A couple of months ago, I visited Barcelona in north-east Spain. The city has something for everyone – history, architecture, beach and mountains. We were only there a few days – and on a bit of a budget – but we had great weather, and managed to explore the majority of this amazing city on foot. Here are my top ten reasons to visit Barcelona.
Barcelona loves its fountains; they’re everywhere. My favourite of these was the stunning display stretching from the Plaça d’Espanya to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. It’s quite a steep climb, to the point that they’ve actually installed outdoor escalators to help you out, but well worth the effort for the view from the top.
The work of architect Antoni Gaudí is everywhere in Barcelona – from the imposing (and still as yet unfinished) Sagrada Família to the popular tourist attraction, Parc Guëll. But you can also find examples of his work in the centre of the city, in houses like Casa Batlló and La Pedrera. If you like your architecture traditional, it may not be your cup of tea, but I loved the modernist designs; there’s so much to look at. And I think the Sagrada Família may be one of my favourite places of all time.
3. The metro
I’ll be honest, Barcelona airport is pretty confusing. When we arrived, I confidently assumed we’d be able to just jump on the metro and find our hotel. It turned out to be not that easy at all, as we had to first get a bus to another terminal, then pick up the overground train, before finally arriving at the Sants Estació, which turned out to be the main railway station in the city. But from there it was dead easy – like the London Underground, as long as you’ve got a map of the network, you can’t really go far wrong. Unlike the London Underground, the trains are air-conditioned, which was lovely after hauling our bags halfway across the city. And the 10-trip tickets, which you can use on any form of transport, were perfect for our three-day stay.
Ah, churros. We took a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter and La Rambla, during which our guide pointed out a café, which she said did the best churros in Barcelona. Afterwards, it seemed rude not to take her advice, so we retraced our steps to the café she recommended – Granja La Pallaresa in Carrer Petritxol, just off La Rambla – and asked for the churros y chocolate. I don’t know if they were the best in Barcelona, but they were pretty amazing.
5. La Rambla
Barcelona’s famous tree-lined shopping street, stretching from the city centre down to the sea. It’s a pity that it’s become known more as a place where you’re likely to get robbed, but it’s still well worth a visit – just remember to hold on to your handbag. And don’t feel you have to stick to the main street; some of the little back streets have more choice and are a bit cheaper too, and you’re more likely to be offered free samples of turrón (if you’re offered, take it – it’s yummy). Check out La Boqueria too – it’s a huge food market selling just about everything you can imagine: fruit, fish, meat, sweets, tapas, paella, sangria… You could easily get lost in there, but at least you wouldn’t starve 😉
6. The seaside
My friend and I had been to Barcelona on a school trip years ago, and pretty much the only bit we remembered was the sea front. Cross the bridge to Port Vell, where you’ll find restaurants and a very modern shopping centre (I had to be physically dragged out of Desigual), an aquarium and an IMAX cinema, or keep walking along the shore to get to the funfair and, just beyond that, the lovely sandy beach. Once you’re there, be prepared to say ‘no, gracias’ repeatedly to the guys trying to sell you overpriced sangria; they’re not at all pushy but there are a lot of them.
7. Olympic Stadium and Montjuïc
The Olympics were held in Barcelona in 1992, and you can now visit the stadium for free (well, I say ‘visit’ – you can walk in, have a look and leave again). It’s looking a bit old and tired these days, but it was easy to imagine it filled with a cheering crowd just over twenty years ago. While you’re there, head around the corner from the stadium to check out the impressive Torre de Comunicacions de Montjuïc, and – you guessed it – more fountains. On a clear day, the views from up there are incredible.
8. La Sagrada Família
Possibly one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen, and it’s not even finished yet. Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece, the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, is one of Barcelona’s biggest tourist attractions – we had to queue for 45 minutes just to get our tickets, and then we had to come back two hours later to actually get in. But it was so worth the wait. From the astonishing detail on the outside to the breathtaking stained glass inside, I honestly can’t recommend it enough. It somehow manages to be both modern and timeless at once, and the sheer size of the place is enough to leave you speechless. I can’t wait to see it when it’s finished; I think it’s going be pretty spectacular.
9. Current affairs
This might not sound like a very interesting reason to visit a city, but there’s a lot going on in Barcelona just now. My friend and I got chatting to two stallholders in La Boqueria, who, on discovering we were English, were keen to know what we thought about the Scottish independence referendum, which had taken place the week before. Catalonia’s currently engaged in a debate about this issue for themselves, with a recent poll showing 80% of people are in favour of independence, but the vote itself being ruled unconstitutional by the Spanish government. It’s hard to know what will happen, but it’s definitely an interesting time for the region and the country.
10. The weather
Well, sort of. On our first three days in Barcelona we had amazing weather – despite being late September, it was well over 20 degrees and we enjoyed gorgeous sunshine. And then on our last day, it rained. And not just a little bit of rain; it poured, all day, to the point where we eventually gave up trying to sightsee from under our umbrella and set off for the airport early. Where our flight was delayed, because of the rain. I guess you can’t win them all.
One word of advice – although Barcelona is in Spain, and everyone speaks Spanish, you’ll find on arrival that many of the signs are in Catalan, and you may be greeted in Catalan too. So even if you speak Spanish, I’d recommend picking up a little of the regional language before you go as well. Or if you really want to impress the locals, take uTalk with you and greet them in both languages.
I had an amazing few days in Barcelona, and would love to go back soon, if only to eat more churros and visit the Sagrada Família again (seriously, I can’t shut up about it).
Have you been to Barcelona? Any tips for my next trip? And most importantly, have I really had the best churros in the city, or is there somewhere better?
We’re proud to be language geeks here at EuroTalk, but we know we’re not the only ones! Here’s your opportunity to show us what you know… Can you get 100%? And more importantly, can you beat your friends? 😉
(By the way, if you want to cheat on any of the questions, the words we’ve used in the quiz are in our uTalk app – now available in 100 languages on iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.)
It can often feel like life is all about sport, whether we like it or not. But have you ever wondered how good sports stars are at languages?
It turns out, pretty good. Like anyone who has to travel a lot for their work, athletes often find knowing only their native language isn’t enough. Here are 10 great examples of sports stars who speak more than one language.
Besides English, the former footballer learnt Spanish while he was playing for Barcelona, and picked up some Japanese when he later moved to Nagoya Grampus Eight. He’s now a passionate ambassador for languages in schools, saying in an interview with TES last year, ‘the learning of languages, for me, will always be helpful for the vast majority at some stage in their life’.
Not content with winning a frankly quite ridiculous 17 Grand Slam titles, the Swiss tennis player also speaks four languages fluently – his native Swiss German along with French, English and German. He’s known for his ability to switch effortlessly between languages in interviews and press conferences and can quite comfortably answer journalists’ questions in their own language, a feat some of his fellow tennis players can’t keep up with. Wouldn’t be the first time.
The British diver recently got an A in his Spanish A-level (congrats, Tom!), and makes good use of his language skills when in Mexico, where he spends a lot of his time. Here’s a video of him showing off his Spanish.
Here in England, Jonny Wilkinson is known (at least by me) as that guy who’s pretty good at drop goals. But he’s also a bit of a superstar in France, where he’s been playing for Toulon since 2009. He’s now fluent in French and was awarded honorary citizenship of Toulon earlier this week – giving his acceptance speech in the local language, of course.
The Arsenal manager is well known for his interest in languages, speaking French, English, German, Spanish, Italian and Japanese. Like Gary Lineker, Wenger’s also known as an ambassador for languages, and last year he was voted Britain’s first Public Language Champion by readers of The Guardian. In this video he explains why languages are so important.
Never one to let Roger take all the glory, fellow tennis champion Novak Djokovic speaks five languages – Serbian, English, German, Italian and French. He studied English and German at primary school, and learned Italian when he worked with coach Riccardo Piati. In an interview with Tennis Talk in 2013, he said, ‘We have a saying in our country: The more languages you know, the more is your worth as a person. I like to understand what people are saying wherever I am, at least to pick up a few phrases of those languages.’
Long-distance runner Paula Radcliffe has a first-class degree from Loughborough University in European Studies, and speaks French and German fluently. She now lives in Monaco with her husband and two children, who are both bilingual, attending a French school but also fluent in English.
Another Barcelona footballer, Fabregas speaks four languages – Spanish, Catalan, English and French, and his Twitter feed is multilingual. When asked about his language skills in 2005, he replied, ‘These days you have to keep studying, not least because my mum tells me so.’ Words to live by.
And finally, another tennis player, because tennis is my favourite. Daniela Hantuchova, from Slovakia, is by all accounts a very talented lady. Besides her tennis career, she’s also a trained classical pianist, and speaks – wait for it – six languages: Slovak, Czech, English and German fluently, and some Croatian and Italian.
Does anyone else feel like a bit of an underachiever now, or is it just me?
If you know any other examples of sports stars who speak other languages, please tell us about them in the comments.
A quick quiz question for you: what language is spoken in France?
Like many other European countries, the French once spoke a wide range of regional languages and dialects. However, during the Third Republic, the French government made French the only official language, and outlawed use of regional languages such as Breton and Occitan in schools and institutions. The underlying idea of creating national and linguistic unity may have been well-intentioned, but as a result, most of these regional languages are now endangered.
Nowadays, Occitan is spoken by around 1.33% of the population (in the Occitania region in Southern France), whilst Breton is spoken in Brittany by around 0.61% of the population. These languages are recognised by the government, but not considered official languages, and therefore given minimal support and opportunity for use.
The situation is a little more encouraging in Spain, where Basque, Catalan, Valencian and Galician are recognised as co-official regional languages, and a thriving community of native speakers exists in each of these regions.
This rather cool map shows how the areas over which each of these languages is/was spoken has changed over the last 1,000 years.
Over time, due to globalisation, mass media and government drives for national unity, the national languages in Spain, France and many other countries have established dominance and pushed smaller regional languages onto the sidelines. However, there are still communities of native speakers of each of these languages, and many people are passionate about passing on the language and culture of their region to the next generation.
Regional languages are often closely tied to the culture and identity of a region: the Catalonians I know are proud Catalan speakers, and often much of an area’s history, literature, music and so on is written in the regional language. These languages may be small, but they are certainly worth learning and preserving!
In fact, we have produced our Maths, age 3-5 and 4-6 apps in both Basque and Catalan, and uTalk is currently available in Galician, Basque and Catalan. And for anyone interested in regional French languages, why not learn a few phrases for free in Occitan, Breton, Alsatian or Provencal?
The other day a colleague was telling someone his email address in French. He was halfway through and ran across a problem. He didn’t know the word for “the little ‘a’ in the circle”. In English we just say ‘at’, but that translates as ‘à’ in French and that sounds remarkably like the letter ‘a’. See the problem?
What he should have said was ‘arobase’, but different cultures call it completely different things – from official names to animal-based nicknames. Below we’ve found some of the most creative words for “the little ‘a’ in the circle”:
Animals (With Curly Bits)
The Germans, Romanians and South Africans (among others) all describe it as a ‘monkey tail’.
Thai and Hungarian people call it a ‘worm’ and the Italians refer to it as a ‘snail’.
The Swedish and Danish describe the shape as an ‘elephant’s trunk’ and the Greeks think it looks more like a ‘duckling’.
The “little a” isn’t only used in email addresses. In Spanish, the symbol is sometimes used to represent masculine and feminine gender in the same word, for example ‘amig@s’ means male and female friends, although this is frowned upon by the Real Academia Española, so we don’t recommend it!
What do you call the @ symbol?