Living in Barcelona was never part of my life plan, neither was moving here in the full throes of a global pandemic obviously, but if there’s anything 2020 has taught us, it is that life doesn’t always go according to plan.
So, here I am, living and working in Barcelona – a city I’d previously only associated with Sangria, tapas and Gaudi – in that order. I’ve lived in Cape Town, Paris, Berlin, London and Geneva, but Barcelona never held much attraction beyond a city break by the sea.
Five months after swapping postcard-inspiring Swiss mountains and lakes for the decidedly scruffier shores of Spain, I celebrated the arrival of 2021 by trying to eat 12 grapes (not easy) washed down with a lot of Cava (no challenge here) – the Spanish way to see in the New Year. (I learned too late that you’re meant to cut up the grapes and remove the seeds!) It seemed also like a good time to reflect upon my first impressions of Barcelona as the city had just been named the eighth best city in the world to live in according to the 2021 World’s Best Cities Report.
Life in Barcelona during Covid
Hot, hot, hot …
Originally from Africa, I’m not supposed to be fazed by heat, but the closest I’ve come to Barcelona’s suffocating August temperatures was the Abu Dhabi desert. You soon understand why the few unlucky Barcelonians who don’t manage to escape the city in summer, stay out of sight most of the day. Stepping outside after 8am is like slamming into a brick wall. Your limbs turn to lead and crossing the street requires massive effort.
In praise of air-con, beer and siesta
Doing anything, not to mention moving to Barcelona in August, is only possible with full-blast air conditioning. Taking a siesta is no luxury, as by lunchtime you all but pass out anyway. Amazingly, though, when dusk falls, the city comes to life as people stream to pavement bars and restaurants to enjoy an apèro, a beer and some olives or patatas bravas. A Spanish friend tells me: “For us, life is outdoors. We sleep at home, but the rest of the day we are outside. «
This culture coupled with tiny apartments has made lockdown especially tough. If you live outside of Barcelona – like many expat families – you may have more space, though accommodation prices are eye-wateringly high. Everything else seems very affordable if you come from Geneva or London, but house prices are on a par with some of the most expensive cities in the world.
One of the major thrills of being new in Barcelona is the luxury of being able to pop to the beach – in the city or to nearby Gava Mar or Sitges – to cool down. The beach holiday vibe is always within reach, even as the country’s tourism revenues dropped by more than 75% in 2020 – figures not seen in 50 years.