A Travellerspoint blog

February 2013

Amongst Peppers and Prawns.

sunny 20 °C

Sitting sneakily to the side of the madness that is the renowned and infamous Ramblas, amongst all its lunacy, beauty, chaos and history is La Boquería market, one of the most popular sights of the city and one that is surely on the to-do list of every first-timer in Barcelona. Dodging and hopping, as if attempting a tribal dance, around the hoards that forever hover outside, we eventually arrive at the entrance, and are greeted by sweet and salted dangling hams in all their shapes and forms, proudly posing for endless snap-happy tourists. They looks delicious – the hams that is – and we are instantly tempted by a tapa and a tipple. But we should wait however, as there is so much more inside!

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Like Willie Wonka’s factory, La Boquería is a gastronomic explosion of colours, flavours and aromas, which accompanied by an orchestral clamour and an overdose of people is a roller-coaster ride of a market. Glisteningly sticky sweets and sugar-encrusted treats fill the air with a rich bouquet which blends with exotic fragrances of herbs and spices from realms far and wide. Soon after, magnificent, brilliant fruits enter the playing field, flamboyantly displaying their vibrant shades in a shower of pomp and glory. And above, robust red chilli peppers and shining tomatoes hang from stall tops in true Mediterranean style.

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The maze continues and we are presented with alluring arrangements of exquisite breads and fresh patisserie delights not forgetting endless, potent and dizzying cheeses. We stop and start, are knocked and nudged and no doubt ourselves provoke an irritation or two. But on we press through this culinary bedlam and soon stumble to the fish section – and what an abundant exhibition there is to! Mammoth prawns and twitching crabs, slithery squids and sharp pointy teeth either tempt or terrorise all who pass by, ensuring epic paellas or fishy nightmares. And speaking of nightmares we are of course in La Boquería presented with vast meat selections too – chicken and pig heads included.

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This whirlwind of a marketplace is truly a love it or hate it kind of thing. Some visitors are blown away by the incredible standard and extraordinary range of products on sale, and are amazed by the vibrant colours and infinite sights and sounds produced by this theatre of cuisine. Whilst others, are simple overwhelmed and annoyed by the chaotic number of people squeezed up and down the aisles. Either way, it’s a real experience and surely one not to be missed!

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Posted by lauracerys 13:23 Archived in Spain Tagged food barcelona market spain la_boqueria las_ramblas Comments (0)

White, Blue and Bougainvillea

sunny 28 °C

A warm sapphire shore soothes the pebbles beneath, softly embracing them again and again, as if unable to say goodbye, whilst just up ahead, wooden fishing boats gently bob and sway, as if placed there only for decoration. As I take in my surroundings the subtle sound of sweeping waves whispers like background music to the scene, and I am struck, in awe of this truly idyllic place in which I have just arrived… Cadaqués.

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Cosily nestled at the foot of a hair-raising collection of cliffs and hills, Cadaqués is an undeniable jewel of the Mediterranean. And the best part is, before moving to Catalonia, I had never heard of it, as it is untouched and unspoiled by the catastrophic mass tourism so often found along the Spanish coastline.

As I wander the overwhelmingly beautiful alleys, everything I lay my eyes upon seems unequalled in rustic charm and ends up a poor victim of my camera skills. Cute, white-washed houses dazzle in the sunlight, acting as huge canvases for resplendent, overhanging bougainvillea and vibrant, blue-green window shutters. Dainty cafeterias and quaint, hidden tavernas are buzzing with life, their customers tucking in to mouth watering plates of fresh sea food and luring abundances of tapas. I decide to take myself on something of a food tasting bar crawl, and am elated with the delicious results.

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Later, as I head uphill through cobbled, winding streets to the centre of Cadaqués, I pass beckoning little shops selling all kinds of appealing trinkets. I try my very hardest not to give in to shopping temptations and am eventually lead to an adorable old church from which there are spectacular, flawless views of the town and coast. From certain points of the harbour below, this church can be seen rising above, a picture perfect landmark gracing the panorama of the town

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Continuing on from said harbour, walks up to and along the steep headland lead to scenes of unrivalled beauty – breathtaking, almost bewitching vistas of an azure open sea along with the delightful discoveries of tempting, secluded and secret coves. It is no wonder that Salvador Dalí set up home in the vicinity – what place more charming, more inspirational could possibly exist for an artist?

I wish I too had a house here, where I could wake everyday and burst open the shutters onto a radiant morning. I could look out onto a dreamy street below, onto striking flowers, onto small boutiques or onto a bakery filled with delicate treats. I could listen to the sounds of a true sea-side town, fishermen old and young chattering in their boats and the never ending song of a bright blue bay. Stunning, gorgeous, unforgettable. I long that Cadaqués should never change and will stay like this forever.

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Posted by lauracerys 12:57 Archived in Spain Tagged beaches spain catalonia dali cadaques Comments (0)

What Bibs, Plastic Gloves and Spring Onions Have in Common

sunny 16 °C

I’m perched on a wobbly chair swigging from a cup of woody, red wine, eagerly anticipating what is to come. February has arrived and the Calçotada season is in full swing across Catalonia. I don’t really understand what I’m doing here, or what’s about to appear in front of me, but I’m resoundingly assured that it is something which is not to be missed, that it is a true celebration of Catalan cuisine. I glance around me, inquisitively taking in my surroundings. I’m at what appears to be some kind of farm/factory. Outside there are barrels filled with calçots, giant spring onions and a local delicacy, queuing up ready to be tossed onto a giant charcoal-smothered barbecue. Smoke and flavour billows through the air and weather beaten men stand around with pitch forks and shovels, prodding the prized veg and attending to their every need. Around me, are long tables filled with families and friends clamorously chattering, debating, gossiping, their cups and plates permanently brimming with whatever the waiter bestows upon them. I ponder whether the scene being acted out before me is indeed the definition of rustic?

Before long I’m presented with a giant bib and a pair of plastic gloves. I’m perplexed. I thought we were going out for a traditional Catalan meal? But I’m fervently advised that these items are not some kind of bizarre fashion statement, but a vital tool if I’m to avoid a disastrous outcome to the day. I process the information, but confusion still leads the way. Suddenly, the feast begins. Mountains of pa amb tomàquet, the famous local tomatoey bread, are brought to the table along with piles of robust, steaming artichokes. I mirror those around me and decorate my helping with a dash of salt and oil, not forgetting a dollop of hearty romesco sauce – the epitome of Catalan accompaniments. The starters are fantastic, abounding in simple, delicious homemade flavours, and naturally I help myself to seconds.

Soon the moment arrives to don my bib and gloves and I sense, that it’s show-time. There in my protective gear I feel like a surgeon about to start work on a patient. I look around at my friends – we all look ridiculous. Before long heaped silver platters piled high with calçots are noisily and ungracefully brought over by the waiters and plonked down in front of us. Suddenly it all makes sense. Suddenly I understand the need to dress up as some overgrown plastic baby – the calçots are filthy! Smeared in blacker than black charcoal from their barbecue expedition, they indeed could do some serious damage if they were to come into contact with my clothes. I begin to worry that they could even stain my face! And I inquire as to how you even go about attempting to eat a calçot? I’m told to watch and learn.

I copy the Calçotada veterans around me who are professionally and smoothly stripping the sodden outside layer of their chosen calçot away. Then, as if it were a perfectly normal way to eat, they raise their arm and dangle said spring onion from above, then nibble away from bottom to top. “You can’t be serious!” I utter. “What’s the point in that? Why can’t I just use a knife and fork?”. I receive bellowing laughter in response. I don’t get it. So, I try it their way. Impossible. I nearly poke myself in the eye with my calçot, and escape with a mere cheek splatter – which now means it’s smeared in charcoal. Seriously, how can the others chomp away so effortlessly? Maybe it’s just me being an idiot? By now my friends are on their second. I give up, and utilize my plate and cutlery. Gasps of horror and jests are thrown my way, but I’ll be the cleanest at the end of the day.

I have to admit, I wasn’t so sure about this whole barbecued spring onion business, and had severe doubts as to their tastiness. But, I am pleasantly surprised – they really are delicious! And along with the endlessly flowing cava they are going down a treat! Soon the waiters bring over trays of butifarra sausages, sizzling lamb chops, mounds of chips, and forests of salad, not forgetting the typical mongeta beans. There is literally no room on the table or my plate for any more food. But on it goes finding spaces wherever it can. The feast is overwhelming – a quintessentially rustic, country banquet, and I’m loving every minute of it! But I am so, so full that by now I feel like the Michelin man, as though I’m going to have to be rolled home, and when I’m offered desert and coffee I give a dazed shake of my head. It has been a fantastic and unforgettable experience, really giving me an insight into true Catalan culture. But if I eat anything else, I really am going to burst. So I bid thee farewell Calçotada, and shall see you again next year!

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Posted by lauracerys 07:03 Archived in Spain Tagged food spain catalonia rustic calçots cava Comments (0)

The Piste Novice

La Molina

snow -3 °C

A swirling gust grazes my ice-kissed cheeks and provokes an unnerving wobble and sway as I dangle from above. Beneath my bizarre-feeling over-sized feet lays a sugary quilt stretching far and high, and trimmed with snow-dusted conifers. Slowly but surely the distance between myself and the picture perfect flurry below becomes troublingly greater and I grasp my poles tighter, for dropping one now would be disastrous. As beautiful as the views from my seat are, the realization hits that I will soon have to attempt a smooth exit from my current position, and horror sets in as I realise I have now idea how to go about it. I begin to ask myself why on earth learning to ski seemed like such a good idea.

I approach the unloading station and try to position myself correctly with my equipment in the right places. But confusion and panic takes over and the confounding challenge of getting off the ski lift in one piece becomes overwhelming, and ultimately impossible. I tumble into a frosty heap and my jacket fills with snow. Brilliant. Scrambling around like a new born foal I try to stand up again, but it is frustratingly difficult when your hands and feet suddenly have two-meter-long attachments! Eventually I am gallantly helped to my feet by a monitor. He sees people like me coming a mile off, and deep down is no-doubt thinking to himself, ‘idiot’.

As I take a glance at the blizzard-blasted surroundings, the reality of my situation dawns on me. ‘I’m at the top of a mountain’. ‘There’s only one way down.’ ‘And I don’t even know how to start… let alone stop’. I shuffle and drag myself to the threshold of the piste and my stomach knots as I gaze downward. Oh God. Save me now. I slowly push off and try to remember what the instructor told me. Pizza-pizza-pizza-pizza! That’s the shape I need to make with my skis isn’t it?! That’s how you’re meant to control your speed isn’t it!? I can’t slow down! Why isn’t it working!? Bang.

‘Maybe this is what the face of a snowman feels like’, I think to myself as I lay amidst the snow. ‘Frosty. Drippy. Blurry.’ Great. I check all my limbs are intact and notice that I am now only wearing one ski. Weird. I could have sworn I was wearing two…? Suddenly I notice one a few meters further up the piste. Shit. That’s mine. One - how the hell am I going to get to it? And two – how am I going to stick it back on to my boot? I look around me, in the hope that some form of a solution will jump and out rescue me. And luckily it does. One of the pros sees me in my snowy heap and takes pity on me, smoothly picking up my ski and handing it to me without a falter, and then coolly swooshes on down like a slalom racer.

I try to push myself back up onto my feet, a seemingly impossible challenge whilst stranded on an icy slope. My knees begin to shudder and a tremble takes over my arms with the pressure of trying to lift myself from such a strange position. I eventually force myself up and my joints unleash a throb from the effort of such a physical feat. I lay out my abandoned ski in front of me, itself tricky thanks to my position on a slippery slant, and it nearly escapes and takes a long slide down to the bottom of the piste. I rescue it just in time.

I try everything to get my ski back on… pushing, forcing, crouching, shimmying. Why won’t it work? I get frustrated and impatiently slam my foot down. Click. I’m in. Success. But the glory is short lived as I look out at the long slope ahead. Slowly, cautiously, and no doubt with a ridiculous posture I attempt my descent once again. I’m trembling with fear and have no doubt forgotten to breathe. Meanwhile, a group of five-year-olds whiz past me, elegantly turning and curving without a care in the world. Embarrassing. How come they know what to do? How come they don’t fall? How come none of them will ever make a complete knob out of themselves? I’m picking up speed and attempt to turn myself into some kind of snow plough. Nothing seems to work. I can’t stop! It seems the only option is to just go with it, try to keep upright and hope for the best.

The wind howls as it crashes past my face and giant snow flakes bounce off my goggles fogging my vision. But there’s no time to worry about being able to see. I have to focus on staying alive! I’m accelerating no end and my joints rattle as the clattering contact between skis and slope sends ripples through my body. I feel like a kind of George of the Jungle meets Yeti character, propelling though the snow without a hint of grace. ‘Don’t fall! Don’t fall! Don’t fall!’ I say to myself, maybe even out loud.

Suddenly, and finally, the end is in sight. I can see the bottom of the piste. And the slope seems to be evening out. Yes, it’s getting flatter! And I’m slowing down! I pizza, I snow plough, I do whatever my legs are willing to and attempt to bring myself to a halt. And eventually, I stop. With incredulity I look around me. I glance back up at from whence I came. I did it! I actually made it down! I’m still quivering from the stress, but I feel like a legend. I! Me! I skied! I am officially cool! And surely if I did it once, I can do it again. Surely I can only get better!

And just like that the overwhelming fear of taking on the piste disappears, and I can’t wait to try it all over again!

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Posted by lauracerys 05:36 Archived in Spain Tagged mountains snow skiing ski catalonia piste la_molina Comments (0)

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