Barcelona, Spain Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, Spain 07/14/08

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. Vienna and Rio de Janeiro.

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2. How long have you lived here?

Three years.

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3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

I am a U.S. Diplomat.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Well connected to major European cities. Direct flights to some North and Latin American destinations (around 10 hours).

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Extremely expensive for what you get. Housing is the most pressing problem in Spain now and specially in Catalonia.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

A bit lower than in some other European countries but not cheap.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Nothing.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Most American fast food chains are available. Food is really good. There are many trendy (and expensive!) restaurants in the city.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Expensive (12-13 euros an hour).

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3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

ATM's are ubiquitous.

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4. What English-language religious services are available locally?

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5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

A lot. Catalan people speak only Catalan among themselves. Spanish is spoken by everyone. Theaters show American movies dubbed into Castilian Spanish (this is some of a shock if you have been before to other Spanish speaking countries). There is a large English speaking community though.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Not everything has been adapted. Department buildings (in the Eixample for example) do not have elevators, for example.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Right.

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2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

They're safe but you should be cautious using the subway downtown. Lots (and I mean LOTS) of pickpockets and bag snatchers. Everyone has been robbed here at least once, even the locals!

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3. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Don't bring a car. You won't really need it if you stay most of the time in the city. Bus service, urban trains and subway are ok.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

Pre-paid phone cards you can buy at every newspaper stand.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Lots of foreign companies. Get a salary in Euros and you'll be OK.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Mostly formal but in summer people tend to dress accordingly since the heat and humidity sometimes can be unbeareable.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Moderate.

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2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Pickpockets are everywhere, particularly downtown and in heavy touristic areas. Crime has increased also in the most recent years but it is not as bad as in other cities this size.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Excellent health care.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Annoyingly hot and humid in summer. OK the rest of the year.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Many Europeans expats. Barcelona has become sort of a

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2. Morale among expats:

It depends on your expectations. If you come to party and have a good time, this is the place to be. If you come to live a decent life on a moderate income, you may face trouble. Catalans are not the most friendly people in the world either and it takes time to get to know them.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

This is party central.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

If you can afford it, it's OK for everyone.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Yes. Barcelona is the gay capital of the Mediterranean.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Not really, unless you are Latin American. Some Spaniards tend to look down at them.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Some decent beaches nearby, skiing in winter not far from Barcelona or you can go hiking to the mountains. Everything is costly, though.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

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9. Can you save money?

No, if your salary is in U.S. dollars.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

No, if it is for work. I would come back to retire on a good monthly budget.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Expectations of quick, perfect and friendly customer service. Everything here is slow. There is a daily three-hour siesta time. The city is closed on Sunday.

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3. But don't forget your:

Patience.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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Barcelona, Spain 05/25/08

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, I've also lived in London and Egypt.

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2. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Student.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Frequent flights from London (2 hours) and well-connected to North America.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

The vast majority of people live in flats (some larger than others). I am aware that many expatriates with families prefer to live in suburbs such as St Cugat or even in Sitges which is 20 minutes away by train. Barcelona is rather compact so anywhere is relatively close by. One needs to take into account the heavy traffic. I own a scooter so I can manage to go around the cars. Most of my (foreign) friends live in Zona Alta (St Gervasi, Sarria, Pedralbes), more established neighbourhoods which tend to be eerily quiet on the weekends and populated by older people with small dogs attached to their hips. Gracia is much more youth-friendly but it can be a pain to commute from as the streets are very narrow. L' Eixample, on average, is more lively than Zona Alta. I know people who lived in the Raval and Poble Sec who were quite satisfied of their living arrangements in more working-class surroundings.

One thing is that one cannot picture how the flat will look like by the look of the building. Some flats are completely refurbished while others haven't changed since the Franco days. Landlords usually ask for a deposit. Just don't expect to receive the full amount. They will find a way to take some out of it. While washing machines are the norm, a dryer is almost unheard of. One is expected to say hello to one's neighbors.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

I'd say the prices are ok for Western Europe. Things like peanut butter are hard to find and are sold at a premium. However, one can easily survive on the choice offered in Spanish grocery stores. If one has time, it is definitely worth checking out the markets such as La Boqueria and others dotting the city. There are a few ethnic stores selling Asia,Latin American, and African products.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Peanut butter, shoes (they are very expensive here), hot pepper, electronics.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

All major fast food spots are there. There are lunch specials in most restaurants so for 7-12 euros, one will have a primero (soup, salad,pasta), a segundo (usually meat), a dessert (crema catalana is worth checking out), a beer or wine and coffee. Once one gets tried of Spanish/Catalan food, there are plenty of ethnic restaurants from some decent sushi spots to Thai, India, West African. There is even a Cajun/Vietnamese fusion restaurant in Eixample. Just remember that people have dinner at 9 the earliest! No one would ever think of having dinner at 6PM nor would there be an open restaurant either.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Plentiful and cheap (8-13 euros and hour).

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3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Credit cards are used in many places. One usually has to produce some form of ID in order to pay. There is an ATM basically at every corner. Never seen so many banks in one city.

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4. What English-language religious services are available locally?

I attended an English Catholic mass at my school's chapel. I know of a church that caters to Filipinos. There is a French-speaking Catholic church as well in town. I would assume there are other services in English (Anglican,etc.) however I am not aware of them.

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5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Cable TV has many channels in English. However, I do not have it. There is a monthly English-speaking magazine.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Well, are you referring to Catalan or Spanish? It depends on the area. Everything is written in Catalan from the street signs to the menus of many restaurants. Spaniards in general tend NOT to speak English though this is changing with the younger set. A basic knowledge of Spanish goes a long way though many of people I know survive without much of it. I must admit that I didn't feel the same language tensions that one can encounter in Quebec for instance since most if not all Catalans speak Spanish as well.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Many buses have ramps. However, I would think the main problem is with flats. There are stairs everywhere and many buildings don't have lifts.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Right.

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2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Trains and buses are safe and cheap. Taxis as well.

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3. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

The smaller car, the better. It's best to rent a car just on the weekends if one needs to go to Costa Brava or Andorra. Parking is at a premium. A scooter is a preferred mode of transportation and now there are bicycles available for rent all over the city.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

I waited 2 months to get connected the first year so I would highly recommend to move into a flat with an existing phone line AND Internet connection.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

There are many providers. For instance, I used Studentphone which caters to foreign students. Locals tend to use Moviestar, Orange,etc.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

Skype.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

They love their dogs so I would assume that the quality of the pet care is good.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Besides teaching English? Salaries are quite low for the cost of living.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

People in Barcelona tend to dress rather well for work so suits and ties are rather the norm.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Moderate.

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2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

One needs to be careful as there are pickpockets, especially in tourist-heavy areas. Many of my friends have been robbed, laptops stolen, etc. One needs to exercise caution.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Very warm in the summer and mild winters. Heating is necessary a good portion of the year.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

I do not have children yet but I understand that there is a good French Lycee and a few American /British schools. I know of a Swiss-run one as well. Spanish private schools tend to be run by nuns.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Very large.

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2. Morale among expats:

Relatively high though it can be quite frustrating to deal with Spanish administration and I cannot say that Barcelona is well-known for the friendliness of its inhabitants.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Many people have complained how hard it is to break into a Catalan social circle. There is still plenty to do in such a tourist hub, which in the middle of winter can appear to be the stuffy provincial city it really is.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

One thing that surprised me about Barcelona is how few children there were. There are still a few parks and many many things for children to do but the average Spaniard tend to have children very late in life and it tends to be very costly. For singles, it is a great place if you stick to other foreigners. If you want to date a Catalan person, it is possible but it can be complicated. I believe that Madrid is better for singles. For couples, it's great as well.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Yes.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Well, this is still Spain meaning that people like to stare and are not ashamed to do so. One must remember that until a few years ago, there were no immigrants whatsoever. As a minority myself, it really annoyed me at the beginning. However, I cannot say that I have encountered the blatant racism that I've felt in some parts of America. Then again, I am not an African refugee. In many parts of town, a minority is assumed to be the hired help. Black women tend to be even more stared at and may at times be confused for prostitutes. I understand that there is a problem with the Gypsy population but frankly Spain is light years ahead of Italy in terms of racial awareness.

Religion-wise, some Spaniards, many from a certain social set, tend to be quite conservative and follow the tenets of Opus Dei, basically hardcore Catholicism. The majority of people aren't though and religion has lost its prominence in Spanish society a while ago. There are 2 synagogues that I know of in Barcelona. Yet I do not believe the concept of being Jewish resonates in a Spanish person's mind due to obvious historical reasons. There is a fairly important Muslim community in Barcelona and there seem to be some tensions. Once again, compared to Italy, women have a much stronger prominence in society. This is still Southern Europe though.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Sports-wise, it is great. Once can go skiing in the wintertime (slopes are 2 hours away) and spend countless hours at the beach from May till September. There are great places to jog. Some of the private gyms (very expensive from 80-2000 euros a month) have spas and state-of-the-art equipement. There is even a skating rink.

Culturally-wise, there are many music festivals all year long. I am a cinema buff and I would say in that part, Barcelona is lacking. There are a few movie theatres that offer movies in original version such as Boliche off Diagonal, Cinema Verdi in Gracia and Cinema Yelmo Icaria close to the beach. Catalonia is a beautiful region so it is worth getting out of the city once in a while.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Menorquinas (sandals), Cava (bubbly wine similar to champagne), calcots (charred onions eaten in a sauce caleld romesco made of almonds , tomatoes, and garlic), Spanish brands at more affordable prices than in London (Massimo Dutti, Zara,etc.), leather goods, tickets to go watch FC Barcelona and Espanyol (the other football team) as well as other sports like handball and basketball.

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9. Can you save money?

No way.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes though one must understand that the Barcelona of Las Ramblas and other tourist traps is very different from the real Barcelona.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Interest in flamenco, belief that Catalonia is Spain, sarcasm (2nd degree is not really something that is understood here), need for serious political discussion, heavy winter clothes (it still gets cold though), urge to go shopping on a Sunday, interest in baseball.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sense of humor, patience, and peanut butter, razor blades.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

L' Auberge Espagnole from Cedric Klapisch.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Barcelona can be a great place for young people and families alike. It is well-located next to mountains and the sea. It can be challenging at times.

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