Are you tired of the daily grind of life back in the USA? Get up, eat quickly, go to work, come home at 5 or 6pm, make dinner, go to bed and begin again? In Spain, people have a similar schedule, but for about two hours in the middle of the day, you can leave work to go out to eat, relax in a plaza and listen to local musicians playing, take care of things that you normally don’t have time to do during the day, or go home and take a nap!
2) Cheap, high-quality wine.
If you are a wine lover, the Mediterrannean region is the place to be. You can go to your local grocery store, pick up any bottle of wine for less than $5 USD and be confident that the wine you chose will at least be decent, and probably very good. I found an organic wine that I love for about 3 American dollars! As soon as you SEE the word organic in the states, you are sure to shell out a bit extra than you would for your typical bottle of wine. The Catalans are also famous for their cava, which is their version of champagne, a sweet and refreshing beverage to enjoy at dessert if you aren’t having coffee.
3) The nightlife.
People finish working around 7 or 8 pm here, so the typical dinnertime is around 9 or 10. The Spanish are very social people. By 9:00 pm the streets and restaurants are full of people relaxing over a meal of tapas, then proceeding to a nearby bar for gin and tonics (Barcelona is known for these!), and then going out dancing or watching a football (soccer) match on the local bar’s tv.
It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is, although more people go out on the weekends, you can always find plenty to do after hours. The best thing about this is that, even late at night, I feel safe. Unlike being in a small, dark street in New York or Baltimore at night, which can fill me with apprehension and make me clutch my bag a bit tighter, here I find walking through the streets of Barcelona at night to be either incredibly exciting or incredibly peaceful, and I’ve never felt threatened. (Note: It is still important to keep an eye on your belongings in a crowded area, especially tourist areas, as it is a city and robberies are possible.)
4) The tasty tapas and traditional dishes.
If you haven’t tried tapas, you are missing out! The Spanish like to sit down at a restaurant, choose a variety of small plates and share.
Tortilla de patatas is a Spanish omelette with potato and onions layered inside (similar to a quiche) and served on the traditional bread rubbed with tomato, olive oil, and salt. There are varieties of seafood on the Mediterranean coast, from calamari to a huge pan (to share) of paella, the famous rice cooked with saffron and shellfish, or with meats such as rabbit and chicken. You’ll also want to try the savory delicacy, shaved Iberian ham, for which Spain is famous. Speaking of bread, Spain has the crustiest, most flavorful breads you will ever eat, and you’ll eat a lot of it. No more soggy white bread sandwiches! If you are hungry, you can walk into almost any restaurant and be guaranteed a satisfying meal. I especially love the bars where you can order a drink and they bring you a tapa to try for free!
5) The geography.
Do you prefer the mountains or the ocean? Well, no need to choose.
Here, you can go hiking in the mountains in the morning and finish your dance relaxing on the beach! The Mediterranean
Sea is a gorgeous shade of blue, and you can enjoy swimming, sailing, jet-skiing, sun-bathing, or even a massage at one of the many beaches along the coast, both within the city and just outside (if you are looking for a less crowded option). The mountains are equally gorgeous. You can hike up to Tibidabo, an old monastery with an amusement park overlooking the entire city, or travel an hour or two outside of the city by train to hike, rock climb, or camp among some stunningly beautiful peaks. It’s the best of both worlds!
6) The colorful history and architecture.
If you’ve ever seen a post card from Barcelona, you know what I’m talking about! This city may be one of the most beautiful in Europe, and possibly the world (in my humble opinion). There are centuries-old cathedrals, including the most famous landmark, Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. Only 12 euros to enter, this masterpiece may bring you to tears. If you go on a sunny day, the light streaming through the stained glass windows throws color along the columns (made to represent trees) and it is simply breathtaking. The size and incredibly nature-like designs are unlike any church you have ever seen before.
You can see more of famous architect Gaudi’s work at Park Guell, where you can go for a walk, enjoy a coffee, or relax and listen to local musicians in the shade of impressive columns and
plants. You can also take in a view of the city and the sea from this park. There are several buildings designed by Gaudi in Barcelona, and every single one is colorful, unique, and worth a trip. Everywhere you go, you will admire the iron balconies, beautiful stone architecture, and colorful mosaics for which Barcelona is known. Every time friends come to visit me, I show them the same sites in Barcelona, and I never get tired of taking in the beauty, and I learn something new each time!
7) The talent.
What drew me to Barcelona, originally, was the sheer amount of creativity and talent that exists in this city. It is brimming over with artists, musicians, dancers, and actors. Everyone I meet seems to enjoy some creative outlet, and everywhere I go I can appreciate artwork and music, whether it is the beautiful mural painted on the metal doors when a store is closed, a local guitarist strumming some tunes for tips in the plaza, the singers belting out well-known pop songs for your enjoyment in the metro, or a large group of swing dancers filling a plaza to dance to their hearts’ content for a few hours, sometimes with a local swing band.
One of my best moments here was coming home at 3:00 AM and finding one of my friends singing around a grand piano the a music conservatory installed there, and joining in as people stopped by to play the piano, brought their own instruments, danced (that was me!), sang along, or just watched and enjoyed. I went home with a whole Whatsapp group of new music-loving friends! This creative energy that pervades the city is amazing and you can feel it everywhere you go, and meet incredibly interesting, passionate people along the way.
8) The people.
The Catalan people, although they may be politically divided about the issue of independence, are generally sociable, warm, and helpful. I came to this city knowing only two people, and after a year I have more friends than I can count. The people of Barcelona are proud of their language and culture, so making an attempt at their language, which is similar but distinct from Spanish, can make you an instant friend.
It is easy to make friends over a beer, coffee, or a meal, as the people will be excited to tell you anything you want to know about Catalan history, culture, and daily life. When I first arrived, I commonly found myself invited to have lunch with new friends’ families, where I learned so much about the city, culture, and food. The people were also curious about me. People here are open-minded, spontaneous, and fun, and appreciate the small things in life, like a good cup of espresso and an enjoyable conversation.
9) Public transportation.
The public transportation system in Barcelona is outstanding. It is easy to use, even if you don’t speak the language. The city is relatively small, and very well connected by different colored metro lines which go either east and west (mountains to sea) or north and south. For areas that aren’t very close to a metro stop, which means more than 10 minutes walking, there are usually several bus lines available. The T-10 ticket is the cheapest option, as you have 10 rides which can be used any time by any amount of people, and can be used on the metro, bus, or train within the city, and includes transfers during trips up to 1 hour and 45 minutes. Basically, you can reach just about any point in the city in 30 to 40 minutes maximum. I, personally, have a terrible
sense of direction, and I’ve never gotten lost here!
10) The climate.
Barcelona has four seasons, but because it is in the south of Europe, the climate is much warmer. Barcelona’s climate is tempered by being near the sea, and it rarely rains due to the protection of the mountains, which seem to ward off many storms. In Barcelona, you can enjoy being outside any time of the year, and can comfortably enjoy a day at the beach for 9 or 10 months of the year.
Barcelona is a city brimming with history and culture, it’s aesthetically beautiful, there is plenty to do for city lovers and nature lovers, it’s full of warm, passionate, creative people, and life is generally relaxed and socially-centered. If you haven’t been, you’ll fall in love as soon as you step off of the plane; and if you have, you know why it’s a city that keeps people coming back, or even keeps you here forever (as it did in my case)!
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