As part of a new series, Nathan Harris details his travels on the road with the first stop being Catalan Barcelona. Check back every Friday for new stories.
Within minutes of leaving our hostel some guy came up to us feverishly asking whether we, “like coffee shops and the associated activities”. One of the first things to note about Barcelona is that the marijuana laws are complicated to say the least. We were assured that it’s legal to smoke it in designated places and that you’d only find trouble if you were blowing smoke directly into the face of a passing policeman. As such you get propositioned a lot, it’s sold as openly as bird whistles and can get just as annoying.
Barcelona is big, hot and rammed wall to wall but is packed with some spectacular sights. The Sagrada Familia is arguably at the top of the list and a must if visiting. The first time its spires tower into view is truly an astounding experience, and it’s rare to stand genuinely in awe of something. Another Gaudi attraction Parc Guell is similarly impressive, which overlooks the entire city meaning the view is astounding. The park itself is good as well; it was designed for the incredibly rich but was later opened to the general public, meaning now old women who train small dogs to stand on their back legs and turn in circles for change can go. The old town is pretty cool too and probably has the most character of all the places in the city. It’s where the cathedral is, and the view from the top is worth the entry price alone. The Picasso museum isn’t far either and it’s dirt-cheap and completely brilliant, if you’re into art then it’s sure to please.
As good as all those places are, Barcelona was probably the most disappointing place we went on the trip. It’s definitely a good place to start if you’re travelling west to east across Europe, but it feels too big and dirty in the heat to have the charm of other main European cities like London or Berlin. Everyone’s in a mad rush to get everywhere and everything feels impersonal and unfriendly to a point. The only person we really spoke to was a homeless rapper we accidentally befriended in a park one night. Having said that it’s proximity to the French border means that it warrants at least a few days stay.
Luckily if you’re doing it on a shoestring most places are best seen from the outside anyway, and there’s tons of cheap chorizo and cheese. If you’re up to it then you can walk everywhere as well to save on the metro, it’s a grid system so it’s hard to get lost and walking from one end to the other and back (roughly old town to Parc Guell) can be done in a day. Surprisingly Barcelona was one of the cheapest and best hostels we stayed in, aside from the Spanish woman who slept in her clothes above the sheets and started whispering to herself whenever someone got too close. I doubt if it would have been as bizarre if I spoke Spanish but as I don’t it was terrifying. Still Barcelona is ok. It’s not bad. I wouldn’t go again.
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