Trieste, Italy

Ugly or beautiful?

Some say it’s ugly, and some say it’s beautiful. I guess that the first group is referring to the surroundings, especially to the part that you see from the road when driving from Slovenia to Trieste. You see factories, lots of old blocks of flats and Cattinara, a hospital that looks creepy for some reason. The second group is probably thinking of the centre. They’re referring to the elegant buildings, the huge main square, the castle, the Riviera.

In my opinion, almost every town or city can be both: ugly and beautiful. The centre of Ljubljana is beautiful, but as soon as you move away from it, you encounter either grey socialist blocks or weird modern buildings. My hometown, Koper, lies next to a shopping centre area which is anything but pretty. I could tell you a similar story about Valencia and London, but you get the point. I bet you could tell me a similar example, wherever in the world you come from.

Città di Trieste
View from Castello di San Giusto

A little bit about Trieste

Trieste is the capital of the autonomous region Friuli Venezia Giulia, and it has about 200,000 residents. It’s a city and a seaport in northeastern Italy, lying between the Adriatic  Sea and Slovenia. Trieste is located at a crossroads of Slavic, Germanic and Latin cultures by which it has been influenced throughout history. It belonged to the Habsburg Monarchy for centuries and was its fourth largest city. At the end of the 19th century, it became an essential hub for music and literature. It was also an important spot in the struggle between the Eastern and Western blocs after World War II. Interestingly, the original pre-Roman name of the city was Tergeste, -terg meaning “market”. In Yugoslavian times, people from Slovenia used to go to Italy to buy goods like coffee and jeans which they couldn’t buy in Yugoslavia. People from my region (the Slovenian coast) would also often go to Trieste for work (some still do).  

Enough data. This post is about the cool (and beautiful) things you can visit and see in Trieste! I love to go there because it takes only about twenty minutes or so by car, but it still feels like a trip to a “proper city” (Koper is very small). Especially now, when I’m not travelling much, I love doing that. So, let’s get into some of my favourite spots.

Citta di Trieste
View from Castello di San Giusto

Piazza Unità d’Italia (Unity of Italy Square)

Piazza Unità (formerly Piazza Grande) is the main square of Trieste and also the biggest square lying next to the sea in Europe, as well as the sixth largest square in Italy. The fact that it lies right next to the sea makes it seem even bigger. It was built during the period when Trieste was the main seaport in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. This is why it’s full of big municipal buildings and other beautiful palaces. Piazza Unità is sometimes used as a concert venue. I attended a Green Day concert in 2013, while Iron Maiden played there three years later. Even Putin paid it a visit the same year as Green Day, so you know it must really be something. 

Piazza Unità d'Italia (in December 2018)
Piazza Unità d’Italia (in December 2018)

The seafront promenade in Trieste

I think there aren’t many things better in life than taking a walk by the sea when the sun is setting. When you’re strolling along Trieste’s seafront promenade, with palaces and Piazza Unità on one side and the sea on the other side, you get some pretty amazing views. The promenade is also where various festivals and events usually take place. I feel like I run into food stalls or something going on every other time I’m in town.

Church of Sant'Antonio Taumaturgo.
I can’t find any pics of the promenade, so here’s the Church of Sant’Antonio Taumaturgo.

Molo Audace (Audace Pier)

Molo Audace (formerly Molo San Carlo) is right in front of the main square; it’s a 200 metres long walkway/pier, named after a ship from World War II. Boats used to dock at the pier all the time, and it was important for passengers as well as for merchants. Today, boats dock here only very occasionally. The only exception is the Barcolana, a traditional sailing regatta that takes place in the Golf of Trieste every October. People often chill here and observe the sunset.

Molo Audace
Molo Audace

Canal Grande di Trieste

The Grand Canal of Trieste used to be an area of salt marshes. Later it became one of Trieste’s commercial hub. Its banks are still lined with squares, churches and cafes, among them the historic Stella Polare café. The canal is home to various boats. There also used to be three bridges that would swing open for boats (only the Red Bridge – Ponte Rosso remains), while the Short Bridge (Ponte Curto) is a recent addition. When it comes to churches, there’s the Serbian Orthodox Church of San Spiridone with inscriptions in Old Church Slavonic and the Church of Sant’Antonio Taumaturgo which was inspired by Roman monuments. When walking around Canal Grande you might also run into James Joyce – well, his statue. It was made at the centenary of his visit to Trieste.  

Canal Grande di Trieste
Canal Grande di Trieste

Castello di San Giusto

San Giusto Castle stands on a hill overlooking the city; they share the name. San Giusto hill is where the first fortified settlement was built, even before the Roman Tergeste. The fortress itself was built in the 15th century when Trieste was under Austria (to which they surrendered in the 14th century because of constant Venetian reprisals). The bastions were added later, throughout the centuries.

The castle offers stunning views of the city, and the Captain’s House is home to a collection of medieval weapons. There are also other small museums/things to see: you should enter the castle, walk around the wall so you can see the view and then enter every very door around the square that you possibly can to see what’s in there. Of course, you can do it the other way around. The castle costs 2 euros to enter if you’re under 26, and 4 if you’re over 26. As always, the best thing for me are the views of the city and the sea!

Castello di San Giusto, Trieste
Castello di San Giusto

Museo d’antichità J. J. Winckelmann

J.J. Winckelmann antiquity museum is a museum of history and art, located right next to the castle. It’s free to enter, and it’s one of the best museums I’ve ever been to. I’m not really a museum person, but this one isn’t a typical one. It’s not very big, it’s collections are very diverse and it has a lapidary garden full of art. The nature around the artefacts in the garden is sort of wild, which makes it all the more fun to walk and climb around.

Trieste’s geographical position and trade relations enabled it to build a rich collection of artefacts from ancient lands. In the museum, there’s everything from prehistoric objects from the Karst area to a vast Roman collection and stuff from the Hellenistic period. What really stands out is the Egyptian collection; it’s stunning. I was quite shocked when I walked into a small room and saw a mummy. I haven’t seen one since my trip to Egypt in 2010, and I sure as hell didn’t expect to find one on some hill in Trieste. 

Museo d'antichità J. J. Winckelmann
At the entrance to Museo d’antichità J. J. Winckelmann

Castello di Miramare

Miramare Castle is not in the centre, it’s a 5-10 minute drive out of the city, depending on how close you park. The best place to park is next to the road and pretty far from the castle because that way it’s free, plus and you can enjoy the walk to the castle next to the sea. I haven’t entered the castle since I was a child, so I honestly don’t remember how it is inside. I think there are a lot of red carpets and fancy stuff, but what matters (at least to me) is the outside. The building itself is beautiful, the views are even more amazing, and the forest right next to it is perfect for another walk and some more discovering. It’s full of tropical species of trees and plants. The castle was built in the 19th century for the Emperor Maximilian I. It truly looks like a princess castle with magical views of the sea (even if the guy wasn’t a princess).

Castello di Miramare, Trieste
Castello di Miramare

Some final thoughts on Trieste

A tip for all the vegans out there: I personally don’t know of any strictly vegan restaurants in Trieste. However, many offer vegetarian and vegan options. My best advice is to go to a pizzeria and order a vegetarian pizza without cheese or perhaps a marinara which is originally cheese-free. This was you’ll get both: authentic Italian cuisine and yummy vegan food!

I’m sure I’ve left many things out, but these are the places that I love the most about Trieste. Just writing this makes me want to visit it again, even if I was there not even two weeks ago. I’ll wait for summer, perhaps, if it decides to come this year.

Fallas

As a foreigner, I still find the enthusiasm that the Valencian people have for noise and fire sort of hard to understand. I can’t deny that the festival made a big impression on me, though: I experienced it last year, and this year I decided to go again. The truth is thatI could have gone to Valencia at any other time, but I chose Fallas. I mean, it’s basically a continuous street party! Let me tell you a little bit about it and about why it’s so extraordinary.

Fallas 2019, Valencia
A falla (2019)

Why, when and where?

Fallas (Falles in Valencian) is a traditional celebration in the Valencian Community that happens every year between the 15th and the 19th of March. The majority of the events take place in Valencia, while other towns and villages also hold similar celebrations, but on a smaller scale. The purpose of Fallas is supposed to be to commemorate Saint Joseph, even though their actual historical beginning didn’t have anything to do with religion. It started to develop in the Middle Ages when artisans burned broken artefacts and pieces of wood to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Fallas 2019, Valencia
Also from 2019, I think I liked this one the most 🙂

What actually happens during Fallas?

A quarter of the city’s population is supposedly actively involved in Fallas. Each neighbourhood in Valencia has a Casal faller, an organised group of people who meet throughout the year, plan and produce a falla. A falla is a construction made of paper and wax, a beautiful statue, a work of art…that they happily burn on the 19th. Artists make it, and it usually represents a satirical theme that’s previously agreed on. Each neighbourhood has a big and a small falla (falla infantil) that doesn’t represent any satirical themes. The fallas are completed on the 15th and can be observed for four more days before they’re burned.

The important elements of Fallas

Falleros and falleras

You can see people dressed in traditional clothing parading through the streets or hanging out at their Casal faller all the time. The dresses, especially for females, are beautiful and very expensive from what I’ve heard. The women wear their hair in a special way, and they always have perfect makeup. They look like they’ve spent days getting ready (they probably have).

The parties

All the Casal fallers have their own parties (mostly in tents), while there are some bigger open-air stages in the centre. People usually go there after the fireworks and stay until four when it all closes (pretty early for Spanish standards). The music is a mix of reggaeton and Spanish pop and rock, but you can hear electronic music as well. The crowds are absolutely huge.

The stalls

The most important are the ones that sell churros,
buñuelos and porras, traditional fried pastries that people usually dip in hot chocolate. You can also buy everything from sunflower seeds (pipas), of course, to various alcoholic drinks, jewellery, souvenirs and so on.

The fireworks

There are fireworks every night between the 15th and the 18th. They somehow get bigger, longer and more spectacular every night. The last one is on the 18th for La Nit del Foc (‘the night of fire’ in Valencian), is the best one. There are small fireworks next to every falla on the 19th too, not to mention the private fireworks that people set off pretty much everywhere. People of all ages also throw firecrackers constantly, and some literally make you deaf for a little while.

El Castillo, Fallas
I know this picture is what it is, but it’s also the reality: there’s a lot of smoke once the thing has been going on for 10 minutes or so.

The Mascleta

That’s fireworks too; it’s just that it takes place in the Plaza de Ayuntamiento during the day, at two in the afternoon. Why, you might ask yourself. Because they love noise here. Mascleta is basically a firecracker and fireworks display. It’s very loud and there’s a lot of smoke, People are casually drinking beer and eating sunflower seeds while the world seems to be ending right next to them.

The Desperta

If I had to choose the part of Fallas that makes the least sense, I’d have a hard time deciding between the Mascleta and the Desperta. The people of Valencia (as well as us, visitors) spend the majority of the day and night walking around, partying and in many cases drinking. Why would you want to wake us up at 8 in the morning? And why would anyone want to be the person doing it? The Desperta consists of brass bands marching down the streets, playing loud music. Falleros follow them, throwing large firecrackers. I could hear them through my earplugs.

The Crema

The Crema is the climax of the whole Fallas. It’s the last day to admire the fallas before they burn them (but you might be too tired and hungover at this point, I know I was). At ten in the evening, they burn the small fallas. Then people gather around their preferred big falla to watch the main bonfire which takes place at midnight. Some of the fallas are between buildings which need to be protected. It’s a crazy thing to watch: first there are fireworks and meanwhile or right after the falla itself is lit. It burns quickly and the firemen control the fire by dousing the surrounding houses (and the falla itself) with their hoses. It’s hot, pieces of fallas are flying around, and people usually move away to protect themselves.

La Crema, Fallas
And this one is absolute shite but that was my view. Please note how close the houses are!

Final thoughts on Fallas

The locals, at least from what I’ve seen, see Fallas as a time to relax (as they don’t have to go to school/uni/work most of the days). They hang out, party, see the fireworks, throw firecrackers. Most of all, they seem completely unfazed by the seemingly endless noise, smoke and fire. The only thing that really bothers them is the crowd.

I felt in actual danger at times, or at least like I was gonna go deaf. Naturally, the annoying vegan that I am, I was also thinking of the state in which the animals must be. If it bothers me, someone who understands what’s happening, how must they feel, considering the fact that they don’t?

Otherwise, I enjoyed every minute. As tired as I was after all the walking, partying and the lack of sleep, it was amazing. The fallas were huge and extraordinary, the falleras beautiful, the fireworks entertaining. The best part was spending time with people I haven’t seen in months in a city as cool as Valencia. Fallas just made it better.

3 Days in Torino

Mini trips are great: they’re an escape from everyday life but at the same time they don’t take that much time or money. You don’t have to leave your routine for a long time, but when you return, you’re somehow refreshed and happier. This blog post is a little recap of a trip to Torino my friend and I took last winter. We visited another friend who was doing an Erasmus exchange in Torino, or Turin in English.

Parco del Valentino
Parco del Valentino

It’s pretty easy to do mini trips if you live where we live: on the coast of Slovenia. We’re basically trapped between Italy and Croatia which makes crossing the border something very quick and simple. We took a train from Trieste, the first proper city you encounter after crossing the border. We had a direct Freccia Rossa to Torino; each paid about a hundred euros for the return ticket. It would’ve been cheaper had we bought the tickets sooner. I’ve travelled around Italy quite a lot (not as much as I could have and intend to), but I’ve never been that far to the West. I was pretty excited, wondering what this city, with something less than nine hundred thousand residents and surrounded by mountains, had to offer.

Day 1

My mum took us to the train station in Trieste, where we took the train, obviously. It was supposed to take five hours but it had some delay, which is not out of the ordinary with Trenitalia. We got to my friend’s flat at about 12. It was located in a neighbourhood as dodgy as mine in London (do they do that to all Erasmus students?). We spent the rest of the day walking around, and we managed to see quite a bit of the centre.

Mole Antonelliana
Mole Antonelliana

We wandered around Via Roma, stopped in Piazza San Carlo and looked at Caval ‘d Brons. Then we visited Piazza Castello, where the Palazzo Reale, so royal palace, is located. We took a look at the most famous building in Torino as well: the Mole Antonelliana. It’s the National Musem of Cinema and supposedly also the tallest museum in the world. We had coffee in a bar, the name of which I don’t remember, but I was positively surprised because literally every bar I went to had plant-based milk.

Day 2

We spent the second day walking by the river Po and through a park called Parco del Valentino, right next to the river. The views were spectacular because it was very sunny, and we saw different kinds of birds, as well as squirrels. Then we entered the Borgo Medievale, an open-air museum which looks like a medieval castle. It was built in 1884 for an exhibition, which slightly spoild the whole medieval vibe, but it was the higlight of the day nonetheless. It was completely free to enter and we even visited a shop where they still make swords. They were incredibly kind, showed us the workshop and explained how everything works. There are lots of shops inside the castle, selling different ornaments and jewellery. More importantly, they offer lots of things that have something to do with either Harry Potter, LOTR or GOT.

Borgo Medievale
Borgo Medievale

We had lunch in the centre, in a somewhat pricey vegan restaurant called Coox. The food was really good but the portions were quite small; probably because we all ordered starters as we were too broke for anything else. So, we naturally looked for dessert, and I ended up regretting not having it in Coox. They had amazing looking vegan chocolate cheesecake there, while after an hour of search around the centre I ended up having vegan ice cream, despite the cold.

In the evening, my friend’s Indian roommates made us a traditional Indian dish called Aloo Paratha. It was basically fried flatbread that they stuffed with mashed potatoes and spices. Poeple traditionally eat it with butter and yogurt. It’s really really strong and greasy, especially because I didn’t have it with yogurt, but it was interesting and it was also just good to feel a bit of the exchange life again. It’s always about trying different things and learning stuff about other cultures; that’s literally the best part of it.

Day 3

On the third day, we only had time until 6, which is when our train was leaving. One of my friends met up with some relatives of hers who live in Torino, while my other friend and I climbed a hill called Superga. It took a bit more than an hour, and the path wasn’t particularly nice because you are basically walking on the road (almost no cars, though). The bus drivers stopped by, and asked whether we’d like a ride. We refused and walked till the top, the sporty people that we are. There’s an enormous beautiful church up there, the Basilica di Superga. It was foggy as hell, though, so I’ll definitely redo this hike if I ever happen to wander back to Torino.

Basilica di Superga
Basilica di Superga

Final thoughts

All in all, I liked Torino. It’s a beautiful city, magically surrounded by mountains, and the architecture is amazing. I must admit, though, that it didn’t hit me in the way Rome, Verona or Florence did. I think it’s just because it’s so far up in the north, and the aspect of the city is somehow different to what I’m used to in Italy. It’s also colder and often has foggy days. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely think it’s worth visiting. I would probably just have to spend some more time there as this always changes my perspective.

Writing this piece about Torino made me daydream of other mini trips I could take. There are so many places in Italy, Croatia and Austria that I haven’t been to yet. Also, my friends keep going on exchange, and I really wish I could visit them all! I just don’t have enough time and money, unfortunately. I do have a trip to Valencia planned in March, but to be honest, Valencia doesn’t even feel like abroad anymore at this point.

Mad Cool, Madrid’s Most Famous Music Festival

In July this year I went to Mad Cool, a huge music festival that takes place in Madrid every summer. It was my first proper music festival; I’ve been to one before in Slovenia, but it was rather small. In this post I focus on Mad Cool 2018 itself, as well as music festivals in general. Even though I have only been to two, I believe they generally have the basic features in common. My question is: are they worth the money? In the end I’ll also briefly describe some cool spots I managed to visit in Madrid!

Mad Cool Space 2018

Common characteristics

What you can probably expect from any music festival is for it to last for a couple of days up to a week. Normally several bands perform every day, some of them at the same time as there are several stages. Festivals also tend to be very crowded, at least this one was. The price will generally be higher than what a ticket for an ordinary concert normally costs, which is completely understandable. It also depends on the country and city where it takes place, and, of course, on who’s playing. Some festivals offer camping as well; Mad Cool didn’t.

Fab colours

Mad Cool itself

Okay, so let’s talk money first: Mad Cool costs something between one and two hundred euros, depending on when you buy the tickets; I paid about 160 if I remember correctly. We bought them when Mad Cool had already announced lots of major bands, and that normally plays a big role in the price. The event took place in Valdebebas, which is to the northeast of the city centre. It was all covered in fake grass and could hold up to 80,000 people. There were 7 different stages and numerous bars and food stalls. The event even hosted a couple of fashion shows and offered shops, a Ferris wheel, the GOT throne on which you could take pics, and various other activities that kept you entertained in case you showed up too early.

Recommendations

Something to bear in mind: if you only have the tickets and you haven’t been sent the bracelet, make sure to get to Mad Cool Space early the first day. The first bands start playing at 6; the concerts usually end at around 4.30 in the morning, so it’s quite intense. I’d recommend taking it easy during the day (which we didn’t do, and we felt the consequences). The security won’t allow you to bring liquid or food inside, and if you have an empty plastic bottle, they will take the cap. There were water fountains inside, but only in one place, and you can imagine how long it took to get there.

Day 1

Day 1 (I apologise for the poor quality of this one and the following two pics).

As you can see, the line-up was crazy. I didn’t even know a third of all the bands and I was still able to see more than four that I loved every night! It started great: with Fleet Foxes, followed by Tame Impala and then by Kasabian. I probably enjoyed Tame Impala the most, as I know them better than the other two. And then there was Pearl Jam who had a longer concert than all the others, and it was scheduled quite late as well. They were great, but I remember how tired I was after a day of sightseeing at 35 degrees Celsius. It was also a nightmare to get back to the hostel that night. We didn’t know the tube was working, so we looked for buses and it took about three years until we finally got to sleep.

Day 2

Day 2

At the Drive-In were the first band we saw the second day, and I didn’t know them well before; a friend recommended them. They were great, though! Then we listened to Snow Patrol for a while, even though I only knew two songs. Jack White was incredible, especially when he was playing old White Stripes songs. That day was also the first time I saw the Arctic Monkeys, and I wish I had been more rested for that. It was great anyway, as were Franz Ferdinand after that. I must admit, though, that I was sitting on the floor falling asleep, as hard as I wished I had the energy to dance to Do You Want to. Pathetic, I know.

Day 3

Day 3

To my disappointment, Rufus T. Firefly played at the same time as the Queens of the Stone Age. I’ve seen Queens before, but I love them, plus I was there with a guy who’s seen Rufus T. Firefly and is a huge fan of Queens, so missing any part of their concert wasn’t an option. The place was too huge and crowded to see both; we’d just lose time walking around and would miss half of both concerts. So, Queens it was, with classic Homme trying to convince people to take over the VIP place. They were fab as usual and got us in the right mood for Depeche Mode and then for Nine Inch Nails. After that we were completely dead, but we waited for JET anyway, just to hear Are You Gonna Be My Girl.

The good stuff

I was able to hear bands I dreamt of hearing for ages, the atmosphere was great, and Madrid was a lovely city to sightsee in between the gigs. The line-up for Mad Cool was honestly the best one I’ve ever seen (when talking about modern festivals,  obviously, not Woodstock, Live Aid etc.). It was one of the best “holidays” I’ve ever had, and whenever I think of it, I smile. It was just the combination of travelling after an exam period, of seeing all these incredible bands, of spending time with the boyfriend after more than a month of staring at him through a screen. I also had a lovely time wandering around Madrid with a friend who was there doing her Erasmus practice at the time.

The bad stuff

The sightseeing did take its toll. We felt exhausted because of all the walking in the heat, followed by hours of standing and dancing. My back always started aching after a few hours into the concerts, and I know I would have probably enjoyed the bands even more had I slept properly and walked less during the day. But these things were my own fault.

The prices, though, were shamelessly high. The food was quite expensive (even though I must admit the vegan options didn’t look too bad). I didn’t buy anything as we smuggled some biscuits from Lidl inside. The most ridiculously expensive thing were naturally the drinks. The beer and the tinto de verano (which is basically just red wine and soda) came in huge plastic glasses which had the line-up printed on them. It looks cool and I still have one, but the drink wasn’t worth 9 euros anyway.

9 euros

Was it worth it?

For me: absolutely. BUT – the line-up played a huge role in that, even though I think I’d enjoy the same line-up just as much if it were somewhere in Croatia or in Poland, at a festival that would be a lot less fancy and for half the price. The thing about this festival that I didn’t expect was how, well, posh it was. The fashion shows, the expensive drinks, the fake grass … I didn’t hate it or anything,  it was cool in a way, and most of the visitors were like any people you’d see at any festival (that wouldn’t be strictly punk or metal). The British girls with glitter on their faces were the only exception; they fitted in perfectly.

What about Madrid?

I visited Madrid twice, but I still don’t feel like I can write a proper blog post about it. The first time was when I was in high school and I don’t remember much, and this time there just wasn’t enough time. I’ll just list some interesting stuff that we’ve seen.

Circulo de Bellas Artes (rooftop)

Museo del Prado

Free to enter if you’re under 25. My boyfriend’s into art and he loved it. I felt okay in there for an hour, and then I wanted to leave; I’m not a museum person, though, so that doesn’t say much.

Círculo de Bellas Artes (rooftop)

Absolutely amazing views of Madrid and a fancy rooftop bar. They also hold exhibitions in the building.

Parque del Buen Retiro

A huge beautiful park with a big lake where you can rent boats. It reminded me of London, just that it was sunny and hot.

Templo de Debod

An ancient Egyptian temple that looks totally random in such a typically European city. It’s beautiful, though, and I remember it the most from the first time I visited Madrid.

Lavapiés

A barrio (neighbourhood) with many international residents and therefore interesting shops and restaurants; there are many Indian ones.

Malasaña

Another cool barrio with lots of shops and rock bars.

sightseeing during Mad Cool: Parque del Buen Retiro
Parque del Buen Retiro

That’s all we’ve managed to see in the four days we spent there, when we weren’t at the festival. As for (vegan) food, I’d recommend Ecocentro: they have a shop and a restaurant. Part of the restaurant is a buffet with cheap tasty vegetarian and vegan food.

sightseeing during Mad Cool festival: Circulo de Bellas Artes (rooftop)
Circulo de Bellas Artes (rooftop)

My recommendations

If you only like a band or two that’s playing at a festival, I think you’d enjoy them more if you just waited for them to go on tour. They usually play a bit longer if its their own concert, and you’re usually less tired and more concentrated because you only came to see them. If you like many or just want to experience a music festival, then absolutely go for it. I think it’s also great if the festival’s in a cool place that you can see during the day. It did make me tired, but more importantly it made me happy. I’d totally go again: to Madrid as well as to Mad Cool.

Thanks so much for reading! In case you’re interested in other Spain-related stuff, or better said cities, I have a post on Valencia, as well as one on Barcelona.

Impressions of Barcelona

I expected two things from Barcelona: for it to be beautiful and crammed with tourists. Before our trip, my mum kept sending me pictures of gorgeous mosaics that we absolutely had to see. A friend of mine, on the other hand, told me to enjoy »the amusement park«. All our expectations turned out to be facts. Barcelona is a truly beautiful city, but the number of visitors has a big impact on it.

Park Güell

Things that I loved

Gaudi’s work

I haven’t seen all of it, but I did visit the famous Park Güell. It’s full of his mosaics, as is the house he lived in. I’ve also been to Casa Milà which costs 20 if you’re a student and 25 if you’re not. I’ve seen Casa Batllo, Sagrada Familia and some other buildings from the outside; they stole my mum’s wallet while I’m not rich enough. I would really recommend visiting Casa Milà because the roof is the weirdest, but also one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Park Güel is great too, and the cliché wall, where everyone takes the classic picture of Barcelona, is amazing. Just remember to buy the tickets in advance online. It’s something worth seeing, despite the crowd of people, trying to take an Instagram-worthy photo.

Barri Gotic

The Gothic Quarter is my favourite quarter in Barcelona. It’s full of narrow streets, cool architecture and diverse bars and restaurants, not to mention the shops that sell basically everything, from clothes to expensive artsy souvenirs. It’s also where the Barcelona Cathedral is situated. The interesting thing is that they only made it »gothic« in the 19th century.

Plaza Real

It’s just a square with a fountain, lots of palm trees, yellow walls and many bars, restaurants and clubs, but it’s beautiful. I walked through it several times because it was on the way from our hostel to the Gothic Quarter, right next to La Rambla.

Plaza España and Font Màgica

Plaza España is huge, and it features a shopping centre, to the roof of which you can get with a lift for one euro. I suppose there are other ways, but that’s the one we chose for some reason. The roof offers great views of the Palacio Nacional and of other parts of the city. It’s also full of restaurants. The Magic Fountain is a 5-minute walk away, and they do a lights and music show every evening. It’s free, and it’s something worth seeing despite the huge crowd that gathers there to watch. They play diverse music and do weird but amazing things with the water. I’m actually surprised they haven’t started charging for it yet (nice one, Barcelona).

The many vegan options

There are lots of vegan restaurants, but I haven’t been to any. I only tried places that had vegan options. I’ve been to Chök The Chocolate Kitchen and Cookies Demasie. The first one has lots of chocolatey vegan treats on offer (I had the most amazing cupcake), and the second one makes vegan cinnamon buns. We also ate in Abirradero, right next to our hostel, and they had a vegan burger on the menu, but I opted for the quinoa salad instead.

Casa Milà (La Pedrera)

Things that I liked

The beach (Playa de la Barceloneta).

Barcelona has more beaches to the north of Barceloneta, but I haven’t been to those. Barceloneta is a classic: very long, very wide, with many bars and restaurants nearby. The downside of the beach are the guys and girls who walk by all the time, trying to get you to buy drinks, towels or get a massage. It’s hard to fall asleep or read when someone’s screaming »Cerveza!« at you all the time.

La Rambla

The famous street that connects the port and Plaza de Cataluña. It’s cool if you fancy a walk down a big street that’s surrounded by beautiful houses, is full of bars, restaurants and mini-shops, as well as of people (almost exclusively tourists). I wouldn’t call it ugly or the walk through it unpleasant, but I really don’t see what’s so interesting about it.

La Sagrada Familia

Once again, I only saw it from the outside. The way in which the building is done, how diverse it is, the details that it has and just how huge it is, make it amazing and worth seeing. The fact is, though, that there are huge lines and groups of people all around it, and that it’s under construction. They have been building it for about a century, they’re still not done, and they probably won’t be for another decade or so.

Mercado de la Boqueria

It’s big and it offers a big range of different food products, but it’s also very very crowded and everything’s expensive. They sell a lot of chocolate, but even the dark versions contain milk, so sad times for vegans and lactose intolerant people.

Park Monjuic

A hill with a castle and with amazing views of the city. Totally worth the hike which took us about half an hour with all the stopping for pictures.

Playa de la Barceloneta

Things that I didn’t like

The prices

How expensive the entry fees to most museums and other attractions are. Also, they charge you one euro for using the stupid toilet on the train station Barcelona Sants and in the shopping centre Maremagnum, which is next to the Aquarium (in the port).

The constant invitations

The already mentioned people who want to sell something to you constantly, plus the ones who want to convince you to eat in their restaurant.

The pickpockets

They stole my mum’s wallet before we even got to the hostel, which is nothing unusual for a big touristy city. She definitely should have been more careful, but it still sucked.

The crowds of tourists

I’m a hypocrite for saying that because I was one of them, but it still didn’t make me like it. It was interesting to hear so many languages and see people from so many different cultures and parts of the world, though!

Plaza de Cataluña

Stuff I’d recommend

Using public transport

It’s well organized and the buses are punctual. The city is also well connected by the metro. We bought a ticket for ten rides and used nine of them in four days (the ticket allows you to use buses and the tube).

Staying at Hostal Abrevadero

It cost us 200 euros for three nights for both of us, but we had our own room and our own bathroom. It was very clean, renovated, the staff was super nice and helpful, the room was pretty, and the location was great (near the port and the Gothic Quarter, with bus and metro stations a two-minute walk away). I’m still not entirely sure why it’s called a hostel; it was more on the hotel side.

Taking a Free Walking Tour with Craft Tours

We walked from Plaza Cataluña, through the Gothic Quarter, and finished on Plaza Real. The guide gave us a brief history of the city, touched upon recent political events and told us many interesting things and funny stories about the buildings we saw during our walk. Also, you can pay as much as you think the tour was worth.

Eating in Calle Blai

It’s a street full of tapas bars where you can eat pinchos. Pinchos are small sandwich bites: a different kind of tapas. I’d recommend tapas in general, as they are usually the cheaper, but still tasty option. They’re also a way in which you can try more things (you share them with the people you’re eating with).

Sagrada Familia

Conclusions

I hope you enjoyed my impressions of Barcelona, even though I only spent four days there, and am not done with it at all. Despite of our short stay, we still managed to see all that we had planned. This means that it was quite intense, and each evening I went to bed with my head full of new pretty images. This special city has lots left to see, and I fully intend on visiting it again. I was somehow happy when I got to the smaller and more peaceful Valencia, though.

The Best of London

My relationship with London

How it started

I don’t know where my obsession with London came from, but I suppose it had something to do with Harry Potter, Love Actually and the British accent. I just know I liked it more each time I travelled there. At some point I decided that I’d like to spend some time living there in the future, and I had this thought in my mind until the day I applied for Erasmus. The strange thing is, though, that I’m generally someone who likes summer. Thames is quite a lousy substitute for sea, and while it doesn’t usually rain heavily in London, the weather changes quickly, and it’s often cloudy and wet. Also, London is enormous and crowded. It can take ages to get somewhere and walking around the centre at weekends can be a nightmare. Not to mention the fact that it’s ridiculously expensive.

Views from Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath

And yet…

none of these things made me dislike it. I spent nine months there having a laugh and enjoying every minute of it. I loved every part of the city; even the dodgy Cricklewood where I lived sort of grew on me. Of course, there were times when the slow traffic made me nervous, when the amount of people in Primark made me leave everything and walk out, or when I was shocked by the price of a glass of mediocre wine in some random club (8 pounds). But all that was nothing compared to the times when I walked London’s streets, lied in a park on a sunny day, or visited one of the markets. I was happy to be there all the time: I liked travelling by tube, going to Co-op and sometimes I even liked the rain. Moving there all alone didn’t scare me, and I was next to depressed when I had to go home. But there’s a good reason for all that: I was an exchange student.

Erasmus

Erasmus life is like living in a bubble; it, sadly, isn’t real. Everything’s temporary, and you’re aware of that. Consequently, you try to make the most out of it while you can. I had few classes and didn’t have to work, which meant that I didn’t have to commute to another part of the city every morning. Loneliness wasn’t something I struggled with either, as common as it might be for a foreigner in a big city. I had my Erasmus flatmates, and I basically forgot what it was like to be alone. I don’t think I watched two films by myself in the entire year. And then I had the scholarship. I paid my rent in advance, and whenever I was running out of money, my mum and my grandma would help me. I was free as a bird, and I didn’t have any real worries.

London itself

The cons of living in London therefore didn’t affect me as much. I enjoyed the good stuff, and I’ll focus on these here. I’ll leave out the main tourist sites because I’m sure you already know everything there is to know about Buckingham Palace and Madame Tussauds.

The best things about London are the mixture between old and new architecture, the many enormous parks, the amazing markets, and the fact that there’s always something going on. There are so many events, concerts, clubs, pubs and restaurants that it’s hard to run out of things to do or places to go to.

Views from the top floor in Tate Modern
Views from the top floor in Tate Modern

Parks

It’s no secret that London is full of amazing parks. It’s not all about Hyde Park and Regent’s Park, though. There are many other ones! I had Clitterhouse Playing Fields and Gladstone Park near to my residence, and I often ran there. The first one is basically just lots of grass and some benches, while the second one is more park-like. Neither of them is very special, though, while the ones listed below absolutely are:

Hampstead Heath

There’s a hill, a forest, small lakes (in which people actually swim during summer; I guess they’re just that desperate), an amazing old palace called Inverforth House (you can walk through a part of its garden), rich people’s houses and Parliament hill (a very cool viewpoint).

Golders Hill Park

Basically, a zoo. You can see various kinds of birds and other animals, including squirrels, like in every London’s park.

Richmond Park

Enormous: be prepared to walk a lot or rent a bike. You can see deer, though!.

Holland Park

A big pretty park that includes a Japanese garden. Pretty special.

Battersea Park

Next to Thames, has an adventure park, and is right next to Battersea Power Station, which was on the cover of Animals by Pink Floyd.

The usual ones which are definitely worth a visit too: Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Regent’s Park (from here you can walk to Primrose Hill, another amazing viewpoint), St. James’s Park, Victoria Park, Green Park, Greenwich Park, etc.

Richmond Park

Cemeteries

It might sound bizarre, but I really like cemeteries. I prefer older ones with interesting tombstones. I think it also has something to do with the fact that cemeteries in England differ a lot from the ones in Slovenia. For one thing, there are a lot less candles and flowers, and I find that reasonable. There are lots of them in London, and I have only visited two:

Hampstead Cemetery

Near Cricklewood. There’s a path that goes through it with a fence on both sides. People run, walk and cycle there. It’s beautiful, the tombstones are surrounded by trees, and it has a creepy gothic vibe to it, especially if you walk through it when it’s getting dark. It’s free of charge.

Highgate Cemetery

It’s divided into the West and the East Cemetery. I only visited the Eastern part. For the Western part you must book a guided tour (around 12 pounds). I only had to pay 4 pounds for the East Cemetery, which is where Karl Marx is buried. Douglas Adams is also among the people buried in the East Cemetery. The West Cemetery is supposed to have amazing architecture, and George Michael is buried there, but his grave isn’t visited during the tour.

Otherwise, London has the “Magnificent Seven”: seven big private cemeteries, all established in the 19th century because there wasn’t enough space in the existing ones. Highgate is one of them, alongside Kensal Green, Abney Park and Brompton, which are also supposed to be worth visiting.

Hampstead Cemetery
Hampstead Cemetery (a very bad picture, but a good representation of its creepiness and of English weather)

Markets

Markets are among the things that make London such an amazing city to live in. They are just screaming London as they are crowded, you can buy/eat things from all over the world, they are loud and there’s music everywhere. Keep in mind to check the opening times online before visiting them: some are closed on Sundays (Borough Market) while some er only fully open on Sundays (Brick Lane). I’ve been to the following five markets several times and I really can’t decide which one I like best: Borough Market, Camden Market, Brick Lane, Portobello Road Market and Covent Garden. There are also other famous markets in London but I either haven’t been to them or have only been once and don’t really remember them, so I won’t write about them (Old Spitalfields Market, Greenwich Market, Broadway Market etc.).

Borough Market

My first memory of London. It’s near London Bridge, it’s full of amazing food (they sell fresh ingredients and ready meals, but nothing except food and drinks) and you can eat sitting by the Thames because it’s so close. It’s a nice stop when taking a walk from Tower Bridge towards Tate Modern or vice versa. As already mentioned, make sure not to go there on a Sunday and try to go between Wednesday and Saturday because not all traders are there on the first two days of the week (you won’t be hungry though). My all-time favourite dish is a mix of veggies from the Ethiopian stall.

Camden Town 

Another old memory and simply a classic: full of tourists, music, graffiti, crazy shops and various food stalls with all the possible junk food you can imagine (you can find healthy stuff too though). Camden Market is open every day from ten to six. ​You can buy everything, from T-shirts, to hand-made jewellery and paintings.

Brick Lane 

Probably one of the best markets I’ve ever been to. There are always amazing street performers, there are various food halls and they sell a lot of art work. Perhaps because of the bagel shop, but I swear I sometimes felt as if I was in New York when walking through it. Brick Lane is officially only open on Sundays from 5 to 10. There are things you can do in the lane also on other days and there are some stalls, but I would definitely recommend going on a Sunday at about twelve or so (if you don’t mind the crowd).

Portobello Road Market

Located in Nothing Hill, where the film with the same name was filmed, and where you can see cute colourful houses and majestic white ones too. It’s where I ate the best falafel in my life (I can’t remember which stall it was, but I’m sure I’d find it again). Portobello is open every day except Sunday, the hours differ slightly, and the best day is Saturday.

Covent Garden

A covered market that’s slightly posh. It’s adorable during the holidays and great to wander around when the weather sucks. Otherwise, I don’t think I ever bought anything there or ate in any of the restaurants (I’m not rich enough). Covent Garden is open every day.

Brick Lane and chocolate (the shop is called Dark Sugars)

Free stuff to do

Parks

Needless to say, but anyway: all parks are free as far as I know. Sometimes there are also special events with not entry fee. Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, for example,  takes place around Christmas. It’s free to enter, but you’re naturally going to have to pay for taking any rides, or if you’re going to buy some junk food from the stalls. It’s worth just seeing it as it’s enormous and colourful. There are also various other events in parks, like concerts, and one thing you can always do on a sunny day is having a picnic.

Markets

You’ll probably be tempted and buy something, but there’s no enter fee, and markets are fun to just look at, as there’s so much art and so many street performers. Plus, the food is cheaper than in most restaurants.

Wandering around

If you like walking, you’ll enjoy losing yourself around London, finding a way from wherever you’re staying to the centre. For me the most interesting parts are Soho, Brixton and Camden Town (these also have many pubs and clubs and a very lively nightlife).

Sky Garden

If you book online in advance (you can do it three weeks before), it’s completely free and the views are amazing. If you’re too late to book it, you can still reserve a table and have a (costly) meal.

Museums

Most of the museums in London are free (minus the special exhibitions they are holding at the moment). Among those are: Natural History, British Museum, National Gallery, Science Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, etc. I would really recommend Tate Modern if you’re into art. I didn’t understand anything when I first visited it, but the thing with contemporary art is that you got to read the description. When I went there the second time, I found it a lot more interesting. The best thing for me is still  the top floor and the amazing views of the city.

London's Victoria Park in the spring.
Victoria Park

London is an amazing place to visit as a tourist. It’s also a great destination for an exchange or for studying. It’s the best place for outgoing people because it really offers a lot of basically everything. More than a year has passed since I left it behind, and I miss it daily. Luckily, I’m going there for a few days in November to catch up with some friends, and I’m really looking forward to visiting the same old spots. London just never gets old, I guess.