I am just about ready to nominate Barcelona as probably the all-around nicest places that I have visited. Now, I am no world traveler by any stretch of the imagination; in fact, this summer is my first experience outside of the United States (which I haven’t seen all of yet) save for a trip to the Bahamas, which I was told does not count. However, of the places that I have been, I would have to put it at the top of the list. Now, when I say the “nicest all-around”, I mean the nicest all-around. Sure there are places that do certain things better or are more interesting in certain areas, but I think Barcelona does a good job of putting the total package together.
For instance, Miami, Florida—my second home for the time being—is beautiful with great weather, palm trees, and fabulous beaches, but there is a bridge that separates South Beach from the rest of the city and there are parts of the actual city of Miami that leave a bit to be desired. Plus, public transportation in Miami is highly inefficient and not much of a feasible option. In addition, Miami is very flat, no mountains, and it lacks some significant historical and architectural monuments. The story is the same with one of my favorite areas of the country in Tampa Bay, FL. Atlanta, GA, the capital of the South and again one of my favorite cities, especially from a food standpoint. Well, to start, there is no beach and the city is vastly spread out with no efficient means to get around it via public transportation. The same holds true for my favorite Texas towns of Dallas/Ft. Worth and Houston. New York, NY, “the city so nice, they named it twice”; now here is a real tough one, especially in the summer months. This is where my description for the “all-around nicest city” really comes in. Of course, I don’t think that I will be going so very far out on the limb to say that there probably isn’t any other place like New York, NY in the world, and its center, Times Square, is often coined as the center of the Universe (I don’t know about all that). New York, also, has very efficient public transportation which many times it is your best option to get somewhere, and there is always somewhere to go in New York because there is always something going on. But we are missing a nice beach in the mix and some parts of the city aren’t the cleanest in the world. And even on this stay, Paris, Madrid, and Rome are fine cities, but they lack a bit in comparison to Barcelona, maybe it be the beach or something else.
So this brings me to back up my claim that Barcelona may be one of the “all-around nicest places” that I have visited. Barcelona puts together the things that make cities nice in a good package. First of all, is beauty and nice weather (at least in the summer months—the past week and a half have been magnificent). I really enjoy how the city sits in sort of a valley bordered by majestic mountains on three sides and the beautiful Mediterranean Sea on the other. Furthermore, the city is big, but not too big. Things are more concentrated, unlike the sprawling cities of America’s South and West. If you are up for walking, you can just about walk (a good walk though, but scenic) to a number of the places you would want to go. If you don’t want to walk, you can get there very easily on the metro or other public transportation that is very easy to navigate unlike some of the other cities I have visited. Even more impressive is the fact that the great majority of the metro stations are very clean and air-conditioned, another distinction from some other cities. And there are plenty of things to go and see. The city is filled with many historical sites as well as modern marvels. From Las Ramblas to the Sagrada Familia to La Parc Guell to the Castell de Montjuic and on and on, it takes a while to see everything that Barcelona has to offer (as I have ranted about in numerous posts). The nightlife in Barcelona is fabulous, as well, and there is never a shortage of things to do or people out any time of night. And then for those who like the fun in the sun…let me just say that Barcelona’s beaches are fabulous. They are large and clean despite the fact that in the summer they are packed with people. There is a nice boardwalk that runs along the beaches complete with restaurants, shops, and night clubs. There are numerous well-kept public bathrooms along with boarded trails all the way out to the water’s edge for those who don’t want to get sandy. After dark, you can still enjoy the beach. There are numerous fine restaurants, especially in the Port Olympic area, as well as clubs. And if you haven’t gotten enough of the sand, get this, the most popular beaches have lights on them so you can still hit the sand after dark!
Maybe I am so impressed because I did not know much about Barcelona before coming and therefore did not have too high of expectations, but I definitely was surprised in a good way. I really figured that having spent the majority of the past three years in Miami—with its energy and heavy Latin American feel—that Spain couldn’t be all of that. I stand corrected.
So now that I have praised the city, let me take one drawback shot at it and this really depends on your taste. I guess that as a native of the state of Tennessee, I have a certain taste in food. Ok, I will just say it, when comes to good food for me I am a country boy: pancakes, biscuits, apple pie, soul food, etc… I will say that Barcelona lacks something in the food department for me. First of all, the Spaniards are not big at all on American breakfast foods, namely cereal, pancakes, biscuits, oatmeal, etc. They favor some coffee, a croissant, and a doughnut. In fact in the main grocery store near our apartment, you can’t buy oatmeal, maple syrup, or anything related and the cereal selection is limited (no cheerios, fruit loops, apple jacks…mostly corn flakes, all-bran, and frosted flakes). Then, from what I have seen, there is not a major variety in things to eat. Many places have the same menus and serve the same sorts of things. And the final big thing for me is that I like bread. Don’t get me wrong the Spaniards love their bread too as there is a bakery on every corner, but this is a much harder bread than I am used to. I make due, but I could definitely go for some good soft rolls from Ryan’s Steakhouse or some Cracker Barrel biscuits right about now.
So, as you may have already assumed by now, I stayed in Barcelona this weekend to continue seeing things that I have not had the chance to see as of yet. On Saturday, I grabbed some much needed extra sleep (since we have been putting in a good amount of hours on our research) and then headed to tour Camp Nou, the home of Futbol Club Barcelona. “Camp Nou” means “New Stadium” (although built in the 1950s) and is enormous—seating about 115,000 people—and is complete with a rather extensive museum dedicated to the Club and its sports (as the club also fields handball, basketball, and a few others). Boy the Spaniards are crazy about their futbol as evidenced by the large number of visitors to the stadium and the museum. (I guess this is warranted since Spain’s national team plays in the finals of the EuroCup tonight against Germany. And trust me, the whole country watches. During the quarterfinal and semifinal games I could hear the cheers and fireworks of the whole neighborhood when Spain would score a goal. And I mean the whole neighborhood!). I am not that big of a fan of soccer, I was just curious to see the large stadium, but there were people who really took this visit seriously! I was somewhat impressed, but not awestruck as I have been to a few University of Tennessee Volunteer football games along with nearly 108,000 people in the stadium.
After my visit to Camp Nou I headed down to the waterfront to take a walk along the beach. As, I have already ranted and raved about the beaches in Barcelona, I won’t go back over it here, but it was nice. From there I returned home for a spell, and then met up with my Spanish tutor for a special weekend edition of lessons. From there I took a walk to the Font de Montjuic (the Fountain of Montjuic) which is a large fountain, set with a nice background of Montjuic Mountain and the National Art Museum of Catalunya set in the background, that provides a spectacular water display on Friday and Saturday nights. There were streams of people who flocked to the fountain just to sit and take in the show. I was pretty spent after my explorations for the day so I turned in after enjoying the show for a while. On Sunday, I took a run up to Parc Guell which offers a magnificent view of the city and then I returned to the beach to take a dip in the Mediterranean Sea. In the evening I came on home to get some work done and I, also, watched a bit of the EuroCup in which Spain beat Germany in what is the Super Bowl of European Soccer (in fact I was told that the game aired on national television in the US). You were forced to watch a little bit of the game because you weren’t going to get any sleep as you could hear what seemed like the entire city cheer when Spain would score a goal or make some other good play.