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Shalaka Pai
Urban Urchin

Shalaka Pai is a writer and a photographer.She doesn’t have Instagram (yet)and won’t spam your Facebook feed with badly watermarked photos

Single woman, lone city: Seville — 1, Barcelona — 0

El Born, Barcelona.

fter Christmas, it got really cold in Prague, really quickly. It got to a point where I was cooped up in the house alone for most of the day, and the only excursion I forced myself to make (after grudgingly pulling on four layers of clothing) was either to a friend's place or to my neighbourhood café, where I'd vegetate with a book for two or three hours.

Luckily, I had an escape plan for the new year, a very good way to spend the last week and a half of my winter break. I would defrost my body and soul, I announced dramatically, in sunny Spain! 14 degrees in Barcelona seemed blissful compared to the snowy week I'd had in Prague, and as I threw dresses and shorts into my bag, I revelled in the thought that soon I'd be sunning myself somewhere.

Turns out, though, 14 degrees is actually colder than I remember. Also it was more like 11 degrees and I'd completely disregarded the low temperature for the day. So, three layers of clothing it was then, and half of the clothes brought were unusable. At least I could leave my bulky coat in my bag.

Travelling alone does get a tad lonely after a point, but I always try to see it as an exercise in self-love. At least I’m in a new country, discovering things.

The second thing I figured out really quickly after getting to Barcelona is that a big metropolitan city isn't the most fun place to travel alone to. I can do four days on a beach or in the hills alone just fine, where I sit at cafes or a bar with a sketchbook. But a city has a certain energy to it. Sure, I got wonderfully lost in the gothic quarter and El Born, Barcelona's own lovely hipster neighbourhood; a maze of narrow lanes with a cafe or bar or cute boutique at every corner, and fairy lights everywhere. But having dinner or a drink or two alone in a new city doesn't have the same feel to it as discovering it with someone. The result — I've been eating well, but still going to bed at an almost grandmotherly time.

he biggest menace, however, were the "tourists". I'm a tourist myself, but thanks to some of the people I've been seeing, I almost wish I didn't own a camera at all. The Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi's renowned unfinished basilica, is a breathtaking architectural marvel, both from the outside and the inside. I spent more than an hour in it, marvelling at every detail of the stained glass windows and the rainbow-hued light that filtered in through them, the detailed facades, the fluid curving pillars that made you feel like you were in a modernist stone forest. But every time my eyes drifted back to ground level I'd be irked by the sight of at least a dozen people raising their arms (or worse, the dreaded selfie sticks, which are in fact a real thing that people use), to take a dratted selfie against the basilica. I'm not in the least religious but watching selfie sticks being used in some of the most gorgeous churches in the world feels like desecration to me.

Travelling alone does get a tad lonely after a point, but I always try to see it as an exercise in self-love. At least I'm in a new country, discovering things, as opposed to sitting around alone in my flat trying to escape the cold. Funnily enough, I'm more susceptible to the lonelies in a big city than in a smaller town, or on the beach. This is why I really like Seville, where I am right now. While it's the biggest city in the Andalucía province, it feels like... well, Goa, just without the beach. The city has a homely feel to it, and is definitely more Spanish than the much more fashionable Barcelona. I find much more here to marvel at. Street signs and house numbers made of traditional tiles, wonderful snippets of Islamic art and architecture, sweet wine made of oranges, and building facades in happy yellows and reds, all found by getting lost in the narrowest of lanes. I may still be alone, but Seville is comforting me in my solitude rather than drowning me in loneliness. And the vino de naranjas definitely helps.

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