Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Barcelona Diary

After the eventful train ride, I decided the next day I´d just walk around and explore it without a map or a guidebook. Unlike most of my other trips, I hadn´t read up much on Barcelona and I wasn´t carrying a guidebook. After the first day I realised the city was too spread out and too big to explore on foot. There are parts of the city which are like a traditional European city - compact and easy to explore on foot. That´s the Gothic Quarter and it´s a bit gentrified and touristy now. It´s not far from the beach so I can imagine it must be one of the most sought after neighbourhoods to live in. But after more than half a day of walking around I felt I´d had enough of walking.

The next day I decided to get a metro pass. Turns out that one can buy a city pass which includes unlimited rides on the metro as well as discounts at most of the major museums. That turned out to be a great way to explore the city. There are too many neighbourhoods spread out over the city to miss out on. The hostel I was staying in was right in the centre and next to a major intersection on the metro so getting around was very easy. A lot of the main attractions I was interested in are spread out over the city so walking and exploring would have been too tiring.

In terms of museums, there were a lot of fairly unique but touristy museums that I went to. The contemporary art museum was in a great location with a nice spacious building and a very minimal collection. Located in the cultural and University district it really stands out with its big white facade. That´s the kind of museum I enjoy. Also went to the Picasso and Gaudi museums which were a bit too crowded with tourists - like me. They weren´t too exciting but I liked the buildings.

Architecturally, I think Barcelona is one of the most beautiful cities I´ve ever seen. The old city with its traditional buildings, Gaudi´s modernist works spread out over the city and some crazy contemporary architecture have been meshed together in a very visually appealing way. Nothing seems to be out of place. The urban planners and architects spent about 20 years replanning the city and they´ve done a masterful job. The location is nice as well with the Mediterranean coast on one side and the mountains on the other side.

After a day of getting used to the scale and the sights of the city, I kept discovering small buildings, sculptures and installations all over the city. It was a bit like staring at a 3D hologram and being able to see through the facade after staring for a long time. Once you get the hang of the city almost any neighbourhood seems interesting.

There are a few walking tours of different parts of the city but I picked one neigbourhood at a time and decided to explore it at a leisurely pace. Sometimes I would be the only one walking down a wide boulevard, staring open-mouthed at an apartment building, which in any other city would be a work of art. I must have looked quite weird crossing streets and standing on top of benches to get a good angle for a library, a housing project or just a park. I took tonnes of pictures and will upload them soon.

Apart from the architecture, exploring Barcelona at night was fun. Though I went alone and didn´t know anyone there it was easy to hook up with people from the hostel and go out at night. In terms of food, Barcelona is a great bargain for cheap tourists like me. There are lots of places with a set menu for lunch and dinner which includes 2-3 courses plus wine for a reasonable price. Went out once to the University area to eat Tapas at a student cafe, a sports bar to watch a football game and to a raucous club on a Saturday night which stretched well into Sunday morning.

On the last night, I joined 5 people from my dorm room - 3 Irish nurses and 2 Aussie bartenders - to go to a Flamenco performance. Oz1 was pretty drunk before we got there and just before the performance started asked loudly "Is audience participation allowed?". It looked unlikely and we managed to restrain him. I could see Oz1 and Oz2 waiting for an amazingly hot woman in a short skirt to walk in. Oddly enough, a guy in a red shirt stepped in and kept dancing and touching himself all over. Shoulders drooped all over and Oz1 went for a leak and Oz2 decided to buy everyone a round of beers. By the time they both came back, there was a hot woman in a sexy skirt dancing. They missed out on a great performance and watching the singers and dancer was quite mesmirising. Ended up going out to a boring Irish bar later followed by a Jazz club. Got back to the hostel sometime at sunrise. It´s really easy to be out late at night in this city.

Woke up late the next day, headed to the beach and just sat in an empty beachfront cafe and read a book and enjoyed the sunny weather. Took a flight back to Paris which was uneventful except for the beginning where I forgot to take some toilet stuff out of my bag and got redflagged while checking in. Anyway, I'm back in Paris now.....back home.

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