As we mourn the act of horror and terror in Barcelona a few days ago, tensions rise between North Korea and The Donald, and angry tweets are sent out as the world is watching nervously. With only a few more nights of sleep until take-off, it has hit me that I will be living in the world’s most connected, most crime-free and one of the cleanest cities in the world. Alongside 12 million others in an area only three times larger than Rotterdam. Here’s to my first blog post, looking back on my summer.
Sitting here still pulling off dry skin from my sun-burnt calves, I am confronted with mesmerizing memories of the week in Barcelona with my girlfriend, Paula. A city, not only known for its world-class football players, architecture and busy streets, but also recognized for its delicious food and affectionate citizens, won my heart. I knew from the very first morning, when we walked along Las Ramblas as everyone was still snoozing their alarms, that this week was going to be a blast. And so it was. Full of adventures, learnings and new experiences!
That the stereotype of Spanish people not having lunch until 3pm, sleeping in the afternoon and having dinner just before midnight was this accurate, was a humoristic surprise to me. Yes, lunch really isn’t till 3pm, if not later. I’m used to having a sandwich, maybe two and a glass of milk at round noon, so when I sit down to one of the best egg salads I’ve ever had, stuffed peppers, gazpacho and ham-filled chicken breasts, I can only understand why all Spanish people nap afterwards. You’re simply too full and too heavy to do anything else. Going for a swim is not an option. You will sink. Going for a walk? Forget it, the combination of the burning sun and your legs feeling like lead make it almost impossible. Really, the only thing you can do is crash and take a nap. It only took me two days till the first thing I said after lunch changed from “muchas gracias’ (that’s as good as my Spanish gets) to looking at Paula and posing the standard question “siesta?”
The Spanish stereotype carries on in the evening, where dinner doesn’t happen until just before midnight. Dutch dinner time is very early. 6pm. Sharp. Having to wait till 11pm during my first day was a tricky challenge. It must have seemed like I hadn’t eaten for days once we sat down at the dinner table. Not to mention going out for dinner on the beach at around 11pm on a Wednesday night with Paula and her family. Food is life in Spain. Before I could even open the menu, Paula’s mum decided it would be best for her to order everything. So I shut it and let myself be surprised. Not a bad decision after all, as we enjoyed various plates of raw salmon, tuna, perfectly cooked beef and an interesting variety of mysterious looking shellfish. Listening to the passion with which Spanish people talk and seeing Paula this happy, I felt my smile extending from ear to ear as I learned a few new words and enjoyed a touch of home with an ice cold Amstel-beer.
What surprised me the most in Barcelona were the people. Their warm-heartedness, openness and their general interest in one another. In the Netherlands, people are more curious rather than interested and like to feel they are more valued or more important than others, whereas in Barcelona the people genuinely want to learn about you, your background and your stories. I got to meet Paula’s friends during a pool/birthday party one evening, in the company of too much good food (is there such a thing?), cold beers, and an interesting collection of everyone’s favourite mixed drink. You can imagine how I felt the next morning. Besides trying to hide and eventually laughing at my absolutely horrendous sun-burn from the morning before, I felt like I had known them all for months and it felt great to meet so many compassionate people.
This week in Barcelona taught me more than only making sure to cover myself in sunscreen before going to the beach. I consider myself richer in terms of experiences, learnings and an incredible amount of selfies. Like Neymar, worlds most expensive football player (sold for €222 million), I left Barcelona with memories and an unbelievable smile.