Journals from Spain 2010-2011
Barcelona was my first experience with a truly urban metropolis setting here in Spain. Sevilla is a big city, obviously putting the cities I have previously lived in to shame, but it has a very homey, small town feel to it. Although in my preparation I was warned constantly about concerns about theft and personal security, after the initial period I quickly found myself rather comfortable and safe in Sevilla. Not only have I made it the entire semester without any incident, there was only one theft victim among the fifty or so students studying at the center, and even that theft was the product of a student texting while walking by himself, leaving himself vulnerable. The moral of the story is that in Sevilla you will be absolutely fine as long as you make intelligent decisions.
Unfortunately, Barcelona did not give me the same impression. All around the city were vendors aggressively hawking all kinds of products. The most annoying of them all was this plastic-like device that you put in your mouth in order to make a very high pitched squeaky noise. Additionally, there were men similarly selling beer by the can and even a good deal of peddlers of illegal drugs. In addition to the vendors, the major streets seemed much more crowded than Sevilla, the group I was traveling with almost had a hard time staying together at times; the moving crowds of people acted almost like the undercurrent of the cold Oregon coast. Prices, especially along the major avenues, were terrible. The urban atmosphere was just too much for me to handle, I didn't feel nearly as comfortable in Barcelona as I do I Sevilla and although I enjoyed some of the big sights of the city a part of me was anticipating my return to Sevilla the entire time. I particularly liked Gaudi's Parque Guell and his Sagrada Familia church.
Barcelona was also my introduction to two of the main institutions of cheap European travel: Ryanair and hostels. Ryanair is a wonderful Irish airline that provides cheap flights and makes up for it by bombarding its passengers with advertisement after advertisement and offer after offer, not to mention the laundry list of conditions that can astronomically increase your fare. My favorite is the fifty dollar fee that is incurred if you don't print out your boarding pass before going to the airport. Nevertheless, if you cover your bases it can be a real deal, with round trips as low as 30 Euros all over Europe. After my stay in Barcelona I almost fell in love with the idea of hostels. They serve all of a travelers needs: cheap housing, an outlet to meet fellow travelers, free breakfast, they even provide maps and give advice about what to see and do around the city. Definitely not as elegant as hotels, I still wish hostels were as popular in the States as they are here.
While I have already commented on some of the negative or annoying aspect of urban life, the big city does also bring with it some benefits. The markets in Barcelona were amazing. The fresh food market in the center of town put the Tirana Market to shame. As far as potential gift shopping, Barcelona is a treasure, with all kinds of interesting stores that results from not having gigantic superstores like Walmart. It is also worth noting that outside of the center of the city, life wasn't nearly as busy; things were more calm and tranquil, more reminiscent of Sevilla. One of my favorite days in Barcelona was spent just walking around the city, around the outskirts of new Barcelona or Barceloneta, the waterfront, and through parks strewn with beautiful trees that were in their fall best. That day was also highlighted by a killer session of tapas (cheap, traditional Spanish meals served in small rations) that included ensalada rusa, patatas bravas, lomo (animal's back), olivas, and of course some pan (bread) with olive oil.
Overall my experience was enjoyable and eyeopening. There is plenty I have failed to address but my time is limited. I will just say it was interesting to hear and see Catalan everywhere instead of Spanish. Worthy of another story would be my experiences getting used to an advanced metro system. I can wholeheartedly say that since Barcelona I have been even more thankful for the unique place that Sevilla is for me, it is a big city with a small town feel to it, which certainly cannot be said for Barcelona. But that is all for now, ciao!