Sometimes in life, things just seem to align. We find ourselves in a place that works out perfectly for that very moment in our lives, find friends who understand us even though they’ve known us for a relatively short amount of time, or find ourselves in love with cities we always knew but never really did.
Now, that last one might sound confusing. What it means is that, we can find ourselves feeling extremely comfortable in environments that may be nothing like those we grew up in. Sometimes, you may even assume you’ll love a place, and actually end up doing so.
A couple of weeks ago, I visited both Paris and Barcelona – two of Europe’s largest and most important cities. Paris is, and always has been, considered the #1 tourist destination in Europe. It is, by official stats, the most toured city in the entire world. Barcelona is another world wonder; as Spain holds a massive tourism empire, Barcelona being its most toured city is a big feat. Both cities have a lot to offer, and for any of us from far away lands, they are the places to be once we get anywhere near them!
Several months ago, I decided to use up my week-long holiday in both cities, concluding that there was absolutely no way I could visit either one in a short weekend. I needed more time than that, and boy, I was right! My two and a half days in Barcelona were definitely rushed, but full of excitement. The city being as small as it is, in comparison to other major cities, was easily toured by walking and the occasional bus or metro rides. The first day began with a straight walk from our hostel to the beach, which was about 30 minutes by walking. Walking down the major streets in Barcelona was like something out of a dream. The first thing we saw walking out of the metro station was Gaudi’s famous monument – a fitting welcome to a city that is unlike any other.
Truth be told, I’ve always felt a connection to Barcelona. There is something obviously beautiful about Gaudi’s architecture, but it isn’t just that. Catalan history is one that has always moved me, so much so that my inner Manchester United fan begrudgingly admits to feeling a clear bias in favour of FC Barcelona over its capital rivals, Real Madrid. There is something about the flag that speaks volumes to me, something about the good balance between enjoying life and being hardworking, and the beautiful landscape of Barcelona that make me love it in a way that isn’t love in a touristic way. I saw Park Guell, Camp Nou, Montjuïc, the beach, and everything in between, but my heart wants to experience them more. I would like to go back to Barcelona, but most importantly, I would like to go back to live there someday.
On the other hand, Paris gave me chills. The “city of love” dwarfs Barcelona in size, being incredibly large from one end to the other, particularly so for a European city. The amount of beautiful monuments to see in Paris is overwhelming – from the Louvre to Versailles, my artistic side was more than satisfied. Furthermore, to be able to say that I slept one block away from the Louvre is incredible, and something I will never forget. Being in the absolute center of Paris (the 1e arrondissement) was unbelievable, so much that it felt unreal until it was over. Paris is, though another large European city, absolutely nothing like Barcelona. The weather was the most obvious difference at first – Barcelona being sunny and warm, while Paris was gloomy and cold – but the differences in size, the atmosphere, and of course the language were amplified as I had gone from one to the next. Though I actually attended primary and secondary school in French, I didn’t feel much of a linguistic connection to the Parisiens. The worrying, scary, but slightly awesome part was that most times, as soon as I started to say something in French, I’d say or think something in Spanish instead!
Regardless, Paris is incredible, and it’s obvious to see why it’s so visited. While Versailles was my favourite part of Paris (and not actually technically in Paris), the main city itself was beautiful in a regal and sophisticated way. Would I ever live in Paris? I could never say never, but I don’t see myself doing so. Besides the size being overwhelming (which would normally work in its favour, but I couldn’t imagine driving in Paris), I realized my personality isn’t suited to Paris. Forget about the stereotypes – being a French-speaking Canadian, I received much better treatment than Americans say they receive there – but it’s true that for some people (including me), Parisians aren’t the friendliest folk around. Being in Paris for a mere 5 days gave me a cold feeling, and not just in the weather-related way.
While I never intended to compare the two cities, especially since both are incredible and extremely different, the comparison felt natural. Before moving to Spain, I knew I would have to see Paris. I ended up walking from it being blown away by it, but though I would love to travel to other parts of France, I currently have little desire to return to Paris. Barcelona, on the other hand, has been on my mind since I came home to Madrid. Maybe, for me, it really has it all? Maybe my mind will change should I ever visit Paris when it’s warm? In any case, both places were amazing in their own ways, and while I felt a more familiar connection to one, I feel blessed to have seen them both.
More photos below.