As an American, the holiday season kicks off in the fourth week of November with Thanksgiving. This is not a holiday in Spain, but we bucked the trend and celebrated anyway. And what better way to enjoy the holiday than by introducing our traditions to coworkers!
The weeks before involved a lot of research into what was available in country, and what we’d have to improvise around. Turkey (pavo en español) was the biggest difficulty. It wasn’t hard to find parts–a leg here, a breast there–but the whole bird was almost unheard of. But a few days before Amber found a reasonable sized one at Boqueria Market.
Most everything else was available–vegetables, potatoes, breads. But what about the cranberry sauce?! Taste of America to the rescue! This specialty store is uniquely American. The scent of high-fructose corn sugar slaps you across the face on entering, as more than half the store is sugary cereals and candy. But they had the goods a week before the big day. I heard they ran out closer to the holiday 😰. This allowed Amber to introduce the wonders of American cranberry sauce to our friends amidst gales of laughter.
We invited the team I’ve been working with at New Relic BCN. Among those who made it were an American couple, an Irishman, and a ton of Spaniards. I was pleasantly surprised by everyone’s enthusiasm leading up to the event. It turns out, American Thanksgiving is commonly seen in movies and pop culture but faintly mysterious beyond that. What is this pumpkin pie? What does stuffing taste like, or is it called dressing? This proved an excellent chance to lift the veil on this American tradition.
We also pushed the max capacity of our flat for a sit-down meal. There were about 16 people, every scrap of table space filled with boisterous conversation, good Spanish wine and charcuterie, galician treats, and American classics.
The holidays have definitely made us more acutely aware of the normal connections with family that we’re missing out on during this grand adventure. But in the end, sharing this tradition with our new friends was absolutely something to be thankful for.
At long last it’s arrived… the (photo) tour of the flat!
Location, Location, Location
As mentioned a few times before, we’re in El Poblenou, a neighborhood in the eastern part of Barcelona. I’ve been told that it means “new village” and in the not too distant past was an industrial zone. You can see evidence of that in many of the buildings around. More recently it’s been revitalized, though, with an influx of residences and young tech businesses settling there.
We’re a block off the Rambla del Poblenou. Ramblas in Spain are streets blocked off largely for walking traffic. Most are home to restaurants and shops, benches for resting, shade trees. Rambla del Poblenou is no exception.
Here’s the basic layout for those who like reading plans:
Entering In (entrada)
Our flat begins with a modest entry hall. Along with hooks already there, we’ve added storage for our somewhat outsized collection of shoes. That’s been super effective at keeping the entrance tidy.
From this entryway the space splits, which works well for dividing the ~90 square meters (970 square feet) into a couple different zones.
Make sure you have your keys when you leave!
MTTLKIF: < 1 day (mean time to locking key in flat since door automatically locks behind you 😰)
Left from the entryway is the kitchen. As anyone who knows us can testify, the kitchen is the heart of the Clark household, so this was of particular interest in our search for a flat.
One of our biggest worries was transitioning to a smaller space. Fortunately, the flat proved totally workable. This was aided by our past year renting a much smaller place in Portland.
Past the dishwasher you can see the utility room, home of our hot water heater and our soon-to-be washing machine.
Our kitchen features a dishwasher, a reasonably sized fridge, and a gas stovetop. The only thing we’ve really missed is a microwave, which we’ll fix soon.
The window overlooks the Rambla. Not a great view, but we can often hear music and muted crowd noises drifting up as we do dishes or cook. So lovely.
Living Room (comedor)
If you turned right in the entryway instead of left, you’d end up in the main living space. This long room includes both a seating and dining area. Notice how bright it is, even on an overcast day with the single light in the room turned off.
The white cabinet by the table holds our dishes, a valuable way to save cabinets in the kitchen.
From the living area a hallway runs back to the bathrooms (2!) and bedrooms (4!) I’ll admit to skepticism about fitting all that in only 90 square meters at first, but the layout is key to it working (and it does!)
Our bed is a Brimnes from IKEA, and it flips up to reveal a HUGE amount of storage underneath it. This has proven perfect for all our not currently-in-use luggage. Eight bags is not much to fit your life into, but our small flat isn’t much to fit all those empty bags in without the help this bed brings.
The master closet has built-ins which are nice if a little shallow to use. We’re planning to get end tables but haven’t yet.
Each kid has their own room for the first time in a few years. Cora’s came with a bunkbed set that can be folded up against the wall. We built her a small wardrobe from IKEA and she’s in love with having her own space.
Asher got the unfurnished bedroom. At his request he got a loft bed. This provided room for a desk–the only one in the flat actually. Each kid also has had a decorating budget, and Asher spent his on plants. He wanted to make a jungle for “his boys” to fly around in. Three dragons, a giant snake, and a teddy bear comprise his little family of which he is the daddy.
It’s the first time in our adult life that Amber and I have had two bathrooms. Excitement!
The main bathroom is decent sized. Not much storage–just a bit under the sink–but full-sized shower and bath. There’s even an as-yet-unused bidet (fancy!) Note your knees can hit the door if it’s opened when you’re seated.
The second bathroom is much smaller, but still has a shower. Just having a second toilet is totally life-changing. Note your knees hit the paper holder, which then hits the door. 🙂 Also, I bonked my elbows on the walls the one time I tried that shower, but the additional option is fantastic.
A feature we haven’t used much with the summer heat is the back balcony. The view isn’t scenic–just a blank wall on another building–but it’ll be a nice escape during more moderate weather. It also provides a place to hang dry laundry, since we likely won’t have an electric dryer.
Oh, on the topic of weather, did I mention that we have AC? When it’s too hot to hang on the porch, it’s just right inside.
One More Thing
The detail oriented among you might notice I mentioned four bedrooms but only showed three. Well, we even have a guest room!
Doesn’t look like much, but that bed extends to a queen. If you happen to be near Barcelona, give us a call. We’d love to have guests!
The plan for the week was exploring various parts of Barcelona to prepare for renting a flat. Overall it went well. We also learned a lot about our family limits for tramping around in the unaccustomed heat!
That first afternoon we taxied to the hostel we’re staying at, TwentyTú. This has proven an economical way to settle for a couple weeks while we sort out the flat.
The staff has been super friendly and helpful. There’s TV we can hook our new Nintendo Switch up to, much to the children’s joy. There’s free WiFi, much to the adults’ joy. It’s walking distance from a major shopping center, which has proven key for obtaining the stuff we didn’t pack. It’s even a long walk from some of the neighborhoods we wanted to visit, and a shorter walk to the Metro (aka subway).
Nearby is the Torre Glòries (formerly Torre Agbar), a convenient landmark to navigate by. Cora calls it the Tile Tower because although the picture doesn’t capture it, it’s quite colorful.
On the walk to the store we found a cool playground space. Because of course, what you need when on foot is a way to run around more.
The hostel has also let us start acclimating to a smaller space, since the room is basically a hallway width in front of bunk beds 😉
Gràcia is a neighborhood north of the city center. We explored it on our first full day out. It’s got a lot of the classic feel of Barcelona, without as much bustle and traffic as the city center.
A long walk through the neighborhood, and we could easily see ourselves living there. The number of parks around impressed us. In particular we relaxed in Parc de les Aigües. Not only did this have shade and multiple play structures for the kids, it also sported green parrots chattering wherever we went!
We stopped for food along the way, some basic cured meats. It was there Asher discovered he loves boquerones (anchovies) with vinegar. Really he just gobbles them down! He’s not keen on his pictures being public, but there’s a great video on Facebook if you want to befriend either of us.
As our first full day exploring, we overdid things significantly. The kids were done by about 3/4 of the way through the 5 miles (8 km) of trooping.
The next neighborhood was El Poblenou, aka the new village. Further east of the city center, it’s out of comfortable walking distance of New Relic’s office in Eixample, but a quick Metro ride away. Learning our lesson from Gràcia, we planned out a much shorter walk.
Poblenou definitely maintains the feeling of a smaller village in the big city. We walked down the lovely Rambla del Poblenou, a calmer alternative to the larger Les Ramblas in central Barcelona. One flat we’d seen online was right on the ramble, and it was easy to imagine ourselves living there.
“That is hard work for me to hold it that long.”-Coraline
El Poblenou’s other big attraction is the beach. The Rambla runs right down to the Mediterranean sand, a mere 5-10 minute walk.
The kids absolutely loved the beach. The water was cool, but comfortable to play in for a long time. Such a change from the Oregon coast! It also afforded our first major sunburn of the trip.
In the latter half of the week we dropped in at New Relic’s Barcelona office to say hello and check out the area right next door. Emerging from the Metro, Amber immediately ooh-and-aah’d at the surroundings. This was all the charm, architecture, and urban feel she’d been imagining in Barcelona.
This being our third neighborhood exploration, we tightened up the routine. Basically we were sold already, so we just visited DelaCrem, an exceptional gelato shop our friend Aitor had recommended (heartily agreed!) The only question with Eixample is whether finding the size and noise profile we want in the hub of the city.
Bussing from Eixample home proved a good plan. Although I find it less direct than the Metro, it helps the kids engage more seeing the city versus cruising through dark tunnels.
Three Neighborhoods, No Answers Yet
This week has yielded a better feel for our new city. All the neighborhoods we visited definitely met the criteria we’re looking for… now to visit some flats and actually find a place to live!
(Small administrative note… we’ve been using Marco Polo to keep up asyncrhonously with friends. If you’ve on there (or want to be!) send us a message. It’s like Snapchat for families and grown-ups)
In Oakland a stranger helped us roll our crazily overloaded cart up an incline so we could make it in one go. (Not pictured… the REST of the luggage hidden behind these carts 😅) pic.twitter.com/F5Yc2ouQJm
The picnic was a huge success. We saw people from many different aspects of our life and shared food, memories, and hopes for the future with them. The event drew quite a crowd, as you can see from this lovely group photo:
We left with huge warm feelings our hearts… and packing to do. Back at Anthony and Kat’s (our friends who graciously loaned up their basement since leaving the house we’d been renting), we got the kids down and got to work on those last couple loose ends. Our flight was early the next morning, so we planned to leave at 4:30. Any guesses how much sleep we got?
Yep, we worked the night through, stumbling and tired, but determined to get all the things packed up and buttoned away.
Our beloved friend Kat got up with us in that dark morning hour and took us in our van to the airport. (We’ll be finally selling the van in September when we’re back around in Oregon while getting visas finalized). Tears and hugs were shared, and then we were off to get luggage checked.
Did I mentioned we had a lot of luggage?
Amber did a spectacular job of keeping the bags under weight, evenly spread, and tightly packed. But moving your entire world still amounted to an impressive pile. Thank goodness for curbside check-in at PDX!
TSA Pre also paid its way handily. Even with the kids in tow, we slid past security with only one forgotten pocket knife to slow us down.
The first leg was a short hop to Oakland. By a miracle, we ended up in the first row behind business class, which meant the under-seat space was larger than average. Good thing, because our carry-ons pushed the limits of what many would willfully lug down narrow plane aisles. Before we knew it we were landed in Oakland, off the plane, and picking up our luggage.
Picking up luggage? Why couldn’t they just check through? As you may have gathered from our earlier discussion on plans, things have been rather fluid around when we’d actually leave. We’d bought cheap OAK -> BCN tickets, but had been expecting/hoping to already be in San Fransisco getting our visas issued. Hahaha, nice try. So at the last we bought tickets on Alaska Airlines to cover the PDX -> OAK leg. Did those end up being on a shared airline that could check through? Nope! Thus we found ourselves back in possession of the mountain of luggage in Oakland.
No problem, we’ll just wheel over to the Norwegian Air desk, check in most of it, and cruise on through the all those services behind security, right? Nope. Turns out, the front desk for Norwegian only opens 4 hours before their first flight… the 4pm to Barcelona we were on. It was roughly 9AM, we we had hours to sit with our train of luggage carts out where only one restaurant greeted us. We shuffled bags around and made use of the time, but everyone was tired, hungry, and ready to leave that airport by the time we actually checked in.
We were excited to have upgraded to the Premium Cabin on the long leg of this flight. To get the flexible scheduling and baggage we needed, Premium was only a few hundred dollars extra per person, so we splurged. Norwegian is a budget line and the equipment was clearly second hand (from Arik Air apparently?) Many of the integrated controls didn’t work properly, the reclining seats clattered relentlessly when in motion, and the crew handed out iPads for the in-flight entertainment as the screens were mostly inoperable (3/4 of ours wouldn’t respond to the remotes at all). But, and it’s a huge but, the space was AMAZINGLY WORTH IT! I actually slept 5-6 hours on a plane y’all! That never happens, and sure helped smooth the remainder of the day after landing Barcelona.
Since our flight left Oakland at 4pm, we ended up in Barcelona about noon. Customs was a breeze, and we found ourselves grabbing a taxi in the heat of the day to the high-tech hostel we’re spending our first couple weeks at while we hunt for a flat.
As it was the middle of the day we did a little exploring, but I’ll save that till next time and rest content that the Clarks have arrived in Barcelona!