Where should I live?

The places that influenced me the most: Koper, Ljubljana, London, Valencia

I’ve been thinking about this scary thing called future quite a lot lately. I know why that is; it’s because I’m finally finishing my studies. This is my last year as I’ve got four subjects and the thesis left. Once that’ll be done, I’ll have to put my life together, as they say. The location is just one of the things that come with adulting, but it’s the one I want to focus on today. So, here are some thoughts about the four cities/towns that influenced me the most.

Koper

Before I went on exchange, home was a simple and clear notion for me. It was the small coastal town I was born in, Koper. It lies on the coast of Slovenia, near the border with Italy, as well as the one with Croatia. I spent the first nineteen years of my life living here. It’s where I went to primary school, to high school, where I made friends, where I had my first kiss and my first party. I’ve always loved it: the weather that is better than anywhere else in the country, the proximity of the sea, its smallness and simplicity. Most of all I probably loved the fact that basically anyone I had ever cared for lived here.

Koper is very small and there isn’t much going on, especially during the winter. A consequence of its size is also the amount and diversity of options when it comes to studies and work. I wonder how I’d feel about it had I stayed here to study, without trying to live on my own and without experiencing a city with an actual student life.

A typical evening in Koper.

Ljubljana

When I had to go to university, there wasn’t much choice in my small town, so I went to the capital, like almost everyone did. I have friends who come from the same town as me, and who grew to love Ljubljana, and will probably move there permanently at some point. Personally, I never liked it there. I think the old centre is very pretty, and it’s a fact that there’s much more going on in the capital than in Koper. But that’s just not enough for me. I hate the weather, which is colder and rainier than in my hometown, even though they are only 100 kilometres apart. Waking up to the fog isn’t out of the ordinary either; you often don’t know what the weather’s really like until midday.

I could go on with listing the things that made me a Ljubljana-hater: the accent of its residents, how everyone’s rushing all the time, the public transport that never works like it should, the traffic jams. But I also have to acknowledge the fact that I’m stressed whenever I’m there, as it’s always all about uni and uni-related work. It’s not like I’m suffering, though, I’m not. I have many friends there, and especially during bachelor’s we used to go out often, and the various events made my student years interesting, which they probably wouldn’t be had I stayed in Koper. They just weren’t enough to make me want to live there.

Ljubljana’s Congress Square and castle.

London

Perhaps I’ll sound like a paradox now, because I, on the contrary, absolutely loved living in a city that is also famous for rushing, traffic jams, rain, cold and fog. But it’s London; its level of coolness makes up for all of that, including the fact that it’s not a coastal city. London’s night life, the number of concerts, festivals, various other events, restaurants, bars and shops can’t compete with anything you can get in Slovenia. We’re just too small. I love its internationality, its architecture, the fact that it’s just another city that never sleeps, the New York of Europe. I’ll stop here because I’ve expressed my love for this city enough in the previous posts.

The coolness of London also has its negatives sides. Its size makes it hard to meet anyone; as good as the transport system is, going somewhere can take ages. Then there are the crazy prices of accommodation, transport and everything in general, and the lack of any real nature. Luckily, London’s parks are amazing, and they make for a great escape. They’re huge, and you can really pretend that you’re not in a city anymore. When I lived there, I felt great whenever we took a trip, though. When we went to Dover, and I saw the sea after months, I felt relief, somehow.

The walk from Camden to Regent’s Park.

Valencia

Just when I was enjoying my life in London to the point of becoming confused about where I’d like to live, the only thing that could have made me more of a mess happened: I fell in love with a Spanish guy. And that’s how Valencia came into my life. I’ve travelled there many times and spent last summer working and living there. Valencia has its disadvantages, of course. It’s too hot in the summer months, huge cockroaches taking walks on its streets (or in your kitchen) is a regular thing, and life’s a bit slower than in most of Europe, probably.

Otherwise, Valencia is pretty much perfect. It’s next to the sea, but it’s a proper city with many interesting things going on. It’s still small enough to be manageable, and you don’t have to waste your life in a metro or in a bus. The weather’s perfect if you can handle the heath in the summer and the absence of snow in the winter. Spanish people are lovely: open, friendly, direct and funny.

Playa de la Malvarrosa, my happy place.

And now what?

I’ve always been into travelling, but London was the first city that made me think that I’d perhaps like to live somewhere else than in my hometown. Valencia did just the same.

I guess the normal thing for a person like me, who’s from a coastal town and dislikes the capital, would be to try to find work in the hometown first. And if that didn’t work, to suck it up, move to the capital and find work there. To continue the student life and come home every weekend. Or perhaps drive there and back every day and be tired all the time. It would make sense because it would allow me to spend more time with my family and friends.

But as much as I love them, I wouldn’t stay, at least not right now. Koper’s too small, I’ve explained Ljubljana, and I’d never consider living anywhere else in Slovenia. Of course, a big reason is the boyfriend abroad, and the fact that long distance relationships aren’t meant to be long distance forever. But it’s also the fact that there’s too much left to see and experience out there, and not just by travelling. I want to spend a couple of months living in Italy, some time in Russia, and a part of me wants to return to London, or at least to somewhere in England. And then there’s Valencia where I definitely want to return.

Worries

If living abroad has taught me anything, it taught me that it’s possible to find home somewhere else. That I enjoy it, that it’s possible to make friends anywhere, as it is to survive without being physically close to my loved ones. As long as there’s Wi-Fi at least. The very real possibility of moving away makes me feel guilty and worried whenever I think about it. How do I leave everything behind, even when I know I want to go? I keep telling myself that I wouldn’t go that far, that Europe is small, that nowadays it’s easy to stay in touch and to visit. That they’ll survive without me being there all the time and I’ll survive without them. That I’ll do my best to come back often and that Koper will always be my home.

Writing this didn’t make me figure out where I want to spend my life, or what the “right” decision would be. It did help me understand that it doesn’t matter, though, that I don’t need to have that figured out just yet. As for you, if you actually managed to get through this post which probably turned into a rather confused diary entry at some point, I hope it was somehow useful to you. 😊

IMPRESSIONS OF BARCELONA

I expected two things from Barcelona: for it to be beautiful and crammed with tourists. My mum, who I went with, kept sending me pictures of gorgeous mosaics that we absolutely had to see, while a friend told me to enjoy »the amusement park«. Both my expectations turned out to be facts: Barcelona is a truly beautiful city that is definitely worth visiting, but the number of visitors has a big impact on it. So here are my impressions of Barcelona!

Park GĂŒell

Things that I loved

  • Gaudi’s work. I haven’t seen all of it, not by far, but I did visit Park GĂŒell which is full of his mosaics, including the house he lived in. I’ve also been to Casa MilĂ  (which costs 20 if you’re a student and 25 if you’re not), and I’ve seen Casa Batllo, Sagrada Familia and some other buildings from the outside (because they stole my mum’s wallet while I’m not rich enough). I would really recommend visiting Casa MilĂ  because the roof is the weirdest, but also one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Park GĂŒel is great too, and the clichĂ© wall, where everyone takes the classic picture of Barcelona, is truly worth visiting; just remember to buy the tickets in advance online. It’s something worth seeing, despite the fact that they’re renovating it, which means more than half of the terrace is closed, and that there are lots of people, all trying to get 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, and while they only made it »gothic« in the 19th century, it truly is an impressive building.
  • 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 very pretty. I walked through it several times because it was on the way from my hostel to the Gothic Quarter, right next to La Rambla.
  • Plaza España and Font MĂ gica. Plaza España is huge and it features a shopping centre, to the roof of which you can get for one euro (there’s a lift). 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, and 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; they only had one kind plus some cookies when I came, though. 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 MilĂ  (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 taking 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

  • 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 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, and she definitely should have been more careful, but it still sucks.
  • 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 (this 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’s not a typical one as it doesn’t even have rooms for many people.
  • 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 which is full of tapas bars where you can eat pinchos: small sandwich bites, a different kind of tapas. I’d recommend tapas in general as they are usually the cheaper, but still tasty option, and 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 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 surely has a lot left to see, and I fully intend on visiting it again. It did, however, feel good to be back to the smaller and more peaceful Valencia.

PROS AND CONS OF LIVING IN VALENCIA

Valencia: pros and cons (well, sort of)

This is not a classic 5 pros and 5 cons of living here because I generally love it and don’t really feel like trying to come up with bad stuff just for the sake of balance. I’m not here as a tourist, but it’s not like I’ve lived here for years either; I’ve been in Valencia for a month and a half as an Erasmus intern, and I’ve got a month left. I’ve also travelled here many times before, including for Fallas, because there’s a guy here whom I like to see every now and then. So, let’s get into it.

JardĂ­n del Turia

Pros first, of course

  1. The people. This can probably be said for Spanish people in general, it’s just that I don’t know anyone who isn’t from the Valencian Community. They are just…nice. They are open, funny, loud, and no matter how bad their English or your Spanish is, you’ll be able to communicate somehow, and they’ll encourage your attempts to speak Spanish, however feeble they might be.
  2. The way of life. Siesta, late dinners, spontaneous drinks, and the fact that they always find time for relaxing and don’t feel bad about it. We all need more of that.
  3. The weather. Yes, it can get too hot in the summer, but in general it’s pretty great. It doesn’t rain often, it doesn’t snow, the sky is almost never miserably grey, and the wind feels good, especially in the summer heat, and isn’t annoying at all. There’s no real winter; if you come here in February, it feels like spring does in Slovenia, where I come from.
  4. The sea. That’s a personal one; I just happen to feel like coastal cities are far superior to inland cities and that London is the only exception. The beach in Valencia is nice, sandy, long and good for hanging out. The colour of the sea isn’t crystal clear or anything, but it only takes an hour or two by car and you get to the classical beautiful beaches to the South of Valencia; to places like GandĂ­a and JĂĄvea.
  5. The size of the city. Valencia has something less than 800 thousand residents, and virtually no houses; everyone lives in blocks. That makes it quite easy to move around as nothing’s very far. You also have lots of transport to choose from: Valenbisi, the tube, buses, the tram.
  6. Events and cool places. Valencia might not be as big as Barcelona or Madrid, but there’s still plenty going on. Clubs, bars, concerts, cool restaurants, outdoor cinemas, beach bars, festivals. It’s hard to get bored here.
  7. Fallas. The most famous, most bizarre and crazy event in the city. It’s in March and it involves huge beautiful painted sculptures (that are burned in the end), lots of fireworks (during the day too for whatever reason), a lot of noise, street food and huge crowds of people. It’s a bit insane, it can be overwhelming, but it sure as hell is something to see.
  8. JardĂ­n del Turia: what used to be the Turia river is now an enormous park that divides the city; it’s long and wide and it’s also where the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias is situated. It’s a place for walking, doing all kinds of sports and having picnics. Most of all, it’s a place that makes you forget you’re in a city, while it’s at the same time impossible to not remember it.
  9. Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. There are locals who hate it, but it’s undeniable that it’s really something to see. The combination of white buildings, blue pools and the scorching sun makes it look pleasantly alien.
  10. The old centre. Cool architecture, a huge Central Market full of fresh fruit and veggies and many pretty bars and restaurants. Slightly touristy, but not really in a bad way.
Plaza de Ayuntamiento

Cons

  1. Fucking cockroaches. Yes, I’m supposed to be all for animals, but I just can’t. They are huge, and it’s common to meet the bastards on the street at night (or in your kitchen). It’s not like that’s only typical here, but I have never lived in any place as warm for that long before.
  2. Not moving at all and sweating like a bastard. Sweating in the middle of the night. Sweating. I like warm weather, but some summer days are just too damn hot. Still worth it for the mild winter, though!
  3. Rare tubes, people being extremely late and just the general slowness of life. Sometimes being forced not to rush is wonderful, but not when you’re in a hurry, and not if you’re a very punctual person.
Playa de la Patacona

Final thoughts

All in all, I love it. I love it how I’m just a fifteen minute bike/bus/tube ride or a half an hour walk away from the centre or the beach, and how I can go running to the »river« every day if I feel like it (Valencia is a city of runners as it seems, there are many, and it kind of gives you motivation). I love it how there’s always some exotic restaurant I’ve never heard of before, how much people are into meeting and talking and how warm the nights are. I’d just stay and I’m already dreading the cold autumn and winter I’ll be forced to spend in Ljubljana. But once I graduate, who knows, I might come back here, even though London still sort of has my heart and I feel like we’re not done yet. Anyway, I’ll save this baby for another post. Congrats if you got this far and thanks for taking the time!