Sunday, June 29, 2008

Some of my favourite bars in Barcelona.

OK, to be honest, I don't visit the bars as often as I used to - partly as I'm not out on the prowl any more (I'm happily married) but mainly as I have 2 kids (small) and the thought of a 6:30am wake up call and then all day with a hangover is not the most appealing one! HOWEVER, I'm still in touch with the nightlife to an extent, and wanted to share some of my favourite bars in case anyone's interested!

This will be an ongoing project! I'll try to include a mix of places, and they're part of a pub crawl that I used to do with friends which we finely tuned!

La Oveja Negra (Calle Sitges, just off Calle Tallers at the top of Las Ramblas). The black Sheep is a great place to meet people. They have long wooden tables and benches and the wiaters serve you jugs of beer or sangria (or whatever spirit you want), and you have to have a seat (or a barrel as a table) to have a drink, so you inevitably end up sitting next to some travellers or expats or even locals, and sharing stories.

Bar Marsella. This is on Calle sant Pau, neart to the rambla del raval, and the streets around are also the favourite haunt of the local prostitutes, but don't let that put you off. This is THE original Absinthe bar. Jean Genet wrote a book about his days here (rent boys, sailors having their worth of cheap gorg and drugs, and many a rascal) and frequented the bar. They have age-old bottles of absinthe on the bar ad give you the real deal with the spoon, sugar, etc. EVERYONE I've reccomended this bar to has been, and only half have managed to walk out (my best mate Rich, crawled out, and some recent Aussies spent the whole of the next day in bed!).

I plan on adding more to this list as it comes into my head and will also add photos as I see fit, but take it from me, you'll find some great places here!!


Remember, Catalonia is not Spain - unless they're winning.

National pride is something inside of every one of us. You can't help but kiss the flag/badge/banner when you see your country do something worthy of praise, and none more so in sports. Even if it makes you suffer more than actually enjoy whatever it is you're watching, you become completely overwhelmed in the moment, and even though there can be only 1 winner (excluding some American sports, which seem to have everyone's a winner) then it doesn't matter.

Football always throws up the inevitable mis-matches and rivals. Being English, we have the teams we love to hate. Our eternal enemies the Germans, and more recently the Portuguese. Not being present at this year's Euro 2008 competition in Austria and Switzerland has left us English fans without a real following. It's such a shame that England didn't qualify, as the tournament has been the best Euro competition I can remember - even better than Euro 96, and that was so special as it was in England.

Before this competition started, I said the Germans would win it. I was very impressed in the 2006 world cup, and although they had parted company with Klinsmann, I still felt that it was going to be their year. I was very happy to see Portugal take an early exit out of a side door, and also Italy, who are just too false with their diving (sorry for any Italians, but you know I'm right - nothing against you as a nation!).

I am now having to re-consider my pre-tournament bet. By far the best team of the competition so far (after the sharp exit of Holland) have been the Spanish. The have beaten the demons which haunt the typical English team and managed to get to the final, and many believe that this will be their year. It doesn't matter that their star striker David Villa won't be playing through injury - his substitute in Fabregas was a wonder when he came on last game.

What I find funny (and very hypocritical) is that if you asked the average Barcelonan before the competition started about Spain's chances, your reply would have been something along the lines of "Not bothered. I'm not Spanish. I hope they go out in the first round". Catalan nationalism is very fierce beast. If you visit Barcelona you will see many graffitis, stickers, posters and even shop fronts telling you that "Catalonia is not Spain". And they want you to know about it. Much of the TV coverage has shown many a Spanish flag with the ever present image of the big black bull - surely a Spanish institution, and an image all of us would associate with Spain. Well, not the Catalans - they have even gone as far as to create their own national (though unofficial) animal - poking fun at the "Toro Bravo" - a donkey. The Catalan "ass" can be seen as bumper stickers on every car, motorbike, scooter and bike crossing the city of Barcelona, and beyond.

You might be surprised to hear that Catalonia has it's own national football team, and Puyol is captain, Xavi and Fabregas also appear. How can this be possible you ask? you can't play for 2 nations? Well, that's just because they want to, and that's that. That's what the Catalans do. So even though the current squad has a fair few sprinklings of Catalan talent, your average Catalan will tell you they're not bothered. As I say, that's what they'll TELL you.

I have never seen such scenes of happiness and joy after Spain’s defeat of Russia in the Semi final the other day!! Las Ramblas was chocka-block with flags and fans and all of a sudden we were in Spain and not Catalunya. It did make me smile. We're not Spanish at all, unless we're doing well at something. Rafa Nadal the successful Spanish tennis player is actually Catalan, but he represents Spain (his surname means Christmas in Catalan), as did another Catalan, Aranxa Sanchez Vicario.

We'll see how many Catalans will have a sly eye on tonight's final, and be cheering if Spain win, and jeering if they lose to Germany. It's a win-win situation for them!

As for me, as an Englishman I never thought id think I'd be rooting for a German team! They were my pre-tournament bet, so I should stick to my guns. For the hypocritical nature of my hosts, I'd like to see them lose, but I think Spain deserve to win - Germany were a shadow of the team we all know when they played against Turkey, so I'm kind of in doubt. I just hope it's a great final with lots of goals.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Does anybody really care where Christopher Columbus was from?

There is a fierce debate about the origins of Christopher Columbus, and the Catalans think they have a good case to claim he was theirs. This is a fairly complicated assertion based on lots of old and obscure documents, friends that Columbus had at the time, and various other circumstantial pieces which all generally lead to no firm conclusion.

Others claim he was Genovese, others Italian. Up until recently, this was said to be a never ending debate with one side presenting another obscure piece of Sherlock Holmes detective work and the other doing the same after another couple of months - all very petty if you ask me. That was up until recently.

Scientists have begun taking DNA samples from Italians, Catalans and others with the surnames "Colon, Colum, Columbus" etc. in an attempt to give a definitive answer to the question puzzling the few who care. Results were supposed to have been published almost 1 year ago, but there's still nothing appearing.

One thing is for certain; Columbus was a pirate, and I think it's funny that we're still non the wiser as to his origins - but it seems fitting, as when he set off on his voyage he had no idea where he was going, and no idea what he had discovered when he got there, either!

Barcelona apartments and Cheap barcelona apartments.

Midsummer Madness !!

This month in Barcelona is a crazy time for partying. As well as 2 music festivals there's also the longest day of the year - which means you can squeeze more partying into 1 day than ever before.

The night of the 23rd/24th of June is Saint John's day - Shakespeare called it Midsummer's night - and is a public holiday (it would need to be, as 80% of people would probably phone in sick anyway). This is the equivalent to UK bonfire night and in the US 4th July. Fireworks galore and bangers, air bombs, etc. are set off as early as last week (mobile stalls are set up around the city to sell the fireworks, so inevitably you have the kids buying bangers and the like!). all of the big clubs and discos have thier night for the "verbena" of all night party and some big names are attracted to the sell out gigs.

As is tradition for any Catalan festival, cava flows a-plenty and you have the traditional "cocas de sant joan" which are biscuit like sweetbreads, decorated with pine nuts, candied fruits, etc. and sell like...well cold cakes, cos they're not hot.

Barceloneta beach is a favourite spot to watch the sun go down and rise again, and is packed out every year. Guitars, bonfires, plentyof booze, and the Med are a great mix. The city's cleaners famously wait until 6am, and then police kick out the rest of the party-goers and the speediest clean up known to man goes ahead whilst disgruntled grandads in too-small swimming trunks complain about the youth of today.

Barcelona apartments and Cheap barcelona apartments.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

June is the month of Music Festivals in Barcelona - but maybe not for much longer

If you're coming to Barcelona in June and like alternative music, then you're in for a treat. There are 2 festivals on this month (there are actually more than 2, but 2 main ones) which are set to take the city's revellers by storm, and annoy the neighbours all at the same time. Burtsing eardrums and "incivismo" are always high on a Barcelonan's complaints list.

Primavera Sound ("Spring Sound" sounds a bit lame doesn't it?) has just gone off with a bang (29th - 31st May), and although there were not as many entrances sold this year, it caused more press for the complaints of the neighbours in the diagonal Mar zone, where the ill-fated Forum Park is located, and the venue of the festival. The Forum was a conference centre built to extreme expectations in 2004, and was...well, let's be frank...a complete flop. Like Barcelona's Millenium Dome, if you see what I mean (interesting side note - I'm sure I remember Bon Jovi were the first to play there as the now O2 arena, and Bon Jovi played at Parc del Forum also last week!), but the advantage is the huge space left over - ideal for concert goers - even if it is bloody miles away from everything else. Coldplay also announced a free concert there in September to promote the launch of their new album.

The organiser of Primavera Sound (depsite having an agreement with Forum Park until 2011) has said they may start looking for a new, out-of-town venue, so as to not annoy all the neighbours. I find it difficult to beleive, as there is very little in and around the Forum, but then again, if it's all night and you can hear it, I suppose it would start to get annoying.

One such festival that doesn't have the sound problem (or at least at night) is the unstoppable Sonar Music Festival. This electronic music festival goes from strength to strength and has seen so many varied artists stroll their various stages (Beastie Boys last year, Bjorck, Scissor sisters did an impromtu surprise gig, Jeff Mills, Carl Cox, etc.). Apparently this year the festival is divided into "dedicated to women" with acts such as Goldfrapp and Roisin Murphy, and "Hybridism" celebrating those difficult to categorise musicians and groups. Justice,Yelle, Diplo, Spank Rock and Boys Noize are all set to please and convert.

The sonar festival is divided into the Sonar by Day events (mainly dotted around the Raval) and the Sonar by night concerts, in Gran Via 2 - industrial estate outside the city centre. Many festival goers complain about the trek (there's a free Sonar bus, but you have to fight to get on) but they still flock in their thousands. The day events still always receive the usual complaints from the neighbours about noise levels, public disorder, etc. but at least the night events are out of the way, where not many people can see them!

Finally we have "Daydream Festival" - also to take place in Forum Park. The headliners here (and the majority of people will be paying for their ticket just to see them) are the amazing Radiohead. The Oxford band are promoting their new album "In Rainbows" and will surely pull the crowds in. Let's see if they'll be forced to turn the volume down a little though?!
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