Living abroad means you’re always stuck between two places. There are people, places, and things I love in both places, and there’s some stuff I prefer in one country over the other. I just spent two weeks at home in California, and of course, there were lots of things I missed about Barcelona. (Now that I’m back, I’m missing California things. I can never win!) Here are seven of the things I’ve missed about my adopted city.
7) The Barcelona vibe
Every time I’m in the city center of Barcelona, I pick up on this vibe I’m obsessed with. It’s got the big city feel mixed with a laid-back attitude. California has the laid-back attitude, but I always miss the pace in Barcelona, or as the Spanish say, ‘el feeling‘ (one of my new favorite Spanish-adopted English words).
6) Pretty Sights
Totally superficial, but it had to be on here. It’s not that California’s ugly by any means, but I’m still charmed by all the very old things in Barcelona, plus all the crazy modernist stuff. At my old job, I biked past the Sagrada Familia every day; now, I get to check out vibrant street art on medieval churches on the way to work. Sorry, Riv, you just can’t compete with that.
5) Travel opportunities
Living in Europe means there are tons of easy, cheap travel opportunities to go to other countries. This isn’t to say that there aren’t great travel opportunities in California. Going to San Francisco from my hometown is a short flight away , but it’s not quite the same as having a short flight and being in a totally different country. Back home, there’s no Ryanair, so I often drive if I want to travel. You can drive all day and still be in California!
It’s also easier to travel around without a car in Spain, which I love. Plus, because all the sights are new and strange to me, they automatically get extra “cool” points simply for being completely novel (just like Californian sights would for many Spanish people).
4) Social life part 1: The Parties
OK, this isn’t just about the actual parties (although Barcelona has some spectacular ones). It’s more about the going out lifestyle that I have access to here. If I go out back home, A) it involves driving, which leads to B) people aren’t out in the street wandering around as much. The driving is a hassle (public transportation is way better when drinking and/or late night are involved), and when there’s nobody walking around on the streets it makes a city feel, well, dead. (I’m looking at you, Los Angeles).
Also, the schedule drives me nuts. Last time I did dinner and a night out, we ate around 6, then it was straight to a bar, straight to a club, and straight to bed at the “late” hour of 2 a.m. I was sputtering with indignation when I got turfed out so early! In Barcelona, I rarely meet up with my friends before 9 p.m., so it feels way less rushed. And you have time for the essential disco-nap.
3) Social Life Part 2: The Friends
Now onto social life part 2: my friends are here! I moved to Barcelona two weeks after graduating college, so all of my new friends are here. Combine that with what’s going on back in California – my college friends have scattered, and none of my friends growing up have stayed in our hometown. It’s always great to see them but tough to get everyone in the same place at the same time (especially if I’m busy at home as I was on my last trip). My social life is definitely not the same as it used to be back home.
2) You can do more for less money
Having talked to a bunch of friends who have lived in other major cities, we agree that in Barcelona, you can have a nice lifestyle for not much money. Renting a room, buying groceries, and going out are not expensive compare to other places. The wages are much lower than in California here, but I can afford a lot more.
Of course, not everything is cheaper here, but my lifestyle in Barcelona is definitely more affordable than it would be in, say, San Francisco. I’m not rich by any means, but I have the freedom to do whatever I want, and that, like those cheesy commercials say, is priceless.
1) Public transportation
This may seem like a weird one to pick as the top thing that I miss, but I really do get frustrated at the lack of public transportation in California! It hands-down the thing I get most annoyed with and feel that it is most outrageous not to have in California.
With things like my friends or a different cultural lifestyle, I miss them, but it’s easy to understand why they can’t exist in California. Public transportation is not one of those things.
Southern California public transportation is slow and poorly connected, which often makes it impossible for me to use. #2, #4, and #5 would all be improved with better public transportation. In Barcelona, I can get around by bus, train, metro, night bus, the other train system, or community bikes. In California, I struggle to find a train that can get me in and out of L.A. outside of a commuter schedule (it’s only an hour away on the train, tops). There’s not even great transport to and from the airport inside of L.A. itself – a place lots of people need transportation to and from. Arrgh!
OK, to be fair, let’s move on to a few things I miss about California when I’m in Barcelona. Of course, friends and family are the biggest one, but I wanted to talk about some things that aren’t quite as obvious.
3) Being more comfortable
This is pretty general, and I’m not just talking about physically comfortable. At home I am more physically comfortable, because things like carpet seem to be nearly nonexistent in Spain. But I’m also more comfortable in a non-physical sense simply because I don’t stick out when I walk down the street in California. I hadn’t experienced that prior to moving to Spain and I hadn’t realized how uncomfortable it can be to permanently stick out. Some days, I just want to be completely ignored – not the foreigner, the object of interest.
The language also plays into being comfortable. I speak good Spanish, but it’s never going to be as natural and fluid as English is for me.
2) Cooking for myself
I am not ashamed to admit it: I am basically the world’s worst cook. I hardly ever cook anything beyond pasta, and when I do it inevitably turns out oddly. I can just about do pasta right, although I have managed to set my pasta on fire while it was in a pan of water AND managed to fail at boiling water (it exploded and I’m still not sure how). When I’m at home, somebody else takes care of all that nasty cooking business. I am a fan – not only is the result not blackened and smoldering, but it actually tastes good too!
(This one I could probably improve upon with some time, admittedly.)
1) The weather
OK, I always complain about the weather! Growing up in California meant I was rarely exposed to any of the not-so-nice elements (wind, cold, and even rain are all rarities. Snow does not exist, except when relegated to appropriate mountainous areas, as it should be). Sure, it gets cold at night, but the days are almost always sunny. Having the sun around just about every day means the cold doesn’t stick as much.
Autumn is definitely here in Barcelona, and the days are noticeably gloomier, chillier, and darker much earlier than they were just a few weeks ago. Winter is a physically painful experience for me, and I’m already dreading it.
However, FYI, my whingeing was justified last year when a guy from the Netherlands (a place we can probably agree there is proper cold), said it felt even colder in Barcelona than Amsterdam. HA! Actually, wait, what am I laughing for? That cold is quickly on its way. Sad days.
What kinds of things do you miss from home when you’re traveling?
I’m a part of the world’s worst cooks club. Not only am I terrible, but I simply have no interest in it or getting better at it. I know it’s an essential life skill, but I find cooking soooo boring. One thing I did not miss moving back home was cooking for myself!
And yeah, the public transportation isn’t any better on the East Coast. I have yet to find an American city that has an efficient public transportation outside of NYC (or that has 24 hour subway!). The commuter train I take into the city every day for work is pretty reliable and closes pretty late (around 2 AM). I think our country is simply too big to have an efficient public transportation system.
amelie88 recently posted…On the Literary Trail of New York: Washington Irving’s Sunnyside
I feel EXACTLY the same way. I’m bad at it, but I’m so disinterested it’s going to be tough to get better.
I think the US may be too big to have great public transportation, but I wish it was better within the cities themselves. LA is terrible!
Honestly, I totally feel you on #1, that’s one of my top-rated things that I enjoy about Spain. I’m from the Chicagoland area…it’s hard to do anything without a car even here. The trains heading into/leaving the city that are not for the 9 – 5 commuter crowd only depart once an hour, and the public transportation within the city can be pretty slow. I lived in the suburbs, so in general there’s not much public transportation and none within walking distance.
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Ahh I had heard it was better in Chicago, that sucks. I hate having to be dependent on a car, but that’s just what you get sometimes. Oh well!
I think it is probably *better*, especially for those who are more centrally located in Chicago, but 1 – 2 hour commutes are pretty much the norm even if you live in the city proper. We supposedly rank in the top 5 for pretty much every bad traffic issue (there was a survey a while back), so those who have a car don’t necessarily have it much better.
Haha I grew up close to L.A. so I know allll about bad traffic issues. I can’t believe it would still take you 1-2 hours within Chicago though! That seems crazy.
that quote on the first picture, I am probably going to make a poster of it and hang it in my bedroom, well, in every home! 🙂
Thanks! I love that quote too, it’s one of my favorites.
I miss American plumbing, with power showers and all the hot water I want. (Unless I am traveling on business in Japan, which has even fancier bathrooms than in the US). Is this a cliché or what!
Allysonyj recently posted…Freeway-Free in Spain: It is Good to be the King
Haha sometimes clichés exist for a reason! I miss bigger showers, my new shower is so, so tiny. And hot water…sigh.
I’m a writer living in Aspen. I recently completed my second Camino de Santiago walk (in fact I’m in Santiago this instant). The Aspen Times published a series of columns on my walk which you can find with Google if you’re interested. I am also doing some pieces for the Wall Street Journal beginning next week.
I’m thinking of moving to Barcelona for a year or half year. Would love some advice from you in we can have an offline dialog. I can be reached at the email address I gave into the box above.
Thanks! Glenn K. Beaton
Oh cool! I’ll shoot you an e-mail right now. 🙂
I couldnt enter inside of Sagrada familia yet. It is a bit frustating for me and now that I see your amazing picture the feeling is even worse. About public transportation, I like Madrid and Barcelona network, it is very easy to move around the city and even faster than a car. For example I only drove once in my life in Barcelona but it is a nasty experience, too many traffic lights. u need to stop in every corner. i didnt like it
Miguel Ángel Otero Soliño recently posted…La estación del Orient Express en Estambul
During La Mercè it’s free! You should definitely go in at some point.
And driving around Barcelona is crazy. We took my friend’s car to the beach once and it took us so long to find parking we could’ve gone there and back on the metro…easily.
I didnt know that thanks, monuments in BCN are so expensive, I dont like it too much. By the way the last time that I was in Barcelona we couldnt enter because there were a big queue and we prefer to spend our time visiting different things but I have this thing in my mind.
Miguel Ángel Otero Soliño recently posted…La estación del Orient Express en Estambul
Hey Jess, I think your fifth point about travel opportunities is what resonates with me most. Even living in the UK means it’s a lot harder (and more expensive) to explore mainland Europe. I wrote a similar post a year after I left Barcelona, and I wanted to share it with you.
The Things I Miss Most About Barcelona
Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.
Ben Holbrook recently posted…A Bouchon Révolution: Where & What to Eat in Lyon, France
Just caught your comment a few days later. Thanks for the link, I enjoyed reading it and it’s always interesting to see the other side of the coin.
Jessica of HolaYessica recently posted…A Colorful Trip Through Spain
BCN is one of my favorite cities in the world too! I can relate to how you feel about the place. The accessibility of travel on the metro and as you mentioned, a great hub to explore other European cities. The tapas are delicious!
Mig recently posted…Bike Tour To Panama City: Crossing The Finish Line… The Bridge of the Americas
It’s my favorite so far! I’m a big fan of tapas too. 🙂
Hi Jessica, really interesting post, especially since I’m currently trying to organise a family getaway in Barcelona for next summer (I’ve never been before) – the city looks and sounds amazing. I’ve only been away from the UK for around eight months so far but I also find that there are things I sorely miss from back home in London – love the quote you mention, it’s so true!
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Thanks very much, Amy! I highly suggest a family getaway to Barcelona, it’s a great city to visit and there’s stuff to do for all ages. My cousins and sister came to visit a few months ago and we had a fab time!
We absolutely love Barcelona and find ourselves reminiscing often. Totally agree on your #1 point, the metro and busses are great. By the way, fantastic photo of the inside of Sagrada Familia.
The GypsyNesters recently posted…When Hurricanes Blow
Thanks for stopping by! Yeah, the public transportation here is really very good.
Oh, yes, short days in the winther, we here in the north have a lot of those, here in Stockholm, Sweden around the darkest days of the year, the sun is up by 9 or 10 and sets again before 13. Thats a short day.
My family and I are visiting in the middle of march, and I’ve been here before, but are there any nice places that are not full of tourists, that’s nice to visit?
Mathilda recently posted…New York – mina favoriter, del 1
I love this! I’m studying abroad in Ireland right now, and I can completely relate!
I’m heading to Barcelona in about a month (over the Easter weekend), and I was wondering if you have any suggestions for places to see, things to eat, etc. Stuff that only a local would suggest 🙂
Good luck on your future adventures!
Emily Skeels recently posted…Spring Fever!
Hmm…there is TONS of great stuff to do. My top suggestions are always see something Gaudi (it’s all pretty spectacular), go to Montjuic, and explore the old city center. Look for the Roman temple in the city center, that’s pretty cool! As far as things to eat, try La Fonda down by Plaça Reial and the Ramblas for tasty, inexpensive food in the center of the city.
Let me know if you have any more questions! 🙂
Hi Jessica, really enjoyed reading your blog! @Barcelona_Help RTed this post. You have such a fun writing style. Gonna explore some more of your stuff 🙂
Long time Dutch BCN lover here. I recognize so many things that you sum up. I lived in Barcelona for a while a few years ago and I just HAVE to get back at least once a year to soak in that amazing vibe. It’s unexplainable but it just gets under your skin and refuses to go away. I always miss BCN when I have to get back north to cold, flat, rainy Holland. The culture, the music, the views, the food, the people, the public transport…
There is however one thing I never miss, and I’m curious whether you feel the same about it. As much as I like the friendliness and hospitality of the Catalan people, I find them quite hard to deal with for a longer period of time. They are SO loud. They’re proud, and dominant, and to be honest I often find them ignorant about what happens in the outside world. And oh man, you CANNOT have a single dinner without football being on the telly. Urrrgh…
Do you have an opinion on this?
Thanks, Mique! 🙂 Barcelona really does get under your skin, doesn’t it?
Mmm I don’t find the same things problematic, but I do agree that the noise levels are really high here! It’s always a little hard to sleep at night after coming back from a trip home to the peace and quiet haha.
I love Barcelona! Used it as a bit of a hub the very first time I started traveling for one of the reasons you posted here… cheap travel. It’s so easy to get almost anywhere in Europe, it’s incredible. If you’re comparing to California and think it’s bad, well… just come North, cross the 49th and then see how expensive travel becomes in that lovely country of mine… INSANE!
Yeah, cheap travel is the best! It’s a bummer it’s not as cheap in other parts of the world.
Even though my home country is much closer, I can definitely relate to this, specially the good sights and the transportation part which are CRAZY good!
Yes, the public transportation is the best!
You’re dreading the cold and i’m dreading the heat! The weather in the UK was what finally gave me the needed push to go abroad and although in Australia I did moan about the cold sometimes, now i’m in Cambodia i’m already finding the constant hot, sweaty, humid climate a bit difficult! If California has a similar climate to Queensland (my favourite weather-wise) i’ll have to go one day…
Ugh, humid heat is pretty awful. Being sweaty all the time is no fun! California is dry heat and it’s warm all year, but gets very cold at night in the winter. The dry heat means you’re not drenched in sweat all year round.