In my opinion trains are the best way to get around Italy by far. However, I have been on some very good trains and some very bad trains in Italy. The train I took to go to Pompeii is one of the worst trains I have ever been on. There are a few different train companies in Italy, and here are my experiences traveling with them:
I highly recommend taking Italo trains when in Italy. They have the best prices, the more comfortable trains, and are more reliable. I have traveled between major cities in Italy for less than 10 euros. They also show movies in some train cars for no extra charge, but the movies are usually in Italian. The only time I had much of a delay with Italo, they offered a partial reimbursement for my ticket (and the delay wasn’t even their fault, it was due to a issue with the tracks). The only downside to Italo is their lack of access. The only travel to the more major cities in Italy, but their customer service is above average for a European company.
The state run train company in Italy is Trenitalia. The run trains such as Thello, Frecce, and Intercity trains. The Trenitalia trains are usually more expensive, lower quality, and less reliable than Italo trains. Also, I have never been offered compensation for a delayed train, and a high percentage of my Trenitalia trains have been delayed. The main benefit to Trenitalia trains is their high amount of destinations. In many cases, the only trains offered to smaller cities in Italy are Trenitalia trains. I have taken Trenitalia trains on journeys to smaller cities where I taught English camps such as Volterra, Casalmaggiore, and Cirie. Also, Trenitalia runs some overnight trains, which can be convenient and cost effective. However, both the Intercity Night train I took to Bari and the Thello overnight train I took to Paris were much lower quality than the Renfe-SNCF overnight train I took to get to Barcelona.
In the past couple years I have bought very few clothes (my merino wool products have worked out very well for me). However, one of the purchases I did make in Barcelona was a “Buff,” which is a appears to be a play on words of the Spanish “bufanda,” or scarf. The company was started in Barcelona, and while they sell a variety of different products, their flagship product is a piece of multifunctional headwear. Also known as a balaclava or neck gaiter, it can be worn in a variety of different ways. For example, it can be worn as a scarf, as a hat, or as earmuffs, just to name a few. I have gotten a lot of use out of mine in colder temperatures such as visiting winter markets in places like Germany and Belgium. I have found it to be very functional, and with its versatility and merino wool fabric it can be used in a variety of different circumstances. Also, it packs down very small, so it can easily fit in a backpack or even in a pocket. I have been very happy with my purchase and would recommend it to others.
Antoni Gaudi is considered the best known architect in the Catalan Modernism style. He has arguably had the biggest impact of any other human be on the architectural uniqueness in Barcelona, which is one of my favorite things about Barcelona. Just walking around parts of the city and looking at the buildings can be a great experience, even for someone like myself who isn’t an architecture aficionado. Here are a few of his works that I have visited:
La Sagrada Familia-
The most impressive building I have ever been in is the Sagrada Familia, and it was not even finished. Construction started in 1882, and although Gaudi died in 1926, the Sagrada Familia is not scheduled to be completed until 2026 (100 years after his death). I have seen building that are as big as the Sagrada Familia and I have seen buildings that are as detailed as the Sagrada Familia, but I have never seen a building that is as big and as detailed as the Sagrada Familia. It is one the most unique and amazing buildings I have ever been in.
Done for the Batllo family in 1904, Casa Batllo (also know as the house of bones due to its exterior appearance) has become an iconic building in Barcelona. It will be beautifully decorated for Catalonian holidays, such as St. Jordi (which is similar to Valentine’s Day in other parts of the world), when it is covered in roses. In the summer they also do a rooftop concert series, and an admission ticket allows for a tour of the building and a rooftop concert. It is a great way to see such an iconic building.
La Pedrera (Casa Mila)-
Passeig de Gràcia is arguably the most architecturally beautiful street in one of the most architecturally unique and beautiful cities in the world. Like Casa Batllo, La Pedrera (also known as Casa Mila) stands out as a star amongst stars. I was able to visit it on a field trip with some of the classes I was teaching in Vilanova i la Geltru. The “stone quarry” was built for the Mila family in the early 1900s.
Situated at a natural elevation that offers excellent views of Barcelona, Parc Guell is another one of Gaudi’s masterpieces. While all of the park used to be free to enter, a portion of the park (the most beautiful part) now requires an entry fee during most hours, and the tickets usually sell out. This was done to limit foot traffic causing wear and tear to the site and to fund maintenance and upkeep. I would suggest booking in advance or going early for one of the free times. However, the free part of the park offers the better views of the city and is beautiful in its own right. Parc Guell was initially meant to be a housing development of luxury homes funded by Eusebi Guell, but this business plan failed in part due to the distance (and uphill walk) from the old city. It was then converted into a municipal garden and has now reached iconic status.
Church of Colonia Guell-
I had the opportunity to visit Colinia Guell on a field trip with some of the English classes I was teaching in the El Prat area of Barcelona. As its name alludes, Colonia Guell was also funded by Eusebi Guell, but when he ran out of funds the project was not completed. It is located a bit outside of the city of Barcelona, and while not quite as impressive as some of Gaudi’s other works, it is a nice display of his unique architectural creativity.
Located in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona just off La Rambla, Placa Reial is a popular place for tourists to pass through. However, many people do not take the time to look closely at the unique lampposts, which were beautifully designed by Gaudi.
Lock Clock Misión Gaudi Escape Room-
Although it was not actually built by Gaudi, I was able to try a Gaudi themed escape room in the center of Barcelona. It was my first time trying an escape room, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. And we made it out!
What I did and saw:
Alhambra and Generalife-
The iconic Alhambra is a picturesque, historic site that is visible from most places in the city. It frequently sells out, so I would suggest booking in advance. Also, the ticket time refers to the entrance to the Nasri Palace, not the entrance to the park. The park can be accessed both before and after the Nasri Palace, and I would suggest taking advantage of this because there is plenty of room to explore such as the Charles IV Palace (with exhibits inside), the Alcazaba (with some amazing views of the Sierra Nevada and of the city).
Mirador San Nicolas-
The Saint Nicholas lookout offers some excellent nighttime views of Alhambra. Also, while I was there some musicians were playing. It is a great place to hang out and talk with friends.
Patio de los Perfumes-
I am not a cologne or perfume expert, and I don’t even wear cologne most days. However, the Patio de los Perfumes offers a unique experience. They let you make your own personal cologne or perfume for about the cost of a standard cologne or perfume. They give the option of making everything from scratch for a slightly higher price, or selecting from a set of bases and building from there. A trained perfume expert walked me through the process and gave me tips along the way, but she allowed me to pick the scents I wanted to add to my cologne. It was a unique and enjoyable experience.
Holy Week Processions-
In Andalucia Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter) is a big production. One of the main events of the week are the processions, which are large parades where many church patrons will wear outfits that are unfortunately similar to KKK outfits in a variety of different colors. Also, some patrons will carry floats depicting religious scenes.
Outsides of the Granada Cathedral and the Plaza de toros de Granada-
I was only able to see the outside of the Granada Cathedral and the Plaza de toros de Granada. However, I would like to get the chance to see the inside of both of them, particularly the Cathedral.
Where I ate and drank:
Although it is slightly outside the city center, El Fermentador is on the way into the city from the main bus station. It is a great place to go for excellent craft beer in Granada.
Al Sur de Granada-
I stopped at Al Sur de Granada on the way to the bus station, and I was very glad I did. They offer a great selection of wine, craft beer, cheese, bread, and produce. It was so good that after having something there I got more to go to take with me on the bus to Seville.
Bodegas Castenada is a great place to try the famous Iberian Bellota (acorn-fed) ham. It is a place where you can get all kinds of pork and other typical spanish tapas.
Ysla is a good place to try Pionons, which are a sweet pastry local to the Granada area. It is small and very sweet, and although it doesn’t top my list of favorite desserts it was definitely worth a try.
Minuit, Noat Coffee, Dulcimena Coffee & Go, and La Finca Coffee-
Each of these coffee shops were recommended to my by the staff at one of my favorite coffee shops in Spain, Mia Coffee in Malaga. Minuit offers espresso based drinks and some great bread. I had a cappuccino and an open faced salmon avocado sandwich while I was there. Noat has some good healthy food options and great coffee. While I was there they were using beans from Right Side Coffee Roasters in Castelldefels. Dulcimena is a tiny place that serves great coffee. I had a Kenyan Chemex while I was there. La Finca is another good place to get coffee that is located right by the Granada Cathedral.
Taberna El Aviso and Taberna La Tana-
Both Taberna El Aviso and Taberna La Tana are located in the Realejo area of Granada. Many people will hop from place to place in the area grabbing a drink and a free tapa. It is a nice way to explore the city while sampling good wine and free food.
La Hermosa Craft Beer Shop-
Located right by the hostel I was staying at, La Hermosa Craft Beer Shop offers some good craft beer close to many of the main sites in Granada. Their selection is not extremely large, but they pair their beers with snacks like chocolate that complement the flavors very well.
Bar Los Diamantes-
There will often be a wait at Bar Los Diamantes, but it is worth a wait. They offer very good free food with any drink, and it is located in close proximity to many of the main sites in the city.
Where I stayed:
White Nest Hostel-
I stayed at White Nest Hostel while in Granada. The staff there were extremely nice and even upgraded my room to one with a better view of Alhambra. I didn’t have breakfast there as it looked pretty basic and cost four euros. It is not an incredibly extravagant place, but it is very well priced, very well located, and I would stay there again.
How I got around:
I arrived in Granada by bus from Malaga, and I left the city by bus to go to Seville. While in Granada I walked to get around, and despite some hills and processions going on I found it to be very walkable.
My favorite thing:
I loved the Bellota ham, making my own cologne was a fun experience, El Fermentador had some great craft beer, and getting free tapas is really nice. However, my favorite thing in Granada was Alhambra. It is beautiful and expansive yet intricate, and definitely worth visiting.
My least favorite thing:
My least favorite parts of my time in Granada were the bus rides in and out of the city from Malaga and to Seville. The hilly terrain makes for windy roads that don’t always go well with my stomach.
For next time:
Next time in Granada I would like to sample more of the free tapas and I would like to go inside the Granada Cathedral.
While most other crime is not really an issue, pickpocketing is a massive issue in Barcelona. I personally have been pickpocketed twice, once when my phone was swiped out of my back pocket while on the metro, and once when my phone was swiped from my front jacket pocket when I was bumped into while walking on the sidewalk. Partially due to the high prevalence of pickpocketing in the city, many people in the Barcelona area will wear “riñoneras.” This literally translates to “kidney bags,” and it is essentially a fanny pack/bum bag that is worn across your body. This helps to significantly reduce the risk of being pickpocketed, because a potential thief would need to unzip or unlatch your bag right in front of your face. To reduce the risk of being pickpocketed a third time, I use my Bobby Anti-Theft Backpack and my Joe Rogan Datsusara Fanny Pack. I have already reviewed the Bobby Anti-Theft Backpack, but here are my thoughts on the Joe Rogan Datsusara Fanny Pack:
The Joe Rogan Datsusara Fanny Pack doesn’t stick out as much as other fanny packs/bum bags. It has enough space to fit what I need without being too bulky. Also, it can be good to take on a plane as a personal item. You may even be able to have it counted as a money bag and not have it count towards any bag, but I have not tried that myself.
The bag is made from hemp, which is a fairly sustainable material that is also durable and anti-microbial. The zippers on the bag are also high quality YKK zippers.
The bag features a small Velcro pocket, a small zippered pocket, and a larger zippered pocket. The larger pocket also features a divider, and can easily fit items the size of a standard smartphone, passport, or wallet.
I wear it across my body in Barcelona, but it can also be worn as an actual fanny pack/bum bag if you are in a location where pickpocketing is not such an issue. It can also be easily connected to my Datsusara Battlepack Core Backpack.
The strap isn’t the most comfortable bag strap, but it is originally designed to be worn around your waist, not across your body. Also, with its size I’m not really going to carry anything that would be heavy enough to even notice the strap anyway.
It sucks that there is a need for a bag to prevent pickpocketing. This isn’t really a disadvantage regarding the bag, but more about the world. However, even if I didn’t need to prevent pickpockets, this bag still functions very well as a way to add a bit of carrying space without taking a full size bag, or as a way to add a little room to my Datsusara Battlepack Core Backpack.
I would highly recommend this bag is you are in an area where pickpocketing is an issue. And as mentioned above, this bag can be great to use in areas where pickpocketing is not an issue as a way to have a little extra space and convenience.
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