a whirlwind of an experience
Barcelona was our first introduction to living in Europe. Like many expats, we learned that moving to Europe is not only a dream come true, but also an extremely challenging experience. If you’re reading this then I can assume you are dreaming of moving abroad, or simply to Barcelona. Here’s our experience, and we hope it helps you with your journey.
Finding a Home
We arrived in Barcelona with two suitcases, two cats, a guitar case, and a keyboard. We checked into a hotel that we had booked for five days while looking for a place to live. Unbeknownst to us, things happen very slowly in Barcelona and Spain in general. Nearly two weeks later (Yes, TWO,) after a rough start with our first agent, a lot of searching, and several requests to extend our hotel stay, ShBarcelona found us the perfect apartment. Location is everything as they say in real estate and Barcelona has a lot of choices. Not all of the choices are suitable for people with cats, even when you carefully omit the fact that you have cats.
TIP: I recommend renting a short-term apartment before you even land in Barcelona, which will make the move infinitely less stressful. I would also suggest Airbnb, or local apartment companies like SH Barcelona or WaytoStay.
The Ciutat Vella, which includes the neighborhoods of El Raval and Born-Ribera, are very popular for expats. Our two bedroom apartment was located inside the Born barrio, on Carrer dels Carders, sort of a hidden street and only a short walk away from Mercat del Born. It was perfect for us. It had a beautiful art piece that spanned the entire wall of the living room from a local artist. It had quaint, wooden slatted windows that would open onto a tree lined cobble stone courtyard. The area is a labyrinthine space, with many small streets and little squares.
Get to know the neighborhood
Barcelona is a big city, but it’s the perfect size to explore on foot. The metro is easy to use and cheap, or consider investing in a bike and making the most of the sunshine. We would spend our days working, only because we had to, but took every chance we could to escape into the city. We would walk through Parc de la Ciutadella or get lost in the myriad of streets. Navigation was based completely on which direction we hadn’t gone before. Most of the time that worked out pretty well for us and when it didn’t, there was always a taxi or metro stop nearby to help us get back home.
Local musicians that would stop by regularly and play in that courtyard. Their songs would be a pleasant background soundtrack to our days. Our favorite was a local band called Microguagua that spent their days busking and their nights playing the clubs. They are very good and we always looked forward to when they stopped by.
Every morning we would hear the butaneros calling through the streets: “Bu-tan-oooo.” And the clanging sounds of metal on metal announcing their arrival. This is the butanero’s announcement that he is making his delivery rounds. In Spain, people tend to use liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) tanks mainly for their cooking or heating needs, although some of its other uses range from powering cars to refrigeration and air-conditioning.
Immersion and Language Barriers
Barcelona is part of the region called Cataluña and the specific dialect is Catalan. So you hear Catalan all around you, but in the city most people are bilingual and the signs are in both Spanish and Catalan. I’m embarrassed to say this, but our Spanish is terrible. We can speak Spanish, of course, but we’re nowhere near the level that we should be considering the amount of time we’ve spent here. Outside of ordering at a restaurant, we rarely speak any Spanish at all. Even when we introduce ourselves in Spanish and try to converse in Spanish we are often greeted in English.
Living like a local also means grocery shopping. Imagine if you can that the grocery store you’ve been shopping at for years suddenly replaced all of the products in the store with different products, in a different language. That’s what it was like for us. For example, we discovered that “ARF” is not just the sound of a dog barking, it’s also the name of a cleaner. But what does it clean?
Our first trip to the grocery store we tried to play it safe and only bought things that we thought were fairly obvious, common items. Pictures on the label can help but there aren’t always pictures. It was the next morning when I opened a bottle of milk and began to pour it over my cereal that the smell hit me. At first I thought that the milk was expired because there was obviously something not right about it. Seeing that the expiration date was still a week away I turned to Google. Apparently, leche de oveja is sheep’s milk and people actually drink it. On purpose! It was then that we developed the, “click a picture of the label then go home and Google it” method of shopping. It takes twice as many trips but trying to tell the difference between laundry detergent, fabric softener, or dishwasher detergent can be challenging when all of the labels are in a language that you don’t speak.
Adjust your body clock
Work normally starts around 9 and quite often there is a break at around 11, while lunch happens between 14 and 16. You’ll find a lot of shops closed between 14-17 reopening from 17 to 20 or 21. Work normally ends at 19/20 and dinner is served around 21/22. You’ll probably won’t sleep before midnight. On weekends if you think of going out, don’t bother to show up at a club before 2am.
Life is “cheaper” in Barcelona
Barcelona was really cheap compared to the prices we were used to in Los Angeles. It’s true, you can live really well for much less than most cities in the US, but remember Barcelona is popular, and rent here is notably more expensive than most other cities in Spain. Our apartment with all utilities was included in the price. Eating out is much cheaper, and public transport is way cheaper.
Making Friends with Shared Interests
Best thing about living in Barcelona
The best things about living in Barcelona, is the sun! And the food!
Hardest thing about living in Barcelona
Life is a beach
Just like other European cities, you find that a lot of people move to Barcelona because of the seemingly relaxed way of life, which Barcelona certainly offers. Locals have the ability to let go, relax, and not worry so much about time. They embrace the lifestyle of leisurely mornings, mid-afternoon breaks, and late dinners.