Things I Never Thought I Would Miss… in Barcelona

We left Barcelona just over 8 months ago.  At the time, I was ready.  Beyond ready.  It’s not that I didn’t love it there, but most of my friends had long since left and with our lives in a state of limbo for close to 9 months, I was just ready for a change.  But now that we’ve been here in the Netherlands for 7 months and we are settling into our lives, the reality has hit that there are things about Barcelona that will forever be a part of me now as well as things that I just miss about living there, most of which, I never would have expected.  Here’s a few in no particular order…

  • Going to the market. At first I hated having to go to like 50 different stores (ok, perhaps 50 is an exaggeration) for all of my specialty food.  And by specialty I mean cheese, meat, deli meats, fruits and vegetables, and of course, my American store.  Our regular grocery store had a poor selection of the aforementioned items and the best bet was to go with a specialty shop.  This drove me crazy – I felt like I spent the better part of my day doing the grocery shopping. Fast forward a few years and doing that shopping was like second nature to me.  And I miss it.  Not that it isn’t nice to have the convenience of everything in my Albert Heijn but there is something to be said for going someplace that focuses on one type of food only and knows everything there is to know about it.
  • Seasonal only food.  Kind of related to the item above, I never thought I would miss having seasonal food.  While some things were imported into Spain, most of the food we ate was local.  And that meant that we couldn’t get things like strawberries or raspberries out of season.  Or even sweet potatoes (who knew sweet potatoes had a season?).  However, not always being able to get something, meant that we were super excited about it when we could get it for that short season.
  • Meeting friends for lunch, dinner, drinks anywhere, anytime easily. The beauty of living in a city, having a great network of friends and a long school day meant getting to meet up for lunch and/or drinks, a long walk, shopping, or just a coffee, pretty easily.  I missed being in the suburbs so much when we first moved to Barcelona and the easiness of our lives in Attleboro and yet, when we left Barcelona to go back to the suburbs, I realized that unless you have a gem of a neighborhood like we had in the US, the ‘burbs aren’t all they are cracked up to be.  In a word… BORING.  No network of friends.  No easy public transportation (I have to drive or bike to the train station – it’s 5km away).  And no one to meet up with to do all those fun things.
  • Festivals all the time.  Seriously. All.The.Time.  Just walking down the street on a given Wed and you’ll come across a festival.  And most festivals involve at least one of these things:  castellers (human towers), fire, more fire, bastoners, batucada, horses, firecrackers, gegantes, costumes, calçots (or other foods) and so much more.  Some of our favorites – Sant Joan, Festa de Gracia, Sant Jordi, Carnaval, Sant Medir, Tres Reyes and La Merce.
  • Long weekends.  Many festivals were accompanied by long weekends.  Practically monthly.  It’s been strange being back in a land where holidays are few and far between and school vacations are week long rather than spread out over many long weekends.
  • Easy (and cheap) travel. With those long weekends, we travelled almost every month.  And with Barcelona being a more central location in southern Europe, it was a great hub to fly out of.  Flights were cheap, lots of airlines were available, the airport wasn’t overwhelmingly big and we were within a 2 hour flight of a multitude of great destinations.  That’s not to say Amsterdam isn’t a great gateway to amazing places that we still haven’t explored… but most within a 2 hour flight are not so toasty warm!!  Not to mention the flights are much more costly flying out of here.
  • Living in a city.  Being a suburban girl my whole life, I never thought I would take to city life.  But like I mentioned above, I really miss the accessibility of living in a city.  And never did I ever expect that my kids would become city kids, but they have and they miss the hustle and bustle of city life as well.
  • Walking.  Living in a city means walking. A lot.  At first it was weird walking everywhere.  But then it just became a normal way of life.  We would walk to dinner in the evenings and walk it off on the way home.  We would walk home from school some days (in addition to taking the train part of the way).  We would walk along the beach boardwalk.  We walked to the grocery store (and all the other stores).  We didn’t even have a car for the first three years.  I attribute about 50% of my weight gain since our move to not walking and spending way too much time in the car again.
  • Being outside every day.  When you have to walk everywhere, it means you are outside.  With 300 days of sunshine, this is not an unreasonable thing.  Don’t get me wrong, these Dutch are hearty people who don’t let the weather get them down.  But even being from New England does not encourage me to be outside on cold, windy and rainy days which happen more often than not.  I miss my daily dose of Vitamin D.
  • Not having a car.  We ended up getting a car eventually in Barcelona, but not until we’d had about 3 years under our belts without one.  Yes, it had it’s challenges and it was tougher to explore outside the city spontaneously, but at the same time, it was really nice not having to rely on a car to get us from point A to point B every day.  And once we did get a car, we didn’t use it a whole lot.  In fact, by the time we turned it in, after 20 months, we’d only put about 12,000 km (approx 7500 miles) on it.  We’ve had our car here in the Netherlands for less than 6 months and I’m actually just shy of that 12,000 km mark now.  Let’s also state that cars are infinitely more expensive here in the Netherlands than they were in Spain (and those were more expensive than the US!).
  • Mild winters.  Again being from New England, I have to say, the winters here in the Netherlands are a piece of cake. We had about 2″ of snow the whole winter and temps rarely went below freezing for more than a few days with most temps ranging in the early to mid 30s (F) for most of the winter, if not even the lower 40s.  However, compared to Barcelona, it was shit.  I’m considering it to be my intermediary country – not as bad as home but not nearly as nice as Barcelona.  Not only did it rain, a lot, it was windy.  And it was dark.  Like sun coming up at 9 and going down at 4:30 and since it was cloudy and gray anyways, it just always felt dark and gloomy.  Five beautiful, mild winters with temps around 50-55 (F), if not higher and 300 days of sunshine are most definitely missed.
  • Speaking Spanish.  Yeah, I definitely didn’t think I would ever miss that one.  But sometimes I do.  I don’t think I realized how far I had come until I had to start over again with learning Dutch.  Thankfully, I still get to use it at school where I’m friendly with some Spanish speaking parents and the kids are still being tutored in Spanish so they don’t forget it!!  Aidan actually talks in Spanish at school with his Spanish friends at times.
  • Living in a small, walkable city with awesome public transportation.  Amsterdam isn’t massive, but nor is it as small as Barcelona either.  And to be honest, I don’t know a whole lot about it’s public transportation at this point as I haven’t spent a lot of time in the city (yet), but I do know that the transportation system in Barcelona was fabulous.  The metro alone was not only easy to navigate and inexpensive, but could get you pretty much anywhere in the city quickly.  And if you didn’t want to take the metro, you could take the bus… or you could … walk!   Not to mention the very reliable public transportation – unless, of course, they were striking.  But at least they would let you know in advance 😉
  • Our friends.  You didn’t think we’d forget you on this list did you?  It’s not that I never thought I would miss you.  But I think that when we moved to Barcelona, I thought that like our time there, our friends would be temporary.  And yes, some were of a more temporary nature.  However, most were not and lifelong friendships were forged that I never expected.  And not just for myself, but for Josh and especially the kids.  And while, like us, some have also left Barcelona, that bond is still strong.  But what I wouldn’t do to recreate year #3 when all felt “perfect” for us all.
  • My American kids.  That’s a strange one, I know.  Because technically my kids are American.  But I miss them because they no longer identify themselves with the US.  It’s a weird feeling to have kids who have now lived in 3 countries in the lifetimes but don’t define home as the same place that we do.  In fact, now that they’ve left have decided they are more comfortable in Spain and that Barcelona is truly home, not the US!
  • Three hour lunch.   God that siesta drove me CRAZY!   I always had to get my errands done before siesta or else suffer the wrath of taking the kids with me.  That part of siesta I hated.  But what I miss and loved was the long, leisurely lunch times. Whether at home or at a restaurant, siesta is a time for family and lunch is not meant to be rushed.  Never will you be pressured in a restaurant to finish quickly (and since it will take an hour to get your food you won’t finish all that fast anyways) so they can turn over the tables.
  • Cured meats.  I hated cured meats with a passion when we first got to Barcelona.  The smell of the meats when you would walk into a xucutteria or the grocery store was enough to make me gag for the longest time.  In time, the smell stopped bothering me and I grew to appreciate the quality of the meats available in Barcelona.  In the Netherlands, the meats are second rate by comparison and you’ll be hard pressed to find an Iberian ham leg with it’s black hoof and a butcher shaving the jamon slice by slice.  It wasn’t til I left Barcelona that I really started to crave it.  And we filled up on it when we were back in February!!
  • The healthcare system.  I understand no system is perfect and that we held private insurance (I know the medical system is different for those on the free government healthcare), but I miss living in a society that does not require constant referrals and just gets the job done.  If you need an appointment with a specialist you make one.  I’m tired of having to go to my huisarts (GP) here for things as simple as an eye doctor or a gynecologist.  Time is wasted, money is wasted and it just makes me annoyed.
  • Faster internet.  I have to say it, the internet is crap here compared to Spain.  Is it still decent?  Yes, it is.  But Spain was better.

The irony of this list is that if you had asked me things that annoyed the hell out of me about life in Barcelona, I would have named most of these.  Oh how the mighty have fallen right?  Maybe someday I’ll have a list of all the things I miss from the Netherlands?  One can only hope…

Knuffels en kussen,

Julie

Sinterklaas Visits the Marcus House

While there are many benefits to living abroad, one that our children have done their “best” to embrace is as many holiday traditions as possible.  I truly think this is because they think it will garner them more presents over the course of the holiday season!

In Spain, in addition to our traditional American Santa Claus, we also had our caga tio (http://megustatuzapatos.blogspot.nl/2010/12/our-new-catalan-christmas-traditions.html) who would “poop” presents for them on Christmas Eve, and the Three Kings.  We didn’t focus much on the Three Continue reading

Dutch Fall Traditions

While I know that this does not cover everything that happens here in the Netherlands in the fall, I’ve started to compile a list of things that we’ve noticed so far – most of which we are thoroughly enjoying. I’ve no doubt I’ll be adding more to the list as we learn about more and more traditions here in the Netherlands.

Sint Maarten
As I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, Sint Maarten is the patron saint of the poor and of children. Similar to Halloween, kids go door to door singing a song about Sint Maarten and Continue reading

Sint Maarten Day

With just about 3 months under our belts here in the Netherlands, we’re now at our first Dutch holiday. Sint Maarten.  Almost identical to Halloween (and comes only days after we celebrated the American goodness of that holiday), we were excited to start learning more about the traditions celebrated here in our host country.

Sint Maarten is celebrated in much of Europe and in a variety of ways.  No matter the country, the origin is the same.  Sint Maarten is considered to be a friend of children and to the poor.  Celebrated since around the 4th century, the legend that is most famous is that Sint Maarten cut his cloak in half during a snowstorm in order to help clothe a homeless man.  As he died on November 11th, this is why Sint Maarten is celebrated on this evening.  In older times, Continue reading

Our Favorite Barcelona Traditions

As our time in Barcelona is coming to a close, I can’t help but take note of the things I have grown to love and appreciate here.  Every culture has certain traditions – some have been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years… others, perhaps a generation or two.  One of the perks of living in Europe is that it’s full of traditions, many of which are older than the United States itself.  As it’s these traditions that make me smile (most days) as we go about our daily lives, I thought I’d share a few of them with you. Continue reading

Sant Jordi 2014

While every holiday here is incredibly fun and full of life, there is no holiday in Barcelona that compares to Sant Jordi.  It is by and far my absolute favorite.  For those that might not remember, Sant Jordi is Barcelona’s answer to Valentine’s Day only bigger and better.

Instead of the traditional Hallmark card, roses and chocolate, it’s a bit of a twist here.  Combined with International Book Day, the tradition is that men give women a rose and women give men a book. This can be a friend, a family member or someone you love – it does not matter.  It is all inclusive. Continue reading

The Sweetest (and yet most "violent") Festival – Sant Medir 2014

I can’t believe this is our 4th round of holidays now.  I remember the first Sant Medir.  We were living over on c/Ventallo and Liam wasn’t quite 3 yet so he was still home with me full time.  I was in my office which was at the front of the apartment and I thought I heard hoofs clomping outside.  I took a look and my street, a street in the middle of a city, was full of horses!!  What?????

It wasn’t til my babysitter came later that morning that I found out what was going on.  It was the festival of Sant Medir, or the sweetest festival.  A day filled with horses, batucada, floats (I use this term loosely) and lots and lots of hard candies being thrown to the crowds all around. Continue reading

BFIS Carnaval 2014

Once again, the Carnaval at school is as close to the real thing that I got this year.  A good friend invited me to go to the one down in Sitges (which is supposed to be unreal!) but I just couldn’t motivate myself to get a sitter and get out, especially knowing that I was the one who had to still get the kids up and out first thing Monday morning as Josh was already back in Amsterdam for the week.  But speaking of Josh being in Amsterdam, one of the (ok, pretty much the only plus) of him being away is that he works from home on Fridays.  For the first time since we’ve lived in Barcelona…actually for the first time since our kids have been in school… he is able to go to school events held during the day.  So he was actually able to get to school for the Carnaval festivities. Continue reading

Tres Reyes (Three Kings)

While we moved here on Three Kings Day 4 years ago, we actually have never attended any festivities surrounding this huge holiday up until this year.  Los Tres Reyes Magos is a HUGE holiday here in Spain, even bigger than Christmas (though the Americanization of Christmas is slowly taking over).  In fact, it’s the culmination of the 12 days of Christmas that leads up to this big day.  Stores are open til midnight (on a Sunday night this year believe it or not!) the night before the Kings make their visit to the children of Spain. Continue reading