1. The fountains. Of course there are the grand fountains in places like Parc Cuitadella and Placa Catalunya, but I'm talking about the art deco drinking fountains you still find on random street corners in Barcelona. They're not just for show, people actually use them. It was like a personal scavenger hunt finding these unique gems randomly placed around the city.
2. The graffiti. While the sample above isn't exactly one of Barcelona's more creative works of urban art, it did give me a laugh. What I thought was very interesting about Barcelona is the placement of the graffiti.
All the stores in the older part of the city have those rolling metal doors that cover the entrances when the store is closed. Without fail, every single one of those doors has some form of graffiti on them.
Other times the owners of the stores would beat the beatniks to the punch and spray paint a mural on the door themselves. It was almost just as much fun wandering around the city after the stores were closed as when they were open.
I thought it was interesting that you very rarely saw anything of historical worth that was vandalized. There are accounts of vandalism in Parc Guell in 2007, but that has all been cleaned up. Maybe it's because the city's really on top of things and cleans it up before you can see it. Or maybe it's because the penalty of graffiti is so severe no one will take the chance, but the graffiti was pretty much contained to just the metal doors or surfaces that would not be visible during business hours. The walls of the old buildings were totally clean. Statues didn't have new mustaches or ugly tagging. This is unlike any European city I've been in. Well done, Barcelona.
3. Bicing. Community bicycle programs like Bicing are popping up all over Europe. They're the eco-friendly fad du jour and I love it. Community bicycle programs work like this: 1). the city (more likely a government grant) buys a ton of durable bikes 2). the bikes are placed around the city in strategic, populated, flattish areas 3). residents of the city can buy memberships or one-time uses of the bikes on automated rental systems and get to take the bike, use it all day, and then park it at the first bicing docking station they can find when they're finished with the bike.
It's like Zipcar, but with bikes.
The system is designed to reduce carbon emissions by reducing the need for taxis and metros when locals need to run those cross-town errands. In Barcelona, you see bicing stations like the one pictured all over the place. They usually have at least one bike docked, or in some cases, the whole thing is full. And the people of Barcelona actually use the bikes! We regularly saw people whizzing by on bicing bikes.
4. The sidewalks. Like in Saudi where you know which part of town you're in by the design of the lamp posts, Barcelona's districts are roughly identifiable by the paving stones on the sidewalks. I'm sure few people in Barcelona actually notice this little quirk, but I loved it.
Not only are these sidewalks prettier than the typical concrete meh, but they add a little bit of traction in the wet weather and they give sidewalk cracks a lot more character. I also noticed a significant decrease in the amount of gum stuck to the sidewalks as compared to the concrete jungles of some American cities ::cough:: NYC ::cough::
5. The orange trees. I don't know what the story is here with these things, but the hubs and I would see at least one different orange tree a day. I'm sure someone out there knows the significance, and I'm sure the reason why the city has planted so many orange trees will only make me love them even more.