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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Things that I loved
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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).
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.