Prior to my arrival, I had not anticipated that Autumn would be an enjoyable time to spend in Barcelona. In fact, I hadn’t really imagined what the city might be like this time of year. All I could think about was the sun and the beach and the fact that I wouldn’t have to sleep wearing a thermal hat and dressing down in November (a frequent occurrence during my student days in Sheffield).
Of course, Barcelona is a lot balmier than England, even with the shift in the weather . I rather like it. In fact, I would go as far to say that this is my favourite time of being in the city so far. My advice to anyone planning a weekend in Barcelona: go in Autumn/Winter. There’s still tons happening but you can actually walk down Ramblas without hitting thirteen people.
The past few weeks have been lively, as per usual. Here are some noteable events:
- Yesterday I went to Girona with two pals and it was absolutely, completely, stunningly beautiful. The buildings are colourful, mountains rise up in the background, there are cobbled streets and countless bars and cafes. I would highly recommend visiting Girona, for anyone who has a spare day during a trip to Barcelona, or to the South of France (it’s very close to the border). I would also highly recommend the high speed train I caught there (I enjoy journeys more than normal human beings: particularly those on a train). Anyway, here are snaps of my day:
- I have attempted salsa dancing: one night in a place called ‘El Sabor’ which is good fun. Cheap and strong Mojitos and free ‘classes’, with ‘classes’ being a very loose term. I also went to a club called Mojito with some girls from Barcelona and one of my American pals. I have become inspired to learn to salsa properly after witnessing how incredible they were!
- I have started babysitting for a super-rich family and I had to pretend I wasn’t stunned by everything I saw when I walked into their apartment which had panoramic views of the city. Literal life goals.
- I have planned some more travels in the near future: Berlin and Prague for the start of January, and Zaragoza next weekend (It’s a national holiday this week which means TWO DAYS of work).
- I experienced my first Thanksgiving celebration, strangely in Spain, with some Americans and an Irish girl who are all doing the same scheme as myself. I had to make a salad- something I found very stressful despite its simplicity. It was a slightly surreal but genuinely lovely evening and I ate an impressive volume of pumpkin-based food.
- I have been using my host-family’s spare bike more: another piece of advice to people coming to Barcelona is to rent a bike because it is 100% the best way to see the city. Also make sure you have a decent lock, or two, otherwise it will be robbed within fifteen minutes, so I have been told.
- I went to see ‘Fanstastic Beasts’ with an english pal at the cinema and it was fabulous. Even better than the film were the gin and tapas bars in Gracia we explored afterwards. It has to be one of the most beautiful parts of the city, for me at least.
- I joined the cheapest gym I could find within a close proximity to my house. I need to make sure I’m burning off the calories I consume every-day: predominantly in the form of red meat, olive oil and bread. So much bread. Also: non-identifiable soft cheese which I need to slow down my consumption of.
My Spanish is progressing at a slow rate, but progressing nonetheless. I would describe the entire process as peaks and troughs with a general upward incline. I am keeping up my exchanges. I have good days, and I have bad days, and I have days when I question whether I have learnt anything at all. The thing is, I know I am improving when I reflect rationally. It sounds pathetic but on Friday I went to get my haircut and I was able to have a basic conversation with the hairdresser, and understand the majority of what she said. That is a small triumph in my life at the moment (and I rewarded myself with a bag of strawberry laces). If people speak slowly, I can understand quite a lot. The trouble is not many people speak slowly- or in Spanish. In fact, coming to my district of Barcelona to learn Spanish is like going to Germany to learn French. People here are 100% Catalan, which is wonderful, but so complicated. On the upside, my reading in Spanish is far better . The main problem area is speaking, which is the most important part of any language. I remain optimistic. Onwards and upwards.
With regards to work: my job is challenging and of course there are problematic classes but overall I really love it. My colleagues are great. I spend my time leading interactive classes, chatting and directing. This week I educated some 3rd years on David Bowie (I’m not sure they appreciated it very much). On the other hand, I have introduced my students to David Attenborough documentaries, and they’re proving to be an absolute hit. Also, I am helping students prepare for a ‘modern-day Romeo and Julliet’ performance, which barely resembles Shakespeare’s original text. I know I am happy at work because I never once glance at the clock. The days just slip by, punctuated by coffee breaks, pastries, and failed attempts to learn some more Spanish vocab. I feel a hell of a lot more confident than I did on my arrival. Also- some of my students have asked another teacher if I can stay for another year. It makes me happy! And…
Naturally, this has led me to consider- at least- a possible extension of my stay here. As the saying goes: if it ain’t broke, why fix it? I adore the city for a multitude of reasons, and there is no rush to leave. I can ski within an hour-and-a-half, surf (theoretically, if I could surf properly) within 30 mins, less without traffic. I can get to Girona in 38 minutes. I can get to the French border in two hours by car, I can get to an international airport by a 20 minute bus ride from my house. I can walk to the main city station in 12 minutes, where I can get a high speed train to Madrid, or Paris, or wherever I fancy. I can wander through El Gotic for a morning coffee and stroll along the seafront on my afternoon off. It is a city where people live outdoors: not in a connected-with-nature way, but in a sociable way. It is a big enough city to get lost, see new places and always meet new people but it doesn’t sprawl in the same expansive, grey way that London does, because there are spectacular mountains and the sea preventing it’s further growth. For me, at least, it is quite wonderful.
At some point I intend to do a masters and in the long run dream of working for the government or potentially in higher education (possibly, hopefully, who knows). The one thing I am absolutely certain of, is that whether I work or study, I intend to do so abroad. I don’t think it will matter if I start applying for a masters or grad job at twenty three instead of twenty two (or thirty six, perhaps). And I’m in absolutely no rush to move back to England. If anything, moving away has just made me want to see more places. So anyway, I will keep you posted. But there is a chance I will stay in Barcelona, or another Spanish city, for another year. Oops.
The culture here, though frustrating at times, has proven to be quite refreshing to me. I have stopped seeing time as a resource which must be used efficiently and maximised: ticking off endless to-do lists, always aiming to be productive and feeling guilty about lying down for a nap. The english perception of time, I think, makes life uneccesarily stressful and there are clear reasons why people are- generally speaking- happier in Spain. It isn’t just the weather (the sun does help a lot, though).
When I moved here first, I felt a bit weird about spending four hours at a table over dinner (yes- four hours– this is a relatively extreme case in my host-family, but not uncommon in this country). Now I relish those moments: of spending an absurd amount of time working through a small plate of salad and a glass of white wine, because I’m so absorbed in a conversation about the Scottish referendum with my host-family’s grandfather. I’ve learnt that I shouldn’t always feel like I have to be productive twelve hours of the day. Of course I am still busy (very busy) but I no longer feel bad about spending an afternoon lying about reading my book, or wandering aimlessly through streets I don’t know in search of a decent coffee . Time spent indulging in the things which bring me joy (long conversations, morning runs, cappuccinos, reading, writing, ice-cold Estrella, getting lost in the city, gin, etc) is absolutely not redundant, or a waste. In fact, I have come to see those moments as the most important parts of my day. In short: I think everyone should move to Spain, eat tapas, and relax!
I feel calmer here. Perhaps it is the culture, or the fact I am so absorbed in work and learning that I don’t have time to worry about other things. Nonetheless, I can be certain that I feel much more relaxed in Spain, and I am in no rush to alter this delicate equilibrium of happiness I have found. I am in absolutely no rush at all.
Hasta luego mis amigos xxxx