Monday, July 28, 2008

Markets of Barcelona

There are many markets in Barcelona, and some more spectacular than others. Probably the most famous market is La Boqueria, or Saint Joseph's market - but this is mainly due to its location half way down las ramblas, meaning many tourists flock in and out to see the produce. I have been told that it is in face Europe's largest market, but I find that hard to believe. It's also a little bit more expensive than, say San Antonio's market, and has almost the same things on offer.

Markets often get a facelift, and two recent refurbishments have been the Barceloneta market and the Santa Caterina market. Both went well over the planned time (no surprise there, then), and the roof of Santa Caterina looks very similar to the new Pans and company logo...see for yourselves.

But the best markets, are the local markets, the smaller ones which offer little gems. On a Saturday and Sunday, for example the Rambla del Raval has a local market which is completely made up of local designers - there are some great pieces on offer, as well as art work, photographs and fridge magnets. You can sample some sweet mint tea in the Morroccon tent, and try some sweet cakes and the like too.

The bottom of Las Ramblas on a weekend, also has the arty-crafty market going on, and over the road from Columbus monument there's an antiques fair, too. I'll add more about other markets as I find new interesting ones, too.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Intorducing the new, reformed Palau Güell....well, not quite.

Nestled just off Las Ramblas is one of Gaudi's numerous famous creations - Palau Güell - perhaps one of the most famous houses in Barcelona. It is just a little way down Nou de La Rambla, near to Liceu metro station. This is the only work by Gaudi that he actually finished, and is a UNESCO World heratige site.

During recent years (I'd say 3, but I might be wrong) it has been undergoing a complete restauration and renovation, and many a tourist has been baffled to see scaffolding over the structure and a full memory stick on their camera ready to use in hand. The notice of the front of the building since the beginning said that renovation was due to be completed at the end of 2007. Indeed, all of the usual guide books printed this for their 2007 versions. However, true to form, the Spanish builders were well off the mark, and I think it was May/June this year when the scaffolding finally came down.

I had already done a full tour a couple of years ago, but then seeing the scaffolding on there made me forget how much of an impact the building makes, espcially nestled between a mini-market, a bank and a kebab house.

So recently I decided to pay a visit. I remember last time that the rooftop was especially interesting, Gaudi had a penchant for chimneys is my guess (see La Pedrera if you don't beleive me!) so I was looking forward to seeing this again, and what if anything they had done. The last time I went there were guided tours, and you had to take a ticket and come back at a certain time. This time it's queue and walk around on your own - and here's why. The sign says a "Partial visit: entrance, basement and facade" I'm not quite sure how you give a tour of the facade (I didn't get one), but there you go.

The entrance is looming, and uses wrought Iron in winding shapes like snakes and vines - no straight lines here people. Then there is a kind of courtyard which leads down a very steep slope to the basement. I remember from last time that this entrance was only for goods and went stright downstairs to the cellar - the part we visit as the basement. Considering this would have rarely been seen by count Güell, his family of even his guests, Gaudi put an awful lot of work into it and the attention to detail is amazing.

Brick pillars come up from the ground to support the ceiling (and presumably the rest of the building), but no two follow form - one is curved, the other square. The lighting added afterwards by the modern day museum gives a stunning balance of shadow and light. There are chains to chain the horses with a drinking trough too. Unfortunately here ends the visit, which is a bit of a let-down as it's when it just gets you going!

I didn't enquire as to when the next part will be open (there is a period house to be seen on 2 floors, I seem to remember and the rooftop already mentioned is amazing) as I know they would just guess. I got chatting to one guy but he just said he was "new there" and seemed to just want to hand out leaflets (I got a French one, hence the lack of historic detail to accompany the post!).

I guess we'll just have to wait and see....

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Line 2 pub crawl.

I can't remember where I read this (might have been in Metropolitan magazine a couple of years ago), but it must be so much fun. I never got round to doing it, but I invite you to try and leave me comments!

The idea is based on the Purple line of the metro system (line 2), which has 17 metro stops. Basically, you start at one end, at Pep Ventura, and make your way back to the end, Paral.lel, which is fairly central, too. The trick is that you have to get out of each metro station and have a beer, then get back on again and do the same. You have to just go into the first bar you find - no searching around - just any bar, the closest one to the metro station. Bottles I imagine would be the best bet, as if you have 17 half-litres, you won't make it very far.

I have taken the metro from Paral.lel to Pep Ventura without getting off, and it takes 45 minutes. This means by my calculations you would need to start at about 8pm to be able to ensure that you aren't completely rushing the beers down (you will obviously have to plan toilet trips well?!), and I think this used to be much more complicated when the metro closed at 11pm! Fortunately, Fridays is until 2am, and Saturday the metro runs all night, so you can try a Saturday, and see how far you get before the bars close!!

Go on, you know you want to try it!!

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cheap calls home

Ok, so in this day and age EVERYONE has a mobile phone, and it's also almost a certainty to make sure you have roaming activated when you go abroad - you know it's going to cost you an arm and a leg, but hey, you can use your beloved mobile to phone home at the push of a button - and what's more comforting than that (even if it is just to ask how the weather is and what time it is!! Ricky Gervais eat your heart out).

However, there is a very cool concept in Barcelona which can save you many Euro cents. If you live here you'll know that (my estimate) 90% of Telefonica public phone booths don't work or swallow your money (further proof can be seen by savvy drunks walking around bashing public phones waiting for the fruit machine to "drop").

Solution? Welcome to the "locutorio". In Barcelona there are loads of locutorios (not it's no reference to madmen), and none more so than in Cuitat Vella - the highest population of immigrants need to be able to call home right?! Some immigrants have not enough money for a mobile/papers to get one, so in steps the locutorios.
I have no idea how the system works, and I'm fairly convinced that it involves line tapping on the part of telefonica (but they have such a huge monopoly here, that they don't care) but the idea is based around a shop with various little talk booths. You go in, make the call, talk for as long as you need to/want to without franticly hearing the "beep beep beep" and dropping all your coins before the line cuts out, and then pay when you leave - which comes the pleasant surprise. The rates are normally advertised on the window - but even so, who times a call?! Most mobile phones are fitted with a call time function - probably the least used function! The price is very cheap indeed. The locutorios are on a winner - they're always full, and always with long distance calls. It's like "low-cost" spread to other sectors.

I say good on them, and especially if telefonica loses out on it (although in the long run I'm sure they don't!) and I love the multi-cultural feel of a locutorio. How many languages can you hear in 20m2?!

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Local festivals - El Raval

The great thing about Barcelona is that although it's a city, and every city is made up of neighbourhoods, Barcelona's neighbourhoods have their own style and character, and this is something I'm still impressed by. Each neighbourhood has their own special dates for celebrating their own little area, and they more than often don't co-incide, meaning that there's a festival in Barcelona (of some scale) almost every month - and I'm not talking about the Sonar, La Merce, Christmas/Kings day celebrations, San Joan, the list could go on...

Three typical "barrios" known for their local festivals are Gracia, Barceloneta and Poble Sec. I suppose this has got to do with the size of the streets, and the compact nature of the planning - especially in Barceloneta and Gracia. The Gracia festival is amazing - they decorate the streets with very ornate paper-mache-style figures and lots of decorations dangling from the buldings at either side, like a blanket of colour above you. Barceloneta is the same, with whole streets cordened off and stages set up for typical dances, childrens flamenco and the like.

However, one local barrio festival perhaps overlooked is that of the Raval. This is my neighbourhood and I have to say is given a hard time by the majority. Historically it has been a hotbed of crime, brothels, drugs and prostitution, but nowadays it is the most multicultural place on the planet (official figures released in 2006 showed the highest number of local immigrants in such a small space as any other place in the world), and although it still has it's seedy parts, and the odd few prostitutes, I know of equally as dangerous places in Barcelona when it comes to petty crime.

This weekend has celebrated the Raval local festival, and although I haven't had time to see it all, I know that there were historical photos on display (the old prison on Calle Reina Amalia, where the new apartments are being built!), there were free concerts all weekend, the local market - all local designers with clothes, bags and other accesories - was buzzing all weekend, and then today saw the ever-amazing human castles. These are usually always associated with La Merce festival, and are braodcast on TV, etc. but judging by today's crowds, not many people knew it was going on, and I like that about it - it made it more for us: the people of the neighbourhood.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the formation so up close, and saw little techniques used as well which gave me an insight. The first guy on the bottom, who hold the most weight for example, bites the end of the collar of his shirt very tightly in either side of his mouth. This seemed puzzling at the time, but then it's so that everyone else climbing up his back don't slip on the cotton of his shirt! Ingenious!!
There were a few variations, and what better backdrop than the new Barcelo Raval hotel, which seems to be finally reaching it's end of construction.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Catalan Pride

Not everybody knows that Barcelona being the Capital of Catalonia means that it has 2 official languages - Catalan and Castellano (common spanish to you and I). Speakers of neither could well pass a few days here and not even notice the difference, as they are both similar Latin languages. Catalan is a mix of Spanish and French if you listen to it, or even if you read it - for example everything on the metro is in 3 languages, Catalan, Spanish and English, so it's easy to see the small differences.

The Catalans are a fiercely proud nation, and many shops will remind you with notices in the window "Catalonia is not Spain" - as they seek to gain their independence from the government. The language is a great way for them to try and express their desire for separation, and indeed, many people - even if they can tell you are a foreigner trying to speak Spanish - will always only speak to you in Catalan. They think that it's their country, their language, so you should speak it. Fair enough, but if you're making an effort to speak a language that they understand, at least come half way?!

Another favourite way to show off their Catalan pride is with bumper stickers on cars. I have mentioned this in a previous post. The black sillhouette of a Bull is a typical emblem of Spain, so to mock this, the Catalans have embraced another animal indigenous to Catalunya instead. Trot forward the donkey. similar to Catalan, it was close to extinction in the Franco era, but now has a blossoming population, so I'm told. Various versions of this donkey have been coined - a donkey mounting a bull, for example, and vice versa outside of Catalunya.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bills Bills Bills

One of the main concerns for everyone at the moment is the seemingly endless rise in bills and utilities. Mortgage rates shot up 5 times this year, and are supposedly going to continue to do so. The strain on everyone is showing, but not as much as you would think. Bars are still full (according to the press, people just drink one "cubata" less!), and Barcelona is buzzing with tourists.

Fecsa Endesa, the main electricity company also announced a rise of almost 9% in electricity bills - something the air-conditioned shops will have to take into account as well as every one of us, too. They are also going to start sending bills on a monthly basis, instead of each quarter - I suppose to lighten the load and for you to be able to at least pre-empt the following month's total!

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