Confession: I didn’t like Barcelona, Oslo, or Venice

On this blog, I’ve probably used the phrases “prettiest place ever”, “the most beautiful place I’ve ever been” and “my new favourite city” a kajillion times. Evidently, this cannot be true of every place I describe. I fall in love with so many cities and destinations that I can’t help but to use a ridiculous amount of hyperbole. However, there are some places that just fall flat. It’s always disappointing when you arrive somewhere using some of your valuable trip time, hoping to fall in love, and you just feel so meh. Especially when it’s a place that literally everybody has promised you’ll adore, it’s really frustrating to walk around a city you’ve paid money to visit and wonder why you’re actually there.

Three cities stand out in my mind as places that really disappointed me, but for no real reason. In every case there’s something I could have done differently to make the trip better (or just different), and here’s the breakdown on places I just didn’t like:

OSLO

Now, Norway overall? I LOVED. It rocketed its way to my ‘list of favourite countries’ immediately after I hiked to Pulpit Rock. Oslo, though…the only word that comes to mind is “livable”. Which, yes, is a great word, but not really what you’re looking for in a two day visit to a city. I stayed in a lovely Airbnb in a cool and kind of gritty part of town – as gritty as Oslo can be – with a family that had the cutest daughters ever. I would have loved to live in that apartment. I visited Frogner Park, a place that I would have loved to visit for a post-work evening stroll. I ate at local Indian joints (because they were the only thing I could afford) that I could see becoming my go-to dinner when I’m too lazy to cook.
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Which is all great. But I just never felt that spark I feel in cities like Prague, Istanbul, Vienna….the whole time, all I could think was meh. The opera house was cool, and I really did enjoy the Fram and Kon-tiki Museums on the Bygdøy Peninsula. But I went on a walking tour that was the worst I’ve ever taken, I didn’t totally fall in love with the architecture, and Norwegian food is not this vegetarian’s cup of tea.
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So overall, I think back to a few great moments in my time here, but also a lot of moments where I was just trying to motivate myself to enjoy the city, but couldn’t figure out how. I think I’d like living here (so much weekend trip potential and so many beautiful people to meet), but if you’re planning a trip to Norway, I wouldn’t allot much (or any) time to Oslo.
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VENICE

(2023 note – I visited Venice again with more money and more freedom and LOVED it!!)

One of my most prevalent memories of Venice is waking up in my tent about 30 minutes outside of town, literally covered in sweat and thinking I might die of suffocation. Another is the great morning me and my university friend, Brooke, spent basking in the beautiful pool at our accommodation. You will note that neither of these have anything to do with Venice specifically.
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The combination of the insane heat, the commute from the only accommodation we could afford, and the unbelievable amount of tourists wandering the canals meant we spent more time in the pool than we probably should have – literally the only place we could forget about the heat for a moment. When I tell other people how I felt about Venice, what I say is that ‘it felt built for tourists’. I know it’s not, obviously, and the history of the Venetian City-State is absolutely fascinating, but it’s really hard to understand that when you’re getting whacked in the head with umbrella and selfie sticks everywhere you turn.
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Now, I have loved places that are packed with tourists, even in Italy – Rome and Florence come to mind. But for some reason, Venice I just couldn’t handle.
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I have decided I must go back to Venice and right the wrong of my first trip. It will 100% be in the winter, when tourist numbers are WAY lower. Despite the rainy, overcast weather, I think Venice might be kind of magical in the gloom. And I’d stay in the city, even if I had to go over budget. Any recommendations?

BARCELONA

This may be the one that is met with the most shock: when I tell people I didn’t like Barcelona, they are appalled. SO AM I. This one, I just can’t figure out. Why didn’t I like this city? I mean look at these pictures. It’s beautiful!

Casa Batillo - photo courtesy of Gallivanting Bean

Casa Batillo – photo courtesy of Gallivanting Bean

Maybe I didn’t spend enough time here. It was only two days, and that was broken up by a conference up the coast, but I’ve fallen in love with plenty of places in less time than that.

Maybe it was the number of other tourists? But none of my memories jump out at me as being way too crowded…

Maybe I didn’t do the right things! I did really enjoy Parc Guell, but we literally walked to the Sagrada Familia just because we felt like we should look at it, with no actual interest in the church. (Sacrilegious in so many ways, I know). I probably should have experienced the famous nightlife, but I was too hungover….thanks to that aforementioned conference up the coast.

La Sagrada Familia - photo courtesy of Gallivanting Bean

La Sagrada Familia – photo courtesy of Gallivanting Bean

If anyone can help me understand why I didn’t like Barcelona, and what I should do next time…please leave a comment! I loved other parts of Spain and I definitely want to go back and give Barcelona another chance.

The view from Parc Guell - photo courtesy of Gallivanting Bean

The view from Parc Guell – photo courtesy of Gallivanting Bean

Has there been anywhere you’ve visited that just hasn’t clicked? I would love to hear!

The Spain of my Dreams: Seville

Ah, Spain. Before I visited, my vision of the country was flamenco dancers, loud and beautiful people, and a language I was desperate to learn. That was pretty much it. I had no idea how diverse Spain was, from the Basque Country to Catalonia to Andalucia. I went with a very small bucket list (Seville and Barcelona) and left with a list of a kajillion more places I wanted to see.

After a disappointing time in Barcelona , I flew off to Portugal for a week working my way north to south. Then it was time to make my way to Morocco, and the natural route was to go back through Spain. Seville caught my eye, and once I learned that I could visit a Game of Thrones filming location I decided I’d stop there for a few nights.

lrmobile1711-2015-0857119166418276261I was worried I’d be as underwhelmed by Seville as I was by Barcelona, but I had nothing to fear. Seville was the Spain of my dreams.

I had found Portuguese shockingly difficult to learn, so coming back to a place where I could easily decipher most signs and even carry on conversations made everything much easier for me. I stepped off the bus with confidence, ready to hunt for the Airbnb that even the  host’s description described as hard to find. When I stepped out into the Plaza de Armas bus station, however, I was worried that this trip may be a living hell. And I mean that literally. It was so hot that I felt as though I was standing right next to a truck’s exhaust pipe. If I’m remembering correctly, it was 42 degrees Celsius (over 100 Fahrenheit?? I think?? Fahrenheit makes no sense.)

I basically wouldn’t be cold again until I flew from Morocco to Munich, over a month later. This Canadian is NOT built for heat that intense, but I had to make the most of it.

My Airbnb was, in fact, difficult to find, but I did manage. On the bus, a woman came up and spoke to me in rapid Spanish that I couldn’t understand. I told her I didn’t speak Spanish and she didn’t believe me….another instance of my ethnic ambiguity. I literally had to convince her that I wasn’t from the same country as her!

I would discover that the only way to properly sightsee in Seville was to wander into the city right around sunrise, and then either find somewhere air conditioned or go back to the apartment during the hottest hours of the day. I now completely understand siestas in Spain. This plan actually worked out pretty well – I got to explore Barrio Santa Cruz, one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Spain, without seeing a single other person, and I wasn’t sweating buckets.

lrmobile1711-2015-0803119112804302375 lrmobile1711-2015-0809119118962152946Southern Spain’s history is so much more fascinating than I ever knew – the Moorish influences of Spain’s Islamic past are ever-present and as a tile aficionado, wandering the buildings and historical sites was just my cup of tea. The Alcazar is Seville’s premiere attraction, and I can see why. I regret not doing more research into the history of the Alcazar before visiting, but the beauty and the fact that Game of Thrones was filmed there was totally enough for me. You might recognize these garden pictures from the Water Gardens, or everyone’s favorite plot line of Dorne. So far I’ve visited filming sites in Iceland, Spain and Croatia – it never gets old to imagine myself as whatever character on my favorite TV show has overlooked the same vistas that I’m exploring.

lrmobile1711-2015-0833119202572081769 lrmobile1711-2015-0859119169285439177 lrmobile1711-2015-0845119214663153534 lrmobile1711-2015-0857119226545953322 lrmobile1711-2015-0827119196592410781The last touristy activity on my list was to visit the Seville Cathedral and its Giralda Tower. This was definitely the busiest place I went, and churches are never the most exciting parts of my trips for me, but the tower was fabulous. After endless stairs, as there are for any worthwhile view, an amazing view of Seville opened up before me. The city is bright and sun-drenched and diverse and simply magical to see from above. I loved its disorder and disarray.

lrmobile1711-2015-0829119259170649351 lrmobile1711-2015-0813119242466923055My Sevillano experience was not perfect, however – aside from the heat. Spain, and particularly southern Spain, is one of the only places in the world I’ve struggled with my vegetarian diet. Everything is ham, and if it’s not ham it’s another type of meat. I hated pretty much missing out on the opportunity to try local cuisine. As for culture, I found it hard to get a grasp on the true vibe of Seville – so much of the city’s vibrancy comes out in its nightlife and  the late-night culture of Spain in general, and my early to rise schedule meant that I basically missed out on this. Next time I visit southern Spain – Granada perhaps, or Cordoba, and definitely Seville again – I want to stay longer, and make Spanish friends, and see how they live. But one thing is for sure –  I’ll be back.