El-Tanein Diet Week #47 and #48

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View from the Borghese Gardens

I spent these two weeks in Rome and, upon return, learned that I dropped a kilo. Given all the gelato and cheese, I was not expecting that whatsoever. But I will say that I did not indulge to the max which changes travel as an overall experience. I tend to adore the foodtourism aspect of a new city but I want to stick to this new lifestyle choice of smaller portions.

Workout Tally

– 3 early morning runs around Rome

Outdoor Activity

I had no access to a gym but I made sure to get a couple of runs in before my workshop classes. I had been told that exploring a city while everyone’s still asleep as the sun rises is the best way to see it but I didn’t believe it until this trip. I felt like Rome was mine, even if just for 20 min before the eager tourists started to line up. How often do you get to see the Trevi or the Pantheon deserted in daylight?

Nike+ App

Best Meal(s) of the Week(s)

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A wooden slab of cold cuts and cheese with red wine.

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Cacio e pepe fresh pasta.

More on these two meals will be posted in my Rome Top 5 coming soon.

Other Highlights

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Meeting Arabs abroad and blending in with the Italians: We are everywhere. And we know how to spot each other. I’d feel all warm and fuzzy inside when I’d find a fellow Arab and trade stories as to why they’re in Rome. What was even better was being able to blend in like an Italian and be ignored by street vendors/avoid tourist treatment.

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Letterpress Workshop: Old school typesetting and layouts. The time and work that used to go into book production and print design makes you realize how easy we have it now with our Adobe, Kindles, and iPads.

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Two weeks with no 3G and I’m in love with Rome: Usually, getting a sim card is one of the first things I do upon landing in another country. This time, after spending my first day without it, I decided to forego constant connection and wing it. I would use Google maps to find a main destination and depend on my own sense of direction to find my way back after closing the app. Looking up instead of at texts or work emails allowed me to reconnect with my surroundings. Nasri’s latest captures what I felt in Rome. I should schedule when to be online anywhere, not just when away. If I was to cheat on Beirut, it would be with other Mediterranean cities. Barcelona. Rome. Akh. I love this sea’s people.

Workout Track(s) of the Week(s)

These tracks helped me stay up late working on a presentation for the workshop. I hadn’t done that since my uni days so that was a fun throwback. Not sure if my hotel neighbors thought so unless they had their own PJ parties to Chris Brown.

Cheese of the Week(s)

I made a trip out to Eataly Roma, the largest branch of the chain. This older man, after laughing at himself for speaking Italian to me while I remained clueless, was offering samples of cheese from his cow and ship (sheep). That ship makes great cheese and held me over on my late nights when I avoided searching for pizza.

The Last Afternoon in Roma

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First published on SVA blog on June 14th, 2016 under the title “Rome Day 14: Tangible Memories.”

“An orgy of goodness” is what Steven Heller called our final presentations which were a mix of tangible memories of Rome in the form of reinvented intricately illustrated postcards, a bracelet of Italian female role models donned the Sorelle Sante (Sacred Sisters), and of course, a typeface or two. All were deemed marketable entrepreneurial endeavors which is not a small feat given the timeframe we had to cook up something fresh and exciting. 


As we dispersed for what was most people’s last afternoon in Rome, I felt the need to jam-pack as much of the city in the few hours before our farewell dinner. A couple more gifts here and there, but mostly I wanted to walk the streets and take it all in – this place that had me enamored so quickly because it reminded me so much of home. I didn’t even mind that locals would seem utterly confused as to why I couldn’t understand Italian; I was flattered that they thought I was one of them. I passed by the same streets, dropped by Roscioli, snapped some photos of the places I felt I would frequent on the regular if I was ever a Roman resident. I was creating a memory palace for my next walk down memory lane. Sorry, too much Sherlock. And I did manage to see St. Valentine’s skull at Santa Maria. It was too far away to inspect which wasn’t a great loss considering those tiled floors. Those alone are worth the trek. If you don’t have time for the Vatican, go to this little church. It’s what most beautiful places of worship are: understated and underrated.

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Our farewell dinner was all things Italian meaning food, wine, and good company. We swapped stories and plans for the weeks ahead. It didn’t feel like we were going anywhere; it felt like a regular Saturday night with friends that continued at our dorm’s common room (the hotel lobby) as we polished off the bottles of wine and Prosecco left from our working nights before.

But alas, we said our goodbyes and now we’re all on different ends of the earth. Luckily, we’re all just a text or a call away thanks to SVA.

Vatican Floors, Coffee Beans, and Penis Pasta

First published on the SVA blog on June 10th, 2016 under the title “Finding the Meanings of Rome”

It may come as a surprise to most but there is a part of visiting the Vatican that no one ever told me to pay attention to. While the crowds of multinationals were staring up at the works of Raphael and Michaelangelo, I was staring at my feet admiring the intricate tile work that runs throughout the museum halls. Strangely, after walking through room upon room, your mind stops processing the paintings. That, and I’m not very patient with slow-paced tourists who stop dead in their tracks at random. Perhaps this is why I had my head down with my eyes on the ground as I weaved to make my way to the Sistine Chapel. It seems, even when I got there, I was still fixated on the tiles rather than the gods above me. The ones in the Chapel particularly resemble Louise Fili’s Instagram posts of the Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin, a church I hope to see before my flight home on Sunday. Apparently, St. Valentine’s skull lies there too.

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Our time in Rome has suddenly evaporated with just hours to go before our presentation of our projects tomorrow. While working in a hip cafe of the Eternal City, it’s hard not to feel like we’ve taken up residence here; it’s the same routine I have in Beirut except I’m only here for another 48 hours. Barnum Cafe’s bartender waves goodbye as his shift ends because some of us have become regulars, sitting at the large table surrounded by pencil shavings and tracing paper. In my three consecutive days at this table, I’ve met an American food blogger, an Egyptian who inquired about my Arabic sketches, and, of course, the bartender who dedicated his early-2000 songs to us after we kept bobbing our heads to the lyrics that took us back to high school. Camping out there, the transition from espresso to Prosecco is easy as pie as the place morphs into a pub post 7:30 pm when computers are no longer allowed.

And in the midst of doing all this prep, many of us try to find souvenirs for our peeps back home – ones that aren’t tacky or typical. I’ve opted for chocolate covered coffee beans from Sant’Eustachio II Caffe, sugary fruit gummies from Moriondo e Gariglio, and some leather-bound notebooks. And yes, penis-shaped pasta for my more mature friends.

As Lita Talarico, SVA MFA co-chair, said, “in Paris, everything comes at you but, in Rome, you have to dig a little deeper” alluding to how the city is one of layers where there’s more to discover beyond the burnt orange facades, beyond centro storico. Fourteen days and I haven’t even scratched the surface. Besides the fact that I’ve been doing laundry in my hotel sink, I’m not quite ready to go just yet so that only means one thing: I need to come back.

Italian Vernacular Typography in Rome with Louise Fili

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Louise speaks with owner of Ristorante Settimo about their signage from the 1960s

“Fare la coda” or the inability to stand in line is not the only thing that Rome and Beirut have in common. Much like my own home city, Rome has a tangible warmth to it and I’m not just talking about the temperature. There is history here that can be seen in the ochre tones of the buildings, heard in the undulations of the language, and even tasted in every scoop of black raspberry gelato. When it comes to design, it’s as if things look the way they’re supposed to without much thought put into it. As our first lecturer, Louise Fili, said, “in Italy, everything is beautifully designed even though no one is a designer.”

She walks us through 35 years worth of her carefully curated collection of signage. Not only is Italy the birthplace of Latin typography, it seems it’s also where every sign has a lineage. Rather than reading a plaque or pocketbook guide, each sign forms a graphic timeline because the style of type used corresponds to a particular historic era. Leave it to graphic designers to learn about history via type, right?

But oddly enough, it works. Not only does Louise tell us about each sign’s historical significance but also how the style of signage can tell you what part of Italy you’re in. It seems that each part – be it Florence, Bolognia, Rome, or Torino – has its own flavor and trademark when it comes to their storefronts.

What I find most interesting is the businesses that the signs represent tend to belong to a family that has been in that business for generations. The symbol becomes representative of part of their legacy, not just indicative of what they’re selling thus becoming a visual landmark in that neighborhood’s collective memory. It reminds you that there’s a story behind every sign and all you have to do to find out more is walk through the doorway underneath it.

First published on SVA’s website.

El-Tanein Diet Week #33, #34, and #35

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This post comprises weeks where I was in Beirut & LA. It includes more burgers than runs and workouts but I promised to report. It’ll be short post, despite being a 3-week compilation, because I’m jet lagged.


Workout Tally

– (3) 5 km runs

Outdoor Activity

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2/3 of my runs these weeks were outdoor runs around Californian suburbia. The contrast between the greenery of the residential areas in California and the outdoor runs of Beirut’s concrete jungle. The dose of green makes the time outdoors so soothing even though you’re a sweaty mess. I should give Horsh Beirut a try on a sunny Saturday soon.

Nike+ App

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Best Meal(s) of the Week(s)

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I had some great meals in Las Vegas which I’ll be posting about separately in the next few days but In-n-Out wins for ETD across the board. I consider it an achievement that I only hit it twice in 19 days.

Other Highlights

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Charity Miles: This app allows you to run miles that correspond to donations for multiple charities. I haven’t tried using it in Lebanon yet but that’ll be a test for week #36.

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The Broad Museum: Pronounced like “brode,” the Broad is a new contemporary art museum in downtown LA located between the Disney Concert Hall and the MOCA. Its entrance is free but you can pre-book tickets to skip the line. It’s currently got Yayoi’s Infinity Room as a special exhibit which I skipped. I didn’t want to wait in line for another hour to get a selfie that everyone has. Yes, I regret it.

Good Impressions of Beirut: I was networking at some work events and was pleasantly surprised to find that a lot of Americans had been to Beirut (and other parts of Lebanon). I’d been so used to meeting people who didn’t know it was a capital in the Middle East so this was refreshing to see. Even with those who had had their hearts broken by Lebanese folk, there were good memories associated with our little country. The worst part was that a follow-up question to “do you like living there?” tended to be, “so how’s the garbage thing going?” Sigh.

Workout Track of the Week(s)

Tell JK that I’m still rooooollin. That beat tho.

Cheese of the Week(s)

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Brie & mushroom sourdough burger at Mimi’s Cafe was my last meal in ‘Murica. Worth it.

The 3-Month Itch

I’m off again after 3 months of being back and I’m THRILLED to be hopping onto a plane. The appalling images of the garbage trails have been flooding my channels. I walked through RHIA’s departure floor last August thinking that it would be solved by the time I returned but here we are, 6 months later, with the same shitfest.

Before my latest flight to CDG, I had lunch with my laptop at Cafe Younes in Hamra, an old hideout of mine during my second-round-of-undergrad-days. Maybe it was a move to remind me of when I felt like there was a lot of possibility ahead. A refresher of those vibes before I bask in West Coast living and become removed from the headache that is the Levant and its neighbors’ temper tantrums.

We try to grow our businesses, we fill our calendars, we pour more hard-earned cash into something we hope will be a sustainable source of income and/or purpose. We try.

Or we leave for some fresh air so we can keep doing the above with some sanity when we come back like the labrador that returns to an abusive owner only to be kicked in the face again. I can’t help but ask: what makes us come back?

Oh Lebanon, I may love you too much for my own good but even love grows tired when one side’s fighting the battle alone. Here’s to hoping some of this garbage gets sorted out before my return. And I don’t just mean the trash.

Interning with Tarek Atrissi | The Art & Science of Arabic in Barcelona

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Courtesy of Death to Stock Photo

It’s been exactly 3 months since I left Barcelona where I spent another 3 months interning for Tarek Atrissi, a Lebanese graphic designer who runs his own design studio out of the Catalonian city after relocating from the colder Hilversum, the Netherlands.

I’ve written a lot about what I did to prepare for this trip and what I learned on a personal level while there but I thought it would be helpful to see what I got out of this trip from a professional standpoint as a designer from and working in the Arab world. The environment of Barcelona seemed like an unconventional backdrop for learning about Arabic type & script but it made one thing more evident: capable designers with a background in Arabic design are needed, regardless of location.

Lesson 1: The Difference between Arabic Typography, Lettering, and Calligraphy

As an introduction, Tarek walked me through a breakdown of different uses of the Arabic language in design. Typography refers to creating typefaces or designing a print layout using Arabic text. Lettering is when Arabic letters or words are built by drawing them out piece by piece. The focus would be on one element as an artistic composition or unit instead of an entire alphabet or page of text. Calligraphy is an old artform that takes years to reach the pro level. If there’s no time to learn the trade, this is usually outsourced if you want it done right.

Lesson 2: Making Arabic Versions of Logos

A skill highly underrated and glossed over when it comes to designing Latin logos is the ability to adapt them to Arabic while retaining their aesthetic and iconic attributes. A visit to Dubai will tell you how poor adaptations of your non-Arabic logo can hurt your brand’s image. It is hard enough to do from the start of a project but even more challenging when it comes after the logo is already in use and plastered all over the world. Icons or graphic elements become gimmicks or are forced into the Arabic script. Creating an Arabic version of a non-Arabic logo takes practice and understanding of both languages; not only how they are similar but how their differences will affect the visual outcome. Arabic differs from a lot of commonly used languages in many ways; two main concerns being that 1) the letters are connected (at times) and don’t align with non-Arabic glyphs because they adhere to different guidelines and have fluctuating proportions and 2) it’s read from right to left.

 

Lesson 3: Looking at Arabic Glyphs like Shapes, not Letters

During my GD undergrad years, a calligrapher who was giving us a workshop had told me that people who don’t know Arabic tend to be less constricted when sketching forms because they look at the letters like shapes. They have no linguistic knowledge of what the aleph is; it’s just a long line. I was reminded of this when drawing up endless versions of Arabic glyphs. When lettering, you have to let go of what you know of the defined structure of each letter – to a certain extent – in order to let your hand freely take over.

Lesson 4: The Importance of Arabic as a Language in Design

Coming from an advertising background, I rarely had the chance to dabble in typographic design, much less anything in Arabic since I worked on international accounts. Working on fonts and logotypes in Arabic made me realize how neglected it is as a skill in our part of the world. Sure, most Arab designers can read and write in Arabic but can they design in it? Do we have the understanding of it as a language to tackle it the way an Arab national should? This should be our added bonus as designers from the region: we should know how to work with our own language with respect – in a way that does it justice as a beautiful form of communication.

Lesson 5: Give More, Keep Less

What was surprising about Tarek was that he was so willing to give and teach. It is rare to find a successful professional who is open to mentoring you as a designer, in skill but also in thought-process. Tarek was never condescending in his approach when it came to finding solutions and he gave me the confidence I lacked when it came to discovering my strengths as a designer. He was leading by example and a true team player. He taught me to be open with what I know and even with what I don’t. And by constantly sharing and exchanging, there was a flow of stories and experience that brought fresh energy to the office each day.

You can learn more, the more you give away.

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A big thanks to Tarek and everyone at TAD.
See you guys soon!

10 Favorite Eats in Barcelona

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Most of these places have been mentioned in the El-Tanein Diet series posts (or posts of their own) but here’s a round up of my 10 favorite places of Barcelona. Every time I would dine somewhere, I would find 12 others I’d add to my google list on the way. My google list would be cafes, restaurants, and museums that I would investigate online later to see if they were worthy of a visit. After all, I had 86 days to take in as much of Barcelona as possible so I needed to be wise and selective. Yes, I take this shit seriously.

These are places I went to more than once, even if just for coffee, and could imagine them becoming my go-to locations if I were a permanent resident of Spain’s Catalonian city by the sea.

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For coffee, cava, and cheese:
El Jardi

Within the courtyard of the old Santa Creu Hospital is this cafe, a quiet spot to enjoy late lunch or a post-meal coffee. It’s behind the famous Boqueria market but still removed enough to be away from the crowded Las Ramblas. It’s an outdoor venue with string lights and simple tables; you’re basically hanging out in a garden with goodies. The hospital, eventually unable to keep up with the growth of the city and medical advances, was converted to libraries including Biblioteca de Catalunya.

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For a salad bar with a side of pie: Faborit

This cafe is located within Casa Amatller, the Cadafalch house attached to Gaudi’s Casa Batllo. With a panini or salad menu, you can get a filling, fresh meal for under 10 Euros and spend your lunch hour sitting in their outdoor terrace. They also sell beautifully packaged chocolate sets if you need some Art Nouveau souvenirs.

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For when you want a quiet dinner with your BFF: Casa Lolea

This is the 3rd time I mention Lolea on the blog because I really loved the restaurant. It’s just warm – that may be the best word for it. Staff is kind, food is good, and you feel at home. Did I mention the sangria bottles? It’s a sangria factory that has 4 special kinds produced and packaged in polka-dotted bottles. Great affordable gifts and/or accents for the home/office.

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For when you need a lunch break near Passeig de Gracia: Toto

Italian brasserie on Valencia. The service isn’t their strongpoint but the food is. Go for lunch to benefit from the menu del dia so you can have a 3-course meal for 16 Euros. The regular menu is pricier (also worth it) but you might as well save some cash so you can enjoy even more culinary experiences. Barcelona is not short on options, you’re just short on time.

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For when you need a break from jamon: Flax & Kale

Flax & Kale, flexitarian resto from Teresa Carles, is a vegetarian/vegan friendly spot 5 minutes away from Plaça Catalunya. The dishes are rich in veggies, grains, and oily fish. It has a juicery and an outdoor terrace on the second floor that opens in the afternoons. Barcelona is rich in cured meats and ham so when you’re looking for more fruit and greens, grab an acai berry bowl.

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For when you can’t get a table at Tickets: Lolita Taperia

I say this because the chef left Lolita (then Inopia) to open Tickets and you can tell when you eat here because the food is almost as good. I’ve been to both and Lolita is to Tickets what Toyota is to Lexus. It’s a casual everyday version of the more expensive sister. It’s not as meticulously prepared and it’s void of the “molecular cuisine” style which is fine because it’s all about taste anyway. And the waitress at the bar looks like Julia Styles and is super helpful.

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For when you need fried goodness: Xurreria Trebol

They’ve got homemade chips and giant churros loaded with flavored cream for 2 Euros each. Need I say more? Avoid the churro stands in the tourist-populated areas and head to this place instead. It’s open 24 hours during the weekend too so you can head there after you’re done partying till dawn and in need of a carbo-load.

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For when you’re not ready for Monday morning just yet:
Café di Marco

This is a small coffee shop on the corner of Arago and d’Enric Granados. There is nothing special about it but I used to stop here for a cappuccino and muffin on my morning walks to the office. The staff is kind and the cafe is filled with people starting their day or reading newspapers. It’s a cozy quaint place you can hide in until you’re ready to face the world.

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For when you want a fun night out with friends: Numeronueve

I think I took every visitor I had to this bar. Off one of the alleys of Passeig de Born, No.9 is a stone-throw away from Santa Maria del Mar. Tapas are great, sangria is even greater, and the staff are friendly. Music is a bonus. It’s not authentically Spanish if you’re looking for that sort of thing. But if you’re looking for good drinks and nibbles in a fun atmosphere, it never let me down.

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For when you want flavor for dinner:
Lascar 74

A “cevicheria” in Poblesec, Lascar 74 is where I had my first encounter with ceviche, a Peruvian seafood dish. Everything we ate was delicious, right down to the cheesecake that I didn’t order but kept eating off of my friend’s plate after I tasted a small bite. Interior is nothing fancy; simple decor for a satisfying dinner with friends. There’s no English menu but the waiters can explain everything for you so no sweat.

Honorable Mentions

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Can Ramonet in Barceloneta for paella

Hotel Barcelo in Raval for Sunday brunch. Open buffet plus a cocktail on the 360 degree view roof for 25 Euros

Mont Bar on Aribau for date night

Chök on Carme for cookies, cake, and cronuts

Brunch & Cake for brunch and cake

10 Money-Saving Tips for Visiting Barcelona

1. Atrapalo

Similar to Groupon, Atrapalo is an online discount service. Along with packages and special offers, it also sells discounted transportation tickets (trains, airlines, cruises). One downside is that it’s in Spanish but you can always have Google Chrome translate the entire page – it’s enough for you to make your discount purchases and save a good 30 Euros (or more) on a train ticket to Madrid.

2. Menu del Dia

Most restaurants around the city have a lunch menu during weekdays which is a 3-4 course meal for 8-15 Euros. Sometimes, tourists are given the regular menu and thus, ripped off by paying the full price a la carte.

3. Nostrum Food Chain

Unless you’re using the Buzzfeed Food newsletter for easy recipes to cook packed lunches at your Airbnb flat (which is also very helpful), Nostrum is an affordable alternative for the office break. All dishes are easily microwavable, healthy, and light. The 10 Euro/month fan club card gives you discounted prices on the various plates too so you can walk out with a bag of sustenance for under 7 Euros.

4. Barcelona Metro Card

A T-10 (10 trips) card at 9.95 Euros for 1 zone was enough to last me 2 weeks at a time because I used my feet to get around the most. The card is multi-person and you can use it on the metro and buses. It may even count as one trip if you use both modes of transport within a certain timeframe. There’s other combinations of this card (more trips, individual user, etc) as well that you can check out here. If you’re only in the city for a few days and need unlimited metro access, one of the Hola cards might be a better option.

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5. Pinxtos on Carrer Blai

Pinxtos are bar food tapas that are priced based on the different toothpicks poking through them. In bars in Born and Passeig de Gracia, each pinxto can be anywhere between 3-6 Euros. However, Carrer Blai is street packed with bars that sell pinxtos for 1-2 Euros each so you can load your plate a few times, have a few cups of cava, and continue bar hopping in the Poblesec area.

6. Free Museum Days or Articket BCN Passport

Like most cities, Barcelona has free museum days (usually the first Sunday of the month or every Sunday afternoon, it varies depending on the museum) and the Articket museum passport option that gives you entrance to 6 main museums for 30 Euros.

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7. Fly-Foot

Fly-Foot is a MENA-centric tour agency that puts together travel packages for attending football games and, for a city that is home of FC Barcelona, they are the kind of service you want to know about. The money they save you on tickets can be used to buy a Neymar Jr jersey to wear to the game. Okay fine, you can wear Suarez too.

Call their Barcelona number [+34 (625) 46-45-32] or email them at barcelona@fly-foot.com

8. Barcelona Expats Facebook Group

This is a pretty active group of expats living in Barcelona. They help share insider tips, contacts for language courses, answer questions if you’re looking for a particular shop or product – it’s a good advice column. If you’re planning on sticking around in BCN for more than a month, join the little community.

9. Barcelona Metropolitan

Subscribe to their newsletter for a weekly email on what’s going on around the city. Besides the typical TimeOut website, they’re a decent resource for events and openings all over town.

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10. Casa Lolea Sangria as Barcelona Souvenirs

And finally, when you’re ready to pack up and head back home, stop by Casa Lolea first for dinner and a couple of bottles of sangria. It’s their specialty, the packaging is beautiful, and the bottles are a steal at 8-10 Euros a piece. Who wouldn’t love a gift like that?

Bonus: If you have to choose between Park Guell and Palau Guell, go for the Palau. Very underrated and less crowded.