By: Amy Albinus
It didn’t happen suddenly for me. I didn’t hop off the plane, arrive at my apartment and experience a rush of warm emotion and affection for the city I would call home for the next three months. To be honest, I didn’t even adapt to my new environment as easily as I’d expected. It felt like I was in a video game. Finally making it past one level, only to discover a more challenging one waiting ahead.
Living far away from school, it was immediately necessary that I learned to navigate the metro system. I remember the first time I tried it and how confused I was. Public transportation as a whole was foreign to me, never having lived in a big city. It’s funny to look back on it now, to remember how hyperaware I was of each face passing by in the dark, underground tunnel and of each person in my direct vicinity – ‘Would they try to open my backpack? Where were they going? Where were they coming from?’ The sound of the train arriving used to startle me, and I felt an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia when I stood with bodies on all sides and clutched the metal pole with white knuckles, keeping my eyes locked on the ground. From the outside, I made sure I didn’t look afraid, or like a target. My dad’s barrage of warnings played in my head. Only when I stepped into the fresh air and sunlight of the day was I able to breathe again.
Now I hop on and off the metro with ease, sometimes six times a day. I ride it to go to class, to my friend’s apartments, to the airport, and at night on the weekends. I know how to take it anywhere in the city and I have come to enjoy the commute and especially the people-watching. It’s hard to believe I once found it confusing. It’s also hard to believe how anxious I was about being pick-pocketed, now I’m wary but not afraid.
There were so many small learning curves like this one – like how when I arrived in Barcelona and insisted on tipping the taxi driver (he refused), when I was impatient at the restaurant because our waiter never came to check on us or bring us the bill (we had to ask), when I realized there was no dryer in our apartment (but a clothesline outside my window), and even when I ordered a large coffee (it was miniature). All of these small nuances seem humorous to me now. It’s amazing how normal it feels now to be walking past ancient structures on my way to class, eating dinner at 9 PM, and staying awake until the early hours of the morning on nights out.
At first, I counted down the days until the weekend trips I had planned. I was eager for a breath of fresh air – to escape the crowded city. I looked forward to a plane flight to a new place. There was Germany, with trees everywhere and A-frame houses; Amsterdam, with bikers missing me by an inch, flowers on every windowsill, and houseboats floating peacefully on the water; Switzerland, with fresh, white snow on the mountains, leaves of every color, and fondue that lasted for hours; and finally, Italy, with a coastline that took my breath away, pizza that I will never forget, and a spoken language that I wanted to listen to for hours.
I thought I needed to get away from Barcelona, that I wanted something different. I believed that once I had seen La Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, the Bunkers, and Gaudi’s architecture, I had seen all Barcelona had to offer. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Suddenly, at the end of every weekend trip, all I wanted was to return to the city. I found myself longing to come home. To come back to the little apartment that I share in El Poblenou with my two great friends. To stop at the gelato place downstairs where we befriended the employees – they gave us free croissants after 11 pm. To walk down the street and say hello to the friendly man who makes the best empanadas I have ever tasted. To continue towards the ocean until I’m at the boardwalk, where I can walk along the beach.
Barceloneta, where I ate my first paella. Where my roommate found a local volleyball league and where I sat alone reading my book by Port Vell and watched the sun go down, shimmering over the water. El Raval, where I lounged at MACBA and watched the skateboarders glide by, occasionally seeing my friend Aiden doing tricks with his buddies. Where I listened to new techno recommendations at my favorite record store and where I found my favorite coffee shop – Caravelle. El Born, where I bought a handmade necklace to give to my mom for Christmas and where I stopped for food after class at the Mercat de Santa Caterina. The many neighborhoods of Barcelona have become familiar to me. Inside my head exists a detailed map of my favorite places, buildings, and people.
I am almost about to leave for good now and I’m dreading it. I’m even dreading getting a massive coffee, and seeing modern buildings, and drying my clothes in the dryer. I’m dreading leaving a hub where people from all over the world come together; a hub of culture, art, and music. I’m dreading leaving the friends I have made here. I’m dreading moving out of my small apartment and the quaint family neighborhood I call home. I’m dreading the fact that something out-of-the-ordinary probably won’t happen to me on a daily basis anymore. I already miss the views, the sights, the smells, the people and I haven’t even left yet. People told me I’d fall in love when I came abroad and I did. With the city. With Barcelona and all it has to offer.