I told this story at our Culture Shock: Storytelling workshop at the Barcelona International Community Day on Saturday 26 October 2019, all about the difficulties I faced when I first moved to Barcelona. What struck me most when writing it was the difference between my image of how things would be and the reality of how things actually were.
This is my Barcelona origin story.
At the end of May 2016, I got on a plane in Palma de Mallorca with my entire life in four very full suitcases and landed in Barcelona an hour later. On my own with no partner or kids to worry about, I’d spent 6 months in the beautiful Sòller Valley. I’d imagined myself wandering among the olive trees and orange groves, writing, building a new life there; the reality was unexpected isolation in a place that bored me, and dropping out of life to address some very old health problems that I’d been ignoring for years.
As soon as I could, I followed a new vision of an exciting cosmopolitan, metropolitan life in the big city. I would be totally culturally immersed, quickly become fluent in Spanish and Catalan, have lots of exciting new local friends and live the Mediterranean dream. The reality was different and more difficult than I could have predicted.
First, I needed somewhere to live. So began an 18-month saga.
My first 9 days were in an awful Airbnb, where the mattress was uncomfortable and the water in the shower was either a trickle or didn’t happen. Next, I sublet a room for the summer. At first I was living how I imagined, then someone moved out, her room got put on Airbnb and I was expected to be around to host teenage couples. I still wasn’t well and the Brexit referendum result floored me, so this was not welcome at all. I left a month earlier than intended.
I found another share, which had promise but turned out to be wrong: noisy, awkward layout of the flat, too much furniture. But I stayed for the winter, and had enough stability to start thinking more about work. I trained in teaching English; I made some attempt to get a social life, but my physical problems really kept me at home a lot. I joined a nearby coworking space, so I at least had somewhere to go during the day. It was very inspiring and I met lots of people, though was always torn between insisting on speaking Spanish so I could practice the language, and actually building deeper relationships.
Then it was time to move on! My next place was a disastrous lodger situation, then I took a room where it turned out I was replacing the man that my new flatmate had just broken up with. Then they wouldn’t renew the contract so I was on the move again.
Without a solid base to call my own, I felt more like a long-term tourist than a resident. Like I was on an extended long-weekend. So I did explore the city (as much as I could) because of a real feeling that I had to make the most of it.
Then a week before I was going to be homeless, I finally found my place!! I saw it online on the Friday. I went round to view on the Saturday (and said yes immediately). I had to wait until Monday for an answer, then I moved in on the Tuesday!
I’ve now lived there 2 years, and I am settled. Barcelona feels like home – I love coming back when I’ve been away. It is a brilliant place with so much going on, I’ve met some great people, and I still feel I’ve not even got going yet.
But it’s home, so life can be mundane. Not every moment is amazing and that’s fine. I’m not sipping cava on a secluded beach every day. I still have to buy toilet paper and deal with a leaky window when it rains. I’m still faced with the daily grind, like the bus being late or going to the dentist (and those small things of adult life we take for granted – getting your hair cut, dealing with the bank – are suddenly difficult mountains to climb when you’re in a new place). And it’s been hard, so I have been connected to home much more than I’d imagined. I’ve also had to deal with the expectations of people back home, who only have the glamorous image and haven’t experienced the difficult realities.
I still have a vision of who I’m going to be here, and I will get there. But my expectations of who I will be and when it will happen have been adjusted.