On Monday afternoon Andy, Niamh and I got on a bus to Barcelona. This was the last time I was leaving Madrid and it was a bittersweet affair. As exciting as it was to get back onto the road, i was definitely sad to be leaving Madrid. I've talked about that enough already so I won't go into that.
Compared to Australia, Europe is a pretty small continent. Spain being only one country in Europe, it's pretty easy to underestimate how big it is but the direct bus trip from Madrid to Barcelona still took 8 hours. Even accounting for the inevitable bus naps, 8 hours is still a long time.
Good ol' naps
In Barcelona we were staying with Mandeep, a friend of Andy and Niamh's. Mandeep is a good guy who was happy to show us around Barcelona. It sounded like he played tour guide a lot because he had a specially planned itinerary for us, planned down to the minute for us to make the most of our time there.
Barcelona is a cool city. I'd been there briefly a few years ago but wasn't really a fan. That was traveling round on a Top Deck tour and the Barcelona leg of the trip had been far too hot, far too short and far too hungover to let me really appreciate the city.
As much as I came to enjoy Madrid as a gruff, residential city that you had to spend a lot of time with before it really grew on you, Barcelona is easy to love. Really, Barcelona and Madrid are as different as can be. The first thing you notice is that Barcelona is a much more open city. Barcelona is far more spread out with Parisian-style wider streets and avenues and the buildings don't seem so densely packed. Even the intersections of streets are large diamond shapes instead of crosses, leaving large areas open to the sky at regular intervals. The architecture itself is a totally different style so the buildings themselves don't seem to be as tall or as overshadowing as in Madrid. Being on the coast, Barcelona also gets a sea breeze that makes the city feel a lot easier to breathe in than Madrid. If cities make you claustrophobic, you might just be fine with Barcelona.
Obviously all that openness comes with a price. Barcelona is enormous for a relatively small city. Whereas a 30 minute walk in Madrid would get you from one side of the city to the other, in Barcelona you can walk for an hour and still not have covered much distance. There is a public transport system but it isn't half as nice or as efficient as in Madrid. Again, Barcelona has a beach though, so that's a big plus.
Barcelona also certainly doesn't suffer from a lot of the dullness that Madrid does, either. The people, the clothes, the general atmosphere seems to be a lot more lively and colorful as well. The drab greys, blacks and ever-present scarfs and coats scarcely make an appearance in Barcelona. Thats probably not surprising considering Barcelona was practically built and shaped by Spain's most famous architect, Antoni Gaudi, who was anything but dull.
If you don't know who Gaudi was, he was an architect who built and designed some of the most incredible and famous buildings in Barcelona and Spain. His works include Casa Batlló, Park Güell and many more around Barcelona.
Gaudi's greatest masterpiece, however, is still under construction and has been under construction for 134 years (a notable feat for Gaudi, who has been dead for 90 of those years). Words don't really do the Sagrada Família justice but, if I'm being honest, iPhone photos don't really do it justice either. Apparently some people somehow don't like it and, of those who do, some only like the outside of the building. Those people are wrong. They're not just wrong, they're stupid. And they're ugly. Like their mothers.
As well as taking us around town, Mandeep also took us to Park Güell (where Gaudi was given free rain to let his brilliant insanity run rampant) for views over Barcelona then up to the bunkers on for a view of the sunset, which we just missed.
All in all it was a great experience. I'm glad I went back and got to spend some more time in Barcelona because it really changed the memories I had from my first visit. Now that I've seen the city at its best, there's not much not to love about it.