Barcelona

Barcelona is one of those places you always hear about, and I was so lucky to have the opportunity to finally see what it was all about. From sangria to beaches and stunning architecture, there was a lot to see and do in just a couple of days.

Gaudi:

Antoni Gaudí is a famous architect, very well known for what he designed and built in Barcelona. He was a practitioner of Catalan Modernism. While he is probably most well known for the amazing feat that is La Sagrada Familia, we also visited Park Güell and Casa Battlo. All of his works are very intriguing, especially because even though they were designed in the 1800s and early 1900s, they are some of the most modern designs in Barcelona.

Gaudi’s Casa Battlo:

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Park Güell:

Park Güell was probably my favourite spot to visit in Barcelona. As an urban planner, it was amazing to learn about a planned space that started to be built in 1900.

The site was originally designed as a housing site that was financially unsuccessful. It then transformed to be a public park space. It is also a UNESCO heritage site.

The architecture was very unique and modern and full of detail. From the beautiful columns and stunning mosaic tiles, it is definitely something worth seeing, just be sure to buy tickets online in advance!

Park Güell:

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La Sagrada Familia:

La Sagrada Familia is one of the most amazing architectural stories. Another Gaudi feat, the massive church started being constructed in 1882 and is still not finished! The anticipated date to finish completion is 2026 at the earliest. It is estimated to be about 70-75% complete, depending on various sources. The Basilica is absolutely massive in size and visible from many parts of the city. It dominates the City’s skyline.

While we did not choose to go in, if you do go it costs about 15 euros and be sure to buy your tickets in advance!

La Sagrada Familia:

Montjuic:

Montjuic was another interesting spot to visit. It is a prominent hill with a historic castle. It is essentially the “top” of Barcelona, overlooking the City’s harbour. It historically served as both a castle and a prison. From Montjuic, you get breath taking views of the entire City and the harbour. You can travel to Montjuic by public bus or also by Funicular.

View from the Funicular from Montjuic:

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Probably one of the most touristy areas, the Gothic Quarter offers stunning architecture and history. There are nearby markets, La Boqueria, being the most prominent, is a great spot to check out to see how locals live and also get some fresh fruit and seafood for lunch. La Rambla is a massive pedestrian street offering a lot of restaurants and shopping. It is definitely a tourist hotspot but still a great place that eventually leads right to the Port.

Food:

The food was definitely one of the highlights of Barcelona. We had amazing Tapas – think patatas bravas and seafood croquettes, which was one of my favourite meals of my trip. A must try is definitely the Paella (choose the seafood if you like it!). And of course, the sangria is available everywhere and is wonderful. I don’t know how they make it differently, but it’s the best!

Beaches:

One of the reasons I was most excited for Barcelona was the beaches. What I quickly learned is that they are very touristy, and you should always seek out the smaller, more local beaches. But be warned, they are packed with vendors and people trying to sell you everything from mojitos to massages and it can make for an annoying and not so relaxing experience. But, if you stick to the smaller spots, it is better.

Overall, Barcelona was one of the most unique places I visited in Europe and it had a very distinct, Spanish feeling to it. The city is loaded with history, unique architecture and great food. Next time, I would definitely take advantage of doing some day trips outside of the City to smaller coastal towns.

 

London 

Over the course of my trip I have been lucky enough to visit London on a couple of occasions. London is a wonderful city that offers a lot of culture, and history but also feels a bit more contemporary than some other large European cities. It has a lot of important tourist sights such as Big Ben, the London Eye and Buckingham Palace and even just the red telephone booths. 

The London Eye:

Big Ben:

This will be one of my longer posts because I have gained a couple of different perspective, both as a planner and as a tourist. To make it easier I have separated this into two sections, so read whatever interests you! 

AS A PLANNER…

Like many large cities, London is currently facing a housing affordability crisis. As part of my program at Oxford Brooke’s, I was lucky enough to spend a day in London with a focus on planning and architecture. 
We started with a tour of St. Pancras International Station. Here we learned about the design of the station. We also learned about the history of the station, which was nearly torn down. An original hotel that was connected to the station has now been converted to a restaurant that contains a lot of the original building design. The station was designed as a Terminus station so that trains would end here and not travel through the City of London. Kings Cross is the connected adjacent station with Underground service for the rest of London. 

The station now services several British Railway lines as well as the Eurostar which travels to Paris and Brussels. It’s a great example of a station that could have been destroyed but instead due to vision an design was converted into something wonderful. The redevelopment and the connections the station offers also served as a catalyst for a hub of new development and redevelopment including world renowned destinations such as Central St. Martens, part of the University of Arts London, and Google offices. 

St. Pancras International:

The Kings Cross area redevelopment comprises an area of 67 acres of land and a rich industrial history. The area requires a mix of presevation, and new development. The area is anticipated to have 2000 new housing units. It will also offer shops, restaurants and even 40% of the area will be developed as open space. The area includes schools and spaces for children as well,  making it also an ideal area for families. 

Kings Cross Redeveloment Area:


Kings Cross is one area of London currently undergoing substantial redevelopment. Because the city is surrounded by a Greenbelt, development is limited to within the city, making brownfield sites very important. 

We were lucky enough to visit New London Architecture (NLA) which offers a giant model of the City of London:


The model showed all existing buildings as well as any proposed developments to show where growth and change is occurring. The model is accompanied by a lighting system which can highlight features such as parks, museums and underground lines. The company has also put together videos that work together with the model to explain current development in London.

A presentation from Transport for London concluded our tours. We learned about the management of the Underground (Tube) and commuter rail outside of the city. TFL is also investing heavily in cycling infrastructure to create cycling “super highways” and the new Crossline 1 and 2 – new rail services through London. Housing is not the only challenge London is facing, moving 8.5 million people around in their daily lives is not an easy task. 


This likely explains what I noticed to be very expensive transit. If I have any advice in London about transit is that it is great and easy to use, but buy an Oyster card because it will save you money! 

AS A TOURIST…  

I was lucky enough to see many of the popular sites in London. 

Step One is get an Oyster card because it will save you money on transit! 

Big Ben:

For anyone interested in seeing a great view of London, the Shard offers a viewing deck. It also offers a restaurant, the Aquashard, which is free to visit and you can treat yourself to a nice drink or meal with a  beautiful view.

The Shard:

Views from the Aquashard:

SOHO, The Convent Garden and Neal’s Yard are all great suggestions to visit that are more local spots. The Covent Garden offers a lovely market, with vendors as well as many stores. 

The Covent Garden:

Neal’s Yard is a hidden gem of Covent Garden. It can be found through several alleys and is full of lovely buildings, plants, lights and cute bars and restaurants. We went to Homeslice for dinner for the best pizza ever! 

The Tower of London is one of the most unique tourist spots in a London. It’s a great way to learn about the city’s history. While you could spend hours, even a couple hours is enough with all the tourists. Remember your student cards to save a lot here. 

Make sure you check out the Thames and all the awesome bridges and boardwalks it offers, 

Tower Bridge from the Boardwalk: