Thursday, August 4, 2016

Gringo Gringa Barcelona

Nathalie and I have been in Barcelona for a bit over one month now. Well technically Nathalie has been here since the end of April, but still; it's been one month since we moved out of Belgium. Here are some of my mostly random observations from my first month in.

Que Calor

It's July. It's Spain. It’s hot. And that should should go without saying. However, the mediterranean climate is relatively new to me, and after spending 13+ years in temperate, rainy Belgium, it's taking some adjustment to live in summer.

In general, it's not too hot. The temperature sits around 28-32C (82-90F) most days, and being right on the coast, there's a constant, gentle breeze coming off of the sea. However, there are days when the humidity spikes and breaking as sweat, even by simply going outside, is unavoidable.

I like it though. Growing up in the southeast of the US, where it's generally hotter and more humid than Barcelona, being in a hot climate feels a bit like second nature. Additionally, southeast Asia was, as you can imagine, equally warm. After growing tired of never having a real summer while in Belgium, I gladly welcome the heat. Plus we have air-conditioning in our apartment, so there's that.  Also, I get to go to work in shorts.  

Living and Working in a Tourist Town

Given the typically rainy summers in the north, it only makes sense that sun-deprived  Europeans head south for temporary solar refuge.  And with geopolitical strife on the oriental shores of the mediterranean, Barcelona has become tourist destination numero uno in the south.    

Practically everywhere you go in the city, tourists abound. With them, comes this odd mishmash of two different worlds colliding.   As you might guess, coming from quiet Belgium, this is a major change of pace for us.

Herding tourists on segways is big business here
in Barcelona
On the one hand, you have the locals and residents, who are simply living in their town. Like practically any other major city on the planet, they eat, sleep, shop and go about their lives in a totally normal matter.

On the other hand, you have hordes of tourists, slowly gawking about at a decidedly slower, holiday tempo. Not that there's anything technically wrong with this; it's their vacation and they should enjoy. For me personally, this contrast reveals a city parallel lives.

When I leave for the work at 08:45 in the morning, the metro is usually filled with your typical commuters. Like anywhere else, riders board and disembark from trains with little hassle. The corridors in the station are fluid, and the atmosphere is by-and-large professional.

However in the evenings, I’m one of the few people in the packed metro who are coming out of work, succumbing to the masses of mildly intoxicated beach-goers (I work by the marina next to a major beach).  I’d be lying if I didn’t find it somewhat frustrating. Then again, this duality is what makes this city special, and for a tourism aficionado, it makes for a great living case-study.

Out and about, Nathalie and I sit in the nether-region between tourist and local. While we certainly look the part (hey, this post is called Gringo Gringa Barcelona for reason), we’re sincerely  making the effort to establish ourselves as bonafide residents.

Usually moving with a purpose, we aim to avoid tourist hotspots if at all possible. We’re already becoming recognized by the shops and restaurants in the neighborhood and when we take bikes around town, we don’t hesitate to lay on the bell.

In any case, it’s been an eye-opening experience. I’ve gained newfound appreciation for people living and working in places like Paris, Tokyo, London, New York, San Francisco, etc. The patience they’ve developed towards visitors is truly impressive. With summer still in full swing and Barcelona expecting a record number of visitors this year, I still have ample opportunity to watch the show.

Spanish Hours
Spain moves to a slightly different beat than the rest of the world. Where convention puts most workers out the door early, rushing through the workday to be home by 5:00 p.m., eating by 7:00 p.m., and in bed by 11:00, the Spanish take their time.

Typical afterwork detox.
When I leave for work a bit before 9:00 a.m for my 25 minute commute, the streets are quiet. Around 2:00 p.m, my lunch break starts. I get two hours and as I’m working directly on the coast, I’ll either go to the beach or have lunch on one of the piers. At 4:00 p.m., I’m back at work, finishing three hours later. In my previous job, leaving at 7:00 p.m. made me one of the last ones out the door. At this time, Brussels is largely shutting down for the night, with only bars and restaurants still open.

By contrast, Barcelona at 7:00 p.m. is just waking up. Stores are open for another two hours. Restaurants only really begin serving food from 8:30 p.m. Life easily goes into the early hours of the next morning.

For some reason, I didn’t have too much trouble adapting to this new tempo. I got accustomed to finishing late at my previous job and having a two-hour lunch break to decompress is pleasantly refreshing. Additionally, most companies let out at lunchtime on Friday (my employer included), giving workers the possibility to have a big meal followed by a rewarding siesta.

Chico del Vermouth

Speaking of eating, we’ve found a great little sandwich place around the corner from our apartment. They specialize in hot sandwiches that are best described as paninis with pork loin, made with roasted bell peppers, freshly-baked bread and succulent cheese. Don’t worry; it tastes better than it sounds.

A typical 'plato del dia;' a chicken leg with couscous and
mixed salad. 
On top of serving excellent sandwiches, I discovered the joys of vermouth. While largely used around the world as a mixer, here, it’s served either by itself or with a splash a gin, over ice, and with a slice of orange. Fruity enough from the red wine but counterbalanced with the bitterness from the fortification, it’s pleasantly refreshing to have one, two, four after a hard week’s work.

In addition to the sandwiches, the food here is quite amazing. Nathalie and I have tried cooking in the evenings, but with the heat from the day lingering inside, it’s often too much to bear.  Instead, we go out to eat. Choices are plentiful and the selection is impressive. Spain is one of the world’s largest wine producers, making dinner pairing not only effortless, but affordable to boot.

Onward Towards August (and beyond)

One month in, and everything is looking good. As you could imagine, it’s been a change-filled month, closing up shop in one country and moving to another.  We’re only now getting our rhythm back and even then, there’s still more to do before we’ve fully integrated back into a less nomadic life.  

With that being said, we’re genuinely happy with how our life here is progressing.  Moving to Barcelona was meant to be a continuation of the adventure we started last winter.  So far, we’re discovering something new every day.  

1 comment:

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