Monna McDiarmid currently resides in Yokohama, Japan, but she's also been fortunate enough to have called Thailand, Spain, Mexico and Colombia home in the past, too. She not only blogs about her travels, but also gives us a glimpse into the details of her expat life. As someone who's lived in Barcelona for three years and names it as one of her favorite cities (and just returned from a week-long visit there), I asked Monna to share some insights and tips about the Catalonia capital.
As our plane dropped out of the clouds and swept over the Mediterranean coastline, we leaned towards the window, taking in our first, glorious views of Barcelona in two years. I turned to DP and whispered, “Why did we ever leave?”
Life, of course, is not that simple. As international educators, we are responsible for funding our own retirement and it was clear that the kind of aggressive saving required was never going to happen while working at our tiny international school. So, after three years in Barcelona, we had moved to Asia where we would be able to live well while saving money.
But, somehow, life has not been quite as sweet since.
Barcelona is of Spain but is not Spanish. When dictator General Francisco Franco tried to squash the spirit of the Catalan people during the Spanish Civil War, he couldn’t have predicted that his actions would actually help strengthen their fierce pride. The Barca football stadium was the only place where Catalans could speak their language without suppression and the team quickly became a symbol of Catalan sovereignty. Today, most Catalans speak Spanish but they may prefer not to.
During our trip this summer, we met up with photographers Kyle Hepp and her husband Seba and retraced the steps of our daily walk home through the neighborhood of Gracia. The neighborhood was just as we left it and the golden light flowed down the side streets like liquid gold. The woman at our local bakery recognized us immediately (we don’t really blend) and she ran out from behind the counter to give us a hug. We had been regulars; she had never minded our Spanish.
In our three years in Barcelona, we learned that enjoying the city was like falling out of bed – anyone could do it. But to BELONG in Barcelona, now that was quite a different matter requiring patience, time, a sense of humor and a commitment to extending oneself – linguistically and socially. One needed to court Barcelona carefully, according to her rules and whims. But, from time to time, when the gods of Catalunya embraced us, it was true love.
- Learn a few words of Spanish and Catalan before you arrive.
- Guard your valuables carefully; the thieves in Barcelona are, perhaps, the most innovative in the world.
- Eat tapas. Patatas bravas, pan con tomate and escalivada are all musts.
- Sip cava at a café.
- Fall under the thrall of Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia.
- Cheer Barca to victory in a home game at Camp Nou. Be careful…you may just fall in love with the coach, Pep Guardiola!
- People-watch in one of the city's amazing plaças. Our favorite was Plaça Rius i Taulet (now called Plaça de la Vila de Gracia).
- Walk along the beach.
- Ramble up Las Ramblas. We favor Rambla de Catalunya, which runs North of Plaza de Catalunya.
- Buy a pair of espadrilles or menorquinas.
- Take in a concert at the Palau de la Musica.
Every city has its own charms. Barcelona has way more than her fair share.
Images: courtesy of Monna McDiarmid