Dancing salsa in Barcelona

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 8, 2013

Who: Jean Yip, 54, founder of the Jean Yip hair salon group. The Singaporean is married to Mervin Wee, 54, the group's managing director. They have three children, actress Cheryl Wee, 26, and students Rachel, 25, and Russell, 18.

Favourite city: Barcelona

Why: Barcelona is an unforgettable city. I went there for the first time about 10 years ago, and then again two years ago with my husband to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.

I love the vibrant colours in the architecture there and the carefree attitude of the people, and the fact that there is food everywhere, all day.

It's a city that's very different from any other place that I've been to.

Best place to stay

Arts Hotel Barcelona (Marina 19-2108005 Barcelona, tel: +34-932-211-000) is a lovely hotel and we stayed there both times we visited the city. It's a Ritz-Carlton property and it has a unique, modern architecture with a lot of glass and steel.

The hotel's location is great, it's just a short walk from the city centre with all its attractions but also next to beaches and overlooks the ocean.

During certain seasons, you can get really good discounts off room rates, which make it quite a good deal. Rooms start at 295 (S$497) a night.

Favourite restaurant

Restaurante Enoteca at the Arts Hotel itself is a very good restaurant. It has two Michelin stars, and while I don't always have to eat at Michelin-starred fine-dining places - I like street food and casual eateries a lot - the food here was really very good.

It was fully booked but since we were hotel guests, we asked if the hotel could try to fit us in and they did. I've eaten a lot of Spanish food, and this was the best I've ever tried.

Like typical Spanish cuisine, there was a lot of great seafood and ham, but I especially enjoyed some other unique offerings they had. I remember there was a ravioli dish in clear soup that I liked a lot. The meal cost about 200 a person.

Best way to get around

I love to walk, especially in European cities, and Barcelona is quite a walkable city. There are just so many small lanes to discover. You can easily spend two to three days just walking around and going down every side street and alley.

I didn't take many taxis or buses, and discovered a lot of little shops I wouldn't have if I had not walked.

I went in October, so the weather was nice and cool, and walking was enjoyable.

I strongly believe in travelling light and walking everywhere on vacations. That's why I always lose weight on holidays even though I love trying the local cuisine.

Favourite cultural activity

Along the waterfront boulevard called Passeig Maritim, there are many restaurants and bars, and in the evening they become dance floors. People dance salsa until 2 or 3am every night.

I'm not much of a dancer, but I joined in the dancing, and forced my husband to do it as well.

In Singapore, he would never have done it but there, he didn't mind because the mood was so casual. Everyone was doing it and we didn't feel embarrassed.

I enjoyed it so much that when I got back to Singapore, I started taking salsa lessons, and my husband and I performed a dance for our wedding anniversary celebration later that year at Capella Singapore.

Best place to shop

Passeig de Gracia is lined with little art galleries and quaint vintage shops. The art galleries usually feature a lot of local up-and-coming artists. I bought some pieces of art as I usually like to support local artists in the cities I visit.

The style is very distinctively Spanish - you get bright colours in their art as well as their architecture. The galleries are often quite diverse and have books displayed along with sculptures, paintings and other things.

The collection of vintage crockery and other items in the shops along this street is also extensive.

Best bakery

Pasteleria La Colmena (Placa de l'Angel, 12, 08002 Barcelona, tel: +34-933-15-1356, open daily from 9am to 9pm) is a very old but very nicely decorated bakery. It has all kinds of sandwiches and ham that the staff slice for you on the spot.

There's no need to look at the menu because everything is laid out on serving plates and you just point at what you want. They also have a macaron counter and stacks of cookies.

This was one of my discoveries while exploring a side lane, and I am so happy I found it.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 8, 2013To subscribe to The Straits Times, please go to