25 May 2011

Barcelona, Spain (video)

Barcelona, the city of imported Hawaiian palm trees and Egyptian sand, oh how we had such high expectations for you. And how you met and surpassed each one.

Everywhere we traveled in Europe, people we would meet and share travel plans with would tell us that we were going to have a great time in Barcelona. I wasn't sure what they exactly meant until I had a chance to experience it for myself. But with the diverse crowds, art-filled streets, white sandy beaches, and boisterous nightlife, I think I understand now.

To start with, both of the hostels that we stayed at were top notch, the most that I think you can ask for from a shared accommodation. They each had their strong suits:

Hostal One Paralelo was located just off Paral'lel, one of the main streets in Barcelona. The directions were interesting to follow though, as they indicated a landmark (the mountains) that we could not immediately see from the metro exit. So we walked up and down Paral'lel overdressed in the beating sun with our huge backpacks to finally find it after a few wrong turns. Once we did find our way, the hostel staff turned out to be very friendly, offering both an Italian meal cooked fresh right in front of us and a free guided night out on the town with free club entry (some Torontonians came along for this one as well).

Hostel Sant Jordi Diagonal was our second hostel in Barcelona, as Paralelo was all booked up for the weekend days. Sant Jordi was much more of a party hostel, with nightly bar crawls. The guests at this hostel had many stories to tell, especially the two Australians who managed to be in the middle of a south American riot, with police and people flooding the streets and everything. I think Sant Jordi's strength was the camaraderie between the guests and the hostel staff, with the staff often greeting new guests with "Welcome home!"

When we went out from the hostel, the beaches were a beautiful place to spend a few hours sleeping in the sun, with the drink vendors ("Icce co' beeer!"), the coconut vendors ("Coco!"), and the small Asian masseuses ("Masahee, massage?") providing the orchestral backing track to the scene.

The art found all throughout the city is spectacular as well, with absurd surrealist structures found even along the most businesslike of streets.

The architecture of the famous artist Antoni Gaudi is a common sight in the streets of Barcelona, the most notable being of course the Sagrada Familia church in the middle of the city that is still under construction. We visited Parc Güell as well, which was one of Gaudi's earlier projects demonstrating his organic style which was to culminate with the Sagrada Familia.

When it was time to eat we would turn to the many tapas or paella restaurants peppering the streets. There is a large valley in between quality levels here - it is much easier to find stale, reheated food than it is to find authentic, seasoned dishes prepared just for you. When the tapas were good they were a tasty departure from the possessive one-plate-per-person style, and mixed with sangria offered a true cultural flavour experience. Paella was a common occurrence on restaurant menus, but we still have yet to find one to match our palette.

Barcelona offered many activities for both traditional tourists and those looking to get more of a taste and feel of the local lifestyle, along with the perfect amount of heat and sun. Must-visit.