5 things to do in Barcelona, Spain: from Sagrada Familia to Barceloneta Beach

Barcelona

It may not be the capital of Spain, but Barcelona is most certainly the capital of Catalonia, and it’s one of the more bustling, thriving and varied cities that Europe has to offer. You might say it’s equipped with the perfect mix of old and new, and given its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, it also boasts something that most other major cities do not: a beach! Of course, figuring out things to do in this town isn’t quite as easy as deciding to come here, so we’re here to help. Read on for five incredible things to see and do while in Barcy, be it for business or pleasure.
%Gallery-117263%A visit to Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s most famous church

Barcelona

Köln has The Dom, Paris has the Notre Dame Cathedral, and Barcelona has Sagrada Familia. Architected by the famed Antoni Gaudí, this massive Catholic place of worship doubles as a massive place of crowd gathering. It’s one of the more popular tourist stops in the city, and it’s well-positioned for finding other things to do within walking distance. Ground was broke on this church in 1882, and it’s still not done. Estimates say that it’ll be completed within the next two decades, but locals seem to have their doubts. Despite the cranes and construction, it’s still a sight to behold. You don’t have to go inside to appreciate it, but €12.50 (and a lot of waiting in line) will give you a lot more to savor.

A leisurely stroll through Parc Güell, another Gaudí masterpiece

Barcelona

Sense a trend? Barcelona’s face has been painted by Gaudí, and his impressions are all over this beautiful (and vast) park. There are a number of entryways, and none of them charge admission. The “Zona Monument” is the primary entrance, and you’ll know you’re there if you spot two tall, white-tiled towers surrounded by mobs of people and even more colored tiles. There’s a “lucky lizard” in the center of the monument that you’re supposed to kiss, but beware of the “live lizard” standing at the gate. He’ll happily pose for a photograph, but only after you cough up a bit of change. So much for free admission! (P.S. – Skip the photograph — the interior of the park is more deserving of your attention).

Dipping and dodging down La Rambla

Barcelona

Common sense (and we here at Gadling) will tell you to avoid La Rambla at night. We’ve had first-hand experience with a pal being mugged there. But despite its well-earned stereotype, it’s an interesting place to scope out during the day. Loads of street vendors are out in force with great deals, and there are mimes galore freezing for your cash. Just keep a close eye on your pockets, and enjoy the zaniness that can only be found on this street.

Museum merry-go-round

Barcelona

One of Barcelona’s strong points is its wealth of museums. It’s really hard to go wrong, but we’d recommend you either love design or have an open mind about learning more on the subject. La Pedrera (by Antoni Gaudí), Museu Futbol Club Barcelona (for soccer fans), Museum d’ Història de Catalunya (self-explanatory), Maritime Museum, the Catalan Museum of Archaeology and the Museo Picasso de Barcelona are all worth a visit if you’re into those types of things, but they’re obviously more attractive in the winter when you can’t just pop on your swim suit and head to our final recommendation.

Playa Barceloneta: a beach, in the city!

Barcelona

It’s true! Barcelona, unlike many metropolises, has a beach. And not a “nearby beach,” but a beach that’s firmly within the city and is just a quick walk from the center of town (or easily accessible via metro / taxi). Playa Barceloneta is hailed as one of the world’s best urban beaches, and we aren’t arguing. There’s a massive strip of sand to enjoy (for a city, mind you), and the Mediterranean Sea is lovely to jump in during the summer. If you arrive in the off-season, the sand still slips between your toes just as easily, but you’ll need a serious wetsuit (or skin made from steel) to handle the chilly waters.

Have any Barcelona tips of your own? Share them in the comments section below!

Travel Photo Tips: using a 50mm F1.4 lens to redefine low-light shooting

50mm f1.4

If there’s one question I’m asked more than any other when it comes to DSLRs, it’s usually one dealing with low-light shooting. Being able to effectively capture a scene in dimly lit situations (or at night altogether) is one of the toughest things to do in photography. Even if you have a flash, you have to be careful when firing it if you don’t want to simply blow everything out and ruin the “mood” and “feel” of a night shot. The most common problems with night images are this: too much blur, too dark of a shot overall or too much noise in the shot. How do you solve those issues? It obviously depends on the camera and accessories you’re using, but one surefire way to make your existing DSLR entirely more capable at night is the purchase of one single lens. The 50mm F1.4 is as close to a magic bullet as there is in the photography world, and if you travel, you can bet you’ll end up wanting to take photographs after sunset.

The 50mm F1.4 has a lot of things going for it. For one, it’s available for nearly every DSLR out there. You can find dedicated versions (either first-party such as Nikkor or third-party like Sigma) for Nikon, Canon, Sony and Olympus DSLRs, with plenty of aftermarket solutions out there for even more brands. Secondly, it’s incredibly small. My D3S camera body dwarfs the 50mm F1.4, and when I’m trying to conceal my camera and get it into concert venues and the like, having a “stub-nose” lens like this makes it much easier to get through. Thirdly, it’s relatively cheap by FX (or full-frame) standards. And finally, the shots you can get from this lens are truly amazing, and they can enable you to capture memories of a trip that you’d otherwise never be able to. Read on for a few examples and suggestions on how to best make use of this low-light masterpiece.

%Gallery-116211%First, you’ll need to understand a little about why this lens is so cut out for taking low-light shots. The trick is its aperture. For a refresher on how aperture affects your photographs, have a look at a prior article here. This lens can “step down” to f/1.4, which is a fancy way of saying that it can allow a flood of light in compared to most lenses, which can only step down to f/3.5 or so. When you’re shooting with limited surrounding light, having the ability to let your lens pull more light in from practically nowhere is vital.

50mm f1.4

This allows your shots to be brighter, your shutter speed to be faster (which lessens the chance of unwanted blur) and your trips to be more memorable. The 50mm aspect is also important; this is not a zoom lens. It cannot be zoomed at all. If you aren’t familiar with “prime” lenses this will probably be strange to hear, but you literally have to walk forward and back while holding the camera to get closer / farther from your subject. 50mm, however, is a solid distance that’s useful in the vast majority of circumstances, and since there’s no zoom to worry over, the lens is the easiest in my collection to travel with.

50mm f1.4

Using the 50mm F1.4 at night is pretty simple. Regardless of what DSLR body you have, I’d recommend setting the aperture down to f/1.4 (using Aperture Priority or Manual Mode) and firing a few test shots. Compare that to shots with the aperture set at f/3.5 or higher, and you’ll notice an immediate impact. The flood of light that is allowed in by the F1.4 lens is really incredible, and in many cases, it allows a shot to be taken that would never be possible otherwise. Of course, all of this is assuming that you’re trying to avoid using a flash in order to retain the mood of your scene; lowering the aperture all the way to f/1.4 is simply an alternative to using a flash, and it’s one that natural light lovers greatly prefer. The gallery below gives you an idea of why — retaining the low-light vibe while still letting in enough light to capture a bright, sharp and blur-free image is reason enough to consider one of these lenses for your collection.

50mm f1.4

Owning this lens most definitely isn’t the only way to take low-light shots. You could use a flash, purchase a new body with a higher ISO range (something like the Nikon D3S) or move your shot into a place with more external light. But if you’re unable to move your shot (the Grand Canyon is a little hard to relocate, especially after sunset), you aren’t willing to spend thousands on a new DSLR body and you aren’t fond of how a flash distorts the vibe of a night shot, there’s hardly a better and more affordable alternative than the 50mm F1.4. For Canon owners in particular, there’s a 50mm F1.2 that allows even more light in, but of course it’s over four times more expensive; the 50mm F1.4 for Canon bodies is around $350 on the open market, whereas the F1.2 version is over $1,600. It’s hard to justify that increase.

50mm f1.4

I should also mention that while the average 50mm F1.4 lens will cost around $350 – $400 regardless of what brand or body you’re buying for, there’s a bargain alternative even to that. Many companies also make a 50mm F1.8 lens, which allows nearly as much light in, but not quite as much. The good news is these are usually around half as expensive as the F1.4 variety, but in my experience, it’s definitely worth saving up and getting the F1.4. It’s a lens that’ll never leave your collection, and will likely follow you around for as long as you’re into DSLR photography. $350 or so is a low price to pay for the ability to take blur-free images in dimly-lit restaurants, at outdoor sporting events and in concert venues, not to mention millions of other after-dark opportunities.

Curious to learn more about travel photography? See our prior articles here!

Shopping for a new 50mm F1.4 lens? Check here:

Touring Dallas Cowboys Stadium during Super Bowl XLV Media Day

cowboys stadium

Super Bowl XLV. It was most certainly one for the record books. Well over 100,000 people flowed into Cowboys Stadium in the heart of North Texas to watch two of the NFL’s most storied teams do battle. The Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers put on an amazing spectacle, and I was able to take part in one small way. I made my way into Arlington for Super Bowl Media Day — a frenzied event that saw over 1,000 credentialed media crowd the field for their chance to interview their favorite players and coaches. Two of the league’s most historic teams, both on the field of the newest, most awe-inspiring stadium in the NFL. It was a spectacular scene, and a journey I won’t ever forget. The good news for you is that even though the Super Bowl is over, Cowboys Stadium remains open for business.

How so, you ask? The team has set up a program for tourists, locals and curious fans alike to actually take a tour of the new Cowboys Stadium. Tours are given seven days a week, with two primary options for entry. Of course, a general tour won’t involve speaking to players of the Packers or Steelers, but it will involve a thorough walkthrough of the NFL’s most astounding and technologically advanced venue. Read on to catch a glimpse of what you’ll see should you make the trip down (or up!).

%Gallery-116470%Aside from the fact that players were on the field and more willing than ever to sign an autograph rather than answer yet another question directly related to sports, a normal Cowboys Stadium tour isn’t too different than a Super Bowl Media Day tour. I was granted access to a special side entrance as well as a rear conference room, a look at the technology that powers the stadium (more on that angle here and here) and field-level access to the players, but other than that, my experience would pretty much mimic yours.

cowboys stadium

My first suggestion would be to splurge on the VIP Tour. If you make the trip over to Arlington, it’s worth the $10 per person upcharge to get a legitimate VIP experience. This runs $27.50 for adults (or $20 per person with a group of 20+ people), or $22.50 for children and seniors. The cheaper self-guided tour lacks the insider knowledge that the VIP Tour provides, giving you full access to the Pro Shop, field, locker rooms, Miller Lite Club and the post-game interview room. There are Tour Guides stations in each area to answer your questions, but the VIP Tour goes above and beyond. With that, you’ll begin at the Main club and then tour a private suite, the radio / print media press boxes, the Cotton Bowl offices, the Dr. Pepper Star Bar and the Ford Motor Company Fountain.

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Following those stops, a guide will take you down to the event level where you’ll see all of the stops on the Self-Guided Tours. Afterwards, you’ll end the tour in the Pro Shop where you’ll get a complimentary 6- x 8-inch photo to remember the experience. Like I said, the $10 upcharge seems justified.

cowboys stadium

As for my experience? It was outstanding. The 72- x 160-foot Mitsubishi Electric HD display hanging from the roof is truly a sight that has to be seen to be believed. It’s an expansive place — the roof can be opened up if the weather is nice, and it’s very obvious just how new this place is. Being able to get on the field holds even more meaning now that the Packers and Steelers have christened it with a Super Bowl, and for fans of the NFL (or sports in general), it’s a breathtaking experience. You really can’t judge just how huge the place is until you’re there. I kept wishing that I could actually return for a game after being on the field with legendary players, and there’s no doubt that this tour will get you hooked and hoping to come back for more. There looks to be hardly a bad seat in the house, and from a tech perspective, there’s plenty to appreciate. Over 800 wireless routers are there to provide reliable internet access through games (for those who like to tweet or upload images / videos of the action), and there have been improvements made in wireless cellphone coverage for similar reasons.

cowboys stadium

During my tour, I also learned of things to come from Cowboys CIO Pete Walsh and systems architects from CDW. The organization is hoping to tie a good deal of technology into future events. Things like iPhone apps for ordering food (and potentially having it delivered to your seat based on GPS), real-time statistics and on-demand replays on your phone or tablet. These guys are gunning for “the ultimate fan experience,” and it shows. They’ve got the perfect venue to provide that, and if you’re halfway through a cross-country road trip, why not make a day to tour the NFL’s most technologically advanced stadium? Have a look at my tour in the images throughout to get a feel for what you’d get to see, and then head here to book a time and day that fits your schedule.

5 incredible, adventurous things to do in Kauai, Hawaii

kauai

Kauai. Just the mere mention of the word brings a million amazing memories rushing back, and immediately makes those who have been wish they were kicked back on Poipu beach without a care in the world. It’s one of America’s wonders, and while the Garden Isle is far from being the biggest, most populated or easiest of the Hawaiian islands to get to, it’s unquestionably worth the trip. Particularly so if you’re the adventurous type. If there’s any island in the Hawaiian chain that begs for you to plop down in one spot for the week, Kauai most certainly isn’t it. This place abounds with things to do, and those who aren’t afraid to climb, jump, sweat and dive right into the wild will have no shortage of fun. I’ve compiled five of my favorite Kauai adventures here in hopes that you too will find certain thrills while visiting, so grab your untouched itinerary and read on!

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This is unquestionably my favorite thrill on Kauai. Kipu Falls are conveniently located near the popular eastern side of the island, around 20 minutes or so from downtown Lihue. Ask any of the locals about Kipu, and chances are they’ll be able to guide you right to it. It’s actually fairly easy to locate via GPS (it’s off of Kipu Road), and you’ll probably see a dozen or so cars parked along the side of a road beside a massive field. Park, hike along the stream’s edge (the beaten path is private property, but the stream itself isn’t), and ten minutes later, you’ll be in paradise. A huge, freshwater pool to leap into, a massive tree swing to reenact Tarzan on, and plenty of opportunities to meet fellow tourists and locals from all over the world. If you pick the right day, you may even see locals running out of the edge of tree limbs and backflipping 70 feet into the water below. Astounding. Have a look at my experience above.

Fair warning: cliff jumping is risky. Be smart, and stay safe! If you’re in doubt, don’t jump! It’s plenty entertaining to just watch the pros who are experienced.

Tunnels Beach has grown into a real spectacle in recent years, making the parking situation somewhat of a nightmare. Not a ton of tourists flock here, but enough have come for the neighbors to turn their yard into a pay-for-parking lot. Bummer. Your best bet is to show up early and park along the sections of the road where it’s allowed — even if you have to walk half a mile, it’s worth it. Rent some snorkel gear down in Lihue or Princeville before heading out, and bring along your waterproof camera if you have one. You’ll find loads of fish here, crystal clear water, gorgeous stretches of sand, and — if you’re lucky — a giant sea turtle. I was able to swim with one for a couple of minutes on my last trip, shown above. Talk about Hawaiian hospitality!

kauai

Similar to Tunnels Beach, the only catch with this outing is the parking situation. The Queen’s Bath is a magnificent rock formation along the ocean’s coast, but it’s actually hidden behind an upscale housing community / golf course in Princeville. You’ll need to drive back into the neighborhood (found two to three miles within St. Regis Princeville) and park at the handful of public spots. If those are full, you’ll need to park wherever it’s legal nearby and hike. There’s a well-beaten path through the woods and to the ocean, and chances are, you’ll be able to follow the other tourists and locals down. The pool is formed with lava rock, and it blocks crashing waves as you sit and soak. There are also plenty of cliff jumping opportunities here for the daredevils in attendance.

kauai

The grueling, gorgeous Kalalau Trail (reached by driving as far north as you can along Highway 560) is likely Kauai’s most famous, but few people know that it takes days to complete, and to proceed beyond Hanakapiai Beach at the ~2.5 mile marker, you actually need an overnight camping permit from the state. The full ~11 mile hike has managed an incredible 9.0 out of 10 on Sierra Club’s difficulty scale, making it the most difficult trail that doesn’t require vertical scaling of a mountain. Thankfully, the first bit — which wraps around the north of the island and provides astonishing views of the Na Pali coast — isn’t so tough. You’ll need great hiking shoes, a few liters of water, a bathing suit and a towel. After you’ve hiked down, you’re treated to a waterfall that nearly runs directly into the ocean. Take a dip in the Pacific, bask on the sand, and then rinse in the waterfall before heading right back where you came from. Take a camera — the views are unmatched.

kauai

You’ve got only a few options to actually see the Na Pali Coast, and while a helicopter ride (or a ride from the highly recommended Wings Over Kauai) is just fine for some, I prefer a little more adventure. Taking Captain Joe’s zodiac tour is a great excuse to visit the vastly under-appreciated western swath of Kauai, and moreover, an amazing way to see parts of Kauai that you could never see but by boat. You’ll get a personal view of the island’s Barking Sands Pacific Missile Range Facility, schools of dolphins, and of course, the Na Pali coast. Joe also provides lunch as well as an opportunity to snorkel for an hour or so while out at sea. On the ride in, you’ll get a great view of Niihau, and feel free to ask Captain Joe anything you want — he’s a wealth of information, and the vibe on zodiac is one that’ll make you want to relocate rather than fly back home.

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Any other amazing sights to see or activities to engage in while on the Garden Isle? Speak up in comments below! Aloha!

Travel How-to: Road trip through Glacier National Park in the winter

road trip glacier

Here at Gadling, we’re big fans of visiting National Parks in the off-season. There are fewer crowds, less headaches and more chances to enjoy the natural aspects that made these magnificent places so spectacular to begin with. The only trouble is the weather. Generally speaking, many of the United States’ National Parks partially shut down when Old Man Winter shows up, driving away a good deal of would-be tourists and also limiting how much of the park you can see. The famed Tioga Pass through Yosemite National Park is drowned in snow from October to April, and the majority of Yellowstone‘s roadways are closed to automobiles during Wyoming’s lengthy winter. And when it comes to one of America’s true gems — Glacier National Park — the star attraction is completely off limits to even 4WD vehicles for three-quarters of the year.

With the Going to the Sun road shut down, is there even a reason to travel to northwest Montana to give this majestic place a look? Without a doubt, yes. It’s true that Glacier, even in her 101st year as a National Park, is most open to exploration in the regrettably short summer season, but there are massive benefits to going in the winter. For one, hardly anyone else is there. You’ll be lucky to see a dozen others exploring the park on a given winter day, giving you ample opportunity to get lost inside this truly gigantic place. But there’s something else that few people consider when pondering a visit to Glacier in the winter: Highway 2. Read on to hear our secrets on making the most of an off-season visit to Montana’s largest National Park.

%Gallery-114793%During the winter months, which usually stretch from October to April depending on snowfall, only ~12.5 miles of the Going to the Sun road is open to motor vehicles. Even those are usually covered with a light layer of snow and ice, so we’d recommend a 4WD vehicle as you head in.

road trip glacier

From the West Glacier entrance ($15 vehicle entry fee required), around 11.5 miles are cleared, taking you from the Visitor’s Center to McDonald Lodge. This route tiptoes around the shoreline of Lake McDonald, the Park’s largest lake at ~10 miles long and ~1.5 miles wide. Thus, you’ll find various opportunities to park your vehicle and walk out to the shoreline, with just you, a vast range of mountains and a few lingering clouds to photograph.

road trip glacier

If you visit on a particularly hazy day (not tough to find in the winter), you’ll usually see loads of grey in the sky. If the clouds hang right, you’ll have friends believing that your shots across the lake are actually of Iceland or somewhere far more exotic than America’s Treasure State. With the snow covered banks, the setting creates a perfect opportunity to tinker with your metering techniques — snowy landscapes are one of the few places where spot metering is actually preferred, and with no crowds pushing you around, you’ll have plenty of time to adjust your settings to get the perfect vibe and tone from your shots.

road trip glacier

About three-quarters of the way to McDonald Lodge, there’s a spectacular view from the lake’s shoreline. It’s roughly halfway between each end of the lake, presenting a golden opportunity to utilize your compact camera’s Panorama mode. Below is a shot that was quickly composed using the inbuilt Panorama mode on Casio’s Exilim EX-H20G. It’s obviously not the high-quality stuff you’d see out of a properly arranged DSLR, but considering that this took about ten seconds to generate, it’s not a bad way to remember just how vast this lake really is. If you’re serious about panoramic shots, we’d recommend bringing along a GigaPan Epic robot, which you can mount your camera on and program to swivel around in a set interval to capture a very high-resolution, high-quality panoramic shot.

road trip glacier

Once you circle out and head back out of the same entrance you came in on, the real fun begins. If you continue on Highway 2 East, you’ll be heading towards East Glacier — the other side of the park. What most tourist fail to realize is that this road actually runs through the southern part of the park, and there’s no fee required here. If you pack snowshoes, you’ll have an unlimited amount of options for stopping and exploring the wilderness around you, and it goes without saying that the views of the surrounding mountains are a photographer’s dream. Highway 2 is rarely “clear” in the winter, so we’d recommend a 4WD vehicle and slowed speeds while traveling. It’s a solid 1.5 hour drive from West to East Glacier, but ever inch of it is jaw-dropping.

road trip glacier

Think you’ve now seen all there is to see of Glacier National Park in the winter? Not so! Once you reach Browning, MT, you’ll want to head north and turn left onto Starr School Rd. This will divert you over to Highway 89 North towards the Alberta border, giving you an incredible view of Glacier’s towering peaks from a distance. It’s an angle that you simply won’t get while driving through the heart of the park on Highway 2, and the snow covered summits provide even more reason to keep your shutter going. The drive northward to Alberta remains gorgeous, and we’d recommend driving on up if you have your passport handy.

road trip glacier

Even the National Park’s website won’t tell you of the surrounding highways to traverse if you’re interested in seeing as much of Glacier National Park in the winter as possible, but now that you’ve got the roads you need to travel, what’s stopping you from renting a 4WD and seeing the other side of this stunning place? Be sure to pack along your camera and brush up on the basics — snowy mountains definitely present unique challenges when shooting, but they also provide the perfect opportunity to finally try out that ‘Manual’ mode you’ve been trying to ignore. And if you’ve got a geotagging dongle or a GPS-enabled compact camera? Make sure to document your trip with locations that correspond to the stops your make along the way!