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Paris, Rome, Venice, and Barcelona are among the top-visited destinations in Europe. Beyond the Old World, New York City, Toronto and Whistler await shopping, dining and skiing enthusiasts, as well as businessmen and students. Quality accommodation is always in demand, and nowadays travellers have the freedom to choose not only hotels, but also apartment rentals.
Conveniently located and fully furnished, apartments of Sweet Home Abroad are excellently suited for short-term rentals and could be your next great vacation! All apartments are meant for travellers looking for comfort and independence regardless of their activities of interest. Beach lovers could opt for an apartment rental in Israel or rent a villa in Spain. Lovers of outdoor winter activities like skiing and snowboarding will find Whistler, located in Canada, a great destination: the co-host of Winter Olympic Games in 2010, Whistler is perfectly equipped to provide you with great skiing and riding trails, impeccable customer service and top-notch long-term accommodation. History and culture buffs will enjoy a great selection of accommodation we offer in Paris, Prague, Madrid, and, of course, Barcelona.
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The Secret Gardens of Eixample

Katya R
Posted October 21, 2014

Everything is great in Barcelona's Eixample: its convenient location, its almost total safety and security are undisputed; shops, cafes and restaurants are in thousands, and one can't go two steps without stumbling upon an architectural masterpiece. The winning formula that puts Eixample above the other central neighbourhoods in Barcelona is far from winning, however, when it comes to the number of green spaces – parks and gardens – available locally. Residents and visitors alike, especially with children, feel the deficit once they settle here.

Ildefons Cerda, the genius urban planner behind the creation of Eixample in the mid-19th century, had initially decided to build the new district city blocks that would be U- or L-shaped, making the inner yards accessible from the street. If everything had gone according to plan, every yard would have had a garden. However, it was not meant to be: the blocks ended up being octagonal, the gardens were forgotten, and today's Eixample courtyards typically look like this:

Many Cerda's ideas got appreciated only many years after his death. For example, many thought Cerda mad for wanting the streets much wider than what was needed for horse-drawn transport to move through – thank god it was just kitchen talk, as today's drivers would probably agree. It was the same story with gardens: only in the 20th century it became suddenly apparent that children are people too and they need spaces to go for walks and have fun without risking to get run over by a "horse".

After Barcelona had been announced as the host of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, the city turned into a huge construction site, and inner yards of Eixample were included in the "Do-Something-About-It" list. At the end of the 80s small gardens started appearing within Eixample blocks, and they were named Jardins d´Interior d´Illa.

Often these are called "Secret" or "Hidden" gardens, as it is an unlikely guess that through the narrow entrance or tunnel lies sunlight, trees and a cozy bench, despite an obligatory green sign that promises all of that.

Today, almost thirty blocks have their own secret gardens. Finding out if you are located close to one is fairly easy. Look at Eixample from above using Google Maps and spot a green square – this would be the garden you are looking for! Time to head out to find the coveted green plate next to the entrance.

In most cases, the only difference between one garden and another is the area that was won from offices and shops of the block in question, and, therefore, the number of trees and benches available once you are inside. Creating a whole miniature Park Güell within the yard is impossible, not to mention that the target audience – children – would probably not appreciate using the space in that way.

Some gardens in Eixample do stand out, nonetheless. For example, Placeta de Joan Brossa that is found in the Left Eixample, on the spot marked by the streets Carrer d´Aribau – Carrer del Roselló – Carrer d´Enric Granados – Carrer de Còrsega. Because the neighbouring restaurant operates its summer terrace in the garden, here playing with kids, reading books and meditating can be accompanied by coffee, wine and tapas.

Another garden well worth mentioning is Jardins de la Torre de les Aigües that appeared in Barcelona in 1987 and actually headlined the project of Jardins d´Interior d´Illa. Look for it in the quarter of Carrer de Roger de Llúria – Carrer de la Diputació – Carrer del Bruc – Carrer del Consell de Cent. The garden got its name from the water tower standing right here, built in 1870 to supply the first inhabitants of Eixample with tap water.

Ten mouths a year this garden is just your usual green spot deal: children play, teenagers make out, adults read or just relax.

But at the end of June the fun begins, and you can take part for a (really small) price of admission. Jealous much, Barceloneta?

Eixample is definitely a great place to call home in Barcelona.

Correfoc in Barcelona

Katya R
Posted September 22, 2014

Barcelona's biggest festival celebrating its patron saint, Our Lady of Mercy (Virgin Mary), is hitting the streets this week. All traditional elements of celebrating a fiesta mayor in Catalonia are present at La Mercé, including human castle builders (castellers), dancing giants (gegants) and big-heads (capgrossos), sardana dancers, and last but not least... Correfoc, or the Fire Run! Correfoc is by no means exclusive to La Merce, as most neighbourhoods of Barcelona and pueblos of Catalonia have their own Correfoc teams, but La Merce is where most outsiders are exposed to this visually impressive and edgy pastime.

Correfoc involves the procession of people dressed like devils showering the spectators with fire sparks and guiding spark-breathing beasts (mostly dragons). Crowds can join in and walk along with Correfoc. The whole affair fills the air with smoke, loud bangs, firecracker explosions and yells of delight and sometimes fright. If you are in town for it, don't miss it!

Bear in mind that Correfoc involves flying sparks that can be potentially flammable or cause burns. If you have never seen Correfoc up close or participated in one, keep a distance and admire the spectacle from afar. If you are intent on getting as close to the devils as you dare, wear non-flammable closing that covers as much of your body as possible, a cap or a hood and, most importantly, glasses or goggles to protect your eyes!

TIFF 2014: It's A Wrap!

Katya R
Posted September 17, 2014

Every year it seems that it will never come, but once it does, it is over in a heartbeat - we are talking, of course, about the Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF for short, whose 39th edition descended on Toronto this year on September 4 and wrapped up on September 14.

The lines were long, the rains annoying, the films countless - and some of them were good, some bad, some genius and some tedious. In short, business as usual. We attended 9 screenings in total, including the already Oscar-buzzing The Imitation Game (UK/USA) that proceeded to win the Grolsch People's Choice Award at TIFF.

Among those that we also really enjoyed were the hilarious mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows (New Zealand), the lush adaptation of Madame Bovary (USA/France) and the fun and colourful family film Labyrinthus (Belgium). On the other hand, the asinine comedy The Little Death (Australia) that, incidentally, was the first screening we attended, completely failed to entertain or offend. The Norwegian/American collaboration Miss Julie, despite having some superb acting by Colin Farrell and Jessica Chastain, dragged on for two hours and should have been performed on stage, as its source material had intended.

Jessica Chastain at the world premiere of Miss Julie

Jemaine Clement (left) presents his film What We Do In The Shadows

The festival is one of the biggest in the world, attended by over 400 000 people. Considering the numbers, it went relatively smoothly this year, with only a few glitches on the way. TIFF volunteers, recognizable by their bright orange T-shirts, were always on hand to help. Yes, the lines were long, including ticket rush lines, but this is due to the sheer number of movie lovers attending. After all, the festival's accessibility to the public is a huge part of what makes TIFF great. (Have you ever been to a screening at the Cannes festival, stargazed at the red carpet and paid 20 bucks for the privilege? We haven't either. In Toronto though - oh yes!)

One thing new this year was the weekend street festival organized by TIFF, called aptly The Festival Street that ran on September 4-7. For the festival, the stretch of King West from University Ave to Peter St was closed to traffic and populated instead by sponsors' booths, music stages, food trucks, picnic tables, a piano and even a giant chess set.

Walking around even for a bit was enough to feel the TIFF spirit and the magic of coming together with other film buffs. The Festival Street is definitely returning next year for the 40th anniversary of TIFF.

The Map of Barcelona: Poble Sec

Katya R
Posted September 10, 2014

Some like staying close to the beach, yet others prefer living in the mountains. The former poses no problems in Barcelona, as residents and guests of Barceloneta and Sant Marti know really well. However, when it comes to the latter, one may ask: what counts as a mountain? Property owners in Vallvidrera, who paid steeply for their apartments and houses, assert that the real mountains start right outside of Barcelona's circular freeway. A tired traveller making her way towards Parc Güell who neglected the available escalators would argue that the mountain range starts right in Gràcia. And, well, residents of Poble Sec (El Poble Sec) know that one does not even need to leave Barcelona to look at it with a bird's eye.

Neighbourhood borders

Poble Sec borders with the freeway Ronda Litoral to the east, the avenue Paral·lel to the north, the streets Lleida, la Guàrdia Urbana, Rius i Taulet to the west, and with the Montjuïc hill to the south. The neighbourhood occupies 4.6 square km.

According to the municipal division of Barcelona, Poble Sec is part of the district Sants-Montjuïc due to the city government's desire to divide Barcelona into areas of roughly equal size. Poble Sec is too small to be a municipal district by itself, so it got added to the land that had been an independent town called Sants prior to 1897.

The history of Poble Sec

In the mid-19th century Barcelona was in dire need of more space outside of the medieval town borders, so new quarters were beginning to be built. The fortress wall was disassembled in 1854, five years were needed to choose the enlargement plan, and five more were spent amending the winning Ildefons Cerda plan. The land that belongs to Poble Sec today was not part of Cerda's plan. Many explain this as being due to the complex landscape that scared away the genius urban scientist.

In reality, the proximity to the military fortress on top of Montjuïc forbade building anything too close to the mountain lest the new structures obstruct the view of canons pointed at Barcelona.

At the same time, Poble Sec back then was an ideal place for accommodating numerous workers employed at Montjuïc quarries and factories. Plus, putting citizens in line of fire was beginning to feel like a faux pas, and lifting the building ban was put on the city's agenda.

Construction in Poble Sec was permitted after the competition for the enlargement plan had already begun, so land owners close to Montjuïc were not obliged to wait for the results or coordinate their plans with the winner. In 1858 the land in Poble Sec was divided into plots, and the construction began, impetuous and relentless. Settlement of aristocracy was not in the books and famous architects were not involved in landscaping. Rapidly developing Barcelona attracted waves of emigrants from across Spain and from abroad, so affordable no-frills housing was in high demand.

That the proletarian past of any area of Barcelona involved industrial development is easily deduced. But for better remembrance, the city disassembling factories and plants leaves behind the telltale sign of industrial production – a chimney. In the case of Poble Sec, there is a whole ensemble of three chimneys reminding residents about the power plant La Canadenca, called that for belonging to the Canadian electrical company "Barcelona Traction, Light and Power Company Limited". La Canadenca earned its place in history in 1919, when a major workers' strike on it resulted in the first victory of the union in Catalan history. Apparently, Canadians are unyielding only in hockey. The former plant's land is now a park called Jardines de les Tres Xemeneies ("The garden of three chimneys").

"Poble Sec" translates as "the dry town", and there are two theories regarding the name of the area. The first states that the name is due to the area not having water supply for the longest time, as the first fountains here were installed only in 1894. The other theory goes that the area became "dry" after too many local factories used up all water in nearby wells in Poble Sec.

Poble Sec sights

It may sound strange today, but a hundred years ago Poble Sec was compared to the Montmartre in Paris, and its main avenue was called either the Theatre Boulevard, or the Road of Sin. As is often the case, life abounds in blue-collar and modest-wealth neighbourhoods. A 500 meters-long stretch of the Marques del Duero boulevard (the former name for avenue Parallel) had tens of variety shows, cabaret shows, music halls and classic theatres vying for public's attention. The entertainment infrastructure was completed with bars, restaurants and brothels of Poble Sec and its neighbouring Raval.

The party was over after the civil war and the institution of dictatorship: many theatres shut down, and those that survived got their repertoires cut and censored by Francoists. The theatre boom died out, and Poble Sec as the epicentre of entertainment went out of style. Life resumed its normal boring course, most theatres disappeared, and only few remind us of the glorious days of the past.

A cabaret theatre on Plaça de la Bella Dorita square chose a role model back in 1908 by putting Petit Moulen Rouge on its sign and hinting at pleasures similar to those taking place in Paris on Rue Pigalle. For especially blunt the name got shortened to just "Moulin Rouge" in 1916, and the facade was rebuilt to look like a mill in 1929. After the dictator's rise to power in Spain the French name had to be translated into Castilian and make do without the word "red" that Franco associated with communism. The theatre El Molino entertains the public to this day, going through a lengthy renovation process from 1997 to 2010. The shows now incorporate modern technology and electronic music, but the essentials are unchanged: there is signing, dancing, and feathers all around. The theatre has seating for 250 guests.

Theatre Victòria (founded in 1905) specializes in musicals and zarzuela (Spanish operetta). After the renovation of 1992 the theatre has 1224 seats.

Theatre Apolo (founded in 1904) puts up not only musicals and flamenco, but also theatrical plays, mostly comedies. Thanks to the major renovations of 1991-1993 the seating capacity got boosted up to 1000 guests.

Theatre Condal (founded in 1903) performs lighthearted plays on weekdays and standup comedy on Saturdays. In the 60s and 70s the theatre was a movie hall, but in 1983 Condal went back to the roots.

The theatrical life of Poble Sec does not end on avenue Parallel. Going deeper into Poble Sec, one can find three more theatres.

Rather ugly from the outside, Barcelona Teatre Musical is a former sports complex built in 1955. During the summer Olympics of 1992 it was a backup venue for Palau Sant Jordi, the stadium built two years prior. After the Olympics, the city started using the venue for shows and performances. In 2000, the major rebuilding of the structure began, cutting down on seating (the number of seats went from 6500 to 1850).

Privately owned Teatre Lliure ("Free Theatre") started its history in 1976. In 2001 it moved to Poble Sec from Gracia, now occupying the Palace of Agriculture (no joke). The majority of performances are in Catalan.

Teatre Grec has nothing in common with ancient Greeks – it is just an open-air theatre. It was built for the International Exhibition of the 1929, was barely used before the civil war, shut down, re-opened in 1952 and actively used until 1969 and shut down again.

In 1976 the city gave the theatre a new life by establishing an international festival El Grec Festival de Barcelona, whose main platform was to be Teatre Grec. The festival is dedicated to theatre arts, music, dance and circus performances, and has been taking place in Barcelona every summer, except in 1978. The theatre accommodates 1900 visitors.

The Montjuïc hill is located in Poble Sec, and since nobody lives on it, it is argued that Montjuïc is just a local park whose sights and museums really can be attributed to Poble Sec. The list is impressive:
  • The National Museum of Art of Catalonia (Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya)
  • The Archaeological Museum of Catalonia (Museu d'Arqueologia de Catalunya)
  • The Ethnological Museum of Catalonia (Museu Etnològic de Barcelona)
  • The Museum of Olympics and Sports (Museu Olimpic I de L'Esport)
  • Joan Miró Foundations (Fundació Joan Miró)
  • The Spanish Town (Poble Espanyol)
  • The Castle of Monjuic (Castell de Montjuïc)
  • The Botanical Gardens of Barcelona (Jardí Botànic de Barcelona)

Population of Poble Sec

According to data collected by the city hall in 2012, Poble Sec is home to 41380 people, 30.6% of whom are foreign citizens (there are 17.4% foreigners in Barcelona in general). The most visible majority are emigrants from Pakistan (2120 people), the Philippines (1095 people), Italy (1008 people). The average income in Poble Sec is 28.1% lower than the city average.

The numbers absolutely do not suggest that Poble Sec is an unsafe area. Life here is quiet and peaceful.

Living in Poble Sec

Here are the advantages:
  • Poble Sec is a central area in Barcelona, and many key sights and good dining places are just a short walk away.
  • Montjuïc is really close by and so are its museums, hiking and cycling trails, parks.
  • The borders of Poble Sec have two metro lines running along them, plus the major transport hub at Plaça Espanya (two metro lines, Renfe and FGC trains) is just a kilometre away from Poble Sec's centre.

What are the disadvantages of living in Poble Sec?
  • The inner streets and blocks of Poble Sec look a bit run-down; only the streets forming the area's borders look presentable and well looked after.
  • Many residential buildings were built a long time ago and not for upper middle class living, so floor plans may not correspond to your idea of a comfortable apartment. Some places, for example, have separate bathrooms and WCs located at different corners on a balcony.

If that does not bother you, the best option for living in Poble Sec is renting an apartment here, be it short- or long-term. Buying property in Poble Sec is unlikely to be a good investment in the long run, and here's why:
  • The geography of the area is such that any major development here is unlikely. Case in point: the local municipal office's website lists no major plans for infrastructure of Poble Sec. Barcelona has stories of more talk than action (like the @22 project in Poblenou in Sant Marti), but in case of Poble Sec there isn't even any talk going on.
  • Poble Sec is historically a working class neighbourhood. Most of Barcelona's working class areas are still dropping in price and are unlikely to show any significant growth in tough post-economic crisis times like the respectable Eixample or Les Corts.
  • Poble Sec cannot count on its neighbouring areas to give it a lift. The aforementioned Poblenou with its proletarian past is a working class barrio too, but it exists surrounded by the wealth of Vila Olimpica and Front Maritim, and everyone including the city hall expect the prices in Poblenou to approach those of its affluent neighbours. Poble Sec, on the other hand, is located close to the industrial zone, to Sants and Sant Antoni, and to Raval.

Here is the current state of affairs in real estate in Poble Sec. In mid-June of 2014 Poble Sec had 238 apartments for sale, only 8 of those counting less than 40 sq. m of space, and the majority (154) having over 60 sq. m of space. Most of the properties are in less than stellar condition and require at least some renovations before the new owner would want to move in. Sellers' average asking price was 2587€ per sq. m. The final closing price was about 10% lower. In 2013 prices in Poble Sec fell 3%, and the similar dynamic is being observed in 2014.

Skyscrapers of Priorat

Katya R
Posted September 3, 2014

If during a Priorat tour you hear the guide mention "New York of Priorat" (Nueva York del Priorat), it is not your hearing playing tricks on you, but a common nickname for the local town La Vilella Baixa. The department of statistics of Catalonia tells us that the local "New York" currently has 215 residents, 2 stadiums, a tennis court, 2 restaurants and 2 hotels with a total of 8 rooms. The town owes its wonderful nickname to peculiarities of its urban development.

Buildings that are seven and eight floors high look strange in this barely populated region. And it gets even stranger since often you need to climb to the fourth or fifth floor to access the street, despite owning an apartment on the first floor. Apparently, ancient land developers found no better way to render local steep hills habitable.

As you can see, the lack of drying laundry, window drapes or even glass on said windows indicates that many apartments and whole buildings are empty. The official statistics tell us that 45 out of 237 residential units in La Vilella Baixa are currently not being used. The real estate portal idealista has an active listing for an apartment with a total space of 270 sq meters, in fairly good state, priced at 42 600 euros. The listing has been there since May and probably even before that. The price is not a joke; here is a good emigration opportunity for those who know how to use their hands apart from uncorking wine bottles.

After taking pictures of the "skyscrapers", add a shot of the 18th century church and the ancient Romanesque bridge to your camera album, and you are free to continue with the main local interest – wine.

There are three wineries in La Vilella Baixa: Celler Bujorn, Celler del Pont and Celler Sabaté. The last two will gladly give you a tour and organize a wine tasting, but by appointment only.

Celler del Pont

year founded: 1998
wine label: Lo Givot
address: C/ Riu, 1
email: stefan@cellerdelpont.com

Celler Sabaté

year founded: 1910
wine label: Mas Plantadeta
address: C/ Nou, 6
phone number: +34 977 839 209

You can spend the night in the hotel El Racó del Priorat or in the apartment complex Apartaments Ca la Victòria. The hotel has its own café, and the main restaurant in town, Cal Pep, is right around the corner, 30 meters away.

El Racó del Priorat

number of rooms: 3
address: C/ Priorat, 9
phone numbers: 977 839 065 | 618 144 992

Apartaments Ca la Victòria

number of apartments: 5
address: C/ Riu, 10
phone numbers: 977 839 008 | 635 923 264

Cal Pep

address: C/ Nou Priorat
phone number: 977 839 454

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