Monthly Archives: April 2012

Saddle up: Bicing and Biking in Barcelona

Forgive us Barcelonistas if we gave Londoners a patronising smile as they waxed lyrical about the whole Boris Bikes scheme that seemed to have Brits in fits of ecstasy not so long ago. Here in Barcelona we’ve had a city bike scheme since 2007. I’m not trying to say that makes us cooler than them (well maybe a little bit), and in fact even us BCN-dwelling folk must doff our caps off to the residents of Amsterdam who first came up with the idea waaaaaaaayyyy back in 1965 (Google the Provo movement for more!). These days it seems every major city has one, from Montreal to Melbourne.

Barcelona’s city bike scheme is called Bicing (pronounced “bee-sing”) and if you haven’t seen the red and white critters, either stationary at their, erm, stations, or on the move, then you must have been walking around the city with a labrador and white cane. They’re everywhere, kinda nifty and cool looking and it must be said damn practical. Simply turn up to a station hold your Bicing card up to the thingamebobby and then wait for said thingamebobby to alert you which number bike you can grab from the rack. After that you’ve got 30 minutes (I believe!) to make your journey and deposit your two-wheeled wonder at a different designated parade.

Apart from a 45 euro annual fee for the card itself and charges if you spend longer than the 30 mins on a journey, the bikes are free and the fact that you don’t have to lock them up and worry about them (thieves are the plight of Barcelona!) makes them very handy. Are there any draw backs? Damn right they are!

The biggest drawback, as far as travellers are concerned, is that you need to have a NIE number (probably need a separate post on that… but it’s an ID number for foreigners that requires a bit of running around to obtain) to get a Bicing card, which basically makes them inaccessible to the casual tourist. Although, if that happens to be you, then Barcelona is full of bike shops where you can hire bikes, so don’t fret!

For those living here who are able to get the card the biggest irritations are:

a) no f@ckin’ bicycles at your nearest station! And yes you’re always in a hurry when that happens
b) no space left at the station nearest your destination, cue cycling around for ages trying to find an empty slot and running another 20 minutes late
c) getting a really crap bike with no breaks and a saddle jammed so high only a giraffe could pedal it.
d) station refusing to accept your bike, in which case you have to phone the non-English-speaking support staff and see what they can do. Cue practicing your Spanish!

In mitigation a) and b) happen on rather predictable routes, so you should soon learn when to expect a surfeit / shortage of bikes on the stops you regularly use, and line up some back up plans, or allow for extra time on those journeys. For c) I saw the other day that you obviously have a short time limit simply to return the bike to the station and pick another one (some Catalan geezer tested the brakes of about five before finally driving off and letting me take the space he had vacated!). And d) doesn’t happen often.

Having finally got my own card the other day I must say the pros are definitely outweighing the cons, esp. now as the summer is arriving and I don’t want to be stuck in the metro!

As mentioned, if you are not eligible for a run on the Bicing system then simply rent a set of wheels and set forth. Barcelona is a fantastic city for biking around (flat, great weather, amazing districts!) and if you’re not sure where to go then there’s a gazillion backpacker-style companies that offer guided tours on two wheels – and even the odd hip alternative bike tour if you know where to look!

Or why not go the whole hog and head off on a cycling holiday of Catalonia, maybe taking in Sitges (flat) and Montserrat (mountainous). Nothing like returning from your hols with thighs of iron.

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Calcotada… Onions, Wine and Moonwalking

“What the Fr3k is a calcotada?” I hear you ask! Ah well let’s not run before we can walk: to answer that question first I’d better explain what a calcot is… It’s a slightly oddball Catalan onion that is harvested from November to April, looks like a leek and tastes a lot sweeter than those bitter round things you find in Gary Linekar flavoured crisps.

By way of extension then, a calcotada is a feast(/mission) in which calcots are the main dish. Typically they are grilled over an open fire until char-black, at which point you peel off the skin, dip the succulent bulb in some Romesco sauce (a tangy local specialty) and then, holding the veggie by its green leaves, dangle it into your mouth and munch off the edible bit.

Know your Catalan onions

I’ve been hanging around Barcelona for a couple of years now and calcotadas – which can take place any time during calcot season, but most commonly in February in March – seem to take one of two forms. One, an expensive, all-inclusive meal in a posh (faux-)rural restaurant; or two a big outdoors BBQ, either in a designated public place or simply round someone’s house. Both should take place somewhere in the Catalan countryside, outside Barcelona to be considered the real deal.

So far I’ve signed up for the latter option, ever since the Calcotada of 2011 took us to Sant Sadurni D’Anoia in the Penedes region and more specifically the winery of Cava Blancher. Here you can reserve a table for ten people for 17 euros or so, plus a minimum spend of 6 bottles of Cava a table. So another 30 euros. But you do get a great place to grill as many calcots and as much meat as you can carry so it’s not such a bad deal at all…

Textbook use of the porron

The last two years me and my amigos have enjoyed muchas merriment of the primero order and the fact that you can hire a porron from the winery definitely aids and abets the party vibe… these glass vessels make doing the “dentist’s chair” a piece of pie, and before you know it you’re be ordering another six bottles of Cava for your table and wondering why you can’t walk straight. (Hint: you might want to come back this way for a bit of wine tasting!)

As for the calcots themselves… whatever. Slightly overrated IMHO, but they’re just really an excuse for a winter/spring-time BBQ and a great outdoors party. If you want to make your own Calcotada a little more Fr3ky then I suggest throwing in a moonwalk competition and then heading off to the central square of Sant Sandurni D’Anoia to challenge the local kids at football… in which case try not to kill any passing old ladies!

Who's bad? Moonwalk 2012 winner...