One of the coolest side-effects of being a totally unorganized traveler is the intense power of surprise that a city can offer you when you have absolutely no idea what to expect. A few people mentioned sites to see on our impending trip to Barcelona (which I forgot, because I can't yet retain Spanish/Catalan names, with or without a French accent), and arrived remembering only the counsel to "see as much Gaudi as possible," whatever that was.
We took an eight-hour bus ride and stayed in a colorful youth hostel in the center of town that had rooms not unlike double-tiered hospital wards. Uncharming but functional.
Even if you aren't one of those ubiquitous American college students responsible (I assume) for the scent of pot that wafts through the streets, Barcelona is still a trippy city. All the European cities I've ever been to (and it's not clever of me to compare European cities, I have no claims on expertise) have a certain respectable dignity to them. Or maybe it's not dignity, maybe it's just elegantly packaged conservativism. Which is not to say that one gets sick of Parisian wrought-iron balconies and stone facades, but Barcelona does this instead:
And then does stuff like in this, in public:
Walking through certain passages of Barcelona feels like walking through the fantasy landscape of a picture book. There's an element of the fantastical that would be inappropriate anywhere else. I'm mainly talking about the wild Gaudi influence, but the rest of the city is lushly adorned with ironwork and architectural frills.
At the same time, Barcelona has the expansiveness -- seen and felt -- of a modern city. Huge boulevards cross the town, complete with fanciful lampposts and outsized banks whose facades point into the outsized intersections. Even as we walked away from the tourist hubs, the scale was large, and we didn't wander into the sort of windy-streeted, clothesline-arbored neighborhoods that must be tucked away somewhere.
I've heard that everyone loves Barcelona. For me, it was the aesthetic. For others, I believe it's the ambiance. And I won't lie, it's amazing to walk down a street teeming with life at 9pm , to eat dinner near 10, and to walk home at 1am with no signs of winding down. It's a serious party city, or just a living city, as you wish.
Finally, it's a Mediterranean city, with a big blue sky, and the illusion of infinite sunshine on all that glitters.