Before arriving in Vic, for my first time in Europe, I had visions of quaint old buildings, small coffee shops, warm weather, listening to Spanish surround me and sight seeing.
What I arrived to was a great surprise. If you’re thinking of heading to somewhere in Catalonia, make sure you do a bit of research first. It has a culture all its own!
1. Locals speak Catalonian
They might speak Spanish as their second language, some even know French, but English is not a common language outside of Barcelona. They speak their own language: Catalan. A mixture of French, Italian and other inspirations. It is a very interesting language, but it is not like Spanish!
Brush up on your foreign languages before arriving or you will begin in a rough spot.
2. There is an important controversy over independence
One thing that I was very unaware of is that in Catalonia there is a great movement towards independence from Spain. This is still not a topic I know very much about, but is an important part of their culture. Catalonians are proud of their history, and their customs which are different from the rest of the country. If you ever get the chance to talk to a local about their stance on the subject, take it. The locals love to talk about it and they appreciate tourists taking an interest in their culture.
If you see a flag with red and yellow stripes (like the normal one) but with a blue star on the top, this is the flag of Catalonia, and shows that the owner supports independence.
3. It’s still cold until March.
It depends on the area, but not all parts of Spain have beach weather all the time. The weather can vary greatly through the regions, even ones close to each other in Catalonia. For example in Vic it could be weather for winter coats and light gloves and one hour away in Barcelona it could be weather to eat outside on a patio in your tee-shirt. Don’t be fooled, when I arrived in late January early February, it snowed two nights. Today however, I sweat beads and got a sunburn on my face from walking around in the 20 degree weather. Check the typical weather around your time of travel before leaving and pack accordingly, but to be safe bring a bit of everything.
AKA layers are MAJOR key.
4. Even when it gets warm people dress like they’re in the Arctic (not really but)
Coming from Canada I was used to braving the cold when it came to my clothing choices. Here they dress like it’s below zero when I could be in a tee-shirt. To avoid looking too much like a tourist, I had to start wearing shirts with a sweater and a coat and big scarf, even when at home I would’ve been in a tank and raincoat. Try to withstand the heat as long as possible, so people won’t look at you like you’re crazy when you have bare legs in seventeen degree weather.
5. Speaking of fashion…
Everyone here dresses to impress. Wearing your lulus in public? Big no, unless you have a shirt long enough to cover your whole backside. It’s all neutral colours, with interesting accessories. Giant fur coats? Runway worthy shades? White sneakers that stay white?? (how they all manage this is beyond me)
If you don’t have a thick giant scarf (not the plaid kind that we all know and love) get one. And get a matching coat while you’re at it (not a ski jacket, or a Canada goose, think the cute ones that aren’t actually warm. Peacoats? Double breasted?). And some boots that are uncomfortable and not warm. It’s style over practicality here.
That’s right, leave your Blunnies, yoga pants and maple syrup at home people.
6. Not every city looks like your typical European destination
A lot of the smaller cities that aren’t tourist central don’t have the stereotypical European vibe. There are many places (including Vic) that are more industrial looking, with less of the cobblestone streets and giant churches. If you’re coming to Catalonia expect a very different kind of charm. It is a place full of unique towns and cities, each with their own experience. Make sure you find the spots that make each place special, as they might not be easy to spot without some help.
7. Get ready for seafood all day every day
There are many famous dishes in Catalonia, and almost all of them are based on seafood. Paella is one of the best known dishes in the area, a sticky rice plate made with vegetables and usually two or three kinds of seafood. If it’s not your thing, some places will serve it with chicken if you ask.
Tapas are very important here, and can be found on the menu of almost every restaurant. They are appetizers meant for sharing between friends with things like patatas bravas (fried potatoes with a spic mayo dip), croquetes that look like tiny mozza sticks, but are not (filled with ham, mushrooms, spinach, etc), deep fried calamari that looks like onion rings, but is not, and even dishes with fried shark, squid and other sea creatures.
8. Travel is cheap if you look
People say travel in Europe is cheap, but I didn’t realize just how cheap. Websights like SkyScanner, and RyanAir offer flights around Europe at incredible prices. One thing to keep in mind is that flights are much cheaper the more in advance you book. If you know you want to travel, don’t think that the last minute flights are cheaper. Here, most times the earlier the cheaper for flights from Spain.
If you’re needing somewhere to stay use Airbnb and HostelWorld.com. Keep in mind that sometimes (almost all times in my experience) Airbnb’s are cheaper! So don’t be fooled by the common knowledge of hostels being the most affordable place to stay, but check out both and compare.
Get the apps and you’ll never miss a good deal!
9. Barcelona isn’t the only place you should see
Barcelona is a beautiful city, this we all know. It has a lot to offer, and you should spend multiple days exploring this capital. Once you’re finished exploring, make your way to surrounding towns and cities. Take the buses and trains to places like Tarragona, Vic, Osona, Torello, etc. See the mountains, go biking, hiking, or skiing. Enjoy a hot air balloon ride in a scenic town. Get out there.
10. Keep an open mind
Catalonia is home to many types of people, from various parts of the world. In cities like Barcelona you can find Starbucks and MacDonalds, Urban Oufitters and H&M. Try to stray from the familiar as much as possible. Ask locals on the street where they recommend to eat or see, they know all of the hidden gems! Even in Vic it is difficult to commit to the culture (Burger King delivers? Why is this not in Canada?), but get out, go walk until you’re so lost you can’t find your way home, and it is there (I promise) you’ll find the most incredible restaurants. Even some that give you a whole bottle of wine when you order a glass as part of a three course meal that costs only eleven euros.