It’s just shy of a week since I’ve moved to Barcelona. Since this isn’t the first time the my international vagabond tendencies have placed me in a new and unfamiliar city, for the longer-term, I can yet again observe what the first « things » (places, resources, infrastructure) are that I look for when getting to know a new home.
Here, my top 10 instinctive first-timer hunts (not in any particular order)
Are your newbie instincts different? What do you look for first (besides the more obvious lodging/groceries) when settling into a new city or country? .. it’s an interesting insight into our personalities and needs!
Green Space – this can be a park, piece of lawn, even the potted plants that decorate balconies put me at ease. When choosing to reside within a concrete jungle, finding the living green within is a must!
- a Library – it’s instinctual; even if I don’t need any particular book or information, I need to know that there is a free book-lovers shrine near to my home! I write down the hours it’s open, and sign up immediately for a library card. Regardless of how big it is, I cover its whole area to get a feel for where the best reading and sitting spots are.
Bike culture – this is a biggie for me, and whether or not a given city has bike culture, or is at least respectful to the few cyclists present, will make or break whether I will enjoy a new place in the long-term. It’s my means of transportation, my love, an incredibly enjoyable activity I want to keep in my life, always! Scoping out the bike-paths, finding the nearest bike shop and observing the cyclists and traffic give me a feel for the presence, or lack of, bike culture.
- Printing & photocopying – easy to find, for the most part, but so important. There’s always something to print or copy, some crafts project on the go or putting up photos of friends and fam to decorate the new home.
- Second-hand clothes shops – As I find myself with a wardrope that’s scattered amongst several of my « home-base » cities, getting the right clothes for any given occasion quickly becomes necessary. Second-hand shops makes the dreary task of clothes shopping a bit more adventurous (and hopefully cheaper) – in the endless rows of incoherently organized garments, I take a deep breath and start the hunt…
Swimming pool & gym – jogging and biking are fun, but sometimes I like to pump some iron, or swim a few laps. Oftentimes, I’ll scope out a nice pool or gym and get free first-time entrance, as anyone will agree that you need to try the place out at least once before signing up for any kind of membership. With big cities like Barcelona, these first-time freebies may keep me pool and gym happy for quite some time…;)
- Language classes – I choose my long-term locations carefully, and a big factor in my choice becomes the local language, learning and/or perfecting my skills in it. Language classes, as opposed to private tutoring, are also a great opportunity to meet people and make friends, and depending on the local culture can be a lot of fun as well (my evening Spanish classes in Granada made me cry with laughter on more than one occasion). Here in Barcelona free beginner Catalan classes are popular… and maybe I’ll take an advanced Castellano too…?
- local free-ad websites – most places have their versions of Craigslist and Kijiji. In the UK and Poland it’s called GumTree, here in Spain it’s Loquo or Segunda Mano. You’ll be amazed how helpful these sites can be… whether you need to sell your old laptop, buy new speakers, advertise private language tutoring or find a local creativity workshop… these sites are a need-to-know for newbies.
open-air markets – I love them!…and that’s really my only justification :P Of course, like with the free-ad websites and second-hand shopping, you can often get sweet stuff for good prices. It’s one of the most colourful and unique cultural experiences in any new place!
- the bars and restaurants that the locals go to – this one takes more time and skill to learn, but avoiding the tourist-trap joints, which have worse food and higher prices, is important. It’s all about asking, observing, and learning from experience.