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16 mar202016

Cuesta Arriba, Cuesta Abajo!

Barcelona, SpainBarcelona, Spain
This is how many days I was missing from having spent one year in London. On February 2nd, 2019 I arrived to the 26th most populated city in the world (thought that it would be higher) but didn't get to see another February in the UK. 

Spain has always been a dream of mine. Last year was my 20th of watching and supporting Valencia CF through good and bad times. It was also 100th anniversary of the club. I managed to visit it with my friend Abhi, after group of us from work had travelled to Spain to practice our Spanish, and salsa of course :) 

Ever since I had left South America I was longing to go back there or at least to a Spanish-speaking country but assumed I would have to get my Spanish at a very good level before I will even have the slightest chance landing a job in such country. During my stay in London I practised a little bit of Spanish through our learning group at work but nowhere near enough to have a working proficiency. I assumed that dream will have to wait.  I assumed incorrectly.
The universe always has a plan
Turns out the universe wasn't quite done with me and all of the sudden I got a call. Two possible jobs in Barcelona, both for a senior position in Data, "Are you interested?" - the mystery caller asked. Even though I wasn't actively looking for a new job, I thought "we can always have a chat", and we did. Next few weeks I spent going through quite a few interviews and one of the companies even flew me to Barcelona to meet the team I would be working with, and to ask me few hundred more questions. It was a very hectic Monday but I thought I had done well. The rest was a matter of time. 

I knew that after almost 2 years of living in different countries and being the happiest ever, there was bound to be be a hiccup or two on the way, just to keep me balanced. Sadly it threw my off balance. Then the universe put in front of me two job offers. I got both jobs. For the first time I was in a position to choose employers. However, there was also the greater decision on the horizon: whether I want to move countries. Most of you think that, giving my life's choices in recent years, it was a no-brainer. It wasn't. 

In the end I applied very simple logic. We tend to regret things we didn't do rather than those we did. I was thinking I might not get another chance to work in Spain anytime soon but if I don't like it, I can always go back to Britain. I could always go back to the Toon and enjoy being a bartender in the Geordieland...
At the moment of writing this almost 7 weeks have passed. It might seem like not a lot but it's accompanied by very familiar feeling. The feeling I used to get when I changed countries before. I was devasted when leaving Peru for Colombia. After few weeks in Medellin and Guatapé I realised that, despite missing Perú like crazy, I feel, well, like at home. I've lived in three different places here so far and still don't have my own place, but somehow those weeks feel more like months.

The acclimatisation here has been fairly easy so far. I found a perfect zero-waste shop in the middle of Raval, called Monmas. Just like Bulk Market in London I try to do most if not all of my shopping there. All the labels are in Catalan, so there's a lot of Spanish -> English -> Catalan translation going on in my head but I love it. The pricless smiles of people when I interject a Catalan word into my Spanish, just to show them that I'm learning, or, what is more truthful, I only learned that particular word in Catalan : )

Here are the details about few characteristics of Barcelona and what I think of them..
Size does matter!
I think I must have written it at least 5 times already - I have never been a big city guy. I always lived close to a big city, so that I can have a choice if I suddenly experience a desire to be in society but knowing I will return to my quiet piece of land (or concrete). Barcelona seems to offer a good blend of both.  The size of the city, that is ~102km2 is comparable to that of Newcastle 114km2. Do I need to go on? Yes I do : ) Why it's so important is simple. If I wanted to I could basically walk through Barcelona (the longer side) in 3 hours.. 4 to the airport. Of course nobody does that (yet!) but if you want to have an hour walk around the city, you can end up in completely different district. Public transport, recently revamped, is pretty well connected for a city this size. 

Another advantage is that you can live away from the busy city centre, aka the office, but still be within 30-minute walk or 15-minute metro/bus journey. Personally I am still deciding whether I want to be within walking distance or find a place even further away and spend the same amount of time in public transport. Knowing that spring is here and summer is just around the corner, I would much prefer walking than metro. The jury is still out on this one!
The grass is not always greener
The downside of having developed an ability to focus on positive side of things is that people do think that I do idealise places and other people. I have always wanted to follow the footsteps of few people I met in my life who had an amazing way of finding positivity in the smallest of places, events, and people. We don't do it by default. Everything because of our inherent negativity bias that has been studied for a while. Anyway, just so that you don't think I idealise Barcelona after having spent here few weeks, I'm going to show you the things I don't like so much as well.

The green spaces. The city is small because of the buildings being so close to each other. In some cases you walk through one of those little streets and think "Those neighbours on opposite sides could play chess together". Yes they are that close! Unfortunately it means that everything is residential with not a lot of space left for green. Of course you have mountains to the North-West, sea and the beach to the East, botanic gardens to the South but in terms of the city centre - it's pretty bleak..
Just looking at the map, of still pretty big chunk of Barcelona, you can see the problem. That's why when I'm looking at potential place I would live for a longer period of time, I want to make sure I'm either close to water or a park.
Do I even have to say it?
Yes, the weather. I arrived just after the biggest storm they've had in decades and I was welcomed with a lot of sunshine and warmth. It has been mild at time but just seeing the blue sky in the morning, even if it's only 13 degrees, it makes you feel better. Everybody tells me I won't be so happy once June comes. The 30+ degrees and apparently half of the city is switched off apart from touristic areas. Bring it on! After having lived in quite a range of weathers I am ready for a proper summer. Summer with a lot of sunshine, heat, trips to the beach, and whatever else comes to mind. 

The only thing I need is to make sure I get a desk by the window in the new office, which will hopefully move into in few months. 
The time flows differently in Spain
Of course I had known it before I came here but it's one thing to read about it and quite the other to actually experience it. 

I usually walk fast. Even in London I would be faster than most people. I don't really do it consciously, it's just my way of walking. In Barcelona I look like a speedy gonzalez for sure but lately I've been adapting one of the tricks that I read about a while ago. We all have our paces in life. We do certain things fast, while the others take us more time. There is no right or wrong here but it's a very interesting experiment to flip those ways. Sometimes I walk very slowly, which not only feels weird but almost unnatural to me. The upside is that by flipping your usual behaviour, you focus on different things. It's no longer about destination, it's about what happens in between. Suddenly I stop to talk to some ladies giving away food samples, or there's a gentleman who asks for money with cups clearly marked what the money would be for - beer, food, weed etc. 

Spanish way of life seems to forget time. You start lunch at 1:30pm, you eat diinner after 8pm or later, you don't rush, if you use word ahora - it doesn't actually mean now - it means sometime in the next hour or so. There's no difference between afternoon and evening. It's like the days here are longer. There's always time for everything. 

You can feel this in the air, especially in less touristy places outside of the city centre. 
The Situation
Everything has changed due to the virus. Almost empty streets. People buying things in panic even though it was said from the beginning that the food supply chain won't be affected. The number of police cars and patrol definitely increased. I came to the office this morning to isolate and still some people out and about but definitely not the amount I'm used to seeing. 

It's interesting to be in such vibrant and touristic city during times like these. I can't imagine a lot would be different if I lived back in New Brancepeth or even Murowana Goślina. In here the change is dramatic. On Saturday I went for a walk to stretch my back and legs, and heard quite a few foreigners complaining about the situation. Especially one guy from US who was very angry at, exactly - at what? who? You can't really put a blame on something like this. Yes, his holidays will be spent in a room but it's nobody's fault. When there's a crisis, personal or international, we do look to put a blame somewhere. It's easier to deal with it rather than making peace with the fact that some things just happen. 

Today, that is March 16th, is even worse because the weather is truly UK-like. Rain, clouds, cold. Everything seems so gloomy. Almost like the heavens want to help the people to stay inside and get through this. My travel plans have to take a step back, which is never a good news in my book, but I've waited for years for some of them. I think I can handle hopefully only few months extra...
La Vida Es Buena
When I kind of knew I would be leaving London, I promised myself one thing - to make a conscious effort to continue dancing straight away. In London I had waited for months before taking up salsa lessons and this time I didn't want to find excuses to postpone it. 

It was the loss of dancing that was the biggest challenge every time I would leave a country during my journey. In 2017, after almost 3 years of tap dancing, I was devastated to "hang up" my tap shoes, not knowing if I ever go back to it. Now, knowing the situation with my back, I very much doubt it, but at the time I still had hopes. Then the shift happened. I found salsa in Peru, a dance I only previously tried once - in 2016 while visiting a friend in Madrid. I danced a lot in Peru, after which I had another break while I was in Colombia in US, and then thankfully I found it again in London.

Of course moving from London to Barcelona meant that my desire to dance would not be inhibited. The dance scene in Barcelona is pretty big, that's why I knew I could not waste time like the year before. Thanks to Facebook group I found a teacher who not only understands my need for structure and sometimes obsession to detail, but also makes learning so fun that I go home turning and spinning. Just like I used to come home to put my tap shoes back on and tap until my ankles were sore.  Due to the virus I have to go for a walk to the rooftop of the building where I live. I found this piece of wood and I use it to practice my turns and spins :D You have to make do with what you've got!

When I can't wait to go home to practice being on my toes, turning, spinning, pivoting, and moving my hips, it means one thing - that I reached a good point in my life. 

This song has been my absolute favourite lately and because I practice to it very often, it becomes identifiable with Barcelona

I think it's safe to paraphrase the song: ¡Barcelona, me quedo contigo!
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People's voice...
15th April 2020
awesome read david...sounds like you are settling in nicely
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