‘Barcelona is full of great offbeat festivals’

This week in The Local's My Spain, we talk to US expats Regina Winkle-Bryan and Nancy Todd about setting up a successful travel blog about Spain, Barcelona's alternative vibe and where to get the best glass of wine in the city.

'Barcelona is full of great offbeat festivals'
Regina Winkle-Bryan and Nancy Todd are co-editors of The Spain Scoop: a fun, expert advice site on travel in Spain

How did you end up in Spain?

Nancy: Having lived in the States all my life, I wanted to see things anew, and explore new bends in the road.  I also wanted to tempt my palate and shake up my perspectives. 

Spain is rich with food, history, and fun loving people, and has a great climate too.

Regina: I had always wanted to live in Spain, but had never even visited before moving to Barcelona in 2005.

I had been living in Guatemala and wanted a change. I considered both Argentina and Spain, and in the end, Spain won! I've been here almost eight years and am still in love with the country.

Why Barcelona?

Nancy: I had not been to Barcelona prior to moving there.  Mountains, sea?  Great combo. One and one half suitcases later, I got off the plane.

Regina: I chose Barcelona because it was on the sea and offered a palm-tree-clad Mediterranean lifestyle I was dreaming of. It's also close to the Pyrenees, France, and has excellent wine. So geography was a key deciding factor for me.

I was also drawn to the art and architecture in Barcelona, and it's generally creative, alternative vibe.

Tell me about Spain Scoop – how did it come about?

Nancy: Regina and I met in a writers group.  Regina asked me if I wanted to do a blog about Spain.  I said, "What's a blog?"  This was over 5 years ago. 

We love writing and continuing to explore Spain.  With over 600 posts and counting, we now have many writers, local experts in Spain who contribute their expert knowledge and great photos.

The Spain Scoop is a fun, expert advice site on travel in Spain.  We also have interviews with other travel writers and photo essays. We cover hotels, food, festivals, great beaches, etc.  The Canary Islands are becoming more of a hot spot for beach/nature lovers and The Spain Scoop has great travel tips on the Canaries.

Regina: I had been wanting to get into blogging and had an idea to begin a travel guide/blog on Barcelona. Nancy and I met in a writers group in Barcelona and I liked her writing. I proposed that we do the blog together, and she was game!

Together, we took an abstract idea and turned it into what it is now: a very local travel guide to mainland Spain and the islands.

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What is on the site?

Regina: We cover how-to practical stuff like How to Move to Spain, or How to Find the Right B&B in Barcelona, but also  a good bit of personal narrative and reflection.

Because we work with excellent writers in many cities, who live and work in Spain, we are able to offer local tips. This local approach makes The Spain Scoop really special and hopefully useful to readers and travelers.

What do like most about living in Barcelona?

Nancy: I love patatas bravas and white wine. I also love strolling on the beach with a full moon rising out of the Mediterranean Sea.

Late night music and bars are great, and the people. There's stupendous architecture from medieval to contemporary.  Then there are the festivals with off key bands banging away down the lanes.

Regina: I don't need a car and can walk or take public transportation everywhere in the city.

Also, I like the little shops. People here still go to seven small shops to do their weekly grocery shopping; this guy for bread, this one for cheese, this one for the best tomatoes, etc. Having small shops keeps neighbourhoods vibrant.

Also, the Spanish lifestyle of hanging out in the street shooting the breeze, having a coffee, reading the paper on a bench…people are out, interacting with each other and creating community. I think that was missing from the lifestyle I had in the United States.

What are your tips for eating and drinking in Barcelona (or nearby)?

Nancy: Pick a restaurant with a crowd.  Eating the menu del dia, (set lunch menu), is the cheapest way to go for a meal.  The Spain Scoop lists many specific restaurants.  I advise travellers to Spain to try anything new, wine, weird stuff like the strange varied sausages, cheeses, pigs ankles, and sheep's head..

Regina: For Spanish wines try La Vinya del Senyor in El Born. For Tapas, try El Vaso del Oro in La Barceloneta. For Spanish craft beer, try Ale & Hop in La Ribera.

What's your insider tip for Barcelona?

Nancy: This sounds dorky, and when I first arrived in Barcelona,  I took the double decker bus for an overview of the city along with other camera wielding, sandaled tourists. I love taking bus tours (even the baby train tour in San Sebastian) when I get to a city. 

Throw away your calendar.  Saunter. Pause to watch the snails crawl in their cage at the egg store.  Give a euro to the accordion player.  Eat in one of the old markets and watch cooks toss squirming razor clams on the grill. Get lost.  Wander.

Regina: It's always the same one: don't stay on Las Ramblas. Don't eat on Las Ramblas. Don't buy anything on Las Ramblas. This is tourist-trap heaven.

Stay off Las Ramblas in the Eixample or El Born. Shop in the Gothic or Born area. Head to Gracia for bars and nightlife. Avoid the touristy centre and find the more local Barcelona.

If someone could go to just three places in Spain, where should that person go?

Regina: Yikes. That's tough. If I had to choose three…..Barcelona, Granada, San Sebastian. Maybe Nancy will choose others!

Nancy: Barcelona, Seville, Bilbao.

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