Living abroad: 8 things I love about Barcelona – and 3 things I don’t

Last month, I shared 8 things I miss about the U.S. – and 3 things I don’t, and now I’m flipping the script to talk about my deep love (most of the time) for Barcelona.

8 things I love about Barcelona

1. The shopping experience. I mentioned that I miss grocery staples from the U.S., but I actually enjoy the experience of shopping more here. Everything is right out my front door. I can walk across the street to the grocery store, turn the corner and meet a fruit stand, walk two blocks to a pharmacy. I have to pop into more places than I would in the states, but it’s faster overall because I don’t have to drive anywhere, and I can make a quick trip right before dinner when I realize I’m out of avocados or whatever. Also, the open-air markets in each neighborhood are the shit. I’m just up the street from the Mercat de l’Abaceria Central on Calle Verdi, where I can find fresh fruit, veggies, ham, cheese, nuts, dried fruit and more.

2. The architecture, plazas & narrow streets. So. much. dreaminess. I have to pinch myself every day that it’s a totally normal experience for me to walk past a building from the Roman era and stop for café con leche in a plaza filled with orange trees. I have time in my days to get lost in the city’s winding, narrow streets and to drink wine in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday.

3. Its walkability. I should invest in a pedometer because I’d love to know just how much I walk here. The metro and train system are super easy too, but I prefer walking when I can – and it’s safe to be out at all hours. I’ve learned my way around the city by walking from end to end, and I’ve still got much more to explore.

4. The language. I’ve written about trying to immerse myself in Castellano more and about my frustrations when I fumble, but the ups and downs are all worth it. Learning a new language is a huge challenge for me, and I love it. I also love that I can’t understand every single conversation that’s happening around me, so I’m never stuck unintentionally eavesdropping on anything bothersome. (In the states I catch myself getting really ticked off when someone is talking too loudly on a cell phone or having an inane conversation in public; here you could be talking about something wildly inappropriate at the table next to me and I likely won’t even know it.)

5. Abuelitos. Oh my word, I’m smitten for the old men and women in Barcelona. They stay out nearly as late as the younger generations here, walking the streets arm-in-arm, drinking beers at outdoor tables. They dress to the nines, and seem just as in love as the day they met. I’m a hopeless romantic, so of course it makes my heart flutter. The day my Castellano is good enough to strike up a conversation with an older couple and learn their secret is the day I’ve arrived. ;)

6. The pace of life. This is wrapped up in nearly every other thing I love about Barcelona, and I’ve said it before, but the pace of life agrees with me. It’s such a treat to linger over lunch, have wine in the afternoon, wake to sunlight and not the blaring of an alarm. I sleep more deeply here, have wildly vivid dreams and feel like I weather stress better than I did in the states.

bcnbeach

Watching the sunset & sailboats on the beach in Barcelona.

7. Cheap wine & montaditos. Speaking of wine, it’s good and cheap here. Almost too good and cheap. (It’s true that it’s the same price to buy a glass of wine as a bottle of water in many bars.) And montaditos – small open-faced sandwiches with cheese, veggies, chorizo or tortilla de patatas – are the perfect snack. Some of my favorite dinners here have been a shared spread of five or six montaditos with a couple glasses of wine – all for under $10 per person. I’m also a big fan of tapas, especially when served with a side of spicy sauce.

Tapas

Pimientos de Padron y pulpo a la gallega with my new flatmate, Eliana.

8. Proximity to different countries & cultures. Since I’ve been here, I’ve made quick trips to Cadaques, Sitges, Tossa de Mar and Montserrat. While not quite as close (but still easily accessible), I’ve flown to Istanbul and Paris. When I studied abroad in Sevilla 10 years ago, it wasn’t so easy to get to other places in Europe, and I’m really enjoying Barcelona’s location in northern Spain. I’m not sure if my budget will allow for any more flights while I’m here, but I plan to explore La Rioja and the Basque country, and hopefully spend a weekend in Madrid.

Cadaques

Take me back to Cadaques any day.

3 things I don’t

1. The smoke & piss & spit. Ewww, right? I can’t go anywhere without seeing a frothy spitball or stream of pee in the street, and it seems that everyone smokes. (Lucky for me, Barcelona instituted a smoking ban in bars and restaurants in 2011 so I don’t return home from a night out smelling like an ashtray, but people still smoke in the streets all the damn day.) The Barcelona Reporter says that 35% of the general population over 16 years old in Spain smokes, and 24% of people in Barcelona smoke. From my experience in the streets, I say people are under-reporting their habits! In some ways I’ve become used to the smell of smoke, but the pee (and shit!) is another story. This certainly goes along with the lack of green space in Barcelona. We do have some beautiful parks, but not in the same abundance as Portland, and you can forget about grass-lined sidewalks. With no dirt or grass in sight, dogs (and dudes) pee on the cobblestones, and I’m forever dodging little rivulets of smelly liquid.

2. The economic crisis. This sort of goes without saying – and it’s not endemic to Catalonia only – but the economic crisis and job market woes are definitely putting a damper on the quality of life for locals and visitors to the city. I count myself lucky that I’ve found enough odd hours of work to get by, but I know that I’d be in a better situation if it weren’t for the scarcity of job openings here. And there would, I hope, be less conflict and consternation among locals. The mood here is still very much life-is-good, but I would like to see this city thriving even more!

3. Being “The American Girl.” Here’s a point I’d like to examine a bit further in a future post, but I do feel the mark of being a tourist/outsider. Service in restaurants is notoriously poor in BCN, but sometimes it’s downright abysmal when you can’t speak the language properly. (However, I don’t want to generalize too much because I’ve also had some holy-wow-fantastic service experiences here.) Sometimes I think people (read: men) approach me because I’m something of a novelty, someone to just practice English with or to test their knowledge of the United States.

WHAT’S MIAMI LIKE??!

Um, Miami is more than 3,000 miles from where I live … It’s sort of  like me asking you what Afghanistan is like.

Okay, that’s a stretch – and I’ve never actually answered someone that way. But, still, I’m a little tired of speaking for “all Americans” and giving token-ish answers on the state of affairs in American politics, culture, etc. Rather than being seen as a tourist here, I’d really like to integrate more. Of course I’ll never be accepted as a local, but I’d like to feel a bit more woven into the “real” fabric of life here.

+++

To end on a positive note(!): I’m seriously enjoying this adventure and all Barcelona is offering me. It’s good for my mind & good for my soul! It’s shaking up how I conceive of my strengths and weaknesses & how I relate to others. And it’s (fingers crossed) leading to the ever elusive bilingualism.

shelby

Shout-out and besos to Shelby, who’s been my partner in crime these last few months. She left Barcelona today, and it simply won’t be the same without her.

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preventing injuries & drinking wine

Monday’s workout: Hip hop boot camp class at the gym … which basically involves looking moronic while feeling like a Fly Girl:

Tuesday’s workout: stretching and drinking wine (yep, it’s a workout)

I really, really want to run today. I’m running in a 10K on Saturday, and I planned to do a six-mile tempo run today. But Sunday’s track workout did weird things to my leg muscles. Namely, I feel pain in these spots:

leg

Okay, just kidding. I don’t feel pain in all those spots. But I do have a lot of soreness on the anterior parts of my shins and the front of my ankles. (Guess what?! I must’ve actually been successfully toe striking on Sunday!)

And while I know I could probably run today without aggravating them much, I’d really rather not get shin splits this early on in my “serious” running training.

In the last few weeks, I’ve gone from working out 3-4 times per week (more like 3) and only one of those days being a run to working out 5-6 times per week with 3 (or more) runs. I’m not pounding out high mileages, but it is a considerable upgrade from before. So I’m going to be smart and take it slow.

There’s a lot of this going on around here:

icing

Ahhh, that's better.

And this is happening while I’m sitting at my desk at work:

icing

Sweet, sweet relief

Why am I so paranoid about getting injured? Well, I have a History (with a capital H, naturally) with knee, hip and IT band pain.

(Please stop reading here unless you’re interested in an overwrought, dramatic account of my running-related pain. You’ve been warned.)

Back in 2007, when I was young and dumb (har har), my friend Amy suggested that we run a half-marathon in San Francisco. (I honestly can’t remember which one we did, but if you’re looking for one in SF, this looks cool.)

Amy and I ran cross country together in high school. But, let me clarify: Amy ran cross country (#2 girl on Varsity, I think). And I jogged cross country. By my senior year, I’d edged my way to #7 (the last spot) on Varsity. Even then, I think it was more of a consolation type of thing that coach gave to me because I was a good sport. I did cross country because I liked to stay fit and hang out with my friends — and I wasn’t good enough for any other Varsity sports.

Throughout college and afterward, I kept jogging, but I mixed it with a lot of other things: dance, kickboxing, the elliptical, keg stands. (Actually I’m sort of lying about the keg stands. I like to conflate the one keg stand I’ve ever done and pretend I’ve had a raucous, storied past.)

Also, when I say that I kept jogging, what I really mean is that I ran once every couple weeks for no more than 30 minutes at a time.

Fast forward to the half marathon. I said I’d do it, and then I promptly forgot to train for it. I think I upped my runs to twice per week or something, but I don’t know if I ever ran any long runs, definitely not anything over 7-8 miles. But, I figured, I’m in good shape. I’ll be fine.

And I was fine, mostly, except for that nagging knee pain that started to plague me around mile 9 or 10. (That’s also, I believe, the mile Amy decided she’d had enough of my slowness and left me to finish her last 3 miles strong.)

Here we are in happier times (around the first mile):

half marathon

Happy. Slow. Before my knees crapped out.

I mean, how badly can you injure yourself if you’re only running 13 miles? Apparently, quite a bit. By the time I finished, I was doing the runner’s hobble, and the following week was, well, stupid. I stretched, iced, OD’d on Advil and couldn’t shake the knee pain.

So there began a solid two years of knee pain, hip pain and IT band uber-tightness. During that time, I didn’t actually make the connection to my IT band — I thought it was all in my knee — and so I didn’t really know how to properly treat it.

I’d try to go out jogging, and I’d feel the pain around 2-3 miles and call it a day. I did lot of other activities in the meantime and sort of gave up on running.

Eventually, I really missed running. And I got a bit smarter. And figured out I was dealing with bursitis and IT band syndrome, which are awfully common among runners, and also really treatable.

Since I caught the running bug again — it was only in January that I started getting excited about running again, and only in the last month that I’ve really cared about pushing myself — I’ve been doing things correctly.

And, now, apparently, I take rest days even when I don’t want to.

Cheers!

Cheers!

Well, yes, my wine glass looks roughly the same size as my head.