Life in Spain: Two-Month Update

The moment I walked out of the Barcelona El Prat airport in December I felt a stimulating sense of belonging, it seemed to defy the angst of my life in fragmented America—a country I no longer recognize or feel comfortable in. 

There seems always to be an inner breeze of excitement, joyful gratitude for Barcelona and its strong promising aromas, the proud Catalan lifestyle set against the historic panorama of European countries and their ghostly empires, crusted atop the other like layers of paint on a giant canvas.

I can not conceive of a world more enchanted or generous in its offerings. I never tire of being in this sensual country, in love with its ever-changing moods and Gaudian shapes. At this point, I do not care if I ever touch American soil again. Perhaps that will change.

Over the past nine weeks, my happiness has ascended to a trigger point, a joyful affect that seems to be a climax of yearning, purely alive and whole and serene, as if that first day in Spain I stopped becoming and started, for the rest of my life ahead, the sensual, sublime act of being.

It is hard to believe over two months have already gone by since we left America for Spain. It has been a fast-paced, rewarding yet challenging journey. Not for the faint of heart. We often wondered why our American friends were applauding our courage for making this move to Spain. Now we know. There have been myriad obstacles but the rewards far outweigh the frustrations. Here are a few highs, lows, and differences. 

Highs

Gran Teatre del Liceu: One of the world’s most spectacular performance spaces and a moving and extremely creative retelling of A Christmas Carol.

Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya: Stunningly beautiful interior and exterior and view of Barcelona. The art on display was spectacular and evocative. 

Palau De La Musica: Yet another spectacular venue. Perhaps the most beautiful yet. The flamenco guitar and dance presentation was emotional, intimate, and highly sensual. 

Food: We have eaten virtually no red meat or fast food. Our diet consists primarily of leafy greens, seafood, chicken, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. Can you say Mediterranean diet? The food tastes SO fresh, especially the chicken, bread, fruits, and vegetables. 

Atmosphere: The division and the tension so palatable in America is non-existent here. Peaceful and joyful are the best words to describe this city. 

Wine: We still cannot believe our favorite Spanish wine is less than $4 a bottle and Vermouth is only $2.50. 

Neighborhood: Our new neighborhood is Les Tres Torres (not Turó Park as we originally thought) in the Sarriá/San Gervasi district of Barcelona. It is quiet, clean, and beautiful. We are only one block from Avinguda Diagonal, one of Barcelona’s broadest and most important avenues. It cuts the city in two, diagonally to the grid pattern of the surrounding streets, hence the name. 

A scenic tree-lined wide run/bike/walk trail runs alongside. Two blocks away, the L’illa Mall has a façade 334 meters long. Its design of a skyscraper lying down was inspired by the Rockefeller Centre in New York. It has a big commercial center with more than 170 shops and restaurants, and the L’illa Diagonal complex includes two four-star hotels, two schools, a sports center, a dance hall, a conference center, a public park, and a car park with capacity for more than 2,400 vehicles. What a neighborhood. 

Public Transportation: We still cannot believe that for $22 each we have unlimited rides on the bus, metro, and tram system for a month. All three are efficient, clean, and fun. We do not miss having a car. We feel much safer than the harrowing roads and drivers in Florida.

—Walking: It makes life more fun. And it slows life down to a delicious pace. Seeing the city from a walker’s perspective is so different than when one is in a car. We are averaging over 7,000 steps per day and we are definitely losing weight. 

—Restaurants: Because they are paid a living wage, the servers and staff at restaurants are consistently the same. Therefore, no tips! Ten percent saved, right off the top. One gets to know them and they take enormous pride in their food and space. We already feel like family at six of our favorite places.

—Pace of Life: There is no hurry. A server may not appear at your table for ten to twenty minutes and food is very slow coming out because it is made fresh. This is NOT a fast food country. Dining here is intended to be a social affair and experience. And you will rarely if ever be made to feel someone is waiting for your table except for the most touristy of spots. At the local restaurants, the table is yours as long as you desire. It takes some getting used to. It is very slow, very loud, very crowded—but once you get accustomed to it—VERY fun, and very enjoyable. Ah, life as I’ve always longed for, but never been able to adjust my frenetic pace of life to experience. 

Costs: The differences are staggering. 

Groceries: 40-50% less.

Wine/Drinks: 60-90% less.

Internet: 60% less.

Mobile Phone Service: 70% less.

Utilities: 60-70% less.

Eating Out: 50-60% less.

Transportation: 80-90% less. 

Housing/Rent: 40% more. 

Lows

Languages: Not one but two new languages—Spanish and Catalan—are spoken throughout Barcelona, and our neighborhood primarily speaks Catalan. This is a challenge and makes everything much more difficult. Talking on the phone, ordering food, shopping, banking, and more are a chore. We will hopefully start Spanish language school in the next two weeks because we have discovered that even though Catalan is the predominant language, almost everyone understands Spanish. 

Banking: Getting our American money and social security monthly disbursements has been a challenge. It must be transferred into Euros by a middleman and only then transferred to our new Spanish bank. We also did not think about 2-factor identification with our financial institutions and that our identity was tied to our old American phone numbers which are inactive. Solving that has been an ongoing frustration that would take too much space here to explain. 

Electrical Current: A travel adaptor does NOT convert 120 to 220 electrical voltage. I have ruined a Denon home theatre receiver, a DeWalt battery charger, and a Yamaha subwoofer thinking that an adaptor would be sufficient. True, they would not have worked here anyway, but at least we could have sold them in America for pennies on the dollar and not paid to ship them overseas. Thankfully, I purchased a transformer for our LG OLED TV—knowing that it pulled a lot of watts. If you look closely, you will see over twenty travel adaptors connected to our small appliances. 

Biggest Differences:

Personal Space: Our American sensibilities are on full display with this one. Personal space is just not a thing here. Kissing both cheeks of a total stranger is not uncommon. And it is also normal to stand cheek to cheek in public transportation and on the sidewalks. Thank goodness, everyone smells wonderful here—cologne is a big deal—so that helps, but it takes some getting used to having people violate my personal space regularly. At first, I thought it was a lack of manners, but it is just the way things are here. 

Far Less Food Additives: We were stunned to look at a package of Nacho chips we bought for the Super Bowl and see there were only three ingredients: maize, olive oil, and salt. And fast food is highly regulated, for example, the food at our Burger King—while very expensive—tastes much better. Most items have three ingredients or less. Amazing. I feel healthier typing these sentences. 

Time: The six-hour time difference from the east coast of America makes communication challenging. For example, when it is noon here it is only six am Eastern Standard Time. I pop off an email to someone in the States, oops, and realize it is the middle of the night and then desperately hope they don’t have notifications on.

—Routine: So hard to adjust. It sounds so cool and it is, but it is an extremely difficult task to adjust the routine you have had for five or six decades.

—COVID-19: Because Spain immediately took proactive preventative measures at the inception of the pandemic, even though we are crowded into public transportation and restaurants, the virus is not even a thought. Unlike America, where I was still concerned about infection up to our departure.

—Health Consciousness: Spanish people just look and act more healthy. There is far less obesity here than in America. The active lifestyle, Mediterranean diet, and fashion consciousness add up to a totally different idea of health than America. In fact, Spain has been consistently voted as one of the most healthy countries in the world. 

More soon…

Click HERE to see my latest watercolor: Don Quixote (Man with the Sorrowful Face)

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2 responses to “Life in Spain: Two-Month Update”

  1. Randy Elrod Avatar

    Ah, Doris. Yes, you would LOVE living here. We can’t wait to see you guys in a few weeks. This city and country are definitely enticing.

  2. Doris Burns Avatar
    Doris Burns

    Oh Randy, do you have to make it sound so enticing? 😅 If I were 15 years younger, I’d be so enticed to live there. We’ve been in Barcelona twice and I proclaimed each time, “I could live here.” So I totally understand your sentiments. I’m so glad you and Gina have found your Happy Place.
    Looking forward to seeing you during our April 24-28 visit.