A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about barcelona

The hidden world of Barcelona

sunny 24 °C

Last week an eleven-year-old English student of mine excitedly told me that he had been on a school trip to some ‘really awesome’ caves just outside Barcelona. ‘There are caves near Barcelona?!’ was my initial reaction, since in the three years I’ve lived here, I’d never once heard of any. ‘Yes, Salnitre Caves, and they are reeeally cool! It’s just like Indiana Jones! And you can go down really deep and it’s really dark and really big and people say the Devil lives there!’ Bless him, he was practically bubbling with enthusiasm. I however, was perplexed. What, and where the hell were these caves? I asked myself. If they really were 'sooo cool', how was it possible that I was completely oblivious to them? How come nobody had ever told me about them? My friends here are so proud of everything Catalan, surely they would have made me go and visit these caves if they really were worth their salt? Needless to say, it was time to investigate.

Google informed us that these caves were to be found in the vicinity of legendary Montserrat, so off we headed in its direction, hoping to find a signpost along the way that would point us toward this mysterious Salnitre. After a rather blind ‘hoping for the best’ type drive, we finally approached an informative arrow, a sharp bend and a steep and hair-raising climb. I dared not look down as we swirled around Montserrat’s rocky environs, but as the surrounding scenery became increasingly spectacular, I could sense we were on to something.

Soon the road forked and offered two options - coves and centre historic. We decided on coves and soon pulled up at a dusty wooden booth that served as Salnitre ticket/information office. We had at least clarified then, that the caves did exist. The young man who served us seemed bored stiff, but I guess that was understandable being stuck in a glorified box all day, no matter how amazing the views are. He informed us that a tour of the caves was about to start and that we should hurry on up to the entrance and join in. We took his advice, but ‘hurrying on up’ was easier said than done. The path became increasingly steep and stony and the midday heat of the sun had decided to play havoc with us. The higher we got however, the more spectacular the landscape became, and at a stone’s throw away in the distance we could see that there lay a quaint and sleepy medieval town. We decided that it would be a must for a post-cave lunch, and it gave us the nudge we needed to carry on.

Before long the path gave way to a small stairway which lead up to the rock face and a dark, intriguing opening. Suddenly, out popped a chirpy young lad. ‘You here for the cave tour? Come on in!’. And so we followed. We were sat down for an introductory video about the history of the caves, and learned of a variety of curiosities, one of the most interesting being that the Catalan hero, Antoni Gaudí, had taken his inspiration for his Sagrada Famila from the strange and wonderful rock formations found in Salnitre. This caught my attention, and I was eager to once and for all delve into this mysterious cave. There seemed to be a strange promise hovering in the air, that whispered that we would not be disappointed, that we were about to discover a long lost secret.

We followed Joan, our guide, down some cobbly, wobbly steps and suddenly found ourselves plunged into deep and astounding cavities. I was mesmerised. All around us vast, weird and wonderful stalactites and stalagmites dramatically shot upward from far below or fiercely protruded from high above. Sensational shapes, strange formations and fascinating labyrinthine passages lead us to a different world, a world we had only seen in films. It felt as though at any given moment a magical, monstrous being could pop out from nowhere, as though the rocks could suddenly come alive. Dark shadows were thrown into a plethora of shapes and sizes and the further into the cave we ventured the more they played tricks on the mind. We began to see creatures in the rocks, their faces, their bodies, haunting, fiendish, bewitching.

I was perplexed as to how I had never heard of this place. How was it possible, that a place so beguiling, so intriguing was so far off the tourist radar? How was it possible that this was not one of the main attractions of Barcelona? We asked Joan, whose response was ‘people in the next village don’t even know about the cave, so you can hardly expect tourists to know about it’. But why? How can a place so fascinating be so unknown, be such a secret.

Having said that, perhaps it’s better that way. Perhaps it’s better that it remains hidden away and saves itself from the circus-like curse of mass tourism. I can see it now, a cafeteria amidst the cavities. Please… please no. Salnitre is far too special. Far too unique. And one of the greatest secrets of Catalonia…

In fact... Ssshhh!

P1000424.jpg P1000428.jpgP1000433.jpg

Posted by lauracerys 06:21 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona caves spain Comments (3)

Més que un club.

sunny 20 °C

Més que un club’, (more than a club) Barça’s motto really is somewhat of an understatement, for it is so much more than a football team. It is a culture, a beacon of hope, a way of life and is inextricably intertwined with Catalan identity. Its political connotations are undeniable, and Barça acts as both a fervent expression and international ambassador of the Catalan ideal. ‘Tan se val d'on venim, si del sud o del nord, ara estem d'acord’… ‘It doesn’t matter where we’re from, be it the north or the south, we are all in agreement’ proclaims the team’s anthem, and true it would seem, as for almost everyone I have met during my time in Catalonia, Barça is one of the main symbols of Catalan culture, one of their proudest emblems and their biggest international export. The pure joy they bring to people can be seen on endless occasions. For me the most explosive expression of true devotion to the team was witnessed whilst experiencing thousands of fans taking over the Rambla in celebration of winning the Champions League – flags, flares, horns and fireworks filling the street like a Barça themed flying circus. It was then that it truly, dramatically and profoundly hit me, that Barça really is more than just a team.

barca4.jpg barca5.jpg

The intense awe manifested toward the club is captivating, exciting and mesmerising, and never more so than in the run up to and ardent final encounter between Barça and Real Madrid, when bars are brimming, literally to over-flowing point with burgundy-blue-clad die-hard fans. A deep and historic rivalry exists between the two and is passed down from generation to generation, for better, or for worse. For better, in the innocent pride shown by children toward Barça – sometimes they will turn up for English class and shout with bursting joy,Mira! Mira Laura!’ – ‘Look Laura! Today I’m wearing my Barça shirt!’. ‘Y mira també!’ – ‘And look! I’ve got the matching shorts too!’. Their excitement is so sweet that I can’t help but giggle. There is perhaps a ‘for worse’ however. With the increasing hype surrounding the call for a referendum on Catalan independence, Barça has, whether it wanted to or not, become a tool used by many locals to express their political desires. And children have caught on. During a recent match I attended at Camp Nou some (probably no more than) five year olds were (no doubt copying what they have been hearing around them recently) chanting In-De-Independència!’. This made me feel a little uncomfortable, as they probably had no idea what they were shouting but had learnt from those around them that this is what is now the norm to chant during a game.

barca3.jpg

Anyway, politics aside, experiencing first hand a Barça match at Camp Nou is unforgettable. As we climb higher towards our stand and finally pop out amongst the sprawling seats, the impact of the sight before us is none other than overwhelming. The feeling that takes over as a miniature us is packed amongst a mighty sea of over 98,000 is exhilarating. And as the Camp Nou gloriously towers around us we really sense the dominating and truly impressive power that is Barça. And then come the goals.

Now, I am by no means a major football fan, but watching Barça play is like watching a smooth, contemporary dance. Between fashionable launches to the back of the net, players pivot and twirl, flick and slide, with an ease and grace more often than not reserved for the stage. But, I guess in one sense that is what Camp Nou is – a stage. A stage for dramatic performances, enthralled audiences, rose worthy triumphs and heart wrenching defeats. And the players, to the football world, are like Shakespearean actors or products of the Russian ballet – seemingly flawless professionals treating the crowds to an unforgettable show with a standing ovation almost guaranteed. What honour the players must feel (we hope) and what an inspiration they are to millions far and wide. And we mustn’t forget the 1.5million euro donation Barça makes each year to Unicef – surely an example to all top league sporting teams.

The figures speak for themselves. Barça is a footballing victory machine. But on top of the endless goals and titles, they represent something much more profound in this corner of Spain. Something that needs to be seen to be believed. Something that needs to be heard. And moreover, something that needs to be felt. The pride, the emotion, the excitement, the expectation – they all form a part of what Barça is today, simply, més que un club.

barca.jpg

Posted by lauracerys 15:18 Archived in Spain Tagged football barcelona spain catalonia barca catalan Comments (0)

The Day of the Book and the Rose

sunny 22 °C

Spring is fast approaching. The floral scent of warmth is beginning to fill the air and the sky ever-changing into a deeper shade of blue. And just around the corner is El Dia de Sant Jordi - Catalonia’s national day, a true spring-time celebration and undoubtedly one of the best occasions on which to visit its vibrant capital city, Barcelona.

The 23rd of April is a special day in numerous countries around the world with Jordi, or George, being remembered and celebrated in many different ways. But the events held in Barcelona really are something to be seen. Las Ramblas, normally a chaotic, tourist fun-fair, is transformed into a romantic, artistic, living gallery filled with vivid colours, endless curiosities and classic charm. And there is an infectious feeling all round of national pride and joy. Relating back to the legend of Jordi, the princess and the dragon, it has become custom for men to present their beloved women with a rose on this day, and Las Ramblas is subsequently abounding with fantastic, captivating and at times awe-inspiring rose stalls. Infinite and exquisite, scarlet petals beckon our attention and hypnotize us as if they had fallen straight out of a fairy-tale. And it’s not only the traditional roses that take centre stage, but yellow ones, blue ones, purple and even rainbow ones - a true spectacle, and fully worthy of their gathering crowds.

jordi2.jpgjordi1.jpg

Coinciding with the story of Jordi, the 23rd of April also marks the anniversary of the deaths of both Miguel Cervantes and William Shakespeare. Of course, never ones to miss a reason to celebrate, the Catalans have added this into the mix as well, and the date has therefore become known as ‘the day of the book and the rose’. And the literary world has of course got in on the action, making it now typical for women to mark the occasion by giving a book to the man of their life. And so apart from the beautiful and bountiful displays of roses on Las Ramblas, book stalls also stretch far into the distance providing a uniquely curious yet enchanting atmosphere. Book signings are common practice and throughout the day across the centre of Barcelona famous Catalan writers and TV personalities can be seen enjoying the festivities and posing for photos with their fans.

jordi3.jpgjordi4.jpgjordi5.jpg

El Dia de Sant Jordi truly is an unforgettable day to be in Barcelona. A magical sense of celebration is felt all round and the pride of local culture expressed to the fullest. It is a perfect opportunity to really begin to understand Catalan identity, and what better way to do so than by wandering the adorned streets of historic Barcelona. All that’s left to do is to hope that someone bestows us with a book, or a rose.

jordi6.jpg

Posted by lauracerys 13:16 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona spain books catalonia roses las_ramblas sant_jordi saint_george Comments (0)

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!

boqueria.jpg

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.

boqueria2.jpg boqueria4.jpg boqueria3.jpg

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.

boqueria6.jpg boqueria7.jpg boqueria8.jpg

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!

boqueria5.jpg boqueria9.jpg

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

When The Bizarre Becomes Real

sunny 7 °C

When a giant feather-bower-embellished willy drives past, you know that Sitges Carnival is finally in full swing.

Spectators line the streets, packed against shop fronts donning inappropriate fancy dress, excitedly awaiting the big event. Suddenly soul-shuddering drums explode into blazing, palpitating rhythms and a grand display of the burlesque and the bizarre pulsates through the heart of the town. Radio-hogging tunes of the moment are blared out and clouded with tropical, salsa beats, and for a moment we forget that it’s winter and pretend that we are in a far off balmy destination grooving under exotic coconut trees. But alas, it’s cold and we make a mental note that next year our costume should be more weather appropriate. That will no doubt be forgotten though, as the exuberant fun and spirit of carnival will surely lead us astray.

Eccentric and fantastic floats squeeze through the brimming and awkwardly narrow streets with flamboyant confidence and ease. Booming with vivaciousness they wobble at times with the insatiable party spirit of carnival-goers. Truly impressive artistic feats pass before our eyes with theatrical flourishes and thunderous energy, and house a multitude of striking, vociferous characters. Glittering, sensational, outlandish and lurid they dance the night away, posing for cameras and rousing the atmosphere. As we take in the extravagant, celebratory surroundings colourful costumes excite and delight and leave us wanting more, eager to see what else will make its way down the street… and you can bet your bottom dollar, it’ll be increasingly ridiculous and outlandish. Mermaids, Mad-Hatters, Freddy Mercurys or peacocks, who knows what you may behold – at Sitges Carnival, it would seem that anything goes!

sitges1.jpgsitges2.jpgsitges3.jpgsitges4.jpg

Posted by lauracerys 12:55 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona catalonia party carnival sitges Comments (0)

The Catalan Castells

A fine balance between bravery and insanity

sunny 24 °C

So it’s that time of year again, and La Mercè festival takes over the city I now call home, Barcelona. A whole weekend of spectacular events showcases the city at its absolute best, and quaint old squares are crammed full of performances and party-goers alike, delighting in the unmissable excitement and revelry. Perhaps none more so than Plaça Sant Jaume brings to life the passion, fervour and unique traditions of Catalan culture with its breathtaking display of els castells, in other words, human castles.

Now, for a British person, the first time you find yourself at a castells demonstration, the effect is none other than jaw dropping. Your thoughts range from “They can’t be serious!” to “What about health and safety laws?” and finally to “Is that a five year old climbing up there?!” You would have thought that this reaction would have somewhat diluted over time, but I can firmly declare that it hasn’t. Are the castellers courageous heroes or just mad? I really can’t tell.

So, the aim of the game (it seems) is for teams to construct a specially designed human tower by standing on each others shoulders and making it as high as they possibly can – and believe me, the heights they reach are astounding!

Hoards of supporters and unexpecting foreign tourists fill Sant Jaume square ready for an unbelievable show. The competitors, who have come from every corner of Barcelona, gather in the centre for pep talks and last minute adjustments, eager to undertake the seemingly superhuman challenge ahead. Then finally the moment arrives, and the first movements are made by the structural members of the groups. A blanket of silence gradually covers the spectators. Nervous tension spreads throughout the square and a wind band starts up with traditional music that seems specifically composed to increase the feeling of anxiety in the air.

The castells grow, rapidly gaining height, and concentration is deep – one foot wrongly placed, even a split second loss of focus could lead to disaster. A tremor of muscles from the castellers and a wobble here and there releases a gasp of horror from the crowd, and the hair on the back of our necks stands on edge. Incredibly however, teams remain calm. The towers, now seven or eight levels high, are nearly complete, but the dramatic pinnacle is yet to come. Suddenly, small children, surely no more than five years of age, begin climbing each construction like monkeys, with petrified though determined looks on their faces. Their task is to reach the top of their tower, climb over the heads of the two highest members, raise their hand into the air and successfully descend the other side. And whilst this is taking place, the castles must remain intact – truly a gravity defying feat!

Excitement and fear grows in the crowd - foreign tourists tearing out their hair in incredulity, local aficionados wondering if teams will reach their personal bests. With a sigh of relief all children have made it down the towers. In one corner a team is successfully and meticulously deconstructing their castle, one by one detaching themselves carefully, as if it were a game of Kerplunk. And finally, a roar of euphoria as all members reach the ground in one piece. Arms shoot into the air ecstatically, in awe of the team who in the eyes of the crowd are superheroes. Suddenly however, something catches our eye. Another castle still stands. But something is wrong. It begins with a hint of doubt. A quiver nervously follows, leading to a slight shudder of a knee which dominoes the slip of hands and heels. A cry of panic from the crowd and the castle turns to ruin, painfully collapsing. Bodies tumble on top of one another forming a mountain of limbs and the audience hold their breath in despair. But, it is revealed that everyone is ok, and the fans cheer in admiration for the fallen. Then it is determinedly announced that they shall attempt the castle again! And the crowd are delighted.

Every time I see groups of castellers creating their human towers I am blown away. They truly are amazing. Crazy yes, courageous no doubt. And so perhaps it is fair to say that the Catalan people have invented with their castells the perfect balance between bravery and insanity.

I won’t be joining a team anytime soon.

castells2.jpg castells1.jpgcastells_3.jpg

Posted by lauracerys 06:08 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona spain catalonia catalan els_castells castells sant_jaume la-merce Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 6 of 6) Page [1]