I was recently reminded of the five days I spent in Barcelona on my around the world trip in 2010. Whenever Barcelona is brought up in conversation, I am quick to pipe in, “Oh, I love Barcelona!” And I think many people share this same sentiment. But I have also come across several people that truly did not feel a connection to the city. So, it got me thinking- what is it exactly about Barca that had such a strong pull on me?
One thing that surprised me about my trip was the connection I felt with the people. Why? Because the people I connected with weren’t Spanish or natives of Barcelona at all! I enjoyed the FC Barcelona game with a Ghanian that was seated next to me and my most favorite characters were in Park Guell- especially the Pakistani man with the Nike backpack. And while I was in search of a Barcelona hotel, one of the reasons I chose my hostel was because of the rave reviews about the amenities and its staff. And while it did have some Spanish staff, half of the staff were actually foreigners as well. Yet I would say my good experience in Barcelona was heavily influenced by the people I met- even if they were mostly foreigners.
One answer that is unsurprising is the architecture. I was absolutely in love with Gaudi’s work. While I had studied Gaudi in college, the depth and span of his work in the city left me in awe. After all, I made three trips to Park Guell during my short stay in the city, and the interior of La Sagrada Familia is one of my most favorite architectural masterpieces of all time. Recently, someone emailed me asking for advice on visiting Italy. Their only caveat was that they had no interest in architecture. While I recognize that everyone has different interests, I couldn’t believe that someone would travel through Europe with no interest in architecture. But, if I were not interested in Gaudi’s work, then perhaps I’d see Barcelona in a different light.
Visiting the markets in Barcelona was also enjoyable and strolling down Las Ramblas is memorable. But I would say one of the biggest problems with the city of Barcelona is the pickpocketing. Just in my first couple of nights at my hostel, three people staying there were pick-pocketed or mugged. One even had her passport stolen when she was held at knifepoint. It is a huge problem in the city and my looking like a foreigner wasn’t exactly comforting. I was extremely cautious and carried most of my money and my camera in zipped jacket pockets, while I had my map and other unimportant items in my purse. I did feel the need to constantly be aware of my surroundings, which is a bit wearing.
My five days in Barcelona were a really positive experience. I went out with people from my hostel one night, and even my seven male roommates were all wonderful. A bad hostel experience could have a negative influence on my opinion, but I had a well-rounded experience in Barcelona. Architecture is a big love of mine, but I find it ironic that one of the reasons I fell in love with Barcelona was because of the foreigners I met in the city. I honestly can’t say I had many in-depth interactions with locals in the city, but perhaps that will change if I get to visit again.
Oh, and I did I mention there is sangria?