Almost a year and a half in Barcelona!
As we approach the end of 2019, we prepare for the second Christmas in the Catalonian capital. We, my family and I, have been happy living here, albeit with some inconveniences now and then, which I will talk about more later, but first I want to clarify that I strongly believe that there is no such thing as the perfect country, the perfect city or the perfect place. Therefore, I know that there will be things I do not like about Barcelona or any other city, but as long as the positive things outweigh the negative ones, then we are good.
Since I want to end this article on a high note, I will start with the things that have not worked well by living here:
- The bureaucracy – everything takes much longer and requires more paperwork than it should. The time delays, as well as the documentation required to get things done, defy all reason and logic. After all this time we are still short one NIE (foreigner identification number,) and the other two required an attorney scheduling two separate appointments in two different towns located more than an hour away. It was never made clear to us why we could not register as a family since the documentation was the same and we all live in the same apartment.
Additionally, getting our business licenses have also hit snags, This has been in part because we did not know if all the steps needed to get them since we were used to just filling out a form and leaving it at that. Here you have to go to several offices and then respond to some ludicrous questions, such as why and how we are uniquely qualified to do the work. Keep in mind that my partner is an Irish (i.e. EU) citizen and, therefore, in theory, should be able to live and work where he pleases, but the Spanish government makes it more complicated.
- Lack of cleanliness – this is an issue that most cities face today. Therefore, it is not unique, but it is still inconvenient and frustrating at times; especially since there are exemplary cities worldwide where they do take care of their surroundings and are not as unkempt as Barcelona. This is especially striking when we return from cities like London, Berlin, Munich, Vienna, and so on. And it is frustrating because after having lived in other cities, we know how it could be, how relatively easy it is to have a clean city, and what a difference it makes regarding the quality of life, and how important it is for your kids to see and appreciate.
Barcelona does have programs and ads encouraging people to keep the streets clean, such as having dedicated days of the week when residents can take large pieces of discarded furniture or other large items and leave them at the curb for pick up. However, the smaller things, such as leaving trash on the ground next to overflowing containers or dropping cigarette butts indiscriminately or simply not picking up after oneself, are all things that are more difficult to change. Additionally, because money is scarcer than in some of the other cities listed above, property owners rarely refurbish the facades of their buildings, which then give the appearance of grime and neglect. I think that this contributes to the lack of energy or desire to clean up the streets.
- Deteriorating infrastructure and malfunctions – this is a general malaise that you see throughout Spain and, therefore, Barcelona is not exempt. For example, it seems like the local ATM machine for our bank is broken 30 to 40% of the time. This is not an issue during bank hours, but late at night or over the weekend, when you need some cash, it can be frustrating having to hunt down the next ATM that belongs to our bank or else pay a substantial fee in order to just take out 40 or 50€. Similarly, the elevator in our building, which is only about two years old, tends to break down on a regular basis. Since we live seven floors up, it can cause tremendous inconvenience when we come back from grocery shopping.
As far as infrastructure is concerned, the biggest problem is the train or subway stations. There aren’t elevators at every station, which would be alright, but when the escalators don’t work either, then it makes for a difficult time if you have a child, a child in a pram, accompanying an elderly or just trying to get luggage up and down the stairs. Also, every time it rains, the subway workers place sawdust and/or buckets to capture the rainwater leaks inside the station. Obviously, this is not a life-threatening situation, but, in simple terms, it looks bad and it is not clear why the leaks are not fixed.
Now, let’s move on to the things we like a lot and why we stay here.
- The people – Barcelonans, as well as other residents here, are some of the nicest people around. It is common for people to engage you in conversation easily; especially in coffee shops, restaurants, and other public spaces. The people here, I think, are also responsible for the great vibe that exists in Barcelona. It is something difficult to define, but there are a liveliness and a joie de vivre, which is not common in all cities; even in cities with a higher standard of living and where there is less poverty. You get a sense of this vibe the minute you walk out onto the street and see friends, families, and others sitting in cafes, on park benches, and just about anywhere enjoying being with each other, as well as their drinks, meals or just their cigarettes.
When I think about moving again, or what it felt like living in other cities, I always realize that this vibe is something that I missed before we moved here, and would miss if we move again. And it is something that you find in every corner of the city, regardless of the district, income level, the ethnicity of people. It is simply something that is everywhere, although it seems to be stronger in the evening when people are done with work and/or school and can enjoy their free time together.
- The weather – the hot and humid summers notwithstanding, the fact that you have so much sunshine available year-round is a quality-of-life factor, which is not common everywhere; especially not in major cities in Europe. Of course, it does rain here and there are cloudy days, but they do not last more than a day or so. And, even in winter, when it is cold, the sun will shine and you can sit by the window in your apartment or at a cafe and be warmed by the sun.
Since we know that “good” weather is tied to our moods, it is probably no surprise that the “vibe” I wrote of earlier is tied to sunny days, which translates to being out with other people. And although the weather may be a little too sunny (i.e, hot) in the summer, this is also the time when going to the beach or many pools around town is a must. This leads to the “beach” or “coastal” attitude of people, which is more relaxed and not as stressful as in other large cities.
- The geography – aside for the 6 years we lived in Berlin, plus a couple of others living in Arizona and Lake Tahoe, I have always lived near the ocean and had forgotten what a huge difference that makes. Just being able to see the end of the land meet a large body of water, such as the Mediterranean here, lends a certain added value to appreciating nature. This is not to say that you cannot appreciate living by a forest or a desert or any other geographical element. It is simply that a sea or ocean lends itself to added activities, such as sunbathing, swimming, sailing, surfing and so on.
Also, in addition to the Mediterranean, the mountains are within minutes of Barcelona. As well, higher elevations for skiing, such as the Pyrenees, are just a couple of hours away. In fact, you can theoretically go skiing in the morning and then hang out at the beach in the evening. I only know of a few places like this worldwide. California contains a couple of them, and Lebanon and Turkey a couple more. And, if skiing or winter sports are not your thing, you can always go hiking and camping all over Catalonia.
Again, there is no such thing as the “perfect place’” There are advantages and disadvantages of living just about anywhere. The best you can hope for is to have the pluses outweigh the minuses, and have the opportunity, courage and drive to try new places and things.