6 powerful things I learned in Barcelona

I was recently lucky enough to visit the wonderful city of Barcelona, flying out early last Monday morning and arriving at lunchtime, and leaving on Thursday. It was a great visit for many reasons but especially because I learned so much, and I wanted to share some of this today.

Image showing the Catalonia art museum i Barcelona
Museu Nacional D’Art Catalunya

1. I practiced speaking Spanish. A lot.

I hadn’t spoken, read or listened to Spanish since exams, so I was really excited to get the chance to practice some more, but I wasn’t sure how much I’d actually get to use it, since often in touristy areas a lot of people just use English. So I was really happy when the driver taking us from the airport to our hotel chatted with me and told us all about the buildings around us and their history. We checked in to the hotel in English but apart from that I always asked questions and ordered food or drink in Spanish. I even taught my mum a few phrases and she quite happily and successfully tried them out in the restaurants and bars (apart from once saying “excusez-moi” to a waiter and then completely butchering the word “servicios” so that neither he nor I had any clue what she was saying. He then brought us French menus.) I was really happy that I understood everyone as I didn’t know what the accent was like in Barcelona, but I found the locals really easy to understand, and they were all happy to speak Castilian to me since I don’t know any Catalan. I’m particularly proud of speaking to customer service on the metro platform through the tinny speaker on the ticket machine, and somehow making myself understood. It’s also really great to see the pleasant surprise on people’s faces when I replied or ordered in Spanish

2. Speaking the language really helps

It’s fairly well known that some places might rip tourists off a little and take advantage of their lack of local knowledge, but I felt fairly confident throughout the stay that we weren’t being hoodwinked at any time. We actually tried to find smaller local bars off the main streets anyway, so we were usually eating side by side with locals, but the one time a man figured out we were English and was trying his best to get us to have a drink in his bar I found that speaking his own language back at him got the message across nicely. Being small and not having much presence I’ve never been able to make someone back off quite so effectively, but it’s reassuring, especially as a young girl in a foreign city, and because one day I hope to be travelling on my own.

Image showing a street in Barcelona

3. We all ought to be more Spanish

On that note, I feel like something a lot of Brits struggle with is saying no, and even though I really didn’t want that drink, I still felt a bit guilty walking away – the dude was just doing his job, after all. In restaurants, we like to ask for food in the most timid way possible – “could I possibly get…” – and in the street we seem to throw an apology into every sentence. Something my mum and I observed early on was that Spanish people have no issue saying no to something they don’t want, or, conversely, asking in a straightforward manner when they do want something. Although it’s difficult when I’m naturally shy, I have decided to live a bit more like the Spanish. I won’t apologise for the space that I occupy in the world, I will question things I don’t understand I will stand tall and walk with confidence, for no one’s benefit except my own. I also think we live life too quickly over here. I live in a sweet town in Yorkshire and it’s mostly a relaxed area to live in, but on the whole I never stop to drink coffee and watch the world go by, I don’t walk places as much as I could and I don’t sit outside half as much as I ought to.

4. How do I eat clean??

Something I will focus on more for my next visit to Spain is eating well while I’m there. Staying in a hotel is difficult because eating out for 3 meals a day gets expensive very quickly, but it’s an added challenge because, as well as everything coming with bread, salads aren’t quite as common over there as they are here. In an English restaurant it is quite normal these days to find a nice list of salads on the menu, but in Spain, you’d be lucky to find 3, and most likely two of them are veggie, and the third is chicken caesar. It might be a bigger deal to me than to most people, because I’m really not well suited to hot countries and seem to eat much lighter meals when I’m warm. A burger and fries was the last thing I wanted.

The architecture at Park Guell
Gaudi’s Park Guell

5. It’s OK to be a tourist

What I mean by this is it’s okay to make mistakes, to not understand your surroundings and to appreciate the scenery. These are things that natives do, so why feel self-conscious just because you’re foreign? It’s so easy to just ask someone to repeat what they said, to ask a passer-by for help and to do typically touristy things like take photos and drink sangria! As long as you’re respectful and keep yourself safe there’s really no problem.

6. Cities aren’t as daunting as I thought

I lived in a tiny village until I was around seven, and since then I’ve lived in a few different towns but never anywhere particularly big and busy. I remember enjoying Paris and London when I went but the last time I visited any big city was some years ago when I could rely on my parents to get me around. I also had a long-lasting fear of the underground for some reason. So this week, when my mum kind of subconsciously took a back seat in organising our days because I was the one speaking to people, I figured out the Barcelona metro, booked us tickets to the Sagrada Familia and navigated on foot as well. I’m so proud of myself for just taking all this in my stride, and I was so okay with it that I didn’t realise what I’d achieved until a few days later. It’s made me realise that as long as you’re vigilant and smart about where you and your valuables are, big cities, especially foreign ones, really aren’t something to be afraid of.

An image showing Placa Espana, a plaza in the city of Barcelona with restaurants and bars
Placa Espana

So there are the six biggest lessons I learned from my visit to Barcelona! I learned so much more than that, about the country and the region, politics, people, language and history. Most importantly I relaxed and enjoyed myself, but these things were quite big for me which is why I wanted to write them down. I hope that I get plenty of chances like this in the future to continue learning about myself and other things!

What are the biggest lessons travelling has taught you?

F xx

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Published by On The Fly Blog

Student and lifestyle blog based in North Yorkshire, UK

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