April 21, 2012

Expats in Barcelona

Park Guell

Park Guell

Park Guell

Voll-Damm on porch

Gothic Quarter

Ok. So I have news. I moved…to Barcelona! After 28 months (2 years and 4 months) of being in Belgium, the hubs, Mr. Duds, and I relocated to Barca. Why, you might ponder? The sun, the coast, the mountains, and gorgeous weather. Our process of moving was painstakingly long, however once we got the visas and knew it was set, we moved out of Belgium in less than 2 weeks. Yes, I am insane.

It was hard to leave Belgium, and our friends, behind. However, they were more excited to see us go because they wanted to visit (and asap). They were our family away from family. They humored us with our semi-speaking Flemish abilities, and taught us how to drink like Belgians. It was hard to leave behind, but I can't lie that as soon as I saw the sparkling Catalonian coast (cheesy much eh?) and the mountains, the city, I was brimming with excitement.

So now I'm speaking English, Dutch, Spanish, and my Spanish sentences have Dutch verbs and nouns. Spanglish? Sputch? I am very excited to brush up on my Spanish speaking abilities, and learn some Catalan. So far here are my impressions:

1. Spain seems cheaper than Belgium for foods, goods, and clothing. Note to self, I think I like the Belgian/Leuvense student chic scarf and boots style a bit more than all the jeggings, and tights and cut offs (girls, ahem, you look like you are wearing diapers).

2. The beer sucks. There is a growing craft beer scene, but most standard cañas are lagers. I know, I know, wine and cava but Belgian beer spoils the heck out of you.

3. Spain (Barcelona and Madrid) have more ethnic variety, and a lot of vegan/vegetarian options. There is a bigger alternative post-punk and hippie culture.

4. There is nowhere in the world with biking that will compete with Belgium and Holland. Biking here is passable, but scary.

5. My Spanish is better than I thought. I actually understand a lot more in terms of getting context of conversations. While my brush-up Spanish course was helpful last year, I forgot most of the useful items, probably because I was using whatever part of the brain that processes languages for Flemish/Dutch. I think with languages, as soon as you realize that you don't care if you make mistakes, you'll try anything to get understood. Spanish is easier than Dutch of French too, because at least we formally learn it in the states (but how totally useless that we didn't pick up any fluency), However Catalonia, the region we are in, speaks Catalan (a mixture of what seems to be spanish, french, and italian) and reading it is not obvious at all because of the abundant use of "x" and "ç."

6. While it's useless to compare Leuven and Barca; I will go with what I noticed: weather, more patios, more sunny terraces, more veranda/terraces. In a way, there is a lot of noise. People are always outside. There's always movement. I like this about Europe in general. Denser living areas, and the later introduction of motorized transport makes walkable cities a natural part of the environment. The metro is well connected, cheap, and goes everywhere. Most places within the city will speak English. I know this is odd, but southern Europe (Rome included) and Barca, remind me of the kind of lifestyle in India that I remember as a child. Families always gathering in the warmer evenings, children playing where adults are sitting, water is preferable to toilet paper for personal use, the floor plans, kitchens, and set up remind me of India. I like it. It is obviously not India, but the shops, the markets, the fact that there are shops hat only sell produce, or only sell fruit, or only sell spices, or only sell dried grains and beans is, to me, what needs to happen in many other parts of the industrialized world to compete with major global food chains, and take back the food cultures that are outcompeted by fast foodification, and reduced personal cooking.

7. The food is more creative and diverse. Since young artichokes were showing up in the markets, we made sure to eat them as often as possible in our first week. I've eaten pizza, delicious heaping salads, fresh young artichokes, bahn-mi with excellent tofu, delicious vegetarian fare, fresh fruit smoothies and juice, some boring and basic tapas but all reasonably cheap and light fare. Can i just pause for a moment to reflect on how good and strong, and awesome the coffee is? The beer is blah, mostly flavorless lagers, nothing that holds to hoppier IPA's and Belgian beer.

8. I can't get over the buildings. You must look up wherever you walk. The buildings can go from Gaudi-influenced modernism to art nouveau to buildings that seem to be frozen in time from the 1940's as described in a Carlos Ruiz Zafon novel.  Buildings have that medit. southern feel. Tall, colorful, massive windows, and terraces that overflow with lush plants.

9. Siestas. Really? I think in this economic climate, are siestas really necessary? It's not even hot yet. Even the library has a siesta hour. If you're caught walking around from 1:30-4:00 some parts of the city can feel like a ghost town. But I do like that shops can be open longer.

10. Packing up a kitchen was much easier than I thought, and I'm eager to share my kitchen needs vs wants. Since moving abroad two years ago, I downgraded my kitchen because most of my fancy tools went into storage. I lamented such things as not having my ideal blender, replacing my pressure cooker, and missing my food processor. However without those items, I think these basic kitchen items were enough for me and got the most use:
1. cutting board and the following 3 knives: a large chef's knife, a pairing knife, and a serrated bread knife.
2. mortar and pestle; ikea version, Key kitchen tool for making sauces, and smashing things.
3. a handblender
4. mixing bowls, preferably 1 large, 1 small.
5. measuring cups and spoons, and now I'm converted to measuring with a scale.
6. cast-iron pan. Ideal for making everything, minimal clean-up required, superior cooking results. I would recommend a cast-iron pan over a non-stick any day; in fact, I have ruined every nonstick I've ever owned. I just don't think they hold up to cooks that cook a lot.
7. pots and pans. Preferably 2 medium sauce pans, and 2 larger pans sufficient to multitask cooking pasta and making sauce.
8. baking dishes. Rectangular in medium and large versions.
9. Obvious but deserves mention: at least 8 plates, bowls, and cutlery, and cups/mugs.
10. food storage plastic ware or glass ware.
11. vegetable peeler, potato smasher, and kitchen shears. Thrifting kitchen items was ideal, inheriting a "heirloom" pasta press was another key advantage (*thanks Nico*).

Things I came to rely on and love:
1. indoor window boxes for growing herbs.
2. a sifter
3. Baking pans/dishes (all thrifted including a bundt pan, a pie plate) and a spring form and tart pan
4. glass jars to store beans and spices.
5. space for organized pantry; overall organized pantries are ideal.
6. we have a beer cellar! we even moved it!
7. a French coffee press.

Things I know I would use/wish list:
1. a good blender.
2. an immersion blender.
3. pressure cooker.
4. a cookbook holder!
5. washing machine.
6. electric tea kettle (thanks Holly!)

Now I know you're not sick of reading. Because I must tell you about the housing search. In our first few days here we scoured the internets for postings. The apartments/flats/studios that we were viewing were not breathtaking, all were mostly over-priced, and on commission to an agency. None of them had sunlight or terraces, or areas to garden. The definition of furnished seems to be interpreted as sticking an apt with old furniture. We're searching apart rentals on the internet, but some are by owner and some are by agency. The ones listed by agency tack on a 10% commission which inflates the cost of the total apartment. We began to think that we might expect it to cost more for less space. There are no dishwashers in any of the kitchens. Washing machines are in the kitchen or bathroom but not in a laundry; same for water heaters. Floor plans are much smaller (we are looking in neighborhood specific areas) so if we went out of the city more I'm sure we would find more space for money. Our preferences: furnished/partly furnished, good location, close to bike station or metro, and close to shops/ fun things, reasonably quiet and off a less traffic street, sunny at least for part of the day, and accepts cats, and 1-2 bedroom. So far, we saw a place that meets 100% of all our needs, and we're hoping that it works out.  I'm eager to set up my life here, and soak in the warmer months.

Last, but not at all least: Mr. Duds did well on the flight. Duds now has a European pet passport. We were asked for his passport at check-in. No problems with taking him on the flight and no problems on arrival. Arriving to Spain from Belgium is the same as arriving from one state to another in the US. No border checks. We took a bus and then walked to our short-stay. Dudley was perched on a rolling bag and looked very freaked out when we began walking with him. Poor guy. Did well though, no accidents, didn't meow a lot and adjusted fine once he was out of his carrier. He's a good cat, and I'm extremely happy that we brought him along for these Belgian, Spanish, European adventures.


  1. How exciting!!!! Love your impressions.

  2. 2. The beer sucks. - LOL, but no surprise there.

    Still, you made me jealous. As always, Nilam, you have a great way of capturing your impressions of a new place in your blog posts. Kinda reminded me of your first posts about Leuven and Belgium.

    You have a beer cellar and you moved it!? Woah! What's in it? Did you move your US cellar as well?

    Oh, and you're welcome. I hope you found a way to take the pasta maker with you (but if not, no big deal!).

    Say hi to Mr. duds. Oh, and to Karl too.

    Nico (& Allison). We miss you, and we'll miss your Belgian adventures. But we hope to visit. Soon.

  3. you've moved!?! That's great. I'll be emailing when we plan a trip to Spain.