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.

Park Güell

Stuff that I loved

  • Gaudi’s work. I haven’t seen all of it, not by far, but I did visit Park Güell which is full of his mosaics, including 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), 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 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 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 Màgica. 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 Milà (La Pedrera)

Stuff 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

Stuff 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

We only spent four days in Barcelona, and 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. Barcelona surely has a lot left to see, and I fully intend on visiting it again. I must admit, though, that it felt good to come back to the smaller, more peaceful Valencia.

LONDON

My relationship with London

I don’t know where my obsession with London came from (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 and the sea; Thames is quite a lousy substitute, and while it doesn’t usually rain heavily in London, the weather changes quickly and it’s often cloudy and wet. And then there’s the fact that London is enormous and crowded; it can take ages to get somewhere and walking around the centre at weekends can be a nightmare. Also, 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, loving 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. I wasn’t scared of moving there all alone 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 life is like living in a bubble; it, sadly, isn’t real. Everything’s temporary and you’re aware of that, which is why 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. I also didn’t struggle with loneliness; I had my Erasmus flatmates, and I basically forgot what it’s like to be alone; I don’t think I saw 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, but I did enjoy the good stuff, the things everyone loves. I’ll focus on these, and 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

PARKS

It’s no secret that London is full of amazing parks, but it’s not all about Hyde Park and Regent’s Park, 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
  • Holland Park: a big pretty park that includes a Japanese garden
  • Battersea Park: next to Thames, it has an adventure park, and it’s 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 (you can walk to Primrose Hill from here, 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 and people run, walk and cycle there. It’s beautiful, the tombstones are surrounded by trees and it has a creepy gothic vibe 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 and 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 also 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 (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 is 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 is 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: it’s 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). It’s 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 enter fee, for example Winter Wonderland which takes place around Christmas (so from sometime in November) and is in Hyde Park. 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: 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 for the second time I found it a lot more interesting, but the best thing for me is still the fact that you can get to the top floor for free and enjoy amazing views of the city.
Victoria Park

London is an amazing place to visit as a tourist, as it is 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. It has been more than a year 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.

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.

Jardín 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 Gandía and Jávea.
  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. Jardín 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

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!