Motto: ‘We spent our last night as a group in Dubrovnik, Croatia, which we reached after a long bus ride from Rozaje, Montenegro. The old city was gorgeous — shiny ramparts against a shimmering sea — but there was nothing to discover. The streets were too polished, the menus too refined. I turned on the faucet in my hotel room and flinched when the water came out hot. … Then I hoisted my pack and walked back into Albania.’ (Tim Neville – “Hiking Beyond Borders in the Balkans’)
First, what you need to know about me – an idea that could help you understand my perspective – is that I love enormous bustling cities as much as I love secluded picturesque villages. Yet, I live in a middle-sized town, which is my favourite in the whole world and I wouldn’t trade it for any other. Yes, a big pile of contradictions, I am aware of that.
However, I truly wanted to get to Barcelona someday, after having been 400 or so km away from it in 2000, during my first trip abroad, when this city was not part of the plan and my teachers went for Montpellier instead. I had heard so many fantastic things about this city from close friends, most of whom had explored it. As much as I wanted to go there, I avoided it for years and years in a row because I feared its commercial traits to spoil all the magic. In the end, destiny shuffled the cards and dealt them Catalonia-way and I was soon going to face the/my demons.
It was not the first time I had dismissed a city based on the same reasons. ‘Go to Prague’, I was told back in 2008, ‘it’s the most beautiful city in Europe’. Clearly, not according to my books – it felt too crowded, too golden, too unauthentic to me. The story goes that God made the world in 6 days and then he dedicated his last day to make Rio, which is sung as extraordinary and vibrant and perfect. Not to me. I’ve got at least a dozen giant cities on my list that should rightfully be described using those exact words. Salvador, for instance. Now, that’s a city to me!... I could state the same about Istanbul, Paris, or London. St. Petersburg or Tehran. They’re all complex, some of them have a certain commercial feel, but this is outweighed by the hidden dark sides or beautiful surprises that you find yourself discovering in them. Another big disappointment will always be Dubrovnik. The minute I get there, all I wish is to get away… fast. It’s too smart, too posh, too ‘everything goes where it should’, and too touristy for me.
Back to our sheep. I had heard about many people wishing to move to Barcelona, I had watched TV shows on that, yet the minute I set foot there I knew I wasn’t going to like it. Why do people go insane over this city, in the end [I have to specify here that during my last day there I walked for at least 25 km, so I must have seen something]…
The overcrowded streets? – I thought I’d go nuts on La Rambla and start beating up people.
The harbour area? – Said to be one of the most beautiful in the world, I’ve honestly seen at least 20 more beautiful harbours.
Gaudí’s art? - I admit it, this is gorgeous. And if you’re not really into art or visiting museums anymore, what then?...
[and the list could go on and on, but I think I made my point]
I was smilingly accused of not having found that vibe that makes everybody fall for this city. The people were friendly, yes, the food and drinks were tasty. Something big was missing though. I only had three smiles on during the whole time I was there: watching some children play in the street, following some very cocky parrots march in the park, and taking shots of a very cute puppy licking my boyfriend’s face off.
Travelling is more to me than that. It’s first and foremost feeling that you’re the first person to explore a place [even though you clearly aren’t]. I’m used to having to work for my wows: being the first Romanian traveller in certain areas of the world [it happened to me somewhere between Yerevan and Areni, in Armenia], beating my brains about finding transportation to Iranian Kurdistan, or trying to enter Kosovo via Identity Cards. When you’re offered safety and an easy way to get your travels settled, it’s not attractive or challenging anymore – you’ve got everything you need (and more) on your plate.
I would have liked it ten years ago, I truly have. It’s like rafting down a 2-grade river when you know you’ve already mastered the 4-grade ones. And probably a chance less you’re giving other places that could please you more.
In the end, we should think twice before throwing stones at somebody simply because they do not like a place that common sense states that they should. We’ve got different travelling backgrounds, expectations, and requirements. Judging them is not the greatest method to find your way through, nor is generalising. It’s like I said two months ago – Sardinia is truly beautiful, but, after you’ve seen Scotland’s Western Isles, for instance, you realise that you’re surely much more attracted by the people and the food of this island than you are by its views. And you shouldn’t be blamed for feeling this way or feel like the class idiot because you failed finding something that may not even be there.