A Random Act of Spanish Kindness
Living in Barcelona was a dream, but it took some help to make it come true. | All photos: Louise Slyth

A Random Act of Spanish Kindness

I first visited Barcelona in 2008 and fell instantly in love. If you believe in destinations as soulmates, then you might not find it too much of a reach to understand the feeling I had walking around the city.

It was like all of my senses suddenly came alive — the sun bouncing off the Mediterranean, the buzz of the lively tapas bars, and the smell… I’ve travelled extensively, but Barcelona is the only city I’ve visited that has its own unique smell. I can’t put my finger on what it is, but if you bottled it and sent it to me, I could tell you it was Barcelona. 

The following year my husband and I returned for our second visit. As we made our way through the charming lanes of the El Born area, close to the church of Santa Maria Del Mar, a bold little thought wormed its way into my mind… I could see myself living here. 

The year after that, I was offered voluntary redundancy and my husband was already working from home. We decided there would never be a better time to take the leap of faith and make our dreams of living in Barcelona a reality. Almost two years to the day after our first visit to Barcelona, we moved there. 

Having the courage to make your dreams come true is one thing, but the practicalities of making a new life are another thing altogether. First things first; we needed somewhere to live.

We had sensibly rented an apartment for a month, to give us time to secure our home for the next year, and our task wasn’t going to be ser pan comido (a piece of cake). As Barcelona is a huge tourist magnet, with over 100 million visitors a year, many apartments are given over to holiday lets — and those that aren’t vary wildly in quality. My heart sank every time I stepped into an apartment with no natural light, bars on the windows, no furniture, a shower that wasn’t attached, or in one case, no legal connection to electricity!

The inviting El Born neighbourhood, our home for one year.

The clock was ticking on our temporary accommodation. Our hopes were starting to fade when we came across an ad for an apartment at the edge of our top location of El Born. It was actually on the street where I’d had that ‘I could live here’ moment, so it felt like a sign. However, I had been disappointed before, so I went in with low expectations. They say most people can tell if they are going to buy a house in the first eight seconds. Immediately after walking into the hall, I had ‘the feeling’. The living room was bathed in light from a small balcony which overlooked a lovely plaza. Yet it was only after checking that there was a decent-sized wardrobe, the shower was indeed firmly fixed to the wall, and it was fully (and tastefully) furnished, that we knew we wanted it. 

We immediately contacted the realtor, but I had to jump on the metro for an interview. I was delighted to be offered a job on the spot. When my husband called me on the way out to tell me we had secured the apartment, it felt like our Barcelona life was finally starting. 

The internet is awash with stories of rogue landlords, but my experience was the exact opposite. Our landlord was a retired gentleman who bought the apartment as an investment. As he showed us around, you could tell that he was proud of it and wanted tenants who would care for it. 

Not long after we settled in, an electricity bill arrived. It seemed high, but given we were still learning Spanish, we found it difficult to understand. We contacted our landlord Enric, who came to the apartment, reviewed the bill, and immediately explained that it was an estimate based on last year’s usage. He called the electricity company for us, and all was resolved. I honestly don’t know what we would have done if left to our own devices. 

Spanish Kindness
A collage of Spanish streetscapes, memories of our time in Barcelona.

As he departed, he invited us to lunch at his home in Sitges, a town 40km further down the coast. Initially, I was wary — this kind of thing was unprecedented, and I couldn’t help but harbour a little trepidation that he might have some sort of ulterior motive. However, we arrived at his amazing apartment overlooking the sea to find a full spread of Catalan goodies out on the terrace, and a warm welcome from his charming wife. The wine flowed faster than the conversation; there was a lot of Spanglish spoken as we all tried our best to communicate in our second languages, but we had a lovely afternoon.

Sadly, our Spanish dream had an expiry date. After a year, we had to return to Scotland in search of better work prospects. Enric offered to take us on a tour of the local wine region as a way of saying farewell before we vacated what had been a happy home to us in Barcelona.

He drove us around several wineries and then took us on a tour of one of the most highly regarded in the area. On our way out, he insisted on buying us something from the gift shop. I felt a bit awkward, so opted for the cheapest item I could find — a small tray. 

I still use that little tray over a decade later. Whenever I pick it up, I smile, because it reminds me of Enric and his unprovoked and unnecessary kindness. 

The world can be a tough and lonely place, now more than ever. But it’s memories like this that remind me that people are fundamentally good. There are lovely souls out there who will go out of their way to welcome strangers into their world. We just need to let them.

Louise Slyth

Storyteller

Louise Slyth is a communications consultant and freelance writer. Born in Edinburgh, she has lived in Sydney and Barcelona, and now resides in Dublin with her husband. Her work has been featured in publications around the world, including HuffPost, Stylist, The Independent and The Ethel, to name but a few. When she’s not writing, she’s planning her next trip. You can connect with her on Instagram.

Time to Read:  5 Minutes
Storyteller: Louise Slyth
12 July 2023
Category:
Local Stories - In This Moment

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