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Modernism 101 with Discover Walks Barcelona

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Before my first trip to Barcelona five years ago, I had briefly educated myself on modernist architecture and the legend of Gaudí through various guidebooks and countless viewings of Vicky Cristina Barcelona. However, about six months afterwards, what little information I had previously acquired quite effortlessly slipped my mind. For good.

Upon my return to Barcelona, I was anxious to refresh my memory and delve deeper into Gaudí's masterpieces. But this time, I couldn't just rely on a guidebook. I needed a comprehensive overview from a source that would stick with me. 

So when Discover Walks reached out to me, I knew it was fate. More than your average tour company, Discover Walks guides you around the city through the eyes of a passionate local. As my friend Morgan and I began our Gaudí Extravaganza - Best of Barcelona Tour with our native guide Biel, we immediately found his enthusiasm for his hometown to be contagious.

Back in the late 19th century, Barcelona's central living quarters became too crowded - so the city began expanding into the Eixample (which translates to "extension"). Many affluent families took advantage of this extra space to build large, lavish houses along the Passeig de Gràcia, which connected Barcelona's city center to other neighboring villages such as Vila de Gràcia.

Today the Passeig de Gràcia is characterized by upscale shops, prosperous businesses, and some of the city's best architectural gems. Amongst the many eye-catching examples of modernist architecture lies the Block of Discord, one of the most celebrated examples of Catalan modernism. 

We started our Discover Walks tour here, learning how the wealthy "Catalan Gatsby's" of the early 20th century competed to have the most impressive homes. On this particular block in the Eixample, several prominent Catalan families each hired different architects to design their houses. These distinguished modernist architects battled it out for the Passeig de Gràcia's most extravagant building, creating a row of notably clashing homes

Lluís Domènech i Montaner's Casa Lleó-Morera
Josep Puig i Cadafalch's Casa Amatller
Antoni Gaudí's Casa Batlló

Our guide Biel explained the intricate symbolism behind the Block of Discord's architectural elements, from the wavy disposition of the iron to the organic shapes imitating nature. We learned the inside secrets of Casa Batlló's facade, including which metaphor Gaudí was supposedly playing on when designing the house. (Hint: it has to do with the story of Barcelona's patron saint!)

We then moved on from the Block of Discord, exploring more of the Eixample's modernist masterpieces. As we worked our way past Gaudí's Casa Milà and up the Rambla de Catalunya, we learned fascinating tidbits about the origins of modernism, the ins and outs of Catalan culture, and various fun facts about Barcelona. I found myself wishing that I had taken this tour five years ago, for I was beginning to see the city in a brand new light. How had I missed out on this much history my first time around?!

Modernism 101 with Discover Walks Barcelona

We finished the tour in front of Gaudí's enigmatic and unfinished cathedral, Sagrada Familia. By this time, our guide's contagious passion and enthusiasm had unmistakably spread to us. We ended our tour buzzing about Barcelona and wishing we had time to learn more.

Refreshing, entertaining and informative, our Discover Walks tour was the perfect way to learn all about Catalan modernism. I discovered more about the city than I could have ever learned from a guidebook, for our vivacious guide made Barcelona's history come to life. Thanks to this comprehensive tour, I now have a deeper appreciation for the city's intriguing architecture and history.

Discover Walks graciously invited me on their Gaudí Extravaganza Tour, but as always, all opinions expressed are my own. You can find out more about Discover Walks and their unique walking tours around Europe here.

Easter Markets in Vienna

Monday, March 23, 2015

As a kid, Easter was always my favorite holiday. Perhaps it's because I used to love the challenge of Easter egg hunts (they were so much more exhilarating than simply walking downstairs and finding presents under a tree), or maybe it's because I've always had a thing for pastels. Regardless, I still get pretty excited about Easter as an adult. 

Aside from the excessive chocolate, an excuse to brunch all day, and shamelessly drenching myself in preppy pastels, some of my most memorable trips with my mom have been during my Easter breaks - also known as Semana Santa here in Spain. 

Last year we ventured to Prague and Vienna over Semana Santa, and everything about our trip was truly magical. Since Easter is just around the corner again, I find myself getting incredibly nostalgic about our trip to Central Europe. (I also really miss my mom. Hi mom! Come visit me again!)

While I have yet to see a real European Christmas market (because let's be real: Madrid's pathetic excuse for a Christmas market in Plaza Mayor does not count), I have seen enough darling European Easter markets to last a lifetime. Prague's Easter markets in Old Town Square surely captivated me, but Vienna's whimsical markets truly made me feel like a kid again. 

While taking in the sprightly colors, intoxicating scents of pretzels and pastries, and picturesque toys and decorations, I felt the same exhilaration as I did when I was Easter egg hunting as a child. (Except this time, I didn't steal all the eggs from the other kids. What can I say, I'm an only child.)

Wandering through the Easter markets of Vienna is one of my fondest memories of last year's trip to Central Europe with my mom. While all other Easters will likely pale in comparison, I can't help but smile every time I think of our adventures together. 

Easter Markets in Vienna

This year, there are several different Easter markets scattered throughout Vienna. While my favorite is the Ostermarkt at Schönbrunn Palace, the city's other picturesque markets are definitely worth visiting as well.

2015 Easter Markets in Vienna:

March 21st - April 6th
Schönbrunner Schlossstraße, 1130 Wien

March 20th - April 6th
Am Hof, 1010 Wien

March 20th - April 6th
Freyung, 1010 Wein

April 5th
Prater, 1020 Wien

Vila de Gràcia: Barcelona's Best Kept Secret

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Tucked away just north of the city center lies Vila de Gràcia, Barcelona's very own hidden village. While technically Gràcia was swallowed up into Barcelona's city limits in 1897, it still retains its intimate small town charm.

Just beyond the sprawling Eixample, the village of Gràcia is an ideal escape from the chaos of the big city. With its quiet streets and understated charm, Gràcia feels like a completely different world compared to the bustling metropolis that encompasses it.

This picturesque village hidden within Barcelona has succeeded in preserving its identity amidst the city's growth and popularity. Gràcia's shops, markets and plazas retain a traditional neighborhood vibe, while its unique celebrations are still widely revered. Every August Gràcia celebrates its Festa Major festival, where locals decorate the streets and convert the neighborhood into a colorful frenzy of food, drink and music. A classic paradigm of Catalan culture, Gràcia continues to stay true to its small town roots.

By stepping aside from the mainstream culture of Catalunya's capital, Gràcia has developed a notably Bohemian vibe. Between the born-and-raised Gràcia locals, classic and antiquated bodegas, up-and-coming restaurants and hip cafés, Gràcia exhibits an intriguing juxtaposition between trendy and traditional.

Amongst the art galleries, boutiques and architectural gems, Gràcia also boasts several picturesque plazas to soak up the village's captivating ambiance. Plaça de Sol, Plaça de la Virreina and Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia are all idyllic places to grab a café con leche and relax the sun. Not only is the people watching in Gràcia unparalleled, but the neighborhood's vibrant colors also add a welcomed contrast to Barcelona's blended earthy tones.

While I was absolutely enthralled by everything this lively neighborhood had to offer, my favorite part was undoubtedly eating my way through Gràcia with Devour Barcelona - a must for any foodie curious about Catalan cuisine!

Have you ever fallen in love with a small neighborhood 
hidden within a bustling city?

6 Tips for Finding the Perfect Hostel

Thursday, March 12, 2015
Every time I plan on hitting the road, I'm faced with the ultimate traveler's dilemma: should I budget more for food, or for lodging? (Unsurprisingly, I always pick food.) While I wish I had enough cash to stay in five star hotels every time I travel, sadly that is very far from the case. So, like many other twenty-something travelers, I choose to embrace the more budget-friendly alternative of staying in hostels. A hostel can either make or break your trip, but finding the perfect hostel can be a tricky feat. Here's how to find a great hostel and fully enjoy your stay!

This is one of my favorite websites for researching and booking hostels. It's simple, straight-forward, and easy to use. The site itself is aesthetically pleasing, but the best part is its functionality. It's easy to find pictures of your desired hostel, which facilities and services are included, and other important details relevant to your stay. Not to mention, they have a wide selection of quality hostels to choose from worldwide.

My room at Urbany Hostel BCN GO in Barcelona - one of the best hostels I've ever stayed at!

2. Trust the ratings

Sometimes higher ratings are worth the extra few dollars per night. For instance, HostelsClub factors in cleanliness, staff, location and value into their ratings. I generally never book anything with a rating of less than 75%, and I always make sure to read the most recent reviews. I also try to check the reviews right before I depart on a trip, just in case there are any recent issues I should be aware of.

3. Check the location

Is the hostel close to the sights you want to see, or is it a 40 minute metro ride from the center of town? I always try to stay close to where I know I'll be sight-seeing and spending the majority of my time. Also keep in mind how far away the best bars and restaurants are - no traveler on a budget wants to take a $25 cab ride home after the metro closes.

4. Female-only dorms are a wise choice

After years of staying in hostels, I've learned to always book female-only dorm rooms as opposed to mixed dorms. While I like making both male and female friends when I stay at hostels, it only takes one creepy roommate in your dorm to completely ruin your hostel experience. For the sake of comfort and security, booking female-only dorms can be a really smart choice.

5. Look for a social atmosphere

If you're traveling solo, it's important to look for hostels that promote a social environment. Look for qualities that offer an atmosphere conducive to meeting new people. "Party hostels" usually indicate that it's going to be easy to make friends there. When looking for a lively hostel to stay in, check to see if they have multiple common rooms, bars and lounges, game rooms, walking tours or pub crawls.

Photo courtesy of Urbany Hostel BCN GO

6. Take note of the details

Always check to see if your hostel offers lockers, linens, towels, wifi, hair dryers and luggage storage. Bonus points for free breakfast and 24 hour security. These details may seem minor, but they greatly affect the ease of your hostel experience. does a great job of clearly showing which hostels offer these amenities!

Of the many hostels I've stayed at over the years, I can't rave enough about my experience in Barcelona at Urbany Hostel BCN GO. Truthfully, this is one of the coolest hostels I've ever stayed at. Besides the clean rooms and lively atmosphere, this one-of-a-kind hostel also offers a rooftop terrace and jacuzzi, a chill-out lounge with TV and videogames, free club entrances, and fun activities such as pub crawls, pasta nights and walking tours.

Right next to Plaza Universitat, the hostel's central location makes it easily accessible to all of the major sights in Barcelona. My room was clean and functional, and the private bathroom made getting ready in the morning all the more convenient. What really impressed me was how their employees went above and beyond to make my stay comfortable. The exceptionally friendly staff made me feel as if I were among old friends. If I have the opportunity to visit Barcelona again soon (which I seriously hope I will!), I would stay at this hostel again in a heartbeat.

Do you have any other tips for finding a great hostel?

My stay at Urbany Hostel BCN GO was made possible by, but all opinions expressed are my own. You can find out more about and their wide variety of accommodations offered here.