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!

Comments

  1. Katie @ the tea break project says

    I can’t believe you didn’t like Barcelona! To be fair, when I visited, I stayed with a friend who’d been living there a couple of years, so I got an insider’s view of it. Did you go inside the Sagrada Familia? It’s totally worth it, and worth spending a good couple of hours there. I actually got really emotional about it – not for religious reasons or anything, but just the architecture: the light and the height and the space. I just found it so so beautiful. But I think I also switched between the crowded places, like Las Ramblas, with less crowded places, like some of the smaller parks, and the beach at sunset. I guess it also helped that I visited in November, so off season! I think that might be a good thing for Venice too. I really want to go there in mid-winter – I think it could be really beautiful. And away from the heat / tourists / summer swamp smell. Maybe meet you there…?

    • brunettejetset says

      I know!! I feel so bad that I didn’t like it! I think the local experience definitely would help – next time I’ll try to couchsurf 🙂 I didn’t go inside – budget reasons and ‘cathedral fatigue’, but AFTER I decided that I heard so many people say it really is worth it! I definitely need to give Barcelona another shot….but there are so many places I’d rather go back to if that makes sense? So down for a winter Venice meetup.

  2. Camila @ AdventitiousViolet says

    haha there aren’t many places that I’ve been to that I didn’t like – though Toronto comes to mind lol – but there are definitely some cities where I would never live – including Paris and Rome, among others. It’s always interesting why we don’t like some places. I definitely think you’d like Barcelona or Venice under different circumstances. Weather, tourist numbers, etc. can make such a difference in how we experience somewhere!

  3. Marco says

    Hi! It’s interesting to find other travellers who don’t ‘get’ Barcelona. I’ve only been once, but I have no intention of ever going back – there’s too many other places to spend my time and money visiting. I thought it was just a massive, sprawling, overcrowded, expensive city. We’re meant to find it some kind of magical dreamland of great atmosphere, great people, great nightlife, great architecture …. great EVERYTHING! But I found its famous Gaudi architecture to be contrived and far too ‘try-hard’. (By the way, I’m sure I’m not an uncultured philistine, as I have a degree in Art Education!) Your comment about weather is interesting. I did go in August when it was 36c and humidity was around 98%. But being an Australian I felt right at home 🙂 So the weather didn’t influence my feelings on the place. Ok, Barcelona rant over.

    Your comments on Venice really interested me as I think it’s the most beautiful city on Earth – and I’m from Sydney lol. You must have been there in August, I’m guessing. Hot, smelly, packed with horrible, thoughtless, selfish tourists completely destroying the experience for us travellers. I know your pain. I’ve been to Venice nine times so far, in every season and the height of summer its not pleasant. However, here are ways to still enjoy it even in July and August –

    1 – get out and about VERY early, as early as sunrise. The city is deserted, as the horrid day-trippers (90% of tourists there) haven’t arrived yet. They start arriving around 10:00am. San Marco opens at 8:30am, get there at 8:15 and the queue will be tiny with a near empty Piazza. Being out at sunrise gives you the added bonus of seeing the sun come up over the lagoon ….. breathtaking!

    2 – get away from Piazza San Marco and Rialto at mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Wander the streets of Dorsoduro, Cannaregio or Castello during those times. Even just a few streets away from the Piazza in Castello will take you to little deserted campi at midday.

    3 – you might find winter is the other extreme. You may not enjoy it because of the cold. Venice in January and February is bitterly cold, a real damp, frozen air cold. This is due to its close proximity to the Alps. And if you’re there when the wind blows in from the east, you’ll get to feel Russian winter air!! Also, keep in mind that Carnival generally takes place in February, and it will be PACKED at that time. Mid to late November is a good low season time. It’s still not overly cold and the crowds have gone. November 1st is All Saints Day, so Italy has a big, important public holiday then. Venice is ridiculously overcrowded on that day; avoid at all cost!!

    4 – lastly, yes you’re right – stay in the city. You’ll see the real magic of Venice when the day-trippers have gone back to the mainland, and there’s just you and the quiet back streets all lit up. Piazza San Marco at midnight is a truly memorable experience. It will cost you far more than you’d like to spend, but you should be able to find a cheap hotel with clean rooms for about €55 or €60 per night. I know that sounds expensive, but hang the expense and just do it! It’ll give you memories that will last a lifetime 🙂

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