#DareToDreamBarcelona: Fiona Carnegie of Barcelona Art Connection on relocating to cosmopolitan Barcelona
I moved to Barcelona almost twenty years ago. I came on a whim, wanting a change from London where I’d been working. I planned to stay for three months but enjoyed myself so much (and met my future husband…) that I ended up staying!
I don’t recall any major practical challenges when I moved here. The bureaucracy in Spain is a constant challenge but one gets used to it and accepts it as part and parcel of living in a Latin country.
Barcelona has changed dramatically since I came here. I lived in the Barrio Gótico when I arrived and there were very few foreigners living there then, as was the case anywhere in Barcelona. Now many areas of Barcelona have been gentrified (for better or worse) and there are people of all nationalities living here.
I didn’t speak a word of Spanish or Catalan when I first came to Barcelona. I took a six week Spanish language course and learnt the basics but otherwise have picked it up by living here. I understand Catalan but don’t speak it very well. As there are so many foreigners in Barcelona it’s easy to get by without Spanish or Catalan but if you want to become integrated with the local community you do need to speak one or other of the languages.
There is quite a large number of expats in our area, and many families like us with a local married to a ‘guiri’. I really appreciate my expat friends – I think I would feel quite isolated if I lived in a community where I was the only foreigner. I have a mix of friends but my closest ones are foreigners like me.
I live in the Eixample Dreta, just above the Barrio Gótico. I really like the area because it’s very central but not too busy and you can walk everywhere. It’s a ten minute bike ride to the beach and also near to La Ciutadella park, the biggest in Barcelona. Many of the buildings were designed by Modernista (art nouveau) architects with high ceilings, mosaic tile floors and elaborate façades.
I love being able to cycle to work at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra. I run the study abroad programs for the University of Chicago which are based in this Catalan university near to the beach. Most days I finish by lunchtime which allows me to bring the kids home for lunch. The day is much longer in Spain than it is in the UK so there is plenty of time to do non work related activities in the afternoons.
As the weather is always good, our life is very outdoors based even during the winter months. Barcelona is also a very safe city compared to many in the UK. There are pickpockets but those tend to be confined to the tourist areas, and there’s very little violent crime which means that children are given more independence. Fortunately people here still take great care about the food they eat. The fresh food markets that are dotted all over Barcelona are always bustling and good, and fresh produce is available at very affordable prices.
One of the reasons we live in the area we do is because of the school my children attend. My husband and I wanted them to be immersed in the local culture and to speak Catalan well as they speak English and Spanish at home. The school is five minutes’ walk from home and most of the children in the neighbourhood go there too, so lots of their friends live nearby. As the area is quite international, there are many nationalities at the school, and both my children have five other English speaking children in their classes so we feel we get the best of both worlds.
I don’t know if we’ll ever return to live in the UK. As both my husband and I work at Universities we get long summer holidays, as do the children and we tend to spend about two months in the UK. I immediately feel at home and love being there but on balance I feel that the quality of life in Spain is higher.
As my husband teaches Art History and painting and I organise cultural activities, we decided to pool our resources and set up Barcelona Art Connection. We offer both painting holidays and cultural holidays. The painting holidays are for all levels, and the cultural holidays promise to take you away from the well trodden tourist track and show the punter the hidden delights of Barcelona’s art and architecture. The courses last for four hours in the morning and then each day we choose one of our favourite restaurants to take our small group for lunch. There is also the option of taking a day’s course in painting or a cultural visit.
We were inspired to set up this venture because we both love what we do and because of the amount of friends and colleagues that have visited Barcelona and enjoyed our impromptu guided tours of the city. We also know that it’s often more interesting to spend holidays learning something new, meeting people who have similar interests and discovering a city in depth. Barcelona Art Connection offers all this and more…