How old exactly is the city of Barcelona? That's a tough question. There was a settlement called Barcino founded in the third century BC, but there is nothing left of that town. The oldest structure in Barcelona today is the Roman Ruins near Via Laetana, but there's not much left of those today.
But how old are the buildings on the streets of the Gothic Quarter, the Born and the Raval? This is where the question becomes especially tricky, as Barcelona has grown largely organically, making it hard to say that 'this area was built in the 1960s' or anything like that.
Which is where the excellent website and app Big Time BCN comes in handy. Mouse over any of the buildings on their map of Barcelona and Big Time BCN will tell you the year it was built. The Android app will find your position in the city and show you the year of construction for the buildings around you.
Pretty neat, huh?
See also: 100 Things to Do in Barcelona
There are rumors going around that parts of Season 5 of Game of Thrones will be shot in Spain.
As a big fan of both the books and the TV series, my guess is that they chose Spain to depict Dorne, specifically the capital, Sunspear, the home of the Martells, who were introduced into the show at the beginning of Season 4.
But where in Spain will they choose? If it is Sunspear they'll be shooting, then I think Plaza de Espaņa in Seville (already used in several films, including Star Wars Episode II), as well as perhaps the Alcazar and the Casa de Pilatos, would all be good choices.
See also: 50 Things to Do in Seville
Have you ever considered taking your children to a Spanish language summer camp in Spain?
May is discount time for travel planning, and I've found another great offer that is valid until the end of the month: get 10% off a summer camp in Spain.
Complete immersion is by far the best way to learn a language. When I studied Spanish, I had three hours of classes every day, and made friends with people who were also learning the language, so we would speak after class in broken Spanish until, by the end of the course, we were actually pretty good! I got from the absolute beginner class to the advanced class in three months. I'd say that one month at a summer camp in Spain would be enough to send any high-school student to the top of their class.
Click on the link above or check out my guide on How to Learn Spanish in Spain
Viator, the biggest tour and activity resource on the web, has an excellent deal right now, with 50% off some of their most popular Barcelona tours. You must book by May 15, 2014 and take your tour by December 31, 2014.
Let's take a look at the discounted tours:
- Salvador Dali Museum and Cadaques Tour The Salvador Dali Museum in Figueres is a fascinating insight into the mind of the great Salvador Dali. It's easier to get to than it used to be, thanks to the AVE train now taking you there, but the long lines in summer mean a guided tour - which will whisk you straight in the doors - makes for a far more relaxing journey. And though Dali's art is fascinating even without understanding the underlying symbolism, your expert guide will fill you in on everything. The Dali museum is an essential Barcelona Day Trip, whether or not you take this tour.
- Three Countries in One Day: Spain, Andorra and France If you're on a short trip to Europe, with Spain your only stop, this day trip from Barcelona can take you to two other countries all on one tour. Visit the French UNESCO World Heritage-listed town of Mont-Louis, take a tour of the medieval Spanish town of Baga and then either hike or shop in Andorra, one of Europe's smallest countries. If you're not so interested in ticking off countries, you might also be tempted by this Pyrenees Mountains Tour instead.
- Montserrat Mountain and Cava Tour Montserrat has to be seen to be believe. You can check out my Montserrat picture gallery to see what this stunning area looks like, but for a spoiler free experience, you could just head straight there. It's easy to get from Barcelona to Montserrat but this tour also adds in a visit to a cava wine bodega, where you will get to sample Spain's answer to champagne.
- Private Barcelona Tour with Sagrada Familia Visit I don't normally recommend private tours - I find they cost far too much when you could just join a group tour. But if you're traveling with a large enough party, these tours can be quite economical and at half the normal price, you might even call it a bargain!
- Mediterranean Sailing Trip Learn the ropes (literally!) on a sailing trip from Barcelona port out into the Mediterranean.
May is a great time to plan your vacation in Spain. A lot of the big travel companies offer great savings at this time of year, so keep an eye out if you want to save. Just yesterday I posted about Half Price Barcelona Tours (that deal runs until Thursday, so you still have time to book). And today I have a deal from Venere: 10% off most hotels in Europe, but you must book today (May 11, 2014).
Just head on over to Venere.com and check out their selection of hotels. When checking out, use the coupon code SUMMER10 and you'll get your 10% off. There are some hotels not included in the offer, particularly the big chains (you can see the list of exemptions here).
If booking your hotels today is a bit short notice for you, don't worry: Venere has a free cancellation policy on all their hotels. I often book hotels I might not stay in and put a note in my Google calendar to cancel in time (this also works really well as 'insurance' when using AirBNB, as hosts have been known to cancel at the last minute).
If you're in the middle of planning your Spain vacation, check out my page on How to Choose Where to Go in Spain
Later this month, BiciMad, Madrid's new bicycle sharing scheme, will start up in Spain's capital, with pick-up stations appearing throughout the city in preparation for the launch. What's more: they'll be electric!
Following in the footsteps of Bicing in Barcelona, Velib in Paris and London's so-called 'Boris Bikes', the new BiciMad scheme allows people to take a bike from one of the many stations around the city and drop it off somewhere else. As is the case in many cities, the first few minutes of use are for free.
But what sets the Madrid scheme apart is that the bicycles will be partly electrified, to help you get up some of the hillier parts of the capital.
The new system has come under fire from some quarters. Unsurprisingly, Madrid's taxi drivers have spoken out, showing concern for the safety of their former customers as people swap their safe taxis for perilous bikes.
A question that still hangs over the as-yet unlaunched service is whether or not visitors to the city will be allowed to use the system. Barcelona's Bicing scheme is exclusively for city residents, supposedly a cynical act of protectionism for the numerous bike hire companies in the city. Let's see if Madrid is as short-sighted.
If you're visiting Spain in June, you have a couple of bizarre festivals to check out. The Fiesta del Agua y Jamon is a giant water fight just outside Granada, combined with an appreciation of locally-produced ham. And, a little messier, the town of Haro in the north has a wine battle (Batallo del vino), where everyone throws wine at each other. Why? Because it's fun!
Check out more about June in Spain below:
The San Pellegrino World's Best Restaurants list for 2014 has been unveiled - and, as usual, Spanish restaurants are right up there.
San Sebastian has been long established as one of the premier foodie destinations in Europe. In addition to its three Three-Michelin Star Restaurants, it also has its renowned pintxo (tapas) culture. San Sebastian's old quarter is chock full of charming eateries with a variety of tasty morsels on the bar-top or ordered from the ever-changing chalkboard menu.
The restaurants on the World's Best list are the types of places that don't put their prices on their website and their patrons are people who don't mind that fact. If you're heading to San Sebastian and don't want to visit Arzak or Mugaritz (or maybe you can't get a reservation), trying the pintxos will give you an insight into the inventive food scene of northern Spain.
See also: San Sebastian Pintxos Passport The best way to go for pintxos in San Sebastian
Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quijote de la Mancha and, to many, the father of the modern novel, is buried under a convent in central Madrid. But where exactly has been lost in the mists of time. But now, archeologists believe they will be able to find the writer's remains.
According to an article in The Telegraph, the team will use radars to explore under the convent in order to find Cervantes' final resting place.
The Barrio de las Letras in central Madrid, also known as Huertas, was the home and playground of many famous writers. In addition to Cervantes, his contemporary Lope de Vega lived in the area too. And the Spain-obsessed Ernest Hemingway also loitered in this area, keen to bump into the bullfighters who would stay at the hotel in Plaza de Santa Ana.
See also: Consuegra, the best example of the windmills that inspired Don Quijote's most famous scene.
As The Telegraph website publishes an article saying that the sun is setting on the expat dream in Spain, The Guardian has a story saying that prices on the Spanish Costas are reaching rock bottom. So is now the time to buy a property in Spain or not?
It won't be news to anyone that the Spanish economy is in the doldrums, with a quarter of people able to work finding themselves unemployed. Foreign expats, particularly those without Spanish language skills, are likely to find it even harder to get work.
So where is there work? The Telegraph article quotes a property expert who left Spain nine years ago, saying that most expats she knew were entrepreneurs who commuted to and from the UK or they were in property. But the property collapse put an end to that lucrative occupation.
One industry that is still thriving is tourism. But with so many jobless people, there is great demand for these jobs. English-speaking Spaniards will do better in most areas of tourism than a foreigner without Spanish skills.
But what about property speculation? With house prices so low, they surely can't fall any further, can they? But before you buy, just remember what caused this crisis in the first place...
Further reading: Learning Spanish in Spain