London (I can’t find how many) bikes there are in the OYBike program). Other cities that feature a similar bicycle program include Copenhagen (2000 bikes), Stockholm CityBike (with the same bikes as Bicing, but in blue), Lyon Velo’V (1500) and in Germany, for those traveling one-way along the Ruhr Valley, in the revier rad network, there is the Hase low-rider bicycle.

Certainly, with all these programs cropping up in Europe, you would hope the same eco-friendly initiatives might take root in certain cities in the States. In Asia, in certain cities, it might be like bringing coals to Newcastle… although with the increase in motorcycles (Hanoi, etc.) and cars, keeping the bicycle tradition wouldn’t hurt. Anyone know of any cities in the US considering or doing a similar program?

Barcelona – Some sites, restaurants & factoids

Culinary delights in Barcelona.

Barcelona is wondrous city offering an architectural feast at every corner, with a mixture of buildings dating back to the Roman times (down in the Gothic part of town) all the way through to contemporary masterpieces (Modernisme Route featuring the famous architects Domènech i Montaner, Antoni Gaudi, etc…). The Palau Montaner, (photo on left) on Calle Mallorca, is a perfect example. Inside (no photos allowed because it is now a Catalan government building), there is a dominating stone staircase, complete with fantastic animal sculptures and wood carvings. A worthwhile visit (5E) if you can speak Castellano or Catalan!

Aside from the beautiful architecture, Barcelona also offers a host of wonderful restaurants. On the one hand, there are many modern-styled restaurants (Tragaluz, Acontraluz, Bestial, allBarcelona restaurant Botafumeiro outside by the same owner…) that provide fusion or Catalan dishes in trendy settings. Meanwhile, there are also many traditional restaurants with grand style decorations.

Barcelona restaurant Botafumeiro insideThe standout address is Botafumeiro (photos), a seafood lover’s paradise, located at El Gran de Gracia, 81 (+34 932 184 230). Lining the walls on the right, in front of the bar, is the wall of fame, with oodles of celebrity shots (Alan Alda, Calista Flockhart to name just a couple). The highlight (and discovery) of the menu: the percebes (“goose barnacle” in English or pollicipia cornucopia for the real aficionados). The espardenyes a la plancha (grilled sea cucumbers) were a little too chewy. A divine little wine, the Rioja Marques de Campo Noble Crianza 2004. Also to note the wonderful service of José.

Another fine establishment with a Franco-Catalan menu and off the beaten path, is La Venta, situated in Placa Doctor Andreu (+34 93 212 64 55), on the mountain Tibidabo. Great panoramic city views available if you step into the smokey Mirablau bar on the other side of the street. (Spain has yet to go smokeless in restaurants and bars). And, while I didn’t get a chance to taste, another great address is the 7 Portes, Plaza Isabel II, 14, a classic address, down near the port area in the Gothic part of town.

Just as there are many hip restaurants, there has been a mushrooming of hip hotels too (stayed at Hotel 987 on Calle Mallorca where the rooms are VERY modern and the door barely opens without touching the bed). It is worth mentioning, on the other hand, the beautiful and classic Casa Fuster, 132, Paseo de la Gracia +34 902-202 345. The story of this hotel/building is rather singular as the owner built the magnificent building in 1908 out of sheer love for his wife, but then ran out of money. So be it. The building remained and was relatively recently turned into the beautiful 5* hotel.

My visit to Barcelona also coincided with the Barcelona Marathon 2008, March 2nd, which was the marathon in Spain with the most ever runners (about 100,000). The runners were graced with perfect weather: sunny but not too hot.

Some other factoids that a visitor to Barcelona might be interested in knowing:

The city boasts a population of 1.4 million intra muros and 4 million people including the outskirts.

In the 19th century, the city was reorganized into stylized squares with parallel streets, originally designed to have family houses on the sawed off corners allowing for gardens and pleasant open spaces. All the streets going across town are named after (past or present) countries, while all streets going down to the sea are named after people.

The famed La Rambla (meaning “dead river” in arabic) avenue, is now awash in pickpockets (virtually everyone mentioned the risks). The highlight visit was the open air (if covered) Boqueria market, where your eyes will delight in the food displays. Watch out for the scary looking butchers (they have a tendency to show absolutely every part of the lamb and bull…). And you can have wonderful tapas at any number of the little stalls. My choice was El Quim.

Barcelona Plaza EspanaMeanwhile, Barcelona continues to struggle with its water. Mid March and the Barcelona water reserves are down to just 20% which is a real drama ahead of summer. The water problem did not dissuade the authorities from continuing the fountain entertainment at Plaza Espana’s (aka Plaça d’Espanya) Fountain de Montjuic. See here on YouTube. Beware: it only starts at 7pm on weekends (Friday-Sunday). Best to be down below to watch.

Football (soccer): Real (Madrid) excitement as it is supposed to be….

The last league games (last night) of the Spanish First Division (Primera League) saw three teams that could win the title (Barcelona & Real Madrid tied and Sevilla 2 point adrift). Both Barcelona and Real Madrid won their last matches, but Real Madrid (with outgoing Beckham – go west young man) pulled it off on account of the better head-to-head record and this despite having a goal difference of just 26 versus 45 for Barca (and even 29 for Sevilla). The thriller of watching a game(s) that actually counts capped off a great season. See BBC report.