Sandcastles and other fairy tales

The last few weeks I didn’t write a lot. I was busy with work, but I spent even more time thinking about work. I am the overthinking type of person and when my head gets too full, I like going to the beach to let the fresh breeze blow away all my thoughts. After my trips to the beach, I had the brilliant idea to write a text about all the beaches surrounding Barcelona. My aim was to visit all of them. As I’m also a perfectionist, I really wanted to do my research well. And guess what, I postponed writing this text because it’s impossible to visit all of them. However, when serendipity brought me to the most amazing beach in the world, I decided not to look any further and start writing.

First, I will tell you about the beaches that are nice but won’t sweep you off your feet. The famous beach of Barcelona is Barceloneta, located between the old city centre and the beautiful harbour. It’s a small beach and it’s great to lie in the sand or walk along the coast. However, when the temperatures are rising, it can get very crowded. That’s not the only disadvantage. The full beach is a magnet for street sellers – every few minutes someone is yelling or talking to you personally. The locals know about these discomforts and when the sun is coming out, they search their luck elsewhere.

Then there is Badalona. This is a small town north of Barcelona and you can get there easily by metro. The beach is big and there are some restaurants. There is a relaxed ambiance and it’s a good place to go for a swim. Another advantage is that there are not many people and only a few street sellers on weekdays.

The third beach I visited was Casteldefells, also not too far by metro. This village, south of Barcelona, has a big and beautiful beach. In contrary to Badalona, it’s not only good for sunbathing and swimming. Casteldefells also lends itself for long walks along the waterside. The beach is surrounded by beautiful green hills and a cute village. The first time I went there was on a Friday. There were only a few lost souls and it was very relaxing. The second time was on a Sunday. I didn’t expect it, but it was crowded. My conclusion is that it’s amazing and beautiful during the weekdays, but there are many people on the weekends.

I saved the best beach for last. My boyfriend accidentally stumbled upon this place when he was reading about towns in Catalonia. The name of the village with the winning beach is definitely Tossa de Mar. This is not just any beach. Tossa de Mar is a little village with its medieval buildings and atmosphere. The tiny romantic streets are beautiful and when you walk up the hill to see the castle and the breath-taking views, you will cry tears of happiness. Castle? Yes, from the beach you can see a castle and it’s amazing. It will only take a few minutes to walk up the hill. It was a great experience and I already know that I will go back there once I have a car. We took a rental car to go there and drove for one and a half hours. Actually, it took us longer, because the Spanish highways are nothing like the Dutch ones – they confuse the hell out of you.

Besides going to beaches in the last few weeks, I learned that I should not be such a perfectionist. When I drove to Tossa del Mar I was confused about how to interpret the signs along the road and how to find the way. This left me stressed, but when we eventually arrived it was worth it. Had I known that, I would have been more relaxed. Also, driving around and seeing great sceneries is not too bad when you have air-conditioning. What are we complaining about? So, my advice to myself and the stressed out readers is: keep in mind that life is not about the destination, but about the journey.

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!