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What I learned so far…

When I told my friends and family that I was planning on moving to Spain they were telling me that I would be so lucky with the climate and the amazing food. After spending four months here, I can tell you that the sunshine and the cuisine are not the only differences.

First, let’s talk about sunshine. We know it’s sunnier and warmer in Spain, but an even bigger difference is the way the weather is experienced. Here people consider it cold when it’s between 15 and 20ºC (between 59 and 68 ºF). This means that you will see the locals wearing winter coats and tourists or expats walking around in shorts. In the Netherlands, 20ºC means wearing skirts and going for a swim, but here the majority of the people I saw on the beach in the last few weeks were people from colder countries. When I came here in February, I only took two summer jackets with me and I don’t regret that, but since I got used to the weather here, I wouldn’t consider swimming in the Mediterranean Sea yet.

Another thing is: a Dutch person could easily assume that the world is flat. If you look out of your window, all you can see are our green meadows. We don’t ascend hills and we don’t climb mountains. To encounter something that’s not flat, you’d really have to go to another country. Barcelona, however, is surrounded by hills. They are horrible to climb, but the sceneries are breathtaking.

Besides geographical differences, there are also cultural differences between both countries, the biggest being the perception of time. In Spain time is a totally different concept. Where Dutch people would be exactly on time or 10 minutes early, the Spanish people are more relaxed and flexible. There are unwritten rules regarding what time you should show up and because everyone seems to know them, it’s not considered rude to arrive late (except for work). Spanish people seem to know instinctively whether 7 pm means a) 7 pm; b) 7.15 pm; or c) 8 o’clock. Do you know the right answer? For me it is still a secret and every time a blind guess. I did figure out, however, that being on time or a little early can turn out to be very awkward. The bright side of this all is that impunctuality and disorganisation promote spontaneity and fun. Dancing in the kitchen during cooking is not uncommon here and those creative expressions fit my personality. Also, lunch and dinner time change daily, so hangry people, be prepared!

Another important part of the culture in Spain is the food (as mentioned earlier). It simply is delicious and everyone eats a lot. When I first visited my boyfriend’s family (they are Peruvians and also eat a lot) I had to tell them that I was full. I simply couldn’t eat more and I was afraid that it looked like I didn’t like the food. One of the reasons for my inability to eat a lot was that in the Netherlands people just eat a sandwich for lunch. The thought of that would frighten the people who live in Spain. However, after spending some time here, I’ve got used to the customs and I eat just as much. I haven’t even gained weight, so I am starting to think it’s healthy to eat a lot for lunch. Maybe the Dutch are the crazy ones here. The food culture is so important in Spain that you can eat a 3-course lunch in a lot of restaurants for half the money (or even less) it would cost you in the Netherlands.

The last difference that I get confronted with every day is my height. Dutch people are among the tallest in the world. In Barcelona I am quite tall; though exceptional, there are Spanish people with my height. However, hanging out with a Peruvian family does make me feel very “different”. My boyfriend was very lucky being way taller than his parents and thus my height, but every time I meet a new family member or Latin friend, my height is frowned upon. Also, it’s not uncommon for them to discuss what our future children would look like.

So far the differences. If you have experienced other differences that I haven’t mentioned, I would love it if you put a reaction below. Maybe in a few months, I will find many similarities and write a blog about that. I will keep you posted.

Greetings from Barcelona!                                               

Climbing mountains

We were sweating and suffering when we were walking up the mountain. Before starting our adventure, we quite randomly chose a route to walk so we didn’t know where we were going. We just wanted to walk in nature and chose a park that was reachable by public transport. At times the “path” only existed of earth covered by loose rocks which added an exciting element to the route.

The view

The name of this beautiful mountain is Sant Llorenç del Munt i l’Obac. While my boyfriend and I were following the path, the Spanish spring sun was hiding behind the trees and the temperature was comfortable. During our hike we saw several signs directing to “la mola”. We decided to follow them, not knowing where we were going. Fun fact: in Spain saying something is “mola” means it’s cool. We were walking for hours and in between we made a few stops to enjoy the stunning view. The further we came, the more we suspected that we were climbing the whole mountain, because the path was quite steep and the hike was challenging. As amateur hikers, climbing the whole thing had never been our ambition.

We were going further and further. At times we could hardly breathe and we had to stop. After sitting down and drinking some water we were able to continue our struggle. But then, all of a sudden, there were no more trees and we encountered a flat landscape with in the middle of it a building that resembled an old castle. It was quiet and peaceful. We couldn’t walk up anymore. There were no higher peaks and we had a full view all over the valley that was even more amazing than the views we had seen earlier.

The funny jacket

Because the trees didn’t offer any shelter anymore, we got blown away by a strong wind. It was also quite cold in these heights. I put on my funny jacket to keep myself warm. When we got to the building, we learned that it used to be a monastery. In this former monastery there was a restaurant and as we were tired we sat down to eat something. We were brainstorming about how the people who work here go to work every day. We couldn’t believe they would climb that mountain every single day. We decided to ask a waiter and we were wrong. They indeed would walk up to get to work. This discovery left us in awe.

After our contemplations on how people walk up that mountain every day, we went back to the valley. The way down was way easier and only took us an hour or so. Then our feet hit flat earth again. For me, as a Dutch person, this is very important because our country is flat and mountains make me homesick. From the ground we saw the mountain rising up. It seemed so high, and we had been there! We could see the little (from this distance very little) monastery on top of that big mountain and we almost couldn’t believe that we had climbed that whole thing!

This day got me inspired, because for me climbing a mountain was a big deal, it was difficult and it took me hours to do it. My muscles were aching for days after that walk. For people who do it every day, on the other hand, it’s normal. I always tend to think in metaphors and this is a great example for every obstacle in life. The first time you do something new and scary, it’s heavy and it might leave you exhausted for days or even weeks. But when you do it more often and you practice, it gets easier and easier. Then climbing a mountain becomes a piece of cake.

The highest place of Barcelona

Last week two of my best friends visited me in Barcelona. They came to Barcelona to celebrate their holidays and I saw the city through their eyes. As a result, I also felt like I was on a trip rather than doing things in the city where I live. It’s always nice to do touristy things and to see lots of things. Naturally I also took them to one of my favourite places in the city: Tibidabo.

The first time I visited Tibidabo was in the summer when I was only visiting Barcelona for a month. That time I didn’t expect that one day this city could become my home. It felt like it would be the first and last time that I would visit this interesting place. Nevertheless, I immediately loved it and I am still very fond of it. This special hill with a breath-taking view all over Barcelona is difficult to forget.

So, I decided to take my friends to this magical place. All the other days we had been discovering the city by foot, but going to Tibidabo felt like a mini holiday in a holiday. This is because in order to go to Tibidabo, you have to take a bus up the hill and it will take you 45 minutes. Unfortunately we had to wait a long time for the bus, because the Spanish bus drivers are not the most punctual. When the bus finally arrived, it was too full and we had to wait for the next bus. We were determined to get there, so we waited some more while drinking ice coffee. Compared to the adventure that awaited us, all this bus trouble was nothing. It would have taken us slightly longer to walk up there, which would be around 2 hours according to Google Maps. Even though I love hiking, I didn’t mind waiting and taking the bus.

When we arrived there, we immediately fell in love with the view. My friends for the first time and I for the third time. Tibidabo has an amusement park on the hill and even higher there are two churches. The amusement park is fun, however, as I am a culture enthusiast, beautiful churches make my heart beat faster. They are not normal churches; they are two churches on top of each other, as you can see on the photo. While the first church has a simpler outer appearance and a very detailed interior, the second one is higher and more fancy from the outside with a plainer, but beautiful interior. The whole construction is quite big for something on top of a hill and the beauty of it all was very inspiring. Inside the church we had our occasional “Do you think there is more to life?” discussion which led to fruitful insights.

From the square in front of the upper church we were able to see almost all of Barcelona. We could only see half of the view, because it’s not possible to enter the area behind the church. However, the view over the city and the sea was definitely amazing and mesmerizing. This day we didn’t ascend the towers of the church by elevator (for 3 euro’s), that will reveal a 360-degree view over the city and the sea on one side and the nature parks surrounding Barcelona on the other side. I had done that before and that view was astonishing, in spite of the cold and strong wind that blew me off my feet. It was an amazing experience to go up there and see all. Because we didn’t feel like getting blown away by a strong wind, we didn’t go up the tower that day.

We also didn’t visit the amusement park, because we felt too old for it. However, I didn’t tell my friends that the previous time I was there I had actually ended up going for a round in the carousel. It’s possible to buy separate tickets for one ride instead of buying tickets for the whole park. So even though this time we decided to keep our feet on the ground, next time I want to try the Ferris wheel to enjoy this view of Barcelona from the air.

When I moved to Spain

Do you remember that day I decided to move to Spain? Well, I do. That is because I was terrified. I was full of doubts and insecurities. Spain was not new for me – I had been there many times. What was new for me was that this time I finished university. I was not going to Spain as a tourist who happened to be interested in learning Spanish. No, this time I was a sociologist and an English teacher who was planning to stay there forever and who had that “I can do whatever I want” type of energy. Moving to Spain had been my dream for many years, but actually doing it made my hands shake and my knees weak.

I started dreaming a few years ago. My dream about leaving my cold country found its roots in a singing class. Yes, this sounds weird. I took part in a class in which we were singing Spanish songs and I just fell in love with the language (I must say “thank you” to the singing teacher Lisbeth, if she ever reads this, because she was very inspiring). I must tell you, before that class I literally didn’t know any word in Spanish.

That time I didn’t think much about it, but after that class I started to take Spanish classes and I went on holidays to Spain all alone to learn the language and get to know the culture. I grew up in a small village and going somewhere all alone was something new for me. So, leaving my country for the first time was a big step. My country, the Netherlands, is situated in Europe and to the east its neighbouring country is Germany. Parts of this county are to be found beneath sea level. Which is not a problem at all, because for generations the Dutch have been great at building dykes. I used to feel connected with the Netherlands and its people, but my time there had come to an end. I liked to see myself as a dove spreading its wings and going there where the wind might take her. Yes, I like romanticising everything.

Gosh, what am I doing? Leaving my safe environment. This could turn out to be a plain disaster. Will I find a nice place to live? Will I make any friends or will I just die alone?

These kinds of thoughts occasionally crossed my mind. I think any person doing something new might have them. And then the angel on my shoulder came in:

Did you know that Madonna only had 10 dollars in her pocket and she didn’t have a place to live before she became one of the most famous people in this world?! Compared to that, my plan doesn’t sound scary at all.

Okay I felt like a lunatic and I decided to book a one-way ticket to Spain! And it’s unbelievable that I have already been living here for three months; I have a nice house to live in; I have found work; and I don’t think I will be dying alone after all.