Last updated on December 16, 2015
For those of us who have spent an extended period in Barcelona, the city never really leaves us, even if we leave it. Guest blogger Ben Holbrook shares what he misses most about Barcelona now that it’s no longer home…but for how long?
I moved to Barcelona in August 2009 and landed, miraculously, on Passeig de Gràcia in the scorching heat. I had one suitcase, zero knowledge of Spanish (or Catalan) and an un-quenchable thirst for adventure. Apart from my one month TEFL course, which started the next day, I had no plans apart from getting to know the city and perhaps to try and make some friends along the way.
Richard, my contact and host for the month of August, met me and walked me through Gràcia to his flat whilst sipping on ice-cold Estrella Damm. It was beautiful and buzzing with life. People sat on the benches discussing life whilst youngsters moved slowly through the streets. It was the beginning of a two-year love affair, a period of time that was to change my life forever.
I left the city, begrudgingly in the summer of 2011 and I have dreamt of returning ever since. Not a day goes past that I don’t find myself reminiscing about the amazing times I had in various parts of the city, and smile at how happy I was. Here are a few random things I miss and hope to one day live again. Venga, chicos! Vamos!
RANDOM MOMENTS OF SPONTANEITY
I’ve never been one to spend time making plans, it’s a shame really because I know I could have got more out of my time in Spain if I had been more organised.
The truth is, however, Barcelona is a city where you simply don’t need a plan. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that you’d do better off without one. Without fail I’d spend every Sunday just wandering around the streets, getting lost in the Barri Gòtic, or El Bourn. I’d find street musicians playing beautiful music, sometimes Spanish style, other times it would be guys with didgeridoos and African drums, I loved the constant diversity. I’d stumble upon yet another quirky little cafe and treat myself to a cafe con leche and whatever they had on offer – it’d never cost more than a couple of Euros.
I remember a huge group of people bursting into dance as a stage was setup down at Barceloneta beach, the band was clearly very famous and it was heart warming to see such joy in the streets. In fact, there was always some kind of stage being erected in one of the various neighbourhoods celebrating anything they could get away with.
Apart from August, when it was far too hot to exercise outdoors (at least for me), I would spend all of my time cycling or running along the promenade by the beaches. I’d whizz down to the W Hotel, stopping only to watch the performers along the way or maybe to take a coffee, as they say in Spain.
I also loved packing a bag with some sandwiches and walking up towards Tibidabo and Collserolla. It was always greener and cooler up there, and the views of the city were literally breath taking. I’d wait for the sun to go down and then run through the handsome streets of Eixample, past Sagrada Familia towards my favourite avenue in the whole of Barcelona, Passeig de Sant Joan. I’d take a breather, watch the old men play bowls and the youngsters trying their hand at table tennis.
The weather allowed so much more freedom to get outdoors and to be active – I’ve never been as fit and healthy as I was in Barcelona.
As with most people living in a new city, during the first couple of months living in Barcelona I spent a disproportionate amount of my time in bars. What struck me was the sheer volume of the crappy little granja bars on every street corner. The word means “farm” and they started as breakfast cafeterias where people drank the milk and dairy products of las lecherías. (Think a bakery, but for milk!)
Nowadays, I guess they are the equivalent of the pubs that we have in Britain, many of the granja operators seem to have no desire to make it a special place, or somewhere you’d really want to spend an evening. They are always run by old men, and seemed to feature the same generic products. Estrella Damm on draught, red & white wine (house), cafe con leche, jamón and some random tapas that always looked like they’d been left out for the last month. These old man bars, in my mind, were perfect examples of function over form and I spent much of my time trying to avoid them.
However, it’s hard to avoid them when they are located literally everywhere and occupy the best sunny-spots. I found myself frequenting them, for coffee breaks, for after work beers, for cheap and cheerful one-euro-Saturday-night-beers, for a quick bite to eat – for everything!
And then I realised that these granja bars summed up everything I loved about the city. They’re not about indulgence, luxury, or being overly sophisticated – they’re about living simply, enjoying a drink here and a coffee there, on a daily basis. They made daily life enjoyable and affordable and that’s what I loved about Barcelona, it was a modest but wonderfully simple way of life. I’ll forever try to live that way and to be as happy as I was in sunny Barcelona.
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