I decided to embark on one last holiday before the inevitable start of the new university year. In an effort to prolong summer a bit longer, I chose a Mediterranean city, Barcelona as my destination. In terms of the weather, it didn’t disappoint me, as it offered a hot 28 degrees throughout the day and night. Although it was occasionally cloudy, but it was still warmer than London on an average sunny day. However, I couldn’t help feeling slightly underwhelmed. I knew that it was the second largest city in Spain, as well as a popular Mediterranean holiday destination, so I imagined it as a buzzing, vibrant city with a sort of permanent carnival going on its street. The real Barcelona, by contrast, is significantly more laid-back, which might be the effect of the hot temperatures… What affected me the most was the lack of night transport options. There was no late-night transfer to Girona, one of its major airports, which is surprising given its status as a global hub. That is not to say that I didn’t like the city. It is truly beautiful, its variety of architectural styles is exciting, and it offers what many urban metropoles cannot: a seaside beach.
As I was roaming the streets, I was seized a weird feeling. While arguably the city is widely different from my home town, Budapest, I wandered onto some streets that made me feel as though I was back in Hungary. I had a similar impression in Paris and Vienna, for example. Is it because these cities were all built in a similar fashion? Are all cities alike in some respects, because they were built by humans, and human nature is essentially more similar than we can imagine? Or is is simply that I am able to feel at home in many different environments? I mean, I’ve lived in 3 countries already, and I have an ever-growing list of cities I want to live in in the future. At any rate, it is always beneficial to explore new places, whether they are completely different or similar to where you come from, because they can widen your horizons, open your eyes to the beauties of the world and maybe even increase your appreciation for your home.
My regular readers know that I prefer to explore a city on foot, rather than taking public transport. In most cities this can be done with facility. It is still possible in Barcelona, although you have to be prepared to walk longer distances, as some of its major sights are slightly further away from the city centre.
I started my sightseeing trip at the Arc de Triomf, an edifice in the style of a triumphal arch. It was built as the entrance gate for the World Exhibition of 1888. In front of the arch there is a long, very pleasant piazza with fountains and palm trees.
From there I walked towards the Sagrada Familia. a peculiar church building that is considered to be the symbol of Barcelona. It is mind-boggling to know that it has been in construction since 1883, and its scheduled completion date is 2026. Apparently, the most challenging phase is yet to be started. It is already a remarkable feast of architectural creativity, so I am really curious about seeing the completed building in the future.
From there I walked upwards on streets with an increasing elevation, to take a look at another one of Gaudi’s designs. It was quite a trek up there, through narrow streets and battling through hordes of tourists walking two-abreast on pavements too narrow for more than one person. But it was absolutely worth the effort. The park’s cheerful architecture often reminded me of the world of the Flintstones, and it was a real haven of peace and relaxation. You can also get a breath-taking view of the city from the park’s peak. It’s definitely not the kind of park one goes jogging in, but it immediately became my second favourite park of all (right after the park near my childhood home).
I could have spent hours daydreaming there, but time was short, so I moved on to continue exploring the city. I walked back towards the centre, which gave me the opportunity to take in the various architectural styles of the city. Some parts of Barcelona appeared rather run-down and poor, but they still had a peculiarly Mediterranean feel about them. What I found especially appealing was the great range of little independent shops and cafés, which seemed to be favoured over identikit chain stores. The city has not taken on the international trend of over-sized takeaway coffees, but on the other hand, it does seem to have a penchant for fresh, delicious pastries and cakes.
From the more derelict back streets, I turned on to one of the more elegant main avenues, Gran Via de les Cors Catalanes. Here the buildings became more refined and the streets took on a uniform white and grey exterior. Of course the peaceful, quiet atmosphere I’d enjoyed until that ended as soon as I turned to a busier tourist road, but I was still captivated by the pure elegance of the area. (Ok, I won’t make any comparisons to Oxford Street, I promise!)
Then I turned on to La Rambla, an avenue widely popular with tourists, and at the same time a picturesque medley of Spanish architectural styles. Alongside the two sides of the road, it also had a third stretch of pavement right in the middle, which was dominated by various kiosks and food stalls
I was getting exhausted after walking around for hours, but I told myself that I couldn’t leave Barcelona without visiting the beach, so I marched on diligently. There was a protest going on at Port Vell, presumably against the high number of tourists in the area, so I had to seek an alternative route, but I reached my destination at the end.
The air was still pleasantly warm, but the water felt slightly chilly, so I didn’t stay long. Tired but happy and excited, I made my way to my accommodation to take a well-deserved rest. I stayed at the 360 Hostel (http://www.360hostel.com/barcelona/), which I can highly recommend. It is welcoming, comfortable and equipped with computers, kitchen facilities and balconies all free to use. The staff and the guests regularly get together for parties or communal meals, so whether you are looking for fun activities, or just some peace and relaxation, you can find it there!