Let me start by pointing out the obvious. Barcelona is a popular place. Not only is it a major tourist destination (it's the 10th most visited city in the world) but it's also a mecca for people from all over the world who settle here to enjoy an enviable quality of life. I met immigrants from every corner of the earth (my closest group of friends came from France, Poland, Belgium, Japan, the United States, China, Syria, Pakistan and Georgia (the country), all rather exceedingly pleased with their choice. I know the typical complaints of foreigners in cities all over the world. I must say that the complaints are more muted in the expat community of Barcelona. People realize how good they've got it.
From an urbanist's perspective, Barcelona is a fine example of a city with streets designed for people. In the picture above you can see a typically narrow street, planted with trees along one side, with no space for car parking. Note the metal posts along the edge of the sidewalk that ensure that cars don't illegally park and that give pedestrians an added sense of safety. What a simple model of livable streets this can be for many developing world cities with similarly narrow streets. Often I hear urban planners making excuses that there simply isn't room for tree planting on narrow streets. Once you get rid of space for cars, however, possibilities blossom.
Like most other Spanish cities, Barcelona is built around car-free plazas and many of its streets are pedestrianized. I lived on such a street. The fewer cars there are, the more welcoming and alive streets and plazas tend to be. They become public spaces in which people stroll, do their shopping, sit on benches, and most typically, enjoy a coffee at one of the countless cafes that spill out into the safe and unpolluted car-free space. The diversity of street life is endlessly fascinating. Sitting at a cafe watching it all go by is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
Barcelona has its share of traffic clogged streets, however. Above is an example of an elegant, but pedestrian and bicyclist-unfriendly, street that is typical of this city. The architecture is beautiful here, but the street lacks the spiritedness and complexity of car-free spaces.
Below you can see some lively, but very typical, plaza and street scenes near where I lived in Barcelona.
Barcelona has a well-developed system of separated bike lanes that makes it very easy to move around this city quickly. Although not as comprehensive as bicycle networks in cities such as Amsterdam or Copenhagen (where virtually every street has a bike lane), the layout of the path network connects all areas of the city. It just takes a bit of time to learn on which streets the bicycle paths lie.
Barcelona also has an excellent bike share system called Bicing. Many of my friends used this system on a daily basis and didn't have bicycles of their own. You can see a typical 'station' in the picture on the left, along with a bicycle lane that is fully separated (if a bit narrow) from automobile traffic.
On rainy days or when going long distances, I used the city's first-rate public transportation system. There is a dense network of metro lines that serve most neighborhoods, as well as excellent bus and commuter train service. Barcelona has one of the best public transit systems in the world, in my opinion. It's inexpensive, clean, efficient and generally a pleasure to use.
Over time, I became especially attracted to these heights. This is where some of the city's most lovely neighborhoods lie and where you can find nature and tranquility. These neighborhoods, often wealthy, are dotted with beautiful and often idiosyncratic houses and buildings. I've been told that old Catalan families tend to live higher up in this city. I also found that, as in the rest of the city, people from all over the world have settled here.
My good friend Valentine, from France, has a house high above the city near Peu del Funicular. I spent a lot of time up at her lovely place above the city, enjoying meals or a nice cup of tea on her terrace (often while studying together for our Spanish class). I usually went to Valentine's by bicycle, walking my bicycle for the last very steep kilometer or so. My rides home, gliding through beautiful neighborhoods with the panorama of the city and sea in front of me, make for some of my most cherished memories of life in Barcelona.
With a backdrop of this elegant city, I spent countless hours enjoying wine, freshly-made food, and engaging conversation in the beautiful Spanish language.
I include here a few pictures of some of my new friends.