Lisbon&Barcelona 2016


While in Dublin last year for the Web Summit, I spoke with founder/CEO Paddy Cosgrave about his fateful decision to move the massive tech conference to Lisbon in 2016. I’m now en route back to New York from Portugal’s picturesque capital and I can honestly say how thrilled I am that he did. It’s not that Dublin didn’t have its charmsit’s a first-class city with ample to see, to do, to eat and to drink, especially to drinkbut Lisbon’s proximity to Barcelona made it easy for my wife and me to take in some Catalan culture before geeking out at the Web Summit. (More on the conference in another post.

Let me first share some first impressions of Barcelona. Like New York, it’s a fantastic walking city, a city of serendipity around any corner. The city itself is relatively flat with narrow streets lined with shops and cafes and broad, tree-lined boulevards filled with tourists and cloned vendor stands.

In the former category, you should check out the El Born District where you might find the buzzworthy local tapas jointCalPep, which, alas, was closed the night we strolled by, orLlamber where we ended up discovering some rather tasty dishes.

As for boulevards, there’s none more picturesque, lengthy (three-quarters of a mile) and expansive than La Rambla where a must-stop at theMercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria will rekindle even the most sated appetites.

We joined Barcelona Cooking’s “Chef Stefano” at La Boqueria to choose (and learn about) the ingredients for that evening’s self-prepared dinner menu: Creme de Calabaza (butternut squash and pear soup), Pa amb Tomaque (Catalan tomato bread), Tortilla Espanola (Spanish omelette), Paella de Marisco (seafood paella) and Creme Catalana.

There’s a massive amount to see, do and smell in Barcelona, including the sewers (that periodically assaulted our olfactory senses). My wife’s friend Kathie smartly recommended that we tackle Barcelona by bike, given how bike-friendly the city is.

We met up with Nick, a Brit from Fat Tire Tours, who led us and 12 others through the narrow streets, past 19th century architect Antoni Gaudi’s La Familia Sagrada, The Arc de Triomf, the magical fountain in Parc de la Ciutadella, the harbor with its man-made sandy beaches, restaurants, casinos, the W Hotel and Frank Gehry’s iconic fish (Peix) installation, not to mention Port Vell, home to some hotsy totsy superyachts. All built specially for the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.

A trip to Barcelona would not be complete without immersing oneself in the architecture of Gaudi and the indelible footprint he left there. For this, we took a 2.5-hour bus tour (led by Arthur) past a number of Gaudi-designed structures and culminating in a one-hour guided tour of La Sagrada, which is under construction slated to be finished in 2026 on the 150th anniversary of its start date. No one we met, btw, including Nick the Brit biker, thought that date was achievable.

That trip to La Sagrada gave us Gaudi fever, so we took the next day, our last in Barcelona, to trek by subway out to Park Güell, a stylish park composed of gardens and Gaudi-designed architectural elements. It was commissioned by Eusebi Güell and was where Gaudi himself lived for a period. His home is now a museum.

The weather was spectacular70 and sunny (2nd week of November), so we walked the two miles back to our hotel. Our hotel? I’m saving the best for last. Most assuredly, Barcelona is not without its choice of first-rate accommodations. Once could stay at the W or Ritz Carlton down by the water and gamble or dance the night away. But then you’d be find yourself a pretty good distance from the center of the city and the charms it offers, eg, The Rambla, Le Born district, La Sagrada…

We also prefer to stay in upscale, but truly distinctive properties. Just check out the piece in “Travel Insights & Images” on Mandapa, the Ritz Carlton Reserve in Bali. We did some research and stumbled upon a new, Marriott-owned property called The Cotton House, which opened its doors in 2015 and is part of the global hotelier’s Autograph Collection.

From the moment we arrived, the staff, led by Alfredo Martinez, could not have been more accommodating. Built in the 19th century for the Cotton Textile Foundation “Fundación Textil Algodonera,” it embodies the neoclassical style with striking architectural details throughout, including wood-inlaid marquetry floors, a marvelous circular staircase (physically suspended from the top to bottom floor, elaborate, but tasteful ceilings and chandeliers, and plush and super comfy furnishings in all the public rooms. Many of the public rooms extended the cotton theme, with fabric samples displayed in windowed cabinets, etc.

Our room was an “Egyptian” room, and included a private outdoor patio. In addition to the superb dining accommodations and an audacious breakfast buffet, the hotel has an outside area off the dining rooms for drinks or just to hang out. On its 6th floor, one can find the lap pool, a small workout room, and chaise lounges, plus dramatic panoramic views of the city that include La Sagrada and the Pyrenees Mountains on an especially clear day.

We simply loved the Cotton House and would highly recommend it. As New Yorkers who like to walk, we found its central location especially appealing. We also want to thank Alfredo and his colleagues for making our stay their a most memorable one.


Everyone with whom we shared our plans to visit Lisbon exclaimed it was one of their favorite destinations in Europe. We didn’t have much time to sight-see, but did get out our first day for a walk up and down hills along its elaborately tiled sidewalks. Lisbon didn’t seem as cosmopolitan as Barcelona. The buildings clearly had witnessed much.

As we walked, we were struck by how those old buildings created Grand Canyon-like vistas down those narrow tiled streets. See images above. Rather than sewer smells, we periodically stumbled across photo-op ready Web Summit installations. After all, it’s not everyday that 50,000+ technologists descend upon Portugal’s historic capital.

Not unlike Barcelona, Lisbon’s streets were full of surprisesfrom quaint shops to dramatic seascapes along the water. The Web Summit was held in the location of the 1998 World Exposition, which was about a 20 minute ride on the subway (from Avenida stop), followed by a 10-minute walk. Lots of construction in Lisbon nowadays, which translates to lots of traffic. Like New York, subway was the preferred option. Clean, fast and not too crowded.

At night, however, Uber, which was banned in Spain, made getting around the old, hilly and bumpy roads a most cost-effective option. I don’t recall any ride costing me more than 6 Euros even the one time I noticed surge billing of 1.4x.

While I was Web Summiting it, my wife took a most worthwhile day trip to the Portuguese Town of Sintra, a World heritage site, where she checked out the Pena Palace, build by King Ferdinand II in the 19th century.

In spite of the catastrophic news that befell my home country the week we were away, the Web Summit was a grand success. I even had a chance to take the stage to talk to 1000+ SRO audience of founders on how to build awareness for their fledgling startups.

On our last night, we attended (yet another) Speakers’ Dinner, this one at a restaurant atop the Time Out Market Lisboa where we stopped for lunch our fiurst day. Definitely worth checking out the array of local food stands, and our fave Portuguese specialtythe Pastel de Nata egg tart pastries.