Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Don't bite the hand that feeds you!!

I've noticed over the years of living in Barcelona as an ex-pat, that the Catalans like to complain. I mean, everyone complains and more often than not we have our innate human right to complain about something.
I remember for example being absolutely amazed at the sights in Barcelona just a few days after the "War on Terror" and the invasion on Iraq. People would coordinate for 21h and bang pots and pans outside their windows, honk horns (if you were on the way back from work and hadn't had the chance to get back to your kitchen)and this would go on for at least 20 minutes, at first for successive days. This struck me as a very humanitarian episode, but at the same time a futile exercise. Who is going to hear you? The Spanish government, maybe (it made the news for a few days), the people or the soldiers in Iraq? I doubt it.

And this has gone on ever since - not so much the pots and pans banging, but many manifestations and gripes about one thing or the other. My family and I were out walking one Sunday, and happened upon a group holding up traffic on Las Ramblas. Problem was, as much as I tried to read 15 metre-long the banners they were holding, one end was held by a person smoking and chatting and the other was at least 5/6 steps behind making it almost impossible for anyone to read just what they were complaining about. Unfortunately I have no hard evidence to show for these ramblings, but I do have two new ones, which again strike me as odd. I may well ruffle a few feathers here, so beware.

The recent festivities of "La Merçe" festival for me have been the longest in recent memory. I think the fact that the actual feast day of Our Lady of Mercy this year fell on a Wednesday made the whole festivities stretch out that bit longer. Events started on the previous Thursday, and continued right up until the fireworks on Montjüic on Wednesday night. A typical stroll though the Gothic Quarter on this week is a great way to visit Barcelona and appreciate its popularity - with residents and tourists alike. So, lo and behold, what do we see on every free space available on walls but "flyers/posters" in (it has to be said fairly arty) protest to the activity brought about by La Merçe.

The poster says "Neighbours - a species in danger of extinction". Now, I know that there is a high proportion of tourism be it hotels or Barcelona apartments for rent within the old town, but it's the centre of the city, so it's to be expected. Spain's main income (and that includes Catalunya) is from Tourism, and according to the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism of Spain, Catalunya (read Barcelona) has the Lion's share of this influx. There are so many low cost airlines arriving daily to BCN, Reus and Girona, it's impossible to keep up!

Another poster that I saw today caught my attention. This was also a prostest, but against the whole system - the poster invites you to "celebrate 20 years of social and urban destrucion...dirty war...mobbing (what the Barcelonans have dubbed as aggressive estate agencies hounding you out of your home), tourist exploits..." you get the idea. This protest was to be housed on the Rambla del Raval - just as the new 4 star (well overdue) Barcelo Raval hotel opened it's doors. I don't think anyone would disagree that the new hotel will shine like a beacon in the new Raval (kind of like the original idea of the rambla del raval) and that it can only have a positive effect on the area. The new Filmoteca is underway (again, well overdue), and it's great to see development in the middle of the Raval, to follow suit with upper Raval (MACBA, CCCB, etc.) The poster depicts the new hotel as a backdrop to slums and a cheesy yougster smiling in the foreground.

I suppose the puzzling thing is that all of these new improvements are geared towards the end user - which is not always the tourist. This summer has seen an amazing amount of new "bicing" points scattered around the city (in fact you can't go too far without finding a new one), not to mention huge overhauls in bike lanes and the removal of Zona Blau (zone parking). How is all of this funded? Tax payers - main income = tourism. Many, many industries thrive on Barcelona tourism (and I'm not talking about the tourist shops dotted along las Ramblas) and not just the hotels. I sympathise with the house pricing in Barcelona which according to minimum wage is an absolute joke, but to generalise the whole system as including tourism as a negative aspect, I find ridiculous. Just ask Madrid how tourism and businesses were affected after the atrocious bombings - this is by no means a "be careful what you wish for" message - just a confused foreigner in the old town, maybe missing the point.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Last chance of the summer for La Terrrazza!!

Barcelona has got some cool clubs. Everyone knows that. It's a shame that recent public complaints have had an adverse effect on some of the best clubs in Barcelona - or maybe not the best but the best fun! For example, not long ago "La Paloma" on Calle Tigre was a favourite haunt to step back in time and watch the ballroom dancers worm the floor for the ravers, in an old style theatre/Moulin rouge setting (as an aside, the real Barcelona Moulin rouge - El Molino - is also undergoing a bit of a facelift currently). Sadly La Paloma has gone.

Another cheesy but always full place - Baja Beach - has made way for Opium down on the beach front - cue sighs and groans from all the stag and hen parties. It also seems the Discoteque, although name changing to new club D and the like did nothing for it in the normal location of poble Español has also recently moved to Space's venue up on Calle Tarragona.

So it's great when one of the classic clubs manages to keep going. I'm talking about La Terrrazza. This is also in Poble Español, and right next to the old Discoteque, and has had it's fair share of troubles in the past. A couple of summers ago, it didn't open - sufficient complaints from the Montjüic/Poble Sec residents had managed to ruffle the feathers of the council, and soundproofing was allegedly installed (although I have no idea where, as it's an open air club!).

Well, anyway, this weekend sees the last night of the "summer" (so lets not hope for rain) in the über-cool club. Partying along under the stars is a privilege not many clubs in Barcelona can boast to having and it's sure to be a great end to the season. See you there!!

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Barcelona Graffiti

This is all about Barcelona Graffiti. Certain cities in the world are renowned for their graffiti - I remember being handed a leaflet as a backpacker in New York City years ago with "10 free things to see in NYC" and one of them was to take the "X" train (can't remember, sorry) to see the amazing graffiti. Now Barcelona is not far behind with some amazing artwork, especially at designated places that the artists are let free - bottom of Paralello going round to Montjüic and the Parc de 3 chimineas nearby are 2 great examples, but there's some local graffiti that you can just as easily see, and this is more than legit - it's even paid for.

It's funny, as I've actually been preparing this post for a while, as the pics I'm going to add speak more than the words I could add to describe, and recently Barcelona Metropolitan had the exact same feature but obviously more in depth and with interviews, etc.

The idea is that local shop owners are sick of having drab, stupid scrawls and signatures on their already grey metal shutters at night, so what better way to combat this than siding with the enemy, and getting a graffiti ad for your bar/shop/venture. This is obviously at a prime in the old town, especially Raval and the Gothic quarter, and as the graffiti code goes, you never graffiti over another artists work, so the result is a great peice of modern art, an ad for your business if you happen to be closed at the time people pass by, and also pretty much a guarantee of saving yourself from gritty scrawls and nonsense in the meantime.

There are so many I see when out and about that I love, and I'm probably going to add to this as I see more that impress me, but here are a few. Enjoy.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Best Barcelona Bars - part 3

La Confiteria. Located on Calle Sant Pau, this is a bar unto its own, and is (as the name suggests) an old sweet shop. The windows on either side of the main entrance are rented out (very cheaply) to local artists and sculpters, who fare their trade with paper mache giraffes, mini theatres, and other such beauties as an enticement to get you into the bar. There are some really cool things on offer, with a great price tag.
The facade of the bar is amongst some great neighbours - the old barbers shop 2 doors down bought recently by English hair stylist Anthony Llobet, retains all the charm of a 50's barber shop and the bar "Ultramarinos" in between is another great example of old Catalan bars with the mirrored black shop front, and narrow wooden bar - this used to be an old style grocery store, with tins of conserve and canned fish behind the counter with your typical elderly and over helpful gentleman helping to fill your brown paper bag for you.

La Confiteria is also like a step back in time, with it's aging bottles of potions and grog on display behind the bar with the rock and roll owners happy to serve a cafe con leche or an aguardiente, depending on the time of day you visit. There have been 7 or 8 movie scenes and TV commercials shot in both Llobet's barber shop and La Confiteria over recent years (Gas natural was the latest) as Barcelona's taxes for films is lower than most and as their facility for film-makers increases, so does the already hip atmosphere running through Barcelona. Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" shot in Barcelona last summer, recently opened here.

La Confiteria is on the end of Calle Sant Pau with Ronda sant Pau, metro Paral·lel.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Barcelona's Gothic Quarter

Barcelona has many fantastic neighbourhoods, but the oldest, and perhaps most stunning for it's architecture and history is the gothic quarter, or "Barri Gotic". Barcelona was founded by the Romans atop the hill Mont Taber and was originally called Barcino. Las Ramblas, which runs through the old town, used to be a river, and the area which is now the Raval used to be countryside. Indeed the oldest church in Barcelona is in El Raval, Sant Pau del Camp (Saint Paul of the countryside).

Half way along the river that is now Ramblas, stood the old city gates - made from Iron and with the watering troughs for the thirsty horses. This can still be seen today at Calle Portaferrissa (literally "Iron door") - one of the city's main shopping streets.

The Gothic Quarter has some fantastic examples of Gothic architecture including the Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral, The Palau de la Generalitat with it's impressive chapel of Sant Jordi, and of course the city's main cathedral.

Many walking tours will take you along the old streets of the gothic quarter, where Roman ruins sit alongside brand new shops and some of the best and oldest restaurants in Barcelona. No visit to the gothic Quarter is complete without a trip into the Plaça Reial, with it's palm trees and fountain, as well as some of the first works to be comissioned by the famous Antonin Gaudi - the lamp posts. This is a favourite spot at any time of day or night to people watch and has an old antiques market on a Sunday, too, with coin collectors, stamps and other such collectables making you feel like you're back in the time of the "shadow of the wind".

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Monday, September 8, 2008

Barcelona Post Office.

This might seem like a very random post, but I think that the main post office building on the corner of Via Laeitana is a great building and is often neglected to be mentioned in guide books, for example - who could blame them with so many great architectural masterpieces in Barcelona!

I have seen at least 4 camera crews outside the Post Office (always a Sunday) filming either film scenes or TV ads. One recent one saw a real Red London bus, and 3 people dressed in 50's attire repeatedly running up the stairs as if they were late for the Theatre.

And it's just that feel when you go inside - not a theatre, but almost a step back in time. The inside is huge and although almost all of the windows are not used, you can imagine in the heyday that there would have been hoards of people collecting packages recently arrived from the port, or ready to send things away.
If it wasn't for the modern day "de-du-luh" of the next number you've taken to be attended and the odd billboard for Movistar or Vodafone, then the dimly lit main hall is very atmospheric and really does take you back - I find it's very rarely busy, too (or maybe that's just me) which makes it quiet and even more like taking a step back in time.

If you happen to pass by, take a stroll up the steps and have look inside. the glass cupola gives almost all the illumination, and is a real beauty.

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

La Merce Festival - 24th September

September sees the dreaded return to work of most people, back to school and college and the end of the summer to an extent (although the weather is usually still sunny, just cooler which is a welcome break!). However, September also has a couple of holidays to make the return back not too hard. September 11th is "La Diada" or the Day of Catalan nationalism. This is always a public holiday (well, since 1980), and a good little break, as it's an excuse to nip down to Barceloneta for a Paella.

However by far the biggest celebration in the second half of the year, is the festival week celebrating one of the Patron saints of Barcelona, Our Lady of Mercy - La Merçe. This week long festival embraces the city, and it still very much the people's festival. It is hardly advertised outside Barcelona itself (not even in other parts of Catalunya) and every year the programmes are only printed in Catalan and Spanish (never English) - perhaps another indication of why they want to keep it as exclusive as possible. Events happen all over the city, and "plaças" fill with stages and podiums, bunting and portaloos, and it really is a great time to see some great free concerts. In recent years bands like Travis have performed - in the old Damm factory - for free, and other international as well as local bands and musicians like Jamie Cullum, for example.

The festival also features the always-spectacular human towers we are so used to seeing in other fairs and festivals and there is the fantastic "correfoc" or fire-run, where fire-breathing dragons run through the streets of the Gothic Quarter at night.

So far details are sketchy for the line-ups, so I may well post again closer to the date but early indications seem to suggest another great year with bands such as Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub, Kinky Beat and a few others all ready to join in the fun.

Families and friends fortunate enough to co-incide with this week of festivities will not be disappointed, and it's always wise to book Barcelona Accommodation well in advance.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Barcelona 080 fashion

Everyone knows that Barcelona is a mecca for fashion. Forget the Italians - the Catalans do it just as good. Well known brands like Tous are instantly recognisable on almost every woman's handbag around the streets and recently secured the services of Kylie Minogue for their publicity campaigns. Another great designer - the only spanish designer to have a shop on New York's fifth avenue, and to boast the cast of US sit-com "friends" as models in an episode is Custo.

This week sees the start of Barcelona 080 fashion show - a springboard funded by the Catalan government to showcase the newest and hippest designers. 12 local designers (all Barcelona-based) and 5 guests are showcasing this fair to be held from the 3rd to 5th September at the Fira de Barcelona. What better way to shed those back-to-work blues than browsing the newest fashions and supporting local talent.

Images courtesy of 080 website.

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