Last summer (2010) when my best friend Michelle was visiting me we had several conversations about my adjustment to life in Barcelona. One of the most eye opening things was something she said to me one day as we were talking about buying my muffin pan at the hardware store. She said “You aren’t just adjusting to life in Barcelona but to city life too”. Apparently in Boston you also get your muffin pan at the hardware store according to Michelle, who’s lived in Boston proper for about 15 years now.
So fast forward to September 2011 – almost halfway thru our time here in Barcelona and I’ve come to a conclusion that I never in a million years thought that I would come to. I like the city life. Yes, there I said it… I like it!
Now bear in mind that I was cool with us moving to the city when we decided to move here. I agreed with Josh that in order to truly experience life in Spain (at least for me), we needed to be in the heart of the city and not in the burbs where we had spent our entire lives. Not even when we lived in Massachusetts had we ever lived in the actual city… Waltham, Newton, yes, but not in the city. And now when I contemplate moving to the burbs here, it’s not for me, but for the kids. They are at an age where I definitely think they need a yard and an ability to play outdoors on something more than concrete. The parks here are dirt, not grass. But when I think about the possibility of moving out of the city, it makes me anxious – this is where EVERYTHING is and where I can walk to everything as well.
I’m a country girl at heart. Not hearing the crickets or tree frogs at night took some getting used to. Trading in the sounds of nature for the sounds of cars, horns and lots of voices. So did not seeing grass for days or weeks at a time and when you did see it, it was certainly not for playing on but for all the dogs in the city to use as a toilet. I never thought I’d have to tell my kids on a regular basis to stay off the grass!!
However, that being said, I do miss the country and lots of things about it. Last year we went to Provence in October. While we had taken several vacations before that, none of the places we stayed had a yard or much grass to play in. We arrived at our vacation house and Aidan took a deep breath and said “mmmmm, it smells like Attleboro!”. Ok now I’m not dissing on Attleboro at all here folks but the smells in Provence are definitely different than Attleboro – come on, it’s France! However, you get the picture, the kids missed the grass and were thrilled to be in a country setting for a little bit.
And I’m thankful for those visits where we get to have a taste of nature, even if for just a few days. Our trip to Andorra this past weekend was made all the more special because we were leaving the city. Trips where the kids get to explore the grass and their surroundings. When we made a trip to Lisbon in March, Aidan insisted we bring back a peddle cart that he had waited a half hour for in order to roll in grass that we had just come upon.
But when I think of all that we are getting out of city life as a family, I am glad that we’ve had this opportunity to live not only in Barcelona, but in the city. We walk, everywhere. When we first moved here walking a few blocks with Aidan was pretty painful, filled with constantly complaints and requests to be carried. Liam, at 2 1/2, was stuck in his stroller most of the time. As spring arrived this year I found myself leaving the stroller behind more and more. We took it only on one vacation this summer that we thought would be walking intensive and hardly used it. When I pick up the boys from school once a week I no longer haul the stroller with me but instead we walk the 1/2 mile to the commuter rail together, go down 2 stations and then walk the mile home. Not a complaint from either of them (other than Liam always needing to drop his pants and pee somewhere… but that’s more of a complaint from me that he needs to learn to pee before we leave school!). Even they have become used to the city!
Not only are they used to the walking, but they have become very city saavy. They know their way around. They can get home from most places. They use the metro and FGC (our commuter rail) proficiently. They know every famous Gaudi building in the city and can point them out… ok, well Liam isn’t there yet, but Aidan is. But Liam can point out anything Barca!! They know to stop at every crosswalk and they know that the two crosswalks right before our apartment can be crossed without waiting for us (they are both deadends and rarely have a car coming down them), the only ones that they are allowed to cross without us.
Josh loves the easy commute within the city. He takes the metro to work and rather than sitting in 55 miles of traffic on 128, he can now chill with a book for the 25 min subway ride into work – he doesn’t have to change lines, he doesn’t have to get into a car. He walks about 5 mins on either side of the metro between home and work and loves that he can do that year round.
I love walking everywhere. When I’ve gone home and when I’ve gone on vacations to non city areas, I’ve found that after a few days I feel a bit blech after not walking much. The first time it took me a bit to realize that in a way I’d been getting significantly less exercise and that was really affecting my mood and energy. I walk on average 3-5 miles a day depending on what I’m doing (though honestly today was only about a mile and a half but that’s because I’ve been home all day with the exception of some grocery shopping). I walk to shopping areas, walk to meet up with friends and of course walk to do all of my grocery shopping.
So will you see us moving to the city when we move back home eventually? No, no way… we won’t be doing that. The difference is multi fold. First off, winters here are mild. Last year Aidan wore his winter jacket I think 3 times. You can be outside all year long and yes it gets chilly but I won’t be pulling my granny cart of groceries thru several feet of snow and slush here. That’s my big reason why I wouldn’t be in the city at home. Another is that the kids need to be in a neighborhood and have their yard again and be able to freely ride their bikes and play in the streets with their friends. Finally, being in the burbs is “normal” for me at home. It’s what I’ve always done and can’t imagine living anywhere else. I love the burbs and everything about them. I’ll just have to start walking more!!