“There’s not enough time in the world to tell you all the stories of this city,” I told my former pupil as we sipped our café con leches in one of the many hip coffee shops of the Gracia neighborhood in Barcelona.
Last year we shared a classroom together, he as a hardworking upperclassman, and I his dedicated American History teacher. We were now swapping our favorite travel stories in this exhilarating city in the northeast corner of Spain. Drawn toward the heady call of adventure, I left my job teaching history in Napa to continue my studies in Europe, and enjoy life outside the frenzied pace of California.
Spain occupied a place in my mind based more on myth than fact. It was the land of dodging bulls in Pamplona, reclining in the shadows of 2,000-year-old Roman ruins, and enjoying the smooth rhythms of a flamenco master. Barcelona hugs the Mediterranean coast and is the capital of the region of Catalonia.
The city center is clustered around the old quarter, where remnants of the original Roman town still peek through the cozy apartment buildings and around narrow alley corners. My apartment lies about two miles outside the city center in the hilly district of El Carmel. From my balcony I am able to observe the colorful parrots that compete with the pigeons’ air control.
With the exception of a few key expenses, Barcelona prices are comparable to those of many American cities. A nice dinner can be had for between $12 and $38 per person depending on where you are in the city, and a cup of coffee or espresso should run under $1.20. However, Starbucks aficionados beware, you will find that a grande carmel cocoa cluster Frappuccino is about as easy to spot as Bigfoot, with locals opting instead for the modestly sized café con leche or café cortado.
Compared to the housing insanity of California, I was pleasantly surprised by costs of between $630 and $1,250 per month to rent a one-bedroom apartment. The major factor being distance to the city center, with closer properties being more expensive.
There are nuanced differences in Barcelona that I never encountered during domestic travel within the U.S. In Barcelona, a premium is placed on showing respect, and it took me a few times to understand the public-transit expectation that you invite the ire of onlookers if you forget to offer your seat to the grandmother standing. Barcelona also has an astonishing number of city-parks. You only need to walk a few blocks before encountering a space devoted to elderly men enjoying cigars while children chase around them, shouting jubilantly in Catalan.
Like a snowman melting with the approach of spring, I can feel myself warming to the hitherto foreign thoughts of slowing down, chatting with strangers, and enjoying one more glass of vino tinto while soaking in the ambient flavors of this colorful corner of the world.