I did no research before our trip to Barcelona. As such, I had no expectations. I knew the Olympics were there in the 90s, Woody Allen made a movie with the city as a backdrop, and last summer, our eldest daughter spent a couple months there and reported back to my wife and I that, “It’s y’all’s vibe.” That’s all I needed to hear as she knows I’ve been looking for a place to move outside the U.S. for a decade now. 

I wanted to see what two weeks in a new place felt like without any predispositions – so no research. Although when I posted about our trip, I got plenty of feedback on things to do and see there. And then a few days before we left, I had AI do a 10-day itinerary for the time of year we were visiting. It was helpful in lumping together certain things that were walkable – including most things friends recommended. 

It didn’t take two weeks for me to see what Barcelona felt like. It was pretty much immediate. Even the airport was spectacular. 

Barcelona is a breathtakingly beautiful city. Everywhere you turn you’re engaged with art. It’s in the buildings and public spaces. In sculptures and paintings. And the food – omg I had no idea Spanish cuisine is so amazing. There were bakeries everywhere. And there were more pedestrians than cars – which is not unusual considering the urban planning of this ancient city prioritized pedestrians. 

We arrived on a Tuesday and for the next 13 days walked/hiked 88.5 miles. We saw some of the famous things – such as Park Güell and La Sagrada Família which featured the mind of Antoni Gaudí, a Catalan architect and designer – but mostly we focused on immersion. We dined at street side tables for 90% of our meals. We meandered through neighborhoods. We shopped. We went to the beach. And we lived on the Metro. We even took a day trip to Girona – a medieval village about 50 miles north of Barcelona that was founded by Rome. It only took 28 minutes to get there because Spain has high speed rail. Which is awesome. 

As for my impressions, there are many. But the thing that impressed upon me most about Barcelona was its civility. That nearly 2 million people can exist in close proximity in a respectful way was fascinating to me. Here in the U.S., you never know whether you’re going to be shot driving to get groceries if you happen to piss off the wrong driver. In Spain there was none of that underlying anger. On the contrary, people seemed … happy. So yeah, civility was my top takeaway. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. 

Other major takeaways included: 

Dogs – There were dogs EVERYWHERE. And none were loose and roaming. This was the strongest dog culture I’ve ever experienced in any city. It made me happy.

Bakeries – Two on every block. And not sugary bakeries like we have here in the States, but breads and pastries. They eat a lot of sandwiches on fresh baguettes here. I couldn’t tell you how many people I saw walking the streets with a baguette in a brown wrapper. 

Pickpockets – This is a real thing. Of course we were vigilant going in – having been to plenty of big cities before, including Milan in November where pickpockets are prevalent – but those guys are the minor leagues compared to Barcelona. On the second day of our trip we had a guided Picasso tour and while we were marveling at the buildings in the Gothic Quarter where a young Picasso was influenced – our guide yelled and leaped toward my wife who was standing on my left. The next thing I know a young man said something to our guide in Catalan, held up his hands, and continued walking. Evidently he saw an open pocket on the zipper purse strapped across my wife’s chest and put his hand between her torso and arm and right into that pocket. My wife didn’t even know. There was nothing in that pocket for him to steal (and there’s no zipper on that pocket), but suffice it to say it freaked me out pretty good and for the rest of the day I was hyper vigilant about being a target. We continued to ensure we weren’t an easy mark for the whole trip but honestly, you just forget about it after a couple days. Even the locals wore their purses across their chest and had locking backpacks like mine. Look, I live in a country where half the population is packing a gun – pickpockets don’t phase me.

Public Transportation – These were the best subways I’ve ever experienced. There was no trash, no disrespectful riders, no rats, heck there weren’t even any cops. Sure, they were sometimes packed around siesta and late at night after dinners, but the comms inside the air conditioned cars were extremely easy to navigate. And they were always on time. If we moved to Barcelona, we wouldn’t have a car. 

Community – Highly diverse, incredibly civil, and multi-generational. They close down streets throughout the city on weekends so that communities can get out and socialize. 

Imagination – From Gaudí to Picasso and thousands of other artists, the human imagination is on full display literally everywhere you go in Barcelona. 

Antiquity – When we were in Milan, the one thing that struck me was the antiquity. Well, Barcelona isn’t quite as old as Milan, but believe me when I say they take pride in their history – and it shows in everything. From the Roman walls in the Gothic Quarter to centuries old artwork dotting every block – you know you’re in an ancient place wherever you go in Barcelona once you’re street level. 

Weed – It’s not illegal, as evidenced by the clouds of ganja we’d smell out on our balcony or walking through neighborhoods. Granted, it wasn’t everywhere all the time, but you knew when it was nearby. Discovered you can own like a half pound of it, and even grow it, and there are clubs where you can legally consume it (like hookah bars.) The people are very chill in Barcelona. Correlation. 

Food – I am the opposite of a foodie. But my wife and daughter don’t eat meat and enjoyed the food part of the trip way more than I did. That’s because the imagination of this city outflows into the cuisine. The food in Barcelona is incredibly diverse. Yes, even with the palate of a 15-year-old, I enjoyed the food immensely – and none of it was processed. Now, after a week back in the States, I’m finding it weird to sit down to big meals. Because, tapas. 

Beautiful women – After our trip to Italy, I remarked how beautiful the men were there. It was shockingly evident and frankly, pretty humbling. But in Spain – it’s the women. I don’t know if it’s their confidence, fashion, or something else altogether – but the women in Barcelona were stunningly beautiful. 

Faith – Funny how you can build a society on the concepts of faith without it turning into a screaming match. But yeah, faith is evident throughout Barcelona. And I’m certain it’s a foundation for how civil it is there. 

Public art – Stumble outside your flat and you bump into it. And it’s not just the big, famous things either. It’s literally everywhere. I look forward to one day taking my time to discover all the hidden places where art is tucked away in this city. 

Creative culture – It’s sort of impossible to live in a place like Barcelona and not have the creativity all around you influence you. As such, there was a strong creative culture in every neighborhood we visited. 

Diversity – This one was a bit of a surprise, but from faith to fashion to cuisine, Barcelona featured a range of diversity – which makes sense since this is such an international city. The best meal we had was a little Italian place in the El Born neighborhood. Second best a tapas place featuring Spanish-Asian fusion. 

Multi generational – A few days into our trip my wife and I were talking about how it felt there in terms of a possible move for us. I talked about the subways and neighborhoods and then she said something I didn’t expect, “There are a lot of older people here.” The next day I couldn’t help but notice. This wasn’t just a young hip city, but a place where families live for generations. 

Clean – I’m not going to get into details but trust me when I say that Barcelona is a very clean city. Their public works department was busy everywhere. If there was one drawback, the garbage bins (some futuristic means of trash collection that yielded no odor when you walked past them on the street) were picked up between 1-3 AM throughout the city – meaning you heard them being emptied as the sound of glass breaking would routinely shatter the stillness of night. And amid the steep canyons of residential buildings, you hear it. 

Markets – Every neighborhood has an indoor market with fresh produce, fish, meats, cheeses, etc. Many of these were connected to regular supermarkets with other life staples. 

Safe – Something our host told us, and that our Picasso tour guide reinforced after the botched pickpocket situation, is that Barcelona is extremely safe. You can safely go anywhere at virtually any time. And boy, we definitely tested this out. So safe. It was … weird. And we barely saw any cops. 

Bike lanes and pedestrian walkways – Folks, let me tell you something – how we live in cities in the U.S. with all the cars, doesn’t have to be this way. Barcelona is the most walkable and bike friendly city I’ve ever seen. Huge, tree-lined pedestrian promenades between the auto thoroughfares made a stroll anywhere in the city a pleasure. Seemingly every neighborhood had green spaces dedicated to people where you didn’t see any cars. Oh and they love their scooters there too. 

Food (again) – Ok so they love mayonnaise in Spain. They put it on everything. Perhaps it’s this way in all of Europe, if you believe what Vincent Vega said. And the thing they love most is sandwiches on fresh baguettes. Which are everywhere. If I had a dime for every person I saw carrying a baguette I’d be rich. The other big thing is there are NO condiments on tables at any of the restaurants. No salt or pepper. No hot sauce. Nothing. And for good reason – the food does’t need it. 

So that’s it. Barcelona is the most beautiful and amazing city I’ve ever seen. Our trip there was life-changing. We will be back. 

Love, Jim. ❤️

The Last Ride of Soccer Dad
Making Excuses

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.

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