On Sunday evening, I left the land of tapas, corruption and sunshine to return to England: my beloved nation of gravy, grey-skies and political ambiguity.
In one sense I feel I have let myself down a little this year. I could have been fluent in Spanish by now and I’m not, because I didn’t force myself to speak enough. I could have been more organized and saved more money for my Master’s degree but that didn’t happen either (instead I went to Prague, Istanbul, Berlin, Nice and Marseille, and I don’t regret a single one of those trips).
Despite these semi-regrets, I certainly feel a little more adult-like now, and have achieved some small things:
– I have remained alive
-I have held down a job in a foreign country
– I have consumed enough olive oil to fill an Olympic sized pool, eaten enough baguettes to reach the moon, and wolfed-down enough cured meat to make a vegetarian weep
– I have made Catalan teenagers laugh, both intentionally and unintentionally
– I haven’t had my phone or wallet stolen (though I did drop it down the loo)
– I have learnt some Spanish: I can understand most of what people say, and construct grammatically incorrect responses
-I have visited places, and experienced aspects of culture that you just cannot get as a tourist
– I have discovered that I enjoy seafood (and that I have an allergy to squid)
-Most importantly… I have met some incredible human beings and made some life-long friends, after knowing absolutely no one nine months ago
I set up this blog to focus on the cultural aspects of my experience, and to uncover secrets of the city. It was meant to provide a few travel tips, or advice, and be practical in some way. In reality, it has been quite the opposite. The majority of my writing revolves around the people I have met, and where we have travelled together, the food we ate, the beer we drank, the stories we have gained… The reason for my survival and laughter and general joy is not because of the views and the weather and the beaches (although they do help an awful lot, and I already miss them) it is because I have come to know some fantastically funny human beings.
A lot happened in the space of two months:
- I visited Valencia, and fell head over heels in love with the place. It is a far more live-able city than Barcelona, with a different architectural style, and a more relaxed atmosphere (if that is possible). I whiled away the hours wondering through the city centre, drinking regrettable amounts of Orxata (weird nutty milk with copious amounts of sugar dissolved in it), and visiting various art galleries. The old riverbed has been converted into a massive, wonderfully kept park which is so peaceful and beautiful and after living in an urban jungle for nine months it was nice to breathe some oxygen. I found some wonderful clothes in a cheap market in Ruzafa, which is a district hidden behind the main train station. I only spent one night in a hostel, and ended up meeting some lovely Italians: a technical drawer, a banker and a forklift truck driver respectively. What I love about hostels most is that fact that they throw such unlikely combinations of humans together and force social interaction. 10/10 trip. Would recommend the city to anyone. 29 hours is absolutely not enough time.
- My brother visited me in Barca- we stayed near the Sagrada Familia and once again visited all the classic tourist spots. It was wonderful to have some actual quality time with each other, and to be able to speak properly. My personal highlight was swimming in the sea at Barceloneta: the temperature of the water is wonderful at the moment. My personal low-light was waiting for one hour in blinding sun for a Chinese music concert that turned out to be distinctively sub-par.
- My favourite German male dropped by for a week. Besides renting an air bnb room with a psychotic Cuban and accidentally showering out of his window, the trip was a success. We visited Sitges for the first time. It was bloody hot and I had to take shelter from the sun under a bridge, like a troll (I didn’t want to pay 12 euros for an umbrella). We also visited Badalona, Montgat (only costs a euro) and Tibidabo Mountain. The best moment was watching the sun set from the bunkers, with a beer in hand and someone else’s music playing in the background. It is a bit of a hike from the Alfonso X stop on the Metro line, and I regretted my decision to wear black skinny jeans, but the views were absolutely worth it!
- I finished at the school and said goodbye to everyone. It was a really sad time, much sadder than I could have envisioned. The kids made me a beautiful leaving card, which they’ve never done for a previous language assistant. They surrounded me at the end of my last class and started clapping and saying lovely things, and I was probably supposed to give a speech but I hate public speaking and the whole situation was quite stressful so I just blushed bright red and lost the ability to construct sentences instead (classic).
- I also said goodbye to my wonderful host family, who have been extremely generous to me. I will miss their warmth, humour and their cooking!
- I went to work as an Activity Leader/ English Teacher/ General busy-body on an English camp at a Seminary in rural Aragon. The hours were bloody long, the food was less than excellent (unless you like your fish soup served cold, and your bread stale), but the kids were great. There were ups and downs but I laughed a lot and met some incredible human beings, from the Basque country and beyond. Also, I heard more spoken Spanish in one month than the previous nine in Barcelona.
- At each end of the summer camp, I stayed a few nights in Bilbao. I was surprised at how beautiful the city was. In the Basque country, it felt a little bit like being in Austria or Switzerland at times. Like Catalonia, it is defiantly non-Spanish, in it’s culture, it’s language, and it’s general atmosphere. The climate is much more akin to our own, and the landscape is lush and green. I could live there quite happily. The Guggenheim is worth a visit. After getting lost and wondering in to an art college, I found a gallery underneath a large converted warehouse. It was free and pretty spectacular. Also, I caught the metro from where my hostel was- near the Deutso stop- to the coast. It seems odd that a city as compact as Bilbao has a metro line, but it’s lines extend beyond the hills surrounding the city all the way to the beach. The coastline is dramatic and a world away from the long, flat beaches surrounding Barcelona. I would like to return to the Basque country and see more.
On arriving home, I have quickly come to realise that nothing much has changed apart from the fact that:
– my Dad has put up a new washing line
-the One Stop Shop has had a refurb
-Will’s bedroom has now been painted grey, to replace the original Magnolia (thrilling, life-changing stuff)
Everything is a bit peculiar, and I am experiencing a strange mix of disorientation, comfort, and the unsettling notion surrounding what is coming next…
I have no clue where I will be in a month. Possibly Madrid, possibly not. I am awaiting emails, and writing applications as we speak.
God alone knows where I will end up, but let’s hope it’s good.
I would like to personally thank you for reading all 1331 words of drivel x