Art, Food and Culture on a Swing Through Three European Destinations
By Lucinda Anderson and Frank DiMarco
Grácia neighborhood is in a great central location — vibrant and away from most of the tourist hubbub.
La Pubilla: The food is fresh, indicative of the Catalan cuisine, and the place is filled with happy locals having long lunches.
Rooftop Bar at the Casa Fuster (A gem of a hotel designed by Catalan architect Luís Dominic i Montaner): Time your visit for “the magic hour” when the sun gets low and, while there doesn’t seem to be a dress code, one feels more comfortable in “going out to dinner” attire.
Cafe Godot: Dependable and very friendly, with a good wine list (the wines of Catalunya are delicious — look for the Priorat label on the bottle).
Parks & Culture
The Picasso Museum is remarkable for its breadth of coverage of the artist’s life.
Stroll down to the nearby 14th-century Basilica of Santa Maria Del Mar. The Basilica of Santa Maria Del Mar can best be enjoyed sitting quietly in a nave or a pew and contemplating the soaring stone arches and intricate sun lit stained glass windows.
Park Guell, designed by Antoni Gaudi, is the famed architect’s idea of a whimsical place for people to stroll with clever winding paths and the expected Gaudi notes of color and tile.
Parc de Collserola, at nearly 20,000 acres, sits like a mantle along the tops of the hills surrounding the city. Sometimes referred to as “the lungs of Barcelona” its abundant green forests support habitats for an enormous number of species of plants and animals.
At Palau de la Música Catalana, the art nouveau theme pervades the entire building and the magnificent stained glass dome is breathtaking. Attend a performance in the main hall and enjoy its acoustics, which are praised by performers from all over the world. Guided tours provide some insight into how the Palau was built.
Hospital de Sant Pau is one of Barcelona’s World Heritage sites. It was built between 1901 and 1930 and wandering the gardens among the modernist buildings is an experience not to be missed.
Eating & Drinking
The outdoor restaurants by the Basilica of Santa Maria Del Mar are decent and fairly priced. We recommend Santa Maria del Mar Café for their great octopus!
Buy the Barcelona Card, which offers multiple benefits such as public transportation and many discounts at tourist attractions.
Bus Turístic is a great value. For the price of a 24-hour ticket, you can ride around, getting on and off all day to get a thorough idea of the layout of Barcelona and how to plan your daily outings.
Located in the heart of the Languedoc wine region, there is the small village of Lézignan-La-Cebe. It is a food lover’s paradise located in Southern France where you can go to a different market everyday.
Food & Villages
Locals go to butchers and small farms to get just the right cut of pork or a chicken, knowing just how it was raised. There are also wonderful fishmongers in Pézanas, just up the road, where fish is bought off the boat in Sète in the dark hours before dawn. Delicious croissants are available at the adjacent bakery and across the street at the coffee store where a complimentary cup is always offered. The organic fava beans and other produce is lovingly tendered for sale nearby in the town of Gignac.
Sète is where you’ll find commercial fishing vessels that come and go from the blue Mediterranean Sea and where the famous Water Jousting has been celebrated since the mid-1600s.
Moureze offers unique rock formations and hardy hiking trails up to excellent viewpoints. This is a quiet village and very picturesque.
Salasc is a charming small town, minutes from Moureze, where you’ll find beautiful hills.
Holland is a charming country full of gracious, direct and humorous people. Most speak English, sometimes better than we do.
The newly fashionable Oud-West neighborhood is easily accessed by tram from Central Station.
The iAmsterdam card gives you access to boat tours on either the Blue Boat Company (departing near Museumplein) or the Holland International Canal Cruises (departing near Central Station). These tours — in boats with glass tops — give riders a fantastic sense of Amsterdam’s canals and how the Dutch figured out how to manage the sea and build a city. The boat skippers are an interesting bunch too; they navigate the canals as well as inform passengers of sights passing by.
At the Van Gogh Museum you will find other artists’ work on exhibit and an extensive collection by Van Gogh.
The Rijksmuseum (the National Museum of the Netherlands) is newly renovated and houses a very good range of Dutch masters including Rembrandt’s famous “Nightwatch”.
Rembrandt House on Jodenbreestraat near Nieumarkt is also a must visit and free with the iAmsterdam card.
The Stedelijk Museum houses a large collection of modern art and designs. Don’t miss “The Beanery” in the Stedelijk.
Visiting the Anne Frank House is time well spent. Some improvements in accessibility have been made but the house remains essentially as Anne Frank experienced it, with the nearby church bells she wrote about still audible in her family’s hiding place. Advance tickets are recommended.
Eating & Drinking
Café de Jaren on Nieuwe Doelenstraat has a unique location at a busy canal intersection. Grab a table outside and watch the parade of boats going back and forth.
Foodism on Nassaukade is simply remarkable for what they can put out of a small kitchen. They offer exceptional food with good portions and reasonable prices including their wine list.
The 72-hour iAmsterdam card provides you with unlimited bus and tram travel and mostly free or meaningfully discounted entrance to most museums.
“Mind the Bikes”
Bikes rule in Amsterdam and give it much of its character, as do the canals.
The new TGV line from Barcelona to Beziers takes approximately 2 hours. The TGV generally cruises at around 200 mph between cities and their reservations system is easy to use.
All Images by Frank DiMarco