Welcome to Barcelona!

I’m so excited about the next stop in my travel series: my adopted home town Barcelona. One of the best decisions I ever made. Barcelona captured my heart right from the get-go. I had dreamt of visiting the city ever since a colleague came in to work with his holiday snaps of Park GĂĽell and the Sagrada Familia. And when I finally made it to the Catalan capital it lived up to and went beyond my expectations.

Although initially thinking I would stay for about a year, twenty years on I am still in Spain. I now live outside Barcelona but pop in when I can and even after all these years I still get a thrill walking around this gorgeous  and unique city. 

Christa, a travel writer from the Smoky Mountains, Tennessee, has also fallen under Barcelona’s spell. Christa has lived in the city for the past couple of years and she is going to show you around and reveal some of her favourite off-the-beaten-path corners of the city.

I remember the first time I visited Barcelona back in 2016. It didn’t take long for me to fall for its quirky architecture, laidback culture, cheap wine, and endless rows of beautiful balconies and narrow streets. Barcelona’s charm had such an impact on me that if we fast forward one year later, you’ll find me officially packing my bags and setting off to the Catalan capital with a one-way ticket in hand, longing to improve my Spanish skills, learn the ropes of the Catalan language, and be back in the city that won my heart. Now with two years under my belt, I have learned a thing or two about this city, its sights, and hidden gems. From magnificent parks and architectural masterpieces to cozy cafes and museums, this city has something to offer every type of traveler.

Most people already know of Barcelona’s major tourist sites such as La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell, and while these are fantastic spots to visit, there are also some amazing lesser-known sites that you shouldn’t miss out on when visiting Barcelona.

Antoni Gaudí, Catalonia’s brilliant architect, scattered his masterpieces throughout Barcelona. La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell are two of those. He designed a total of 11 buildings in Barcelona. Casa Batlló is my personal favorite and has been since my first visit. Located on a popular shopping street, Passeig de Gràcia, its exterior is full of colorful, shimmery mosaics complemented by quirky arch-shaped windows and balconies.

Beyond Casa Batlló, Casa Vicens is Gaudí’s first major work combining Spanish bourgeois with ancient Arab traditions. Also, as a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is absolutely worth visiting.

Casa BatllĂł, Passeig de Gracia

Of course, since this is Spain after all, I have to mention Barcelona’s best plazas. My absolute favorite one is small, cozy, full of history, and tucked away in the Gothic Quarter. It’s called Plaça de Sant Felip Neri. In the middle sits a lovely fountain with green and white tiles. Behind, however, you’ll find a church and a school, and that’s where its dark, deep history becomes more vivid. In January of 1938, this tiny plaza was bombed by Franco’s air force. You can still see the wounds on the exterior of the school, and the memories of the children and adults who lost their lives there. It’s still a school to this day, despite the fact, and children still play and enjoy this beautiful plaza like the children before them once did, too.

Plaça Sant Felip Neri in the Gothic Quarter

Barcelona has so many incredible museums worth checking out. From both fantastic temporary and permanent exhibitions, it’s a paradise for the art lover. I recently visited the temporary Stanley Kubrick exhibition at the CCCB and last year the funky Andy Warhol exhibition at CaixaForum. Needless to say, if you come to Barcelona, do a quick search about temporary exhibitions because you might be lucky to stumble upon something incredible like I have. 

 A particularly stunning museum both inside and out is the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, abbreviated as MNAC. MNAC sits on the hill of MontjuĂŻc overlooking Plaça Espanya, a gigantic fountain, and Tibidabo in the distance. Inside you can explore art from the ages, sculptures, paintings, and more.

View of Plaça Espanya from the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

Barcelona is home to quite a few stunning parks. Most find their homes on the hill of Montjuïc, which is easy to get to by either foot or metro. My number one recommended park is Jardines de Laribal. It’s large, shady, and full of hidden beauty. It was once a former estate, and has many fountains and water features, an abundance of different plants and flowers, and offers some cozy spots for reading, writing, and enjoying views of Barcelona. It’s perfect for those who want to enjoy a quiet afternoon somewhere beautiful.

Also situated on Montjuïc is Mossèn Costa i Llobera Garden, a succulent-lovers paradise. It’s home to 800 different succulents and various tropical plants, including many cacti, which is why it’s commonly referred to as the “Cactus Park.”

The Laribel Gardens on MontjuĂŻc

Whenever I’m traveling, one of the most important things I research is where the good coffee shops are located. I love coffee, and it’s a good thing that my home has plenty to keep me going. A typical choice is Nomad Coffee in the Raval neighborhood. Its coffee is always on point and the decor is minimalistic and inviting. It’s great for a pit stop, or you can get it for takeaway and have a seat outside the ever-popular MACBA that’s located around the corner. It’s Barcelona’s modern art museum and it’s got a large courtyard in front of it where locals gather to chat, and skaters go to skate. Another great choice for coffee is Alsur Cafe. They not only have quality coffee served in gorgeous mugs, but a variety of exotic teas and infusions, too. 

I can’t speak highly enough of my city. Nowhere is perfect, but I imagine you will soon fall for Barcelona, too. With its care-free, laidback mindset and stunning architecture and artistic expression, it’s hard not to enjoy your time here to the fullest.

My name is Christa. I’m a travel writer and graphic designer currently living in Barcelona. Originally from the US, I found my home in Europe, and I plan to continue living, exploring, and writing about this wonderful continent for many years to come. Follow along on my personal travel blog The Spirited Explorer or find me on Instagram.

More travel blogs! Welcome to Wisconsin / Singapore / Bilbao


Reading: Welcome to Singapore!

Welcome To Singapore - Cover

They say that good things come in small packages and our next destination illustrates that idea to a tee. Our next port of call in the “Welcome to” series is South East Asia’s smallest country, Singapore. My former neighbour, dear friend and food blogger, Gina, aka Fatsochef, is kindly going to show us around. If, for you, travel is as much about the food as the sightseeing, read on!

The last time I wrote about my country, I was probably just ten years old! I don’t remember but I’m sure it was nothing but praise for this little island I call home. There really isn’t much not to like about Singapore. It’s beautiful, clean, modern, efficient and safe, from both crimes and natural disasters! It’s got great infrastructure, well-built roads, a first-class airline, and as for the buildings, we’ve got some pretty awesome architecture here on our little space of barely 130 square kilometers.

Singapore cityscape during sunset
The Marina Bay Sands and the Singapore Flyer

If you’ve ever had the chance to see a picture of the famous Marina Bay Sands building and thought to yourself, “Well, that’s nice”, just wait until you see it in person – the structure will blow you away! The building houses a hotel, casino, theatre, countless restaurants, bars and a mall to meet every shopaholic’s demands, plus there’s a magnificent view of the city skyline from the rooftop which is a staggering 193 meters high. It is a must-visit!

As if being known as the Garden City wasn’t enough, we went and built a garden within the garden city! Even if you’re not into flowers, you’ll be mesmerized by the towering futuristic solar-powered Supertrees and the world’s tallest indoor waterfall here at Singapore’s Gardens by The Bay.

Singapore Gardens By The Bay
Gardens by the Bay

We’re a young country, just celebrating our fifty-third year of independence in August this year, but we’ve come a long way the past half a century. Watching the country grow and evolve in such a short time is the pride of all Singaporeans.

Speaking of evolution, my own backyard has seen some mind-boggling changes! Built in 1920s, Tiong Bahru is the oldest housing estate in Singapore; also my family home for the past thirty years… and counting! As recent as the early nineties, our walk-up apartment sat amidst mom-and-pop shops selling everything from eggs to haberdashery supplies to freshly handmade noodles. Today, barely a handful of these old businesses remain, and the rest have been converted to hipster cafes, swanky barber shops, lifestyle shops and even spas! Despite the change, Tiong Bahru still exudes an old-world charm that silently refuses to budge! Is it the old-fashioned buildings? Or the quiet elderly couple at their rundown back alley shop that still helps reupholster our equally old couches? I don’t know! But people come from all over to capture and take in this fusion of old and new!

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Tiong Bahru

One of my favorite places in Singapore is Haji Lane. Known as the narrowest street in Singapore where hip meets culture, Haji Lane is touted as a must-see in every tourism guide book. Tucked in the center of Kampong Glam, Singapore’s Muslim quarter, this barely 300-meter-long street is lined with vintage shops, ice cream parlors, taco stands, coffee joints and even tattoo studios. And what started out as graffiti in the early days on sleepy Haji Lane evolved into some of the best street art you’ll see in Singapore.

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Stunning murals grace the walls and shopfronts in Haji Lane

My personal blog,, revolves around the greatest pleasure of Singaporeans: eating! So it’s definitely on my agenda to talk a little about food here! Although we have a huge variety of local and international cuisines in Singapore, we are truly proud of our local fare.

Every Singaporean has his or her own idea of our national dish. For me, Hainanese Chicken Rice reigns! Singapore chefs adapted the dish from the early Chinese immigrants from Hainan province. Don’t ask me what was wrong with the original but we decided to tweak it to what it is today and it has become more Singapore than Hainan ever since! You will find chicken rice in every corner of Singapore – from neighborhood hawker centers, to five-star hotels and even on board Singapore Airlines! A serving could cost a mere SG$3 to a whooping SG$25, depending where you choose to dine!

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Hainanese chicken: fragrant jasmine rice cooked in aromatic chicken stock, served with freshly poached tender chicken

Think a whole chicken, gently poached to succulent tenderness, drizzled with sweet savory soy sauce and served with fragrant jasmine rice that’s been cooked in the broth from poaching the bird. It all seems rather simple but a good chicken rice hits you with its deep, aromatic flavor!

Of course there will be other claims on our national dish – from Char Kway Teow, to Laksa, to Nasi Lemak. Nonetheless, there’s no starting a food war with a bunch of food-loving people! In fact, when friends are visiting, the first thing we do is treat them to a Singaporean food fest. Believe me when I say they always enjoy it as much as we do!

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Laksa – Silky smooth rice noodles in a creamy spicy coconut broth, bean sprouts, prawns, fish cake, and if you’re adventurous, raw blood cockles!

I’ve always enjoyed writing, but never quite pursued it. Starting my food review blog was totally unplanned but it’s been really fulfilling, especially on days when I discover something delicious! In or outside Singapore, I love hunting down hidden gems… discovering a quiet beach, or a secret bar always makes my day! When I travel, I always eat what the local people eat. I love chatting to the locals, learning about their culture, their language, and their favorite places to eat and party. My other passion is skiing. Rare for someone that lives in the tropics! But yeah, every chance I get, I’m on the slopes. It’s probably something I’d like to do until I’m 100! But we’ll see about that!

Go here for a peek into my food adventures. Or share your thoughts on my IG, account. Better still, point me to YOUR favorite place to eat and I’ll be sure to put it on my list!

Singapore skyline, Marina bay and Merlion fountain view at dusk
Singapore skyline, Marina bay and Merlion fountain

More travel blogs! Welcome to Barcelona, Bilbao, Wisconsin


Travel Reads: Welcome to Bilbao!

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Hello and welcome to the second instalment in my “Welcome to…” travel section where I’m inviting friends to give us a little tour of their hometown or local area. This time we’re heading to the Basque Country with fellow teacher Onintze. Bidaia on! Bon voyage!

I’m from the Basque Country, which lies in northern Spain, on the French border. This fabled place is a land of diversity, where awesome mountains mix with picturesque coastal villages and lively cities still keep deep-rooted traditions. And to add to its charm you’ll find magical places, secret spots and cozy hideaways scattered here and there.

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My kids on Ogoño hill overlooking Laga Beach and the Bay of Biscay

Another important forte is its gastronomy; Basque food is known worldwide. If you’re a foodie person, this is your place. The Basque Country is home to some of the world’s best chefs, such as Pedro Subijana, Juan Maria Arzak, MartĂ­n Berasategi or the young Eneko Atxa. In actual fact, there are twenty-two restaurants with one or more Michelin stars. Basque cuisine is not only famous for its meats and fish grilled over hot coals, but also for its salt cod in many forms, such as kokotxas al Pil-Pil and salt cod omelet.  And thanks to the wealth of the land, all the ingredients used, such as vegetables and legumes, are top quality. So there’s always a tasty reason to visit the Basque Country!

It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t warn you about the weather, which has been especially crazy in recent years. For example, we’ve just had a really mild and pleasant autumn with lovely sunny days and on the contrary, although it’s now May, there’s no trace of spring yet. Still, I can’t reproach the weather because rain makes this landscape green, astonishing and unique.

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Gorbea nature park

Before I talk about my hometown, let me tell you a little bit about our unique language, Basque, known also as Euskera or Euskara. It’s a language isolate. It doesn’t come from the Indo-European family. I find that rather enthralling. There are a few dialects and, believe it or not, these dialects can differ to such an extent that people from different regions can find it difficult to understand each other! That’s why we have a standardized Basque, created in the late 1960s, which is used in official business, media and education.

So now I’ve given you a little introduction to the Basque Country, come let me show you around my hometown, Bilbao. In truth, I live in a tiny village near Bilbao, but I’ve always considered myself a great defender of this amazing city. Being from a small town, Bilbao meant freedom when I started university, a place to have fun in my twenties and now it means a vibrant city where I feel alive, I feel at home.

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Bilbao, La Salve Bridge and the Guggenheim

Do you remember when color came to our TV screens? Maybe you’re too young so let me give you another example: Have you ever seen a caterpillar turning into a butterfly? That’s Bilbao. Once a dull grey city where iron, steel, and shipbuilding industries reigned, it has evolved into this colourful, culinary and arty hub. You can see this astounding metamorphosis with these pictures I took a few months ago.

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A glimpse of Bilbao’s metamorphosis

Bilbao can be every bit as charming and exciting as the big cities in Spain. It has so much to offer: architecture, food, urban culture, art, and music too – I really recommend you check out the BBK Live Festival, which takes place every July. Besides, everything’s compact so the visitor can cover most of it on foot in just a couple of days.

Bilbao’s big draw is of course the Guggenheim Museum. It’s no wonder this bulky, undulating, titanium boat put Bilbao on the map, it’s impressive! You can also enjoy walking around the museum or have a drink at the nearby bar, where if you’re lucky enough, you can take in some great live music.

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The Guggenheim Museum on the river NerviĂłn

The Guggenheim is just the tip of the iceberg, though. I seriously recommend you get lost in the Casco Viejo, and walk around “las Siete Calles” (the Seven Streets). You’ll see the sun’s rays play hide and seek with the shops and corners; a place full of life where you can go shopping. It’s a pedestrian area and you’ll find not only clothing, shoe shops, fabric shops, wine shops but also some hundred-year-old establishments that sell traditional Basque berets and the famous salted cod. Nearby you can enjoy the huge transformation of the Ribera Market where life and work come together. It’s the perfect spot to gather strength and enjoy some of the city’s best pintxos. Here you can taste our gildas (white anchovy, olive and pickled pepper skewers), enjoy some soft boiled quail egg with black anchovy and Piquillo peppers, delight in some fried eggplant with honey and goat’s cheese and  savour our wood-fired chorizo with pickled carrots.

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Top: Bilbao’s Casco Viejo and the Ribera Market. Below, left to right: AlhĂłndiga Bilbao, Doña Casilda Park, the Jeff Koons “Tulips” sculpture at the Guggenheim

It’s not easy to focus on just one place, there are so many places worth visiting! AlhĂłndiga Bilbao will delight all architecture lovers with its forty-three columns of different styles and materials or perhaps you would like to take a stroll with the kids through Doña Casilda Park and feed the ducks or rest under the trees (there are around a thousand!). Head to Calles Pozas and Ledesma if you want to satisfy your curiosity about Basque food. Take a stroll by the river from the Town Hall to the Guggenheim Museum to recharge your batteries. Arriaga Theatre and Euskalduna Palace will make you feel alive with their performances. All in all, a perfect city for a long weekend where everything’s a stone’s throw away. Bilbao is like a small box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get but…you can have them all!

I quit my job in an office to follow my dream of becoming a teacher. I’m trying to make those little rascals love English as much as I do, I’m trying to instil my passion in them. I’m not alone though, my children are my allies, my guinea pigs and my reason to try harder. I love nature and the awesome landscapes of the Basque Country. My perfect day would require a book, a good run in the mountains and a movie with my kids.

You can find me on Twitter at @OnintzeP.

Onintze Bio Pic - Cropped

More travel blogs! Welcome to Singapore, Wisconsin, Barcelona