We spent three nights in Barcelona and four in Seville and I’d love to say we did both places justice, seeing lots of sights, meeting people, having cultural experiences. But the sad thing is we didn’t, and I’m not entirely sure why.
I’ve been to Barcelona before and really liked it last time – in fact I was there right after the Millennium celebrations (which I spent in Madrid). At the time Barcelona, despite it being the middle of Winter, was a sunny 20 degrees C and a glorious change after the freezing grey of Spain’s capital. It also shone in contrast to Paris, which we went on to – also grey and miserable. So I was fully prepared to enjoy it this time.
We arrived at our hostel, conveniently located on the same square the airport bus terminated at and at the top end of la Rambla, the most famous and busiest thoroughfare in the city. We walked into the hostel and my heart sank. It had all the signs of being a party hostel – big signs behind the reception advertising different ‘activity’ (read ‘excuses for drinking’) nights for every night of the week, super cheap beers and an average clientele age of 19. It was also huge and our last experience of a hostel like that was in Munich where, although we had great room mates (hey Daniel and Maggie!) we also had to put up with drunken idiots bashing on doors in the middle of the night and a whole heap of noise in the street outside.
Oh, and it was also the hostel’s one year birthday party that night! Yay!
When we got up to our room we found that someone, despite the bin in the corner, had dropped a bunch of wrappers and garbage all over the floor. We cleaned up and I hoped it was someone who’d left. Still, each bunk was a good size, had its own reading light and, most wonderfully, had individual black-out curtains – something every other hostel sorely needs.
There were eight bunks and while we were there unpacking we met Luca, an Italian guy from Bologna who’d just come back from a trip around Australia and had just been approved for another working visit to Oz. When we told him we were from Melbourne and just come from Bologna and we all agreed that we loved each others’ cities and he took us out to show us where the nearest supermarket was. When we moved on a few days later I left him one of our business cards so that he could come couch surf if he made it back to Victoria.
So the hostel actually proved to be ok, after my initial misgivings and the fact that they gave away free earplugs helped with the good sleep we got there too. Especially since it turned out that it wasn’t just the hostel that was celebrating – the whole city was in the middle of Mercè, an annual festival that involves a whole range of activities and entertainment, some of which we were lucky enough to catch. It also meant that the city was completely packed with people – in fact they don’t advertise this festival at all because the city is stretched to capacity accommodating the numbers of people who come already. It was pretty lucky we found beds where we did.
So what did we see? Most of the cool stuff we saw was on at night. There was a huge colourful projection shown onto the front of one of the big buildings in the old quarter. We arrived a bit late and the square was packed. The projection was tailored to the building, so it looked like people were climbing up and going in and out of the windows.
We went down to the beach and watched a fireworks show, unfortunately we picked the end of the beach furtherest from where they were going off so I didn’t really get any great photos. Fireworks are one of those things that tend to be a lot more impressive in real life anyway though.
There was also a bit of a sideshow alley along the street near the beach. It was spectacularly crappy but made for good long exposure shots.
We found a couple of street parades, mainly involving drumming and large sculptures being carried around. The last parade seemed to be mainly about setting off small explosive devices and fireworks attached to poles and then the crowd runs either towards the people holding them or away from them (depending on the level of intoxication of the individual, I guess) and dancing around while groups of laconic policemen watch and occasionally wave ambulances in.
This pretty much fits with my memories of the Millennium, where people threw fireworks into the crowd and almost set one of my friends on fire. This had led me to characterise Spaniards as somewhat insane… the mood in Barcelona was certainly verging on a riot at times, although since the police clearly weren’t worried, maybe the Spanish are actually less crazy than other nations – if you let Aussies get drunk, drum themselves into a frenzy and then walk into crowds with hand held fireworks the next step would probably be car-turning and looting.
Luke took a walking tour one afternoon while I explored Born, an area of twisty-turny alleyways and gothic churches where a website assured me was the highest concentration of funky boutiques and shops. I did find a bunch of nice shops but limited myself to buying one piece of clothing and just admired everything else. I also found a church with a unicorn gargoyle. All the gargoyles were different animals but the unicorn was the most interesting. And confusing.. although I haven’t read the whole bible and maybe I just missed the unicorn bit. It’s a big book.
We spent most of our first full day in Barcelona in the hostel bar drinking sangria, talking to people from home on Facebook and just hanging out together. I think we were both (and still are) suffering a bit of travel fatigue. We’d seen a fair bit in Turkey, powered through Italy but hit a wall in Spain. I think it was a bit of hostel fatigue too. Being able to lay about in our room and watch TV shows late at night (downloaded obviously, European TV is to the world what the Eurovision song contest is to the world – trashy, badly produced, and confusing) is something we do to unwind and is really difficult in a room with 6 other people. When I don’t have a refuge to retreat to I get pretty antsy. Hostels are a great way to save money but they definitely need to be interspersed with hotels or B&Bs.
We moved on to Seville, where we’d booked four nights because Luke’s best friend Nick had told him that it was a great place and Nick had ended up spending a month there unintentionally on his own travels.
This time we had our own room – it ended up having no natural light and seemed to have been designed by King Tut’s decorator. It was stuffy unless the gale-force, ultra-noisy air conditioning unit was turned on. At least we were on the second floor and not the top – I’m getting heartily sick of hauling my bag up multiple flights of stairs.
We spent our first afternoon walking around the city centre and decided it lacked the charm of any of the Italian cities we’d visited (everything looked newer and yet more derelict) and was a lot quieter than bustling Barcelona – not necessarily a bad thing but we both felt quite deflated and realised we should’ve done our homework better. Seville is not a four night city. Still, we did catch up on Newsroom completely and most of Suits and we did eat some great food.
On our first night we visited a tapas place recommended online and it was fantastic (also conveniently located about 5 minutes from our hotel). Everything was perfect – we got there early enough to sit at the bar, the waiter didn’t speak much English but he was really friendly, shaking our hands when we left and then recognising us the next night when we went back. The food was absolutely wonderful – each little dish was cooked perfectly and we tried half the things on the menu in our two visits. We ordered the pork cheek twice. The sangria was also superb.
Basically, we were ruined for everywhere else because all the other tapas we had was very much meh.
Although we did enjoy hanging out a couple of times at a very Brunswick-Street (hipster) establishment full of old couches and furniture around the corner from our hotel. The food there was decent, they had skateboard art displayed on the wall and there was always at least a few tables of people with their Macbooks out. Just like home!
So there you have it – our wasted time in Spain. We’re in Portugal now, in the little seaside town of Lagos. We deliberated very hard about where to go from Seville and settled on here to get in a tiny bit of beach time before heading back to the UK. The weather today was rainy at times so we might’ve missed our chance. We’ll see. Part of me wants to get back to the UK and do more walking – speaking of which, I finally bought new sneakers (yeah I know – fascinating! But bear with me), something I meant to do before I left Australia because mine have been falling apart. I kept putting it off, then going shoe shopping and prevaricating because I hate shoe shopping (heresy!) I mean – shopping for boring shoes like sneakers, plus the last pair were perfect when I bought them and super expensive and I haven’t been able to find anything anywhere near as good. So I bought a pair of Adidas sneakers in Seville and they immediately gave me the worst blisters I’ve had in YEARS. It’s GROSS.
So here’s a photo. Because blisters are gross but interesting. Luke doesn’t know I’m putting photos of my blisters on the blog and I bet he’ll say it’s inappropriate and people might be eating when they read this but I didn’t take a video of me popping them, which was also fun but even I have my limits. You’re welcome.