When I lived in Barcelona, I saw a funny t-shirt that was sold in downtown souvenir shops run by Pakistanis. It was the classic “I love NY” t-shirt, but black graffiti spray crossed out the NY and replaced it with BCN (short for Barcelona).
Now I live in New York City and I can’t stop thinking which city is the coolest. Both are completely different and comparisons are never fair. For some background on me, I lived in Barcelona for almost 4 years, while I’ve been living in New York just for 6 months (although it feels like it has been longer). Also, I moved to the Catalonian capital in my mid-twenties and I was a grad student with a half-time job at my university, which meant I had some money to spend while traveling throughout Europe. Here, in the land of the Yankees, I’m an over 30, married professional trying to make it in the big city. The question of which is the better city, however, popped in my head after a few people asked me if life in New York was similar to that in Barcelona.
It seems that Barcelona has the privilege to be compared only with the cosmopolitan New York. I’ve been a resident in Boston, Bogotá and Houston, and not one person asked me the same.
Anyway, I can see the connection between Barcelona and New York. Both are wonderful cities in which to live. Both are culturally active, with endless possibilities. Both are design enthusiasts destination. Both attract sports fans.
New Yorkers might get offended because their city is being equated to a Spanish city that isn’t even country’s capital, like London or Paris. Nonetheless, Barcelona is far the most progressive and chicest city in Spain and one of the most innovative and open cities in all of Europe.
Yes, I’m a Barcelona lover, but I don’t need to be one to say that New York’s weather can never compete. While in New York we need to start wearing jackets in September, on the other side of the ocean Barcelonians are still going to the beach. True Barcelonians make the trek to Platja d’Aro, Begur, Palamós, or any of the other neat beach towns in the Costa Brava. Barceloneta, the most popular beach in Barcelona, is frequented by tourists, most of them belonging to the group that Catalonians call “guiris”: white, blonde, drunk, young people from the North of Europe.
I have to accept that I miss the Mediterranean, but if I leave New York, I’ll miss Central Park. I live one block away from the park, so it has become part of my running routine. In fact, it was the park what motivated me to start running after many failed attempts in Houston due to the sweltering heat.
Finding beautiful spots in a city is not a problem, but feeling at home is the hard part. You need more than a good climate, bohemian streets to walk around, and charming cafes that serve genuinely good coffee. You need a routine that makes you happy. After three months in a place you stop being a tourist and you find yourself visiting the same restaurants, ceasing the museum tours and discarding your subway maps. At that moment your love for what you do starts defining your love for your new city.
Accordingly, New York looks like the right place to be now. The economic situation in Spain hasn’t been great since 2008. The crisis has led to high unemployment rates, and a precipitous decline in housing prices. On the other hand, in New York you can get a job, but you might need to get two to be able to pay for the insane cost of rent. I still get nervous every time I receive the check in a restaurant, or at the dry cleaner, or anywhere for that matter. Who said we could get it all?
I fell in love with Barcelona immediately. It was my first time living abroad. The Catalonian city opened for me new worlds, new dreams, and new perspectives. New York, instead, was another city on the itinerary, a kind of deja vu of streets seen in another place in the past. I came to the city as a tourist during a cold winter and then, with an imminent flight back to Spain, Barcelona sounded like a better plan. I did like New York, but something was missing. Like if the best of New York was the idea of New York more than the city itself. New York has grown on me profoundly since then.
One thing I like most about both cities is that they are walkable. Maybe New York more than Barcelona, and that’s strange given that NY is 10 times bigger than BCN (counting the area of the 5 boroughs). Both cities have good public transportation, but New York’s subway is unbeatable – it is open 24 hours. Take that Paris! Regardless, New Yorkers love walking. Neither the cold winter wind nor long trips can stop them. The only zone to be avoided is Times Square, a place that has long been ruled by tourists. Let’s enjoy the High Line until they totally conquer it. The High Line, by the way, is the best idea ever. A path elevated above the streets? How brilliant! Walking taken to a whole new level. That’s an example of the kind of unexpected things that make this city so exciting.
Barcelona, to be fair, also has enjoyable walking routes. Imagine breeze softly blowing on your face while walking on the Paseo Maritimo, with the sun setting over the beach. Not bad. When it is not beach season, the action is in Paseo de Gracia, a kind of Fifth Avenue in Barcelona. I used to walk on that street on the weekends to go to Plaza Cataluña in the downtown, from my apartment in St. Gervasi in the uptown. It goes without saying that I prefer the modernist architecture by Gaudi to the luxury stores that lined the Paseo de Gracia.
The fact that you can find everything you need within walking distance in New York is very convenient. It also gives the city the sense that it’s divided into little towns that have their own unique identities. If you don’t really want to leave your neighborhood, you don’t have to. The coffee shop, the supermarket, the hair salon, the dry cleaner, the pizza place, even the gym are part of your surroundings. It is nice to stay away from the crowds, although dealing with the chaos is part of being a New Yorker.
If you want to party, you are in the right places. Both cities have a diverse selection of bars and clubs. The fundamental difference, beyond the sheer number of locations you find in New York, is time that people party. Spaniards like to have lunch, dinner, and then hit the town much later than the rest of the world. Whereas at midnight Americans are heading for the clubs, Spaniards are just having dinner. I believe if I were still in Barcelona, I’d take a nap before going to shine on the dance floor. Being over 30 changes your habits in cities you’ve lived too.
Regarding nightlife in New York and the restaurant scene in general, it’s incredible how much the city offers, no matter if you are downtown, midtown or uptown. You can just choose a dot randomly on a map and you’ll stumble upon something good. This wide range of possibilities along with the non-stop cultural activities gives you an uncontrolled desire to be part of everything, and at the same time, a sense of guilt when you can’t keep up with the fast pace of this city. Not even New Yorkers can do it all.
At this point I feel that comparing cities is like comparing boyfriends; the current one is always the best. In my case, I’m proud of my ex and I don’t want my relationship with Barcelona to end. Fortunately, unlike ex-boyfriends, I can still visit Barcelona, and I bet once I’m there, I’ll compare the bad things in Barcelona with the good things in New York, as it always happens when you are away from home. And New York is home for me. I’m lucky to be part of the crazy daily grind of this vibrant town, but if there is one coolest thing about living in New York, it’s having lived in Barcelona before.
Photo Credits: Ludovic Bertron
“Si usted no tiene libertad de pensamiento, la libertad de expresión no tiene ningún valor.” - José Luis Sampedro