I’m not particularly well-travelled but I have ventured to several countries around the globe; I’ve travelled to the edge of the Amazon rainforest in my wife’s home country of Brazil, walked the sands of Egypt, and stopped off at all of the typical holiday destinations in Europe, so I thought that I had seen a wide cross-section of the world. When I first wandered the cobbled streets of Barcelona, and found a thriving new-to-me city right on my doorstep, however, I came to realise just how little I really knew the world.
I had been to Spain on holiday in my youth, sure, but because of the places I had visited I had a rather stereotypical view of the country. Spain, in my ignorant opinion, was a country where English people went on holiday, encroaching on its culture and boiling it down to a generic British seaside destination with the added bonus of sunshine. As I grew up, and found an appreciation for the ways in which travel can allow us to experience life far removed from our own, the image of cheap cocktails and English menus in beachside restaurants appealed to me less and less, and as such Spain didn’t fit my blinkered view of an exciting travel destination.
Barcelona had always been on my list of places to visit, however, but I had continually pushed it to the bottom, in favour of places I imagined would challenge my worldview. When I eventually did arrive in Barcelona, I realised how ignorant I had been.
Barcelona still feels familiar, in that comfy holiday sense, but it also has a wealth of history and culture on offer that I wasn’t even aware of. For instance, it wasn’t until I landed that I learned that Barcelona was actually part of a district known as Catalonia and that Catalonia had its own rich culture and even its own language!
The city itself is framed by hills that helped me navigate the bustling streets in my first few months living here. I would stroll downhill to get to the beach and from there it was easy to wander into the beautiful old town or take in the rest of the city’s renowned attractions. The beach gets extremely busy during the summer months and, despite tourists treating it like a landfill, the city workers do a fine job of keeping it clean. The old town, however, is my favourite part of the city, and whilst pacing the medieval streets of the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic) it’s easy to contemplate what life was like for the people that walked the very same paths hundreds of years ago.
Barcelona wasn’t actually the first destination that we had our hearts set on for our year abroad experience. Initially, we had plans to move to my wife’s home country of Brazil – perhaps basing ourselves in her hometown of Boa Vista. I had worked for several years in central London and I started to become embarrassed because I was often the only member of the team that spoke just one language. Since I was useless at learning languages at home, I thought it’d be useful to immerse myself in the daily life of another country in the hope of picking one up, and that soon became part of my motivation for deciding to live in another country for a year. We soon realised that, logistically, moving to Brazil was going to be difficult for us. It was miles away and I was worried about finding work whilst living in such a different timezone to London, as that’s where all my clients at the time were based, so the idea of living in Brazil was continually put off. On the last day of our holiday to Barcelona, my wife and I were sat down on the beach, looking out to sea, when we both realised that, actually, we could move here instead. It was closer to friends and family in the UK and it had so much to offer.
We went for dinner, at Xiringuito Escribà, ordered plates of paella, and started planning our move, from selling our car, to renting out our flat back home.
I soon became fascinated with the region, still in shock at how much it contrasted with my expectations, and I instantly began researching how it would fit with work. Once I realised that Barcelona was a budding tech nirvana, the idea was cemented in my head. We would move to Barcelona for one year, to see what life was like. From the promise of the Mobile World Congress, one of the biggest mobile tech gatherings in the world, to the co-working phenomena thriving in the city streets, in places such as Happy Milk and MOB, I was ready to experience it all firsthand.
Five months later, we had moved.
The rest, as they say, is history.
In this series, I’ll be documenting Catalonia as I find it, from the inner workings of daily life and routine, to the places I explore during weekend adventures. Stick around to discover Catalonia with me.
(image credit: Marco Lopes via Unsplash)