Tuesday, 12 February 2008
Coming Back to Tarragona - Same City, New Feelings
When we moved to Spain, we spent our first month in Tarragona, since that is where the company which I used to work for is located. My family and I really wanted to find a new home and I guess that is why we blamed this city for everything which we did not like in Catalonia.
We came here after four years in Bangkok, Thailand, and had got used to meet smiling and service minded people in shops and restaurants. Our Spanish was weak, to say the least, but we did not worry since we were sure that English would do for all basic conversations.
It felt as if Tarragona wanted us to go back again. Supermarket staff always looked grumpy and did not even try to understand questions in English. In most restaurants where we went, the waiters handed us menus written in Catalan, not even in Spanish. To make matters worse, the winter was unusually cold, and our landlord personified the myth of Catalans being tight with money. The central heating was on during the night, but then switched off in the morning. I did not suffer, since I spent my days at work, but I had my wife and our first son to think about as well.
The city's fascinating history did not change our feelings. In the Roman era, Tarraco used to be the capital of the province which comprised the Spain of today. We worked hard not to miss any of the interesting sites – the amphitheatre, the old Roman circus and the old town with its town wall - but explicitly did so in order not to have to come back.
Three years have passed and when we recently spent a slow afternoon in Tarragona, we realised how unfair we have been. The local authorities do a lot to make tourists feel welcome and with nice beaches next to a buzzing centre, the city is attractive also for those with intentions to settle down. By train or car it is only one hour away from Barcelona and property prices are substantially lower.
And it was obvious that among staff in service industries, Spanish is as dominating here as it is in the rest of Catalonia. Tarragona might not be an international metropolitan and it does have a strong local character, but it is not as stubbornly Catalan as we originally thought. That almost felt a bit disappointing.