When the Romans came to Spain

A little bit south of Barcelona, on the beautiful east coast of Spain, there is a magical city called Tarragona. This city is special (and famous) because of its ancient Roman ruins and architecture. Tarragona didn’t only preserve many Roman monuments, but it’s also the oldest Roman city in Spain. Besides that, the city also has an amazing beach and from the higher parts of town a great sea view. From Barcelona, it’s just a one-hour train ride to this intriguing town.

The highlight of this city is “El Camino del Diablo”. We read about it online, but as it’s further away from the city centre, many people don’t go there. We, however, decided to walk in the footsteps of the Romans and take on this challenge. To go on this devil’s hike, we had to take a bus that brought us to a nature park outside of the city centre. We got out of the bus and continued our way through the beautiful forest.

The sun burned our skin and the pathway ascended. We patiently followed the signs that said “Pont del diable” (Catalan for “devil’s bridge”).   After walking uphill for quite a while, we finally saw the masterpiece of Tarragona, the Roman aqueduct. This construction of 27 metres high and 217 meters long is very impressive. It used to be 25 kilometres long, but unfortunately, the rest didn’t survive.

Back in the days, the aqueduct was used to transport water from rivers and other sources to the cities and towns. The passage through which the water used to find its way, now functions a bridge. It’s possible to walk on top of the aqueduct. Even though it’s an amazing experience to be able to see the forest from up there, this walk is not recommended for people who are afraid of heights. This little devil’s hike made us suffer, but it was a great experience.

Except for the devil’s bridge, there are many other things to see in the beautiful city of Tarragona. Earlier that day, when we arrived at the station, we saw the beach on one side and on the other side ancient-looking staircases that brought us up to a wonderful park. We headed to the other side of the park where we could see the amphitheatre. We soon discovered that you can enter (the remains of) the theatre and walk around to see everything. The entry ticket only costs a few euros and includes three other roman constructions.

After fantasizing about the ancient times and taking pictures of the sea sight, we went to the archaeological museum that is located in the old Roman circus that was used to host horseraces. Here we saw many roman objects and statues and of course the remains of the circus. We continued our journey and head to the city walls that surround the old city centre. Walking along these walls provides a great view of the city. the walls are well preserved and with the wonderful gardens, it really is a magical stroll.

The city centre of Tarragona is also worth a visit. Here you can find cute streets with restaurants and shops, but the most outstanding piece of art is the old roman cathedral built in the 11th century.  We didn’t have time to go inside, because it was getting late and we wanted to do the devil’s hike. I didn’t regret my decision, because the hike was definitely worth it. However, if I were to visit Tarragona another time, I would stroll around the city centre to see more of the beautiful streets.

Our big adventure ended on the beach where we went for a well-deserved swim (it was very hot that day). We enjoyed the last rays of sunlight at the beautiful beach with nice clean water until it was time to catch our train back to Barcelona. 

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!