Barcelona’s Flea Market “Els Encants Vells”

Touted as being one of the oldest markets in Europe “Els Encants Vells” is15,000 square metres of organised chaos, every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday stall holders begin to occupy the carefully marked out parcels and put their wares out for display.

And what an assortment of wares there are, you can find everything you need and everything you might never need. Do you need a cowbell, bicycle pump or an old couch well if you do then “Els Encants”, is the place to go?

The origin of many of the stall holders goods is somewhat suspect, some found in the rubbish, , it maybe the estate of a deceased person without heirs, some of it may even be stolen. Wherever it comes from there is something for everyone. Popular amongst students looking to furnish their house with a comfortable old couch or fill that ugly space on the wall with an even uglier painting “Els Encants” attracts a crowd as eclectic as the wares on sale.

It is the perfect place to spend a Saturday moring rummaging through the piles of videos, clothes, electrical goods looking for a bargain. Whilst quality antiques are difficult to find at “Els Encants” sometimes there is a bargain just waiting to be found amongst the plethora of goods on offer.

The best thing about wandering around this sprawling market is observing the other shoppers, elderly ladies clutching their bags tightly to their sides so as to dissuade pickpockets, hipsters sorting through piles of clothes and bric-a-brac looking for their latest model dress, 80’s sunglasses or ridiculous hat, the person of dubious character who sidles up to you trying to offload some “genuine” perfume or jewellery and  the cries of the gypsy women as they tout their wares “mantas pa sofares”, “2×1” and “muy bonito muy bonito” all adding to the atmosphere of the market.

Soon the market will be moving to a new site and it is sure to lose some of its charm in the move. Get down to “Els Encants” before the move to see a different side of Barcelona, who knows you may even come away with a unique souvenir.

Where: Plaça de les Glories Catalanes, Barcelona

Metro: L1 Glories and L2 encants

When: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday 9am-6pm

Bohemian Carnival in the Streets of Prague

People walking the streets in masked costumes, music and performers in the street, dancing and feasting, mask competitions it must be Carnival time, but we are not in Venice. We are celebrating carnival in Prague or as this pre-Lent celebration is known locally Masopust. Bohemian Carnevale is the city’s official program of festivities.

Though an age old tradition it wasn’t until the Middle Ages and the Renaissance that a Venetian style carnival was celebrated in Prague. High society copied their Venetian and other European counterparts in an attempt to outdo them when it came to carnival, the rest of the population celebrated the popular local festival Masopust as a way of saying farewell to the winter.

Today Bohemian Carnevale in Prague is a mixture of traditional Masopust traditions and Carnival. Carnival this year starts on the 31st of January and concludes on the 13th of February this two week long carnival gets underway with a procession of masks through the streets ofPrague to the town hall where the city will be handed over to the revellers and Carnival will officially get under way.

For more detailed information check out the Bohemian Carnevale Program on their website. Let the festivities begin.

Christmas 2012 in Madrid – four things to do

We’ve already taken a look at what Christmas in London will be like this year, so this blog entry we decided to head to warmer climes to see what’s planned for Christmas 2012 in Madrid. And we weren’t disappointed with the selection of nativity scenes, ice rinks, Christmas markets and Christmas lights we found. Here’s our four favourite activities on offer during Christmas 2012 in Madrid.

Go to a Christmas market

There’s several Christmas markets taking place in Madrid, including places like Jacinto Benevente and the Plaza de España. The main one is in the Plaza Mayor, and is relatively tat-free. You’ll find a variety of traditional Christmas-related crafts, as well as some gift ideas, spread over more than 100 stalls. Open from the 24th of November to the 31st of December, from 10 am to 10 pm.

See a nativity scene

Nativity scenes, also called “belenes” in Spanish, are very popular throughout Spain. This year, the City Council’s famed nativity scene will be on display in the CentroCentro Cibeles de Cultura y Ciudadanía (also known as the “5Cs”). It’s free to see, and made up of more than 350 pieces. Open from the 1st of December to the 3rd of February, open during the 5Cs normal hours.

Go ice skating

There’s several places you can go ice skating in Madrid during Christmas. Of these, the large Christmas tree and free entry often makes the Plaza de Callao a natural choice. This year, the skating rink will be open from the 18th of November to the 15th of January, from 10 am to 10 pm all week.

See the Christmas Lights

The best of Madrid’s Christmas lights is normally to be found along the Gran Via and surrounding streets. This year, the honours will be done on November 30th, and the lights will illuminate the streets until the 6th of January, from 6 pm to 10 pm (11 pm on Thursdays and Sundays and 12 am on Fridays and Saturdays).

Staying in the different areas of Rome

There’s about a million and one different hotels, B&Bs and apartments in Rome which you can stay in, meaning that deciding where to rest your weary head after a long day travelling can become something of a complicated decision. To help make life a best easier for you, here’s an explanation of what staying in the different areas of Rome is like.

Central Rome

The centre’s undoubtedly more expensive than other areas of the city, but has the advantage of having all the biggest tourist attractions at your doorstep – you’ll definitely spend less on transport. Although it can be somewhat crowded, the area is also a charming place to stay, especially if you’re visiting Rome for the first time. The most sought-after places to stay in Rome’s old quarter can be found around the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain and the Piazza Navona. If you fancy spending a little less, as you move over towards the Coliseum, you’ll find that prices tend to fall.

The Vatican

Surprisingly, the area around the Vatican is a quiet zone, slightly out of the tourist crowds, which will allow you to discover Rome in a slightly different, more authentic way. Take into account, however, that to see many of Rome’s different sights and attractions, you’ll have to spend more time travelling, although the city offers very good public transport.


Also slightly out of the centre, the district of Trastevere has become very fashionable of late. This area is a warren of bars and restaurants, is as charming by night as it is by day – an excellent choice for those who wish to experience the nocturnal, as well as the diurnal, sides to the city.

Termini and San Lorenzo

If you’re on a tighter budget, one of the most wallet-friendly places to stay in Rome, is the area of Termini and San Lorenzo. This part of the city is also still fairly close to the centre, and it’s very well connected to other areas. It has a slightly dodgy reputation, but despite the fact that it’s not the safest area in the city, it’s not particularly dangerous either if you use a bit of common sense.

There’s also other areas of Rome you can stay in, of course. These, however, are the main ones, which offer the greatest amount of options when it comes to experiencing the city.

Christmas in London 2012

Christmas in the British capital is a magic affair. Lights, markets, ice-skating and of course the traditional last-minute Christmas shopping mad dash are all typical of what you can expect. Here’s our quick guide to what to look out for if you’re thinking about spending Christmas in London.

Christmas Lights 2012

  • The Christmas lights in Westfield and Carnaby Streets have already been set to go. If you missed out, don’t worry, there’s plenty more places where you’re arriving just in time for the Christmas lights ceremony.
  • Regent Street (November 13th) will switch on its lights along to a choral performance, and a Team GB Olympics tribute theme.
  • Marylebone High Street (November 14th) will be officially lit up by British TV presenter Claudia Winkleman, as well as local schoolchildren.
  • The streets around St. James will switch their lights on on November 21st.
  • Trafalgar Square (December 6th) will switch on the lights all around a traditional Norwegian tree.

Christmas markets in London 2012

The two largest markets are the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland (Nov. 23rd to Jan. 6th), which will feature circus rides, an ice rink and food and drink as well as a market, and the Southbank Centre Christmas Market (Nov. 16th to Dec. 23rd), a traditional German-style market.

The Southbank Centre market will also be featuring a Chocolate Festival (Dec. 7th to 9th) and a Real Food Christmas Market (Dec. 14th to 16th).

Christmas shopping

In 2012, Harrods will once again be putting on its famed Christmas Grotto, although bear in mind that this can only be entered by rewards cards holders. Selfridges and Harrods have in fact already opened their Christmas shops (Harrods
Ice-skatingin particular caused controversy after opening its Christmas shop on the 26th July).

Various ice rinks will be opened in London at Christmas 2012. As well as the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, you can get your skates on at the Natural History Museum (until Jan. 6th), Hampton Court Palace (Dec. 1st to Jan. 13th), the Tower of London (Nov. 16th to Jan. 6th) and the Jubilee Gardens next to the London Eye (Nov. 17th to Jan. 6th).


As well as all this, look for the various pantomimes to hit London’s theatres, Santa’s Grottos and all the other wonderful ways there are to celebrate Christmas 2012 in London!

Amsterdam is the second-best place to visit in the world in 2013

What we’ve known for some time has been made official. According to the Lonely Planet’s annual ranking, Amsterdam has been rated as one of the most attractive cities in the world to visit in 2013, falling second only to San Francisco and surpassing tourist hotspots such as Paris, London and New York.

The celebration of 400 years of canals and Van Gogh’s 160th birthday were cited as reasons to consider staying in Amsterdam in 2013. In addition, the Rijksmuseum is set to re-open next year after a series of renovations, and the Van Gogh Museum will also be blowing out candles on the birthday cake – forty of them, to be precise.
As well as these one-off events, Amsterdam is also considered to be a great place to visit due to its multicultural society and the sense of liberty that prevails despite the coffee shop’s closing to tourists. The attractive streets of the city offer excellent public transport options. And let’s not forget the overwhelming friendliness of the people of Amsterdam, who enjoy a reputation for being gentle, pleasant and open-minded.
If you decide to visit the Dutch capital in 2013, we thoroughly recommend renting a hotel room or apartment in Amsterdam and heading out to see the city’s main sights – as well as the museums listed above, why not consider visiting the Anne Frank Museum, the Flower Market, Dam Square, Vondelpark or even taking a tour of the red light district? Or you might prefer to just wander spontaneously through the city’s streets, seeing where the canals lead you and finding out for yourself why the Lonely Planet rates Amsterdam as one of the best places to visit in the world.

Different types of restaurant in Istanbul

Succulent dolma, savoury soups, rich köfte, honeyed baklava… there is one word for Istanbul’s cuisine, and that word is “sumptuous”. There’s various different types of restaurant in Istanbul, ranging from the most humble kebab shop to the finest restaurant and selling cuisine of all imaginable stripes. After reading our guide to the different types of restaurant in Istanbul, there’s only one thing left for it – go forth and eat your way through the list!

Cheap restaurants in Istanbul

Istanbul is an excellent place to try street food. As well as things like chestnuts, corn on the cob and fried mussel sandwiches sold from street vendors, there’s plenty of small outlets from which you can fashion genuine banquets at low-cost prices.

  • Büfe are street kiosks which serve a variety of lip-smacking fast food. You can get various types of toasted sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers and kebabs from these. Wash it all down with a typical ayran, a yoghurt drink similar to lassi.
  • Lokanta are something like a bistrot, and generally have photographs of meal options in the restaurant’s window. A typical dish to try here are the hearty home-made soups and stews.
  • Kebapci are what we would think of as a kebab shop, although in reality the food they serve is much more varied than the simple döner – meatballs and skewers are also often on sale here.
  • Köfteci are dedicated to köfte – minced lamb meatballs – and often also serve various desserts.
  • Pideci sell pide (are you noticing a theme here?). Turkey’s equivalent of pizza, this is made from Turkish pitta bread, and is often served on the same menu as lahmacun – Armenian pizza. Of the two, pide is thicker.
  • Mantici are dedicated to manti – steamed dumplings, filled with minced lamb and served with yoghurt.
  • A Tatlici is a dessert restaurant; something like Istanbul’s equivalent of a pastry shop. Here, you can find prime examples of Turkey’s most famous dessert, such as melt-in-the-mouth morsels of baklava pastries with pistachios and syrup and Turkish delight (lokum).


More upmarket restaurants in Istanbul

The above are mostly the sort of establishment you’ll finish during the day, but if you fancy pushing the boat out more at night-time, Istanbul also contains plenty of places to do so.

  • RAK13 Meyhane are taverns, where the residents of Istanbul frequently come to drink raki (something like sambuka or ouzo). The drinks are served with seemingly endless rounds of meze – Turkish tapas – and sometimes a main course to finish off. Expect typical Turkish food.
  • Ocakbasi normally have a large stand in the middle, and serve main courses, generally with meat. Raki is also drunk here.
  • There’s also plenty of restaurants in Istanbul which serve food from other cultures. This multicultural city is a great place to try dishes from other parts of the world.

We hope you enjoyed reading our guide to the Istanbul restaurants. One thing’s certain, however – you’ll enjoy the eating more!

Fairs and markets in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires’ markets are not just about shopping. As well as being able to trade in almost every type of good, the markets of Buenos Aires are a vibrant, vital source of entertainment in this whirlwind city; a place where you can interact with different types of people, watch the human landscape and even see a tango performance. Here’s our guide.

san-telmo-market San Telmo’s Antiques Fair is possibly the country’s best-known market. This charmingly decadent trading place contains all kinds of curiosity, including original Argentinean art, old heirlooms and food. You’ll find a lot of treasure mixed in with the inevitable trash. Tango performances are very popular here, and go on until late at night. The more permanent Mercado San Telmo in the same district (Defensa, 961) is open all week long, until 7 pm. Plaza Dorrego. Open until 5 pm on Sundays.

feria-recoleta-buenos-aires The Recoleta Fair (“Feria Artesanal”) is open until 6 pm on weekends. This is a great place to find high-quality, artisanal produce, including ceramics, silver and leather goods. The price-quality ratio is good, and this is another excellent place to see some live street performances and even live music. Plaza Francia. Weekends from 11 am to 8 pm.

feria-plaza-serrano The Plaza Serrano Fair (“Plazaleto Jorge Cortazar”) is a great find for hand-made goods with an alternative look. Many of the area’s restaurants pack up their tables to make space for clothes rails, which fill this small fair with modern produce. It’s also close to the Palermo Viejo Fair, which sells various oddities. Plaza Serrano. Weekends, open until early afternoon.

market-buenos-aires-mataderos The Mataderos Fair is a real cultural experience. As well as various craftworks and food stalls, this market is frequented by competing gauchos on horseback and performances by people in traditional dress. Relatively far out into a slightly dodgy suburb of Buenos Aires, this is an unlikely tourist destination but nevertheless a popular one. Av. Lisandro de la Torre and Av. De los Corrales. Sundays from March to December, from 11 am to 8 pm.

There’s many more interesting fairs and markets in Buenos Aires, including the Madres de Plaza de Mayo Fair, the Artesanal Parque Centenario Fair and the La Boca Fair. These are some of the most popular, though – you’ll have to come back again to find out more about the other markets in Buenos Aires.

Halloween around the world in 2012

Although it can originally be traced back to the UK, the practice of celebrating the dead is nothing new, and many countries around the world have also appropriated Halloween 2012 for their own ends. Here’s a short article about Halloween traditions in different countries, and different ways the festival will be celebrated in October 2012.


halloween-around-the-world The original perpetrators of Halloween also put on some of the most genuinely frightening events, and Halloween is celebrated with traditional black British humour. It’s also tradition on this day for ladies to try to peel an apple in one piece and then throw the peel over their left shoulder. The shape it makes is said to mark the first initial of future husbands. For information about how Halloween 2012 in London will be celebrated, click here.


mexico-day-of-the-dead Mexico’s Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1st. It has its own scarifying aesthetic, and altars to those who’ve passed are placed in homes and cemeteries. A surprisingly cheerful, colourful festival, it isn’t uncommon to see parties taking place in the graveyards, with laughing, drinking and eating. This is what Mexico has planned for its Day of the Dead.


hungry-ghost-festival-china China’s Hungry Ghost Festival is a day of a month-long festival celebrated according to the lunar calendar. During this month, ghosts are said to roam our world, and this occasion is celebrated during the Hungry Ghost Festival by offerings and altars, some of which are made from paper and burned at the end. In 2012, the Hungry Ghost Festival was celebrated on August 31st. More info here.


halloween-celebrated-different-places In Catalonia, Spain, the autumn equivalent to Halloween is the Castanyada. In this festival, chestnuts (“castanyes”) are roasted and salted, which you can buy from stands in the streets. Sweet potatoes are also eaten, as well as “panellets”; glazed marzipan balls covered with pine nuts. These foods are normally accompanied with Muscat wine. Find out about Halloween 2012 in Madrid and Barcelona.

How will Halloween 2012 be celebrated in your part of the world?

The area of Beyoglu in Istanbul

We wrote recently about the different areas of Istanbul, but came to the eventual conclusion that there’s so much to see in the city, it would be impossible to write about all of them in one post. This week, then, we’ve decided to look in more detail at Beyoglu.

Although you might be more likely to do the serious sightseeing in the district of Fatih, when you’re done Beyoglu is very likely to be where you’ll come to let your hair down afterwards. Running down from Taksim square (one of Istanbul’s main transport hubs), Istiklal Avenue, a famous pedestrianised street full of theatres, cafes and a historic tram, is Beyoglu’s backbone. All the smaller neighbourhoods of Beyoglu run out of Istiklal Avenue like brooks and tributories: of these, Galata, Cihangir and Taksim are possibly of greatest interest to tourists.

Galata, Beyoglu

galata-tower-istanbul First through Galata, in the south of Beyoglu. Galata was originally its own walled city, and the presence of Greeks and Jews here makes it culturally diverse and open to this day. With stunning old houses and architecture from various eras, it’s a very popular place, especially among the city’s intellectuals. Its most famous landmark is Galata Tower, one of the oldest towers in the world, and originally a lighthouse.

Cihangir, Beyoglu

cihangir-istanbul Cihangir is a very popular place to live in, which, despite its location in the big city, retains a small-town feel. It’s bohemian vibes make it a great place to hunt for the perfect tiny cafe, restaurant or shisha bar to hang out in and see how people in Istanbul live their daily lives. A real residential neighbourhood, this district of Istanbul is nevertheless very close to many of the major tourist attractions.

Taksim, Beyoglu

taksim-istanbul In the north of Beyoglu, Taksim is predominantly known for its famous Taksim Square, a crucial transport centre of the city. Taksim Square is full of chain stores which are recognisable all over the world, and although it might not have the charm of other areas of Istanbul, you can find everything here, including clubs, live music and influences from all kinds of cultures, making it a fascinating area of Istanbul to visit.