Several cities in Spain now have a public bike system. You pay 20 euros a year and you can use any of the bikes for half an hour for free. You pay half a euro for every half an hour after that for up to two hours.
In cities like Zaragoza it is working so well that there is a waiting list to join. Cities like Barcelona have run into a few snags. Barcelona is on a hill. Turns out that people like to grab a bike to coast downtown. Nobody wants to ride back up the hill so they have to truck the bikes back up hill!
I saw lots of people riding bikes in both Zaragoza and Barcelona.
One year in Barcelona we lived in an old apartment building that had a very narrow spiral staircase. And no elevator. You moved in furniture by draping ropes over pulleys at the top of the building and hauling it up and through the windows.
Now they’ve gotten high tech. I saw these guys with this huge elevator crane thing. It looked like a lot less work.
(We lived in another apartment building that had the oldest working elevator I’d ever seen. One afternoon it got possessed and started going up and down on its own. I also got stuck in it once and had to open the doors and crawl out midfloor. It’s still working today but you are only allowed to ride it up, not down.)
When I lived in Spain, I would have given anything for a good public library – especially one with English books. Well, now they have them!
There are very nice public libraries in Barcelona. They were quite popular – people were waiting outside for the one I visited to open. Inside they were light and spacious with lots of magazines, computers, a children’s section and foreign language sections … in addition to the regular books you usually find in a library. Every floor and section had a lot of people in it on the Saturday I visited.
My friends say they also see more people reading in public places like the metro.
Crime appears to be up in Barcelona. Many of the local residents blame the economy and the huge number of foreign immigrants.
It’s affecting people’s behavior. At dinner at a nice restaurant, a friend told me not to leave my bag on the chair next to me. While visiting a friend on her rooftop terrace, we ran downstairs to grab a camera and we locked the rooftop door for the 60 seconds we’d be gone.
The anecdotal evidence I heard (in one day!):
My friend’s mom had her car tires slashed – while she was driving – and people on mopeds approached on both sides and took her purse from the passenger side.
Another friend’s condo building has had 3 breakins in the past month through the rooftop patio door.
A guy I spoke to at the airport had lost his blackberry at a restaurant and his wallet at the entrance to his hotel. (He was not very savvy. He left his blackberry on the restaurant table when he went to the bathroom. He handed his hotel card key to someone standing outside the hotel dressed like a hotel bellhop to help him unlock the exterior door.)
I don’t pretend to know all the causes or even concrete numbers but it makes me sad that crime is growing in the city. While there’s always been pickpockets and robberies from parked cars, I have never heard so many people talking so much about it.