Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Fun in the sun in Barcelona...

Whilst getting up at 10am everyday and lounging on the beach in Gava is appealing, its nice to hit the city and  get some partying done.

My memory of Razzmatazz, a nightclub, was one of bright lights, loud music, getting lost and a 70 Euro McDonalds bill at 5 in the morning. So I was determined to go back for more debauchery!

Kerry was keen to go and see what all the hype was about and we caught the bus in to town late evening knowing that the Spaniards are usually waking up when us Brits are normally eating dinner. Everything seems to be 4 or 5 hours behind. The club only opens at 2am! 

We strolled around and indulged in some tasty Ice cream made in a 'laboratory' in the back with big glass windows so you could see it being made. I couldn't resist trying the Marijuana flavoured one which went well with pistachio and mint. It had a subtle but definitely weedy type taste. 

 We grabbed a few drinks before walking across town to the more industrial side and consequently Razzmatazz. Its basically 5 warehouses all joined together by overhead walkways and rooftop alleys. 

There were only 3 of the 5 warehouses open with DJs playing some interesting Euro-stomp type electro music in the main room. It was a quality night which If I'm honest I can't remember much of! It was only when we got out at 7am that we remembered the long walk back to the main square, Placa Catalunya, and had to sit on a 20 minute bus ride with that mornings commuters while we got groggier and groggier.

Finally getting back just before 9am we were grateful for our bed and collapsed in the van for the rest of the day.

One day whilst walking through the Parc de la Cuitadella we came across this type of festival with water activities for the kids, music on a stage and all sorts of Catalan traditions like 'giant' people made out of papier mache walking around and a group who were building a human tower.

Walking around the park we came across a group of 4 or 5 African guys playing on their native drums, just casually. Kerry and I sat down on the grass to listen at about 4pm. There was probably about another 20 people appreciating the music and chilling out around the drummers. 

Then an amazing thing happened. Over the next 5 hours the number of drummers nearly doubled and were joined by tambourines, didgeridoos, maracas and castonnettes. The music never stopped for more than a minute between 'songs' if you can call the improvised music that. 

The crowd swelled to well over 400. Of all ages, nationalities and ethnicities. It was amazing. The atmosphere was electric, there were people up and dancing, singing. The African dancers would get the attention of a drummer and then they would kind of 'battle' with each other, one dancing, the other drumming. But they seemed to know when the other was going to move/drum. I'd learnt about the dances they did on TV years ago. They were imitating the animals that they would encounter in Africa with big bold moves like a big cat, or an angry wildebeest.

Kerry and I sat there until 9 o'clock, totally awestruck by this impromtue performance. It was so organic and spontaneous. 

The drummers and dancer were so passionate about their culture. They displayed it with their music with so much vivacity I began to think what traditions we have in England? How would we show off our culture in a park in a foreign country? Strap on some bells and do a moris dance? Drink ourselves in to a drunken stupor on a Friday? Cripple ourselves with as much debt as we can?

Monday, 10 June 2013

Barcelona city and our History tour...

Our trips in to Barcelona are very pleasant. Not rushed as when I have previously visited a major city. Nice and relaxed, knowing we had an indefinate(ish) amount of time. 

Having been to Barcelona, and generally a few European cities before, I knew the importance of getting a jist for the sights and attractions on the first day. My previous visit was primarily to see Barcelona FC vs Valencia in a football match with 'the lads'. An annual ritual that ensued in copious amounts of drinking and being hungover. On the last day of our 4 day trip we took the open topped 'Bus Turistica' only to find we had discovered about 5% of the city and only around our hostel!
View from the top of Monjuic towards Placa Espanya

So after a morning of ambling aimlessly down La Rambla I thought we better get on the tourist trail and attend a walking tour. Something I've found to be very informative and educational in other countries. We grabbed a 'free' one from the 'Travel Bar' just a short distance from the main street.

The tour was great. Everyone of the 6 or so couples in attendance were from totally different ends of the earth. And our guide, Hannah, was Finnish of all nationalities! She took us on a brilliant tour of the Barri Gotica (Gothic Quarter) to the east of La Rambla. Her knowledge was second to none. My world renound lengthy and probing questions were met with concise and relevant answers and afterwards she sat with us in a bar and answered all the other questions I had on Barcelona and where to go. For a Finnish bird she sure knew her Barcelona!
Ceramic 'dolia' vessels for holding garium (Fish sauce)

The history of the city fascinates me. How it was swelled over the years from something barely the size of a small hamlet to the vast, sprawling metropolis it is now. There are remnants of the old city walls and buildings that, unless you were told about them, would just be walked past as if they were any old building.

The History museums of Barcelona and the separate museum of Catalunia were an excellent way to enjoy the last Sunday of the month. Turns out they're free then as well!

The History of Barcelona museum occupies just a small building in the center of the old Gothic Quater but once in the lift a digital clock counts down the years from 2013 to 0013 and you walk out to a maze of excavated ruins 5 metres below the present day city.

Tank stained by cobalt whilst dyeing fabrics
Walking around you can see the old city wall along one edge next to a road and small courtyards dotted around where giant egg-like ceramic vessels called dolia were set in to the pavement to store garium. Garium was a popular sauce made from fish and salt that was mushed up together and left to ferment for a bit. Doesn't sound very nice to me!

Further along the now underground city remains we walked through to a building full of large tanks dyed all different colours from the materials used to colour fabrics including bleaching them with urine!

Dolia were used to hold pretty much anything liquid including bigger ones that were red from the wine that street sellers sold their stock out of. Next to them were miniature sized ones that held seas salt and honey to be mixed in with the wine.

We walked through the pre-historic ages in the History Museum of Catalunia, located down near the new harbour area. It was amazing to see how, as times moved on, a piece of flint the size of a tennis ball had 10cm of cutting edge which had grown to nearly 2 metres a few thousand years later.

It was interesting to see contraptions that were made before electricity or even steam power was around. I was especially engrossed in this simple device used to bring water up from a well to irrigate the farmers crops. An animal, usually a mule or donkey, would walk around the well (demonstrated by me) and turn the set of cogs what lifted a set of cups strung together to reach down in to the well. The cups deposit the water in to the trough at the front which trickles down in to the fields

Barcelona is an amazing city with loads of history to offer. I just wish it had moved on from the olden times a little with respect to pick pockets. They are everywhere and you can't stop to look at a map or a piece of architecture without instantly grabbing every pocket to check the contents are still there. 

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Gavamar - Our basecamp for Barcelona...

We've made it down to Barcelona. The drive from Girona was pleasant as we took the coast road (N-11) pretty much all the way.

The driving when we got to Barcelona! Jeez! I was taking wrong turn after wrong turn before cutting up 8 lanes to get to the next wrong turn. It was nuts. All while Kerry is quizzing me on when the Sagrada Familia was started!

But the sat nav wasn't taking us to Barcelona. We were given an ACSI Camping Card by a very nice motorhoming couple back in Le Boulou, France. It is a Dutch scheme where you purchase the book and receive a card that entitles you to discounted camping rates at 20, 000+ sites costing either 12, 14 or 16 Euros per night per van with 2 people. The couple were so nice and I think they made our card using a photocopier and thick card but it looks relatively authentic. It does, however, get some level of scrutiny at the 3 Estrella campsite where we are staying.

The chap on reception commented "oh, another new style card" in a thick Spanish accent as we checked in on the first day.

The campsite is situated in a small town just outside Barcelona called Gava. Backing on to the perfect beach it has everything you could want. Proper showers and toilets, laundry facilities, internet, swimming pool, supermarket, bar ... the works. And the 2 Euro bus to Barcelona stops right outside the campsite.

We have been a little naughty though and tend to stay here one night. Get all our affairs back in order. Have a much welcomed shower and replenish the water before checking out and parking a couple of hundred metres down the beach on a residential road. Then we can kind of get away with sneaking back in for the odd shower, toilet etc. It works and means that our accomodation for a week is only 17 Euros!

We continued to use the facilities when we dared. Spending one day in Barcelona and two on the beach. Each Monday we would check in to the campsite as a sort of 'thank you' gesture. A way to negate the guilt we felt walking in to the campsite from the beach for a shower and a poop.

Its a nice campsite and perfect for trips in to Barcelona if you want to avoid the costly hotels and hostels in town.