Things that are better in Barcelona
I’ve been in a very Portland state of mind recently, daydreaming about foods and beers from home, longing for big expanses of grass, craving time with friends. But, as I begin my last few weeks in Barcelona, I’m also reflecting a lot on my time here – especially what I’ve grown to love and what I’ll miss when I’m back in the states.
(May I just say that I feel like I have two lovers? I’m often torn between my passion for Barcelona and my deep love for Portland, and I feel like I have to constantly affirm to each that they still hold a special place in my heart, even if one fulfills needs that the other can’t!)
One of the best parts of this experience (in terms of personal growth) has been the surprise of how adaptable I am – and how quickly I made a home for myself in Barcelona. My blonde hair and neon running shoes may shout guiri, but I don’t feel like a tourist anymore. Even though I certainly don’t know the city as well as someone who’s lived here for much longer, I’ve done my best to discover the real Barcelona, behind the tourist traps and main avenues and guidebooks.
As I’ve mentioned before, the experience has also confirmed how much Portland feels like my permanent(-ish) home. It’s nice to know that the place I called home for five years is calling me back.
That being said, there are some definite benefits to life in Barcelona. In fact, I think Barcelona does these six things even better than Portland …
1. The weather
I mean, you really can’t argue with this one, unless you happen to be in the 1% of people who prefers clouds and rain to sunshine. I’m feeling pretty lucky that I’ll have experienced a sunny winter and spring here, then I’ll return to Portland as summer kicks in there. (I’d rather not think about the adjustment period once November rolls around …)
2. Cheap wine
Portland wins the booze battle overall (Barcelona can’t even begin to compete with PDX’s craft beers), but when it comes to wine, Barcelona triumphs for the prevalence of cheap wine in restaurants. I can’t really get into an argument about the quality of the wine, as I don’t have much of a discerning palate. Is it dry and un-sweet and the right temperature? I’ll drink it. Anyway, I know I’m going to return to Portland and think it’s highway robbery to pay $7+ for a glass of wine in a restaurant. In Barcelona, a good glass of wine sets you back only 2 or 3 euros.
3. The plazas
There’s something so magical about strolling down a narrow street, turning the corner and encountering a sunny plaza filled with kids playing soccer, tables of people drinking and talking. The plazas just beg you to stop whatever you’re doing and sit and enjoy yourself. It’s not uncommon for people to take 2-hour lunch breaks before heading back to work, which seems so much more civilized than what we do in the states (eat a sandwich at our desks without even taking a break, anyone?).
4. Diversity of languages
On any given day, I hear Catalan, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, English and probably a couple of other languages that I can’t identify. Oftentimes I wish I heard even less English. From a cultural standpoint, it’s lovely to be in a city where it’s the norm to be bilingual and trilingual; from a pragmatic one, I get so much more work done when I’m not distracted by English conversations popping up all around me.
5. The holidays & festivals
It’s a running joke in Barcelona that there’s a holiday every other week. While that may be something of an exaggeration, there certainly are an abundance of saints’ days and 3- and 4-day weekends. At the beginning of April, we had Santa Semana (Holy Week) leading up to Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. On April 23rd, the city celebrated St. Jordi, the patron saint of Catalonia, with a day of parades and celebrations (a bit of a twist on Valentine’s Day, as it’s tradition for couples to give each other roses and books on St. Jordi’s Day). On April 27th, we celebrated the patron saint of Montserrat. In May, we had Día del Trabajo (Labor Day, May 1), followed by another public holiday on the 20th.
And it’s not just that these days are work and school holidays, but they also turn into celebrations in the streets. In the plaza just behind my apartment, the neighborhood celebrates with bands, dancers, street art, food and more. (Or, in the case of Labor Day, protestors paraded through the streets chanting about the crisis and breaking the windows of banks.)
6. Los abuelitos
I’ve mentioned before that I’m completely enamored with Barcelona’s older generations. Women in their 60s walk arm-in-arm with their 80-year-old mothers, older couples wear dress clothes to lunch, shoppers of all ages wheel their produce in little grocery strollers through the streets. The states could learn a thing or two from the active and well-respected older generations in Barcelona.
All that being said, I try not to romanticize my life in Barcelona. There are benefits as well as drawbacks, and I’m ready to bid this city adios, at least for a while. I’ll be thrilled to settle back into life in Portland, though I know I’ll also miss the charm of Catalonia.
I suppose Portland and Barcelona will just have to get used to competing for my heart.