In case I haven’t mentioned it already, Barcelona is one of my favorite cities on Earth. It’s cosmopolitan, chock full of culture, it has beaches, nightlife, great food and amazing history and architecture. It has so much to offer that it totally overshadows other neighboring cities and towns that are also worth exploring.
One of those towns that I think definitely deserves to share in a little bit of Barna’s shine is Sitges. At just a 45 minute train away from Barcelona’s bustling Sants train station, Sitges is a jewel of a destination that has something to offer almost any type of traveler or pleasure seeker.
Don’t believe me? Here are 6 reasons why you (and just about everyone you know) should visit Sitges.
Sitges is for Lovers
Romantic passages, intimate restaurants, cozy boutique hotels, and sweeping Mediterranean views… even if you’re single and solo, you’re bound to feel a little more sexy here.
Sitges is for Families
Like the rest of Spain, families abound in restaurants, on the beaches Lots of family-friendly restaurants and activities and plenty of vacation rentals to house a crowd at better-than-hotel rates.
Sitges is for ‘the children’
No, not the little ones. I’m referring to the children of the LGBTQ family. Sitges isn’t just a gay-friendly vacation destination, it’s a gay vacationer’s paradise. It hosts the biggest and most popular gay pride festival in all of Spain every June. No shortage of bars, drag shows, and beeyoutiful boys to gaze at while walking in the streets, sitting in cafes, and lounging on the beaches!
Sitges is for wild women
Sprinkled all over the shoreline are these bold statues of nude women. And sprinkled along at least one of the beaches in Sitges are bold, nude humans. Sitges is a definitely a safe place for ladies who like to let it all hang out.
Sitges is for the weary
The hustle and bustle of Barcelona is only a 40-minute ride away on the Rodalies commuter train. As much as I love visiting and partying in Barcelona, I have to admit that after a few days, I’m worn out. Sitges offers a close-by respite from the madness that is the big-city life of Barcelona.
Sitges is for the posh
High end shops, real estate, and world class restaurants make Sitges a favorite spot for the upper crust set, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it since everyone adopts a more casual, laid back vibe here.
How To Get There:
Trains from Barcelona to Sitges depart from França, Passeig de Gracia and Sants stations.
There’s also a public bus that runs during the day, and a night bus that provides service between the Barcelona and Sitges until well after midnight.
Hotel Platjador is a quirky, but comfy boutique beachfront hotel smack in the middle of Sitges. Spring for the balcony suite for all-day people watching without having to leave your room.
What to Eat:
Directly across the street from Hotel Platjador is the oldest chiringuito in Spain (allegedly). Aptly named, El Chiringuito, its food is about as nondescript as its name. If you weren’t lucky enough to score a balcony room at Hotel Platjador, Go to El Chiringuito, have a beer and people watch from there.
Have you been to Sitges yet? What did you love about it?
You ever been on a train that’s just moments away from pulling into your destination, so you get up from your seat, start gathering your things and begin moving towards the nearest exit. Then, suddenly you realize that the train doesn’t seem to be slowing down enough to make a stop. Slowly it dawns on you that the train isn’t slowing down, because it’s not going to stop. And as the train ever so slowly rolls past your destination station, and you stand dumbstruck in the middle of the aisle – your rolling bag clutched in one hand, your jacket draped over your other arm – your eyes and mouth widen while you watch your intended place fade away in the distance and you wonder to yourself,
What the f*ck just happened?
Where the f*ck am I headed to now?
No? Never happened to you? Oh.
You ever been on a train seated next to an old Spanish man, who, after almost refusing to move out of your assigned seat when you boarded, later lets out the mother of all silent-but-deadly farts that wakes you and the other guy in the seat across from you out of your naps, prompts a coughing fit from the passenger seated 3 rows back, gives you a (literal) taste of what the old man had for lunch and what medications he’s currently taking, and makes you wonder exactly how to say ‘Sir! Do not move another inch. Clap your cheeks down on that foul stench immediately!’ in Spanish without being misunderstood?
Yeah. Happened to me once. Never happened to you?
You ever been on a train with a silent car? A silent car that you specifically booked a seat in because things like loud talking, small children, and cell phone usage are strictly prohibited? A silent car that you’ve been dying to park yourself in so you can rest your hot, hungover head against the cool, cool window and snooze a bit on the way back to your little town after a long weekend of the most turnt-up of turn-ups (aka, Carnaval in Cadiz)? A silent car whose silence is being disturbed by, of all things, a nun…talking…on a cell phone? At first, you feel a little bad at getting angry at a nun. Is that even allowed? But then all those Catholic school punishments come back to you and you think to yourself, “Oh, hell naw, Sister Mary. The rules apply to you too.” But instead of saying anything, you simply scowl in her direction and not-so-subtly snap a picture of her with your phone hoping that the power of shame will compel her.
Still no? Damn, you should get out more.
Or… maybe I should stay put more.
But, it’s hard to stay put when I have this amazingly efficient and wide-reaching network of sleek chariots on iron rails to take me almost anywhere I can think of going in this country. As an American, I am not used to this type of convenience. Our national rail system is more of a quaint remnant of history than a currently viable utility. And the price of using the rail system in Spain is more than favorable. I often make use of Renfe’s SpainPass, a volume discount-type train ticket that’s only available to non-Spaniards. SpainPass allows you to take 4 or more medium- or long-distance train trips in a month for 40 euro or less per trip. Once I realized that with the money I make off of just a handful of private English lessons (link), I can afford to travel to 2 new cities each month, I was hooked. I’ve heard that Renfe has some pretty good student discounts, too. But, sadly (or gladly?), I aged out of those a long time ago. Even without discounts, many of the regular-price Renfe tickets are still in the 40 euro or less range, depending on the day and route of travel.
Of course there are so many other benefits to Spain train travel besides price. Trains offer:
More comfort and speed than a bus, and much less hassle than a plane
Less of the security hassle than at airports
Larger seats / more room
No luggage restrictions
The chance to see the country and the geography up-close while on the move
Free onboard entertainment (in the form of smelly old men, chatty nuns or in-transit movies)
So, Dear Reader, I encourage you to get out there more. Find a destination, buy a ticket, hop a train, and have an adventure.
Just remember to:
Always have your phone ready to snap a pic of a naughty nun
Always bring nose plugs or air spray in case of an unexpected abuelo ass-ault
Always know exactly where your train will be stopping, so you won’t inadvertently end up in Madrid having to buy another train ticket to get back to your intended destination.
It’s not that I don’t like museums. It’s just that with limited time and lots of things to see and do on a trip, spending hours looking at old or odd things inside of a building doesn’t seem like the best time management strategy. Usually, I’ll save a museum visit for a second or third visit to a destination, or if I happen to stay in a single place for a long period of time.
Yet, even on a first trip or a short stay in a city, I like to get a feel for the culture and energy of the place – and viewing the work of local artists is a great way to do just that.
The Unexpected Value of Street Art
Street artists, in particular, often combine their art with a message that is highly relevant in their surroundings, their work can convey a sense of the politics of a particular area – what’s going on beneath the surface of the neighborhood or city you’re in. There’s also an ephemeral quality to street art that makes it more precious somehow. While a traditional work of art might show over and over again at a number of galleries, a piece of street art you see today may not be there tomorrow or next week.
Capturing street art – whether stumbling on works by accident or intentionally seeking them out – has led me down some of the most unexpected paths and into some of the best memories (and photos) during my travels.
Here are some of my favorite cities for capturing impressive works of street art:
I really can’t say enough good things about Lisbon. It’s a city I love for many reasons, not the least of which is the delicious and inexpensive food that I ate while I was there.
Here’s a rundown of the best food I ate in Lisbon:
Dorado dinner and wine at Cerqueira
A plate of fresh fried dorado steaks with all the fixings and a bottle of wine for under 10? Restaurant Cerqueira is worth the short but steep walk outside of the main tourist area of central Lisbon.
The famed dish of Lisbon. I love fresh fish that’s simply prepared. These sardines were both fresh and simple, yet full of flavor.
Pastel de Belem
Seductively creamy, subtly sweet, surrounded by a light flaky pastry and topped with an angelic dusting of cinnamon. The pastel de Belem begs to be eaten with a strong cup of espresso. Who am I kidding? It begs to be eaten whenever, wherever and with whatever.
Salmon burger w/seaweed ‘slaw’ on choco ink bun
Once again, my love of fish was perfectly sated in Lisbon. At the Mercado da Ribeira this gourmet burger stand served up a grilled salmon patty on a bun tinted black with squid ink. Unbelievably good.
Bacalao w/garbanzo puree
There were so many gourmet and well-priced food options in the Mercado da Ribeira’s dining hall, that my travelmate and I decided to split one (the salmon burger), so we could both have two dishes. My second – this perfectly cooked cod filet over a warm garbanzo spread was as delightful to eat as it was to look at. I’m pretty sure I embarrassed myself slightly via my inappropriate moans while eating this dish.
Just before leaving Lisbon, I stopped by Café Beira Gare, which is rumored to serve the best bifana in Lisbon. This deceptively simple pork sandwich had my mouth watering for hours after. It’s best accompanied by a cold Portuguese beer.
Have you eaten your way through Lisbon yet? What are some your best food finds in Lisbon?
My heart rate quickened a few paces. I hadn’t really allowed myself to think that the worst possible scenario would happen, so now that it was in fact happening, I found myself momentarily bewildered. I’d made the foolish mistake of traveling to Portugal without my passport, but since I’d gotten lucky on the flight out of Spain, I thought my luck might hold out for the return trip. It didn’t. After trying other alternatives (presenting a copy of my passport, then my Spanish resident ID) that were refused by the airline agent, it became clear that I was not getting on this flight.
My brain began slowly filling with a thousand thoughts:
Um. Ok. What the hell are you going to do now?
This can’t be happening.
What if I can’t get out of here? What if I’m stuck in this airport for months or years like that one movie with Tom Hanks?
How could I be so stupid!?
This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. Why do bad things always happen to me?
Jesus Christ, I’m sooo stupid!!
I just wanna go home.
*Eyes starting to well up with tears*
If you travel often enough, eventually it will happen. The worst possible scenario. You find yourself stuck in the middle of nowhere. You missed your flight. The hotel booking fell through. You’re lost in an unfamiliar place where you don’t speak the language. Or worse yet, you’ve been pickpocketed or injured.
While I haven’t had any serious travel emergencies yet (knock on wood), I’ve definitely found myself in a pickle more than once while travelling – most recently on a solo trip back to Spain from Portugal. What I’ve learned from these travel blunders is that the best and quickest way out of them is to… keep calm and carry on.
Don’t Panic (Ok, panic. But make it brief.)
After realizing that my pleading with the airline agent was useless, I found a bench to sit on, and let the reality of the situation settle in a bit. I tried to tame my wildly racing thoughts as best I could (repeating over and over to myself, ‘It’s going to be ok. It’s going to be ok.’). Suddenly, a calming piece of advice that a friend of mine once said to me popped up in my mind: ‘Every problem has at least 5 solutions’.
Slowly, I felt the panic begin to subside and a steely resolve take its place. After a few more moments, I went to the bathroom, washed my face, fixed my hair, and touched up my makeup. Then, I set to work.
Gather Your Tools
I knew I would need to rely heavily on my cell phone, so I checked the battery. It was about half full. I started scouting out the airport terminal for power outlets. Then, checked to see if there was free Wi-fi at the airport. No luck. Fortunately, my cell phone data plan worked, and the signal was strong.
Once you’ve calmed yourself down, take inventory of what you’ve got to help you get out of this situation – cell phone, map, GPS, snacks, the phone number of ‘a guy who knows a guy’. Use whatever you’ve got within reach to help you get yourself out of this predicament or weather the storm until you do.
Using travel tools proactively can also be a big help in case of a travel mishap. For example, take pics of your hotel, the hotel stationery, or the street you’re staying on in case you get lost and can’t communicate where you need to go. Save emergency contact info into a notes app on your phone. Save text versions of walking directions to/from your hotel on your phone to use in case you can’t access GPS. Download maps that are accessible offline. Download travel apps you can use to book last-minute flights and hotels and find bus and train schedules.
Brainstorm & Prioritize Your Options
What’s the thing that needs to happen first? What’s most important right now? What’s the fastest, most efficient way to get that thing done?
My 3 main options were: Getting on another flight, finding a place to stay, or finding another mode of transportation to get back to Spain.
After a quick search online for other flights, I ruled out that option. Even if I could get past security for another airline (sans passport), the cost of the flight would be ridiculous. Since I was already out of the money from the lost flight, I didn’t want to pay more than I needed to.
My next best bet was finding an alternative way out. Lastly, I’d look for a place to crash, if finding a way out took longer than I hoped.
Be Resourceful – Know Where to Go for Info or Help
Thankfully, I had apps for Renfe – Spain’s railway system, BlaBlaCar, and Skyscanner on my phone, and I’d bookmarked the site for Portugal’s railway system. I used Google to search for buses going between Portugal and Spain. In under an hour, I’d found info on the next trains, buses, and rideshares going to Madrid. But online bus information can often be out of date, so I ended up consulting with both an airport security guard and the airport tourist info office to make sure the info I’d found online was correct (turns out, it wasn’t). Since there was nothing leaving until the next day, I used my handy AirBnB and Booking.com apps to look for a cheap place to stay in the meantime.
Having the right info at hand during a travel emergency makes all the difference, and knowing where to go to find it is essential. In my case, I relied heavily on online travel tools. But the people around you can also be excellent sources of help and information. Information desks or tourist offices are available in most large cities. Bus drivers and taxi drivers are great for helping you find your way – they know the area well. Hotel concierges and desk staff, security guards and police officers, store workers in commercial areas – not only are all of these people good sources of ‘official’ info, they’re also more likely to speak English than a random person on the street.
Even if you do everything you should do in a travel emergency, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get out of the situation quickly. No matter what happens, though, keeping a positive mindset and being able to laugh at yourself will help you make the best of a bad situation.
In the end, it took a few hours of searching for and confirming transport and lodging, an overnight stay at a cheap but centrally located AirBnB room (15 euros), and a 5-hour BlaBlaCar ride (30 euros) the next day from Oporto to Madrid. During that time, I encountered some rude and unhelpful people, took a walk through what – at first glance – looked like a sketchy area, and suffered a late-night bout of gastrointestinal distress. I tried to view the whole ordeal as a comical adventure, which kept me from getting too riled up or freaked out, even though there were several times when I wanted to do both. In the end, I made it out of a sticky situation without too much incident, feeling like I earned a merit badge in the process. And a ridiculously hilarious travel story to boot.
Have you ever experienced an embarrassing travel mishap or stressful travel emergency? How did you make it out alive? Share your experience in the comments!
As soon as I slid into my seat on the plane from Madrid to Lisbon, I couldn’t help but smile. Portuguese swirled around me, sounding like a hybrid of Italian and Spanish spoken with lilting intonations that lulled me to calm.
Despite it being a big city, Lisbon’s residents were never too busy to engage in a small bit of conversation, and always seemed quite friendly and willing to help – especially if you tried to speak even the smallest bit of Portuguese.
To show appreciation for their hospitality, the great food, perfect weather, and the affordability of it all – learning how to give a heartfelt thanks in Portugese was the least I could do.
While the bifana didn’t originate in Lisbon (that credit goes to the town of Vendas Novas), the snack is strongly associated with Portugal’s capital city. The bifana consists of a juicy stack of thinly sliced pork layered on fresh, soft yet crusty bread. Sounds simple, but the unseen effort and just-right ingredients are what make this sandwich sublime.
The pork is slow-simmered in a seasoned marinade. The bread is pillowy inside and just crackly enough outside. When the sandwich comes together, the juices from the meat seep into the bread, staining it with flavor. Served along with a helping of mustard that you can add as you please, the bifana is a deliciously indulgent snack that you can only experience in Portugal.
Two of Lisbon’s most popular options for day trips are Cascais – a beach resort town – and Sintra – a historic village known for its old castles. Both cities are only about an hour away using Lisbon suburban rail line, Comboios. I chose to visit the quaint and charming Sintra and its majestically quirky storybook castle. There’s an admission fee to enter the castle grounds and the castle’s terraces – but I think it’s worth it to get an up close look at such a colorful spectacle perched high among the clouds. Of course, you’ll have to share the view with lots of other visitors and photo-snappers.
Exploring the town center with its lush gardens, outdoor art installations, and tiny shops and bars is a must either before or after visiting the castle.
If a leisurely day at the beach followed by gazing and shopping at cute boutiques is more up your alley, Cascais is the better option. But, why choose? If you have the time, visit both.
Belem – located in the southwest corner of Lisbon – is a perfect place to spend a leisurely, sunny afternoon. Some of the most iconic monuments of Lisbon are found here, namely The Jeronimo Monastery, The Monumento do Descubrimento, and the Torre de Belem.
My advice is to take your time strolling through the area. Stop to people watch in the park in front of the Jeronimo Monastery. Soak up some sun at the edge of the river next to the Monumento de Descubrimento. Have a gelato before walking over to Belem Park and stretching out in the shade of a tree for a while.
Perhaps the most famous ‘monument’ in Belem is the beloved Portugese pastry, pastel de Belem. This creamy, custardy tart can be found all over Lisbon and throughout the rest of Portugal (where it goes by the name, pastel de nata), but its birthplace is Belem. Its best enjoyed with a liberal sprinkling of cinnamon on top. So good.
I love myself a good market. And Lisbon has plenty to choose from. After reviewing a list of the best markets in Lisbon, I decided to try the Mercado da Ribeira – mainly because it offered both fresh foods and a selection of restaurants to eat in.
I had no idea what I was in for when I arrived. The fresh food market was good, not great – even though I was able to score some okra (YAAY!!).
mercado da ribeira
But the real draw at the Mercado da Ribeira is the jaw-dropping selection of gourmet restaurant and food stalls on the opposite side of the building. There were stalls offering asian noodles, gourmet burgers, whole roast pig, craft beer and cider, and several with updated takes on traditional Portugese cuisine. DO go here on an empty stomach. The quality and creativity of the offerings were top notch. The prices, however, were unbelievably reasonable.
roasted bacalao with garbanzo puree
salmon burger w/seaweed salad on squid ink bun
whole roast suckling pig
Diners sit at communal tables in the center of the market. Since the Mercado da Ribeira is a popular spot for locals and visitors, I found myself chatting – and even sharing a few bites – with diners from 3 different countries.