Category Archives: My Life

Getting Out Of The City

Right-i-o, it’s been a while. The truth is that my extended vacation around Brazil earlier in the year has left me on the back foot ever since in terms of catching up with work! So there’s a lesson for any freelancers out there… never ever go on holiday. It’s just not worth it.

One thing I did find time for was exploring outside of Barcelona. I guess it’s only natural that after several years in a place you are going to get bored of it, so it made sense for me this year to take the opportunity to step outside the city whenever possible…. here’s a list of the day trips and weekends away I enjoyed in 2014.

Sant Feliu to Girona Bike Ride (May)

Four guys, four bikes and not much of a plan, is always a great recipe for adventure and so it was we set off from Barcelona by bus to Sant Feliu, our rented bikes in the hold, after much arguing with a particularly miserable driver. Here we made our way along the so called “Green-Way” or “The Carrilet”, a one time rail track that has been turned into a cycling path, along which several of the old stations had been converted into wine bars. It was slightly uphill to Girona, our final destination, but with a beery picnic midway through, we found the energy to cover the 35km or so, passing through many a beautiful field and several picturesque villages en route. At the end of the ride there was just time for a nap in the hostel before heading out to explore the (disappointingly sleepy) Girona nightlife. Still we managed to have fun!

Trip Score: 8/10

The awesome foursome on the "Green Way" to Girona

The awesome foursome on the “Green Way” to Girona

Tossa de Mar Romantic Weekend (September)

I’ve stared enviously as way too many photos of stunning Costa Brava coves for way too long, whilst barely stepping foot on “The Wild Coast”. It was time to rectify that with a romantic weekend with my gf. As I was paying I selected the “economical” one star Windsor Hotel, which despite its budget pretensions had a wonderful swimming pool, a slap up breakfast buffet and a great location just near the old fortress and city beach. The sun refused to shine on our first day so we took advantage of the tennis courts at the hotel’s sister accommodation up the road, and followed that up with a pool photo shoot (had to test out the new camera!). On the second day we hiked along the coast through beautiful pine forest overlooking those photogenic craggy Costa Brava bays, finally arriving at the delightful Cala Pola for a sunbathe and a swim. By night and we dined like kings with nearly every restaurant offering a four course menu for €11 to €17. A resounding success.

Trip Score: 9/10

A typically craggy cove on the Costa Brava

A typically craggy cove on the Costa Brava

Sitges Birthday Weekend (September)

My girlfriend and I were kindly put up for one night at the four star Alenti Hotel, in one of the biggest and most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept on. Sadly – despite it being my birthday – the weather Gods were on poor form indeed with a deluge of Biblical proportions preventing any fun exploring on our first day. On our second the skies brightened up and we took a long walk northwards, past a gay nudist beach, over the marina and took a second breakfast (some delicious pastries appropriated from our first breakfast at Alenti… now slightly squashed!) on a patch of grass watching surfers riding the waves on a rough bay. There was time on the way back to stop off for a very VIP soft drink lounging on an Ibiza-style club couch overlooking the sea at restaurant Vivero, which was a nice highlight of a too short weekend. (For more on Sitges check out this post about the town’s raucous Carnival celebrations).

Trip Score: 7/10

Looking back over Sitges

Looking back over Sitges

Return To Tossa (November)

An invitation to check out the sensational Casa Granados was one we couldn’t refuse, even if we’d been to Tossa just a few weeks beforehand! Plus it was my girlfriend’s birthday and how better to spoil her than in this luxurious four star mansion that once belonged to the famous Catalan musician Enric Granados? The place is classy indeed, with a curvaceous pool, open air bar with views over Tossa and rooms tastefully decorated with every mod con. Sadly at this time of year not only are the days short but the town was closed for business pretty much… we struggled to even find a restaurant open on a Saturday night! Although in the end we did find a nice one and it even was showing La Liga… my girlfriend was delighted. She forgave me after I ran her a hot bath in our hotel suite and we enjoyed some midnight Cava and chocolates.

Trip Score: 8/10

The Catalan flag flying over Tossa

The Catalan flag flying over Tossa

Tearing Around Tarragona (December)

La Liga de los Ciclistas Extraordinarios reconvened in December for what was supposed to be a pleasant, easy-going jaunt around Tarragona and the surrounding countryside. Luckily the bike rental company issued us with mountain bikes as we sped off to see the celebrated Puente del Diablo (awesome UNESCO-listed Roman aqueduct outside the city) and found ourselves dirt tracking over flooded and rocky roads and over thigh-burning hills. We really should have worn helmets, because the going was treacherous and tough indeed. After lunch on top of the aqueduct (reminiscent of the four musketeers’ breakfast on the bastion) we fumbled our way through the forest to the coast with just 45 mins or so to go before sunset. My rather sensible suggestion that, as we didn’t have any lights or even high visibility clothing, we should get back to Tarragona before dark was heavily derided and so we went, cycling along the wet sand, in the opposite direction to Waikiki beach. Entry is through some wooded rocks only but we cycled as far as we could, then clambered down into this beautiful bay, just in time for sunset and a well deserved beer and some photos. The journey home was hardly pleasant or safe, but hey we made it. As in Girona, there was time for a nap and then a big night out. Great times!

Trip Score: 9/10

We ate our lunch on top of this, the Devil's Bridge

We ate our lunch on top of this, the Devil’s Bridge

So there you go, a few trips to imitate or not as you please, but hopefully some inspiration at least to go and see the great sights surrounding Barcelona in every direction. More weekend and day trip ideas right here.

Rio… it’s nice, but it’s no Barcelona

So guess who just got back from Brazil? Yep a little bit of studying Portuguese in Rio de Janeiro, a bit of Carnival in Recife / Olinda, and then some travelling around the south, to natural wonders like the island of Ilha Grande and the spectacular cascading beauty of Iguazu Falls…

So anyway, there I was, sitting on the beach in Ipanema, with my amiga, Karina (with whom I used to live a couple of years back in Poble Sec – in Flat number 2), probably – along with Copacabana – the most famous city beach in the world, when we both looked at each other and went… “meh”.

Not too shabby... but wouldn't you rather be in Catalonia?

Not too shabby… but wouldn’t you rather be in Catalonia?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice spot, but I guess in Barcelona we are just too damned spoiled. Ipanema, with the Dois Irmois mountains rearing up at one end and its long stretch of natural sands, is certainly more beautiful than Barceloneta, or any of the Catalan capital’s other city beaches; but here in Brazil the sun was too hot, the water effing freezing, and the people – both I and Karina agreed – a lot less easy on the eye. (I don’t care how small your thong is, if you’re 120kg it ain’t sexy). Karina was somehow less fussed, but I also couldn’t help wistfully recall that in Spain topless sunbathing is also a lot more common (in Brazil it’s illegal in fact, as far as I can tell).

So having set these two great coastal cities up against each other, let’s look in a little more detail at the pros and cons of both, a bit like in my Amsterdam vs. Barcelona post, from a couple of years back.

Weather

Well I was only in Rio for three summer weeks, and whilst I like the heat it was too def. too hot even for me! Sitting on the beach before 4pm, without an parasol, was akin to torture. Plus, when the sun wasn’t beating down, it rained a helluva lot. Meanwhile Rio de Janeiro’s mild winters might be nice for some people, but little in terms of changing of seasons (at least from what I understand) strikes me as being a bit boring. Barcelona meanwhile has got just about the perfect climate. Loads of sunshine, but only a couple of months where the mercury can rise a bit uncomfortably high, plus just enough of a winter for you to appreciate summer all the more. One, nothing, BCN.

Looks

This is a no brainer. Rio may have those majestic mountains and dramatic beaches, but architecturally speaking and even the nice areas look like Barcelona’s ghettoes, whilst its ghettoes (of which there are many) are, predictably, puss-filled eyesores… albeit fascinating ones, with surprisingly good vibes and parties. The legendary Copacabana district is just mile upon mile of high rise flats and hotels, whilst Centro has at most “a scattering” of nice-ish buildings. Overall I’d say Rio scores a paltry and highly disappointing 2/10 for architecture, vs. a pretty much perfect 10 from Barcelona, which combines Gothic beauty and modern marvels (W-Hotel, Torre Agbar, MACBA and @22) with its signature Modernista look, orchestrated by Antoni Gaudi, Domenech i Montaner and chums. What’s more Barcelona also has the coast, Montjuic mountain plus Collserola range in the background, so even when you factor in Mother Nature in Rio’s favour, I’m scoring this Rio 5/10, Barcelona 9.5/10 – and therefore 2 zip to BCN.

Nightlife

Things get a bit closer in the nightlife section as Rio has a raw energy and excitement that Barcelona simply can’t match. The nightly congregation in Lapa district of both princes and paupers intent on revellry, the sheer unpretentious authenticity of clubs like Rio Scenarium or Democraticos, that are not following any trend, but are busy being uniquely Brazilian, are hard to beat. And then of course there’s Carnaval… a party beyond a party that stretches into a way of life for almost four weeks (forget the official “four days” cited by your guidebook). Still the entrance fees for some of the clubs – ironically the most boring/identikit ones – were ridiculous, you have to take a taxi everywhere (and Rio is huge!) for safety reasons, you have to present your ID at almost every club so they can log your details (tedious!), plus you get a bullshit card for drinks and have to pay on the way out (crap system!). Overall I think I prefer Barcelona’s nightlife for accessibility, price and diversity, but I’m gonna call it a draw because that’s just me getting old and lazy.

People

I’d been told many times that the Cariocas are very friendly, but breaking down the locals into the two genders (I’ll risk the wrath of LGBT campaigners and ignore the ladyboys of Lapa for now… suffice to say they were a little too friendly) and I’ll say the men were only particularly friendly when they wanted to hit on the girls I was with, the gay men when they wanted to hit on me, and the Rio girls were not especially friendly at all. I tend to find in countries where guys aggressively hit on women the whole time (basically all latin cultures, if you’ll excuse the lazy stereotyping) girls are standoffish, because basically they have to be, to stop every mofo hitting on them. This was definitely the case in Brazil where the ladies were pretty lukewarm for the most part. (I’m sure it would be different if I had more Brazilian friends and was being introduced as a persona grata… but most of the time I was hanging around with international people from the language school I was studying at and any interactions with Brazilian women were as a stranger). Anyhow Catalans are not much better… I can count on one hand my Catalan friends in BCN, as they tend to keep themselves to themselves, so I’ll just put this down as a draw too. Who knows, maybe I just need to improve my social skills?

Crime

My biggest gripe with Barcelona is the constant state of paranoid alertness one needs to be in to fend off the plague of pickpockets that afflict the city and shows no sign of abating. This however pales into insignificance versus the very real threat of Rio of being held up by knifepoint or gunpoint. I only really felt safe walking around at night in Ipanema and Copacabana, and even then I’ve been told I shouldn’t have been walking around in Copacabana. It’s not quite as bad as some people make out… I escaped Brazil without incident after 3 weeks in Rio and 7 in the country… but you can never quite relax.

Things to To

In Barcelona there’s always a vintage market, gallery opening, craft beer festival, street party, open air cinema or electronic picnic to attend… plus there’s the beaches, mountains, wine region (don’t forget the winter/spring pilgrimmage that is the Calcotada!). You can never be bored in Barcelona! It’s hard for me to judge Rio on this one… with all the tourist stuff I was trying to do, plus learn a bit of Portuguese and attend all the Carnaval parties I was rushed off my feet! But would there be the same amount of fun events for a resident living year around in the city? I’m guessing no… whilst hipsterdom can be a bit tedious, not to mention pretentious, at times, undoubtedly it has led to an amazing array of original events and new trends in Barcelona that tend to only happen in cutting edge “first world” cities like London, Berlin, New York and BCN. There’s no poetry brothel in Brazil!

Language

I’ve been in Barcelona several years and famously (amongst my polyglottal friends) failed to master Spanish. The lack of linguistic purity in the city (many residents of course speak Catalan as their first tongue, whilst a not inconsiderable number speak Mandarin, Punjabi, English, German, French as theirs) hardly helps matters. Brazilian Portuguese is a very sexy language and I love the Carioca accent. Moreover were I to move to Rio, I would actually need to speak Portuguese… unlike in Barcelona, where English gets me around almost without a hiccup. I’ll give this one to Rio.

So there you go… 5:2 and, even if the scoreline is a fraction misleading, this has turned into quite a comprehensive victory for the Catalan capital. I half expected to fall in love with the samba city and settle down to a new life coaching the Brazilian women’s volleyball team, whilst writing the sequel to Blame It On Rio in my spare time. However it was a case of absence makes the heart grow stronger, and even in the face of undoubtedly one of the most magnificent cities in the world (…and any negativity about Rio is purely relative!), Barcelona simply kicks way too much culo to think about leaving just yet.

Noise Annoys

Right, time to come back atchya with a bitch and a moan. Maybe it’s because I’m very hungover and grumpy on a dark and wet Friday evening, but today finds me in fine spleen-venting fettle, so prepare for an extremely personal and heartfelt top five – in reverse order – of the most irritating noise polluters in Barcelona.

5) Motorbikes
…or c@ntmobiles at they should be called. It’s pretty obvious that every asshole that rides one of these penis-compensators is so absolutely attention-starved (no friends at school?) that they need to let the whole world know whenever they and their big fat noisy engine are leaving the house – as if somehow their life will become meaningful if they are able to disturb the entire neighbourhood whenever popping out for the groceries. Easily the most selfish, narcissistic and pathetically macho mobiles ever invented, motorbikes and their owners would probably feature higher on this list if it wasn’t for the fact that every time I am disturbed by one of these thundering dildo riders I get a grim satisfaction from knowing that one day they are going to have a serious and painful injury that will scar them for life. It’s called karma.

4) German karaoke
The general concept of karaoke, as far as I can tell, is to take a song that makes you want to sand your testicles off, with a cheese grater, and then make it EVEN MORE EXCRUCIATING by letting a bunch of drunken talentless gimps howl the chorus behind time and murder the verses with embarrassingly inaccurate versions of the actual lyrics. Imagine when this audio horror is translated to the world’s most cantankerous language and even the best tracks on the playlist make Wet Wet Wet’s Love Is All Around seem like Mozart’s 5th Symphony. Dante would need to update his Inferno. Again I would probably place German karaoke higher, but any torture enforced by those lovely hot-pant-wearing (ex)housemates of mine is alleviated by reminiscing on their luscious legs parading about the house. All is forgiven girls!

3) Guests
It’s one thing to be disturbed by your housemates, but at least they pay the rent and contribute to the bills, and you can tell them “shut the f@ck up you inconsiderate bastard, it’s 5 o’clock in the morning and I have to be up at noon tomorrow.” Guests on the other hand are another matter. Yes, technically speaking, one of your idiotic housemates, in a poorly judged show of human decency, probably invited in said guest(s) thereby giving them some kind of license to be in your personal space… but nonetheless (and please read this carefully should you ever find yourself in my house) YOU DON’T FUCKING LIVE HERE SO DON’T YOU DARE DISTURB ME FOR ONE MILLISECOND OR I’M GONNA STICK THIS PIECE OF SHIT SOLAR PANNELLED LED LAMP I BOUGHT FROM IKEA FOR 17 EUROS WHICH COULDN’T LIGHT UP A BARREL AND STICK IT UP YOUR RECTUM TO SEE IF AT LEAST IT WILL LIGHT UP YOUR @SS.

2) Construction
Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!! Pretty much my all time pet hatred. It’s soul sapping. There’s just nothing you can do. The drilling, the hammering, the squealing, the whining, it cuts through everything, vibrates in the walls, through your bed, oscillating through your ear plugs right into your skull, where it continues to bash your soporofic brain forcing you against all your instincts to get up… except you can’t. It’s 8am in the morning and you were watching back to back episodes of Game of Thrones until 5:23am and now your dead body, assaulted whilst defenseless in the depths of REM sleep, is caught in a limbo of sonar sufferance, unable to move or break free. You just lie there willing, begging, praying for the drilling to stop. And sometimes it does. Just for a few minutes… just enough for your body to return to a blissful comatose state, before the inexorable inevitable inhuman noise starts up again even louder than before.

1) Ex-Housemate’s Heavy Metal
It’s one issue when something impersonal annoys you, no matter how irritating it is, such as a bunch of yellow jacketed bozos ripping up the road with pneumatic drills. You can go and let them know what you think of their work, but ultimately it’s their job and there probably is at least a half decent reason they’re raising hell at unsociable hours of the morning – and the fact is they’d probably rather be in bed too. It doesn’t help you get any work done, or alleviate your sleep deprivation. It doesn’t change the basic situation that their activity is directly effecting your productivity – and therefore costing you money, as well as stress and annoyance. However somehow you grimace and bear it. Imagine now the very same level of decibels, the same relentless barrage of sound, the same tidal waves of audio terror, directed at you not by some government regulated force conducting necessary public works, but inflicted regularly and knowingly on you by your very own housemate. Then it becomes personal. I mean what the f@ck?!?!? I tried to reason with her. I told her about these new-fangled inventions called earphones that would enable her to listen to whatever she wanted to 24 hours a day without hearing a single complaint for me. I tried to explain that, as well as myself, the neighbours may not appreciate being told what to listen to and when to listen to it on a daily basis… and that in the same way no one appreciates being forced to look at, smell, taste or touch something they didn’t choose to (and you can in fact be locked up for some of these), neither do we, the poor people who live within her speaker range, want to listen to something we didn’t choose to at a time we didn’t want to it. It was ongoing and willful audio rape. The fact that 90% of her music sucked @ss was actually even besides the point, except perhaps that the excessive BPM of her playlists made the noise yet more painful to endure. Despite several well-reasoned showdowns nothing changed. When faced with someone so excessively stubborn and selfish as this, you really only have two options. Poison their cornflakes or move out…

Now, does anyone have any tips on paving over a patio?

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.

Flat Number 3

So just after two years after arriving in sunny Barcelona and I’m on the move again, this time to Flat 3#. Unlike flat number one, which was a complete hole, my previous pad (flat number two, for those not great at maths) will remain fondly remembered in the neuron corridors of the mnemonic section of my grey matter. Sure it also had cockroaches, which strangely only I saw, and never my housemates, and my room was only fractionally bigger than the Burmese prison cell that had been my first habitacion, and it was cold as hell during a surprisingly long winter, and something was always broken… hmmm come to think of it flat two didn’t start great. Casting the memory back I am now recollecting jumping in and out of a stream of water that alternated between boiling hot and ffffreezing cold for a good month before that was fixed. Then the fridge went. Then the second fridge went (have you ever tried to dump two fridge/freezers on the street? It’s a pain I can tell you!). And then the Internet broke. BUT there were plenty of good times too. Starting with lounging around with my two 25 year old German female housemate in hot pants (them not me), working in a light-filled lounge with balcony, popping up onto the rooftop terrace to sunbathe and look out over the whole city, and living in the hip but still unspoiled district of Poble Sec…

Maybe that’s why I chose my new place… it’s just down the road. Apart from meaning the move was relatively painless, it means I’ll still be able to pop for a drink on Carrer Blai, or to Cerveseria Jazz and Maumau Underground. Although not sure I’ll be going for any more runs on Montjuic without a pair of red hotpants to follow around the mountain. Somehow the incentive has gone.

So what’s the new place like? (I know you don’t actually care, but what are blogs for? Making your insignificant life seem important by publishing dreary minutiae from it on the internet in the deluded belief someone is reading it. Right? Well that’s what my blog is for). Since you asked it is pretty kick ass. The door is right off the street (no stairs:) and leads into a dim room that is ripe for conversion into mini home cinema. From there a corridor reveals three bedrooms, all of which have double beds. No more uncomfortable nights perching on the edge of the mattress on the rare occasions when hot chicas follow me round to my place. After that there’s a small lounge, a conservatory (almost) and – wait for it – a garden! A garden in Barcelona. Que raro! Ok it’s mainly a concrete garden but there are a number of small trees, a flowerbed and even a sun lounger. Shamon!

It remains to be seen how well I will get on with my new housemates as they are both away for August. In their place are a heavy metal chick with a hairless cat (creepy but cool) and two lesbians. Importantly all are Spanish, so you never know I might actually finally improve my language skills.

Festival Madness. Primavera + Sonar!

I don’t know about you, but I only have to hear the word ‘festival‘ and I start to feel ill. They normally end up as a gruelling test of stamina, when your body is pitted against alcohol, drugs, junk food and overexertion for an assault course lasting several days. The worst thing for me though is the lack of sleep.

Although in my 30+ years I’ve been known to party hard, at least part of the reason I’ve been able to do that is because whereas most people got up in the morning to play rugby for the school team, go to lectures, or head into the office, from my school days up to the present I always stayed in bed instead… allowing my body the full recovery it needed.

Freak out!

Festivals however rarely allow for that. I always get sucked in on the first day to the party atmosphere and, having drunk my way through the concerts, only leave the dance stage when they switch the music off, followed by a struggle back to my tent/apartment/house. Instead of a lie-in though the temptation is always to get up the next day as early as possible in an attempt to see that important concert and get the first beer of the day in. Things like breakfast and lunch quickly get bypassed, and before I know it my insides have been liquified, my ears are bleeding and my legs are knackered from too much dancing and walking between stages – always on the opposite sides of humungous fields.

So it was with Primavera Sound Festival. In some kind of sick nervous anticipation my stomach managed to go AWOL before the first note had even been played – as if it knew what was in store – and so pumped full of Immodium I made my way to the Parc del Forum, queued a f@cking hour and a half to get my media pass (missing Of Montreal in the process!) and then launched myself into the swing of things. To begin with I trudged around the stages following the big names… (and, whereas I can’t be bothered to review the music, I must say each of the stages were awesome set ups. I’m not sure anyone really knows what the architects of Parc del Forum were thinking when they created this concrete monstrosity on the edge of the city, but Primavera has certainly found a great purpose for it. In particularly the ATP stage (?) where Caribou played was perfect, set in a little dip with trees on one side and an expansive staircase/seating on the other, moon rising behind. Ahhh!)… but my favourite part of any festival is always the mash up at the end. On the first night this kicked off with El Guincho at the Llevant stage at around 3.30am. I nearly missed the gig after not realising there was no way through from ATP, but nimbly avoiding the securty guard I climbed over the wall and slid down the nicely curved 20ft parapet to the encouraging cheer of passers-by – burning a hole in my, admittedly cheap and crappy, jeans. After rocking out to Bombay and other El Guincho specials, cheesemeister general Girl Talk let rip with some crowd pleasing mash-ups that get us going until 6am…

Carte Blanche do what they like

The next day, wanting to soak up the day vibe, I got there a bit earlier – for Warchild I think – and once again patiently endured the big names. I’m not really a concert person. Just buy the CD… it sounds better and costs less. The vibe was good though and I sunk into some beers as the sunset. When nighttime came I went to check out the Pitchfork arena, but the music was a bit too dark and the people a bit too weird… so back to LLevant it was this time for Carte Blanche. There was a decidedly 90s vibe to their set, esp. with the co-ordinated black and white strips and dancing rollerskaters! Still the music was excellent and the feet kept going until around 5am when they kicked us out…

And then came the tricky third day. It’s usually by this time that my body gives up on me. Surprisingly my stomach wasn’t the first to go, but my legs. The Main Stage and Llevant stage are miles apart and it seemed that on both friday and saturday the best concerts were alternating between the two (plus of course there was the Champions League final, which was shown on a big screen at Llevant)! Factor in the previous days dancing and my advancing years and when, at 2am, I was faced with a choice of warm comfy bed or DJ Shadow I trudged off to get the metro, 90% sober, and 100% dead.

A quiet night out Zaragoza style

And if I thought that was bad, then came Sonar. Having overdone it on the mojitos and beers on the very first day session, I work up worse for wear on Friday only to find that the organisers had decided to upgrade my free media pass to include night sessions as well. I was too scared to say thank you in case it was all a big mistake and ran out of the office clutching my new shiny pass, without so much as a backward glance. With night sessions to account for too I was determined to eat something and lunched on a surprisingly good Sonar sandwich (3.5 euros) before hitting the drinks, dancing, napping and rocking up to the Sonar by Night party. If Sonar by Day had had it’s fair share of chemical romance (not me I might add) then By Night was effectively sponsored by Disco Dust. Not one to buy sweets from strangers I opted for the vodka red bulls instead which gave me the energy I needed to mosh heavy metal style with a load of scary-looking guys to Dizzee Rascal ‘Bonkers‘. Unfortunately teh same vodka and red bulls meant that when I got back at 6 or 7am I couldn’t sleep… so Saturday day session started worse for wear and was conducted on nothing more than a bottle of water and two cereal bars. Actually it was probably the best day session, because it meant I didn’t spend half my time queuing for the toilet! I did watch enviously as my new friends from Zaragoza (side note, check out the Manuscript Found in Saragossa for one of the best books you never read!) guzzled beers at a scary rate, and some other substances too, knowing that if I joined them I would keel over instantaneously.

I probably would never have made Sonar by Night on the Saturday if I hadn’t met a cute Belgian girl the night before… both exhausted we persuaded ourselves to get a taxi over and at least check out some of the bigger bands! In the end it turned out to be an exhausting but fun night, with Buraka Som Sistema the highlight as well as some loopy dancing to dubstep courtesy of Magnetic Man… sadly nothing happened with the Belgian girl in the end, but then again that’s probably for the best. By the end I’d truly run out of energy.

Amsterdam vs. Barcelona

Right just got back from a little hols in Amsterdam and I must say, damn that’s a fine city! It’s also a travel writer’s dream what with the colourful goings on of the Red Light District, the chilled coffeeshops (this is where you can smoke weed legally in case you’re out of the loop), romantic canals, bikes, boat houses and seemingly infinite supply of cool restaurants, bars and nightclubs.

Of course my current home of Barcelona boasts more than its fair share of attractive qualities (hence why I came here in the first place!), but even so it did get me thinking whether I’d be tempted to ditch mincing about on the beaches of BCN for a life of trundling around canal-side paths on my city bike, crawling around cafes and coffeeshops enjoyably intoxicating myself, and no doubt ending the majority of my nights in the bed of a 6ft-tall Sylvie van der Vaart look-a-like. (After watching Black Book, I’d also settle for the more modest charms of Carice van Houten. Hopefully she’s listening – Carice?).

Time to bring the two heavyweight cities together in an epic battle, to decide which of these two metropolises will claim me as one of their honoured citizens…

Weather

Whilst I did enjoy the melancholy skies, humid air and autumnal smell of damp leaves that greeted me in Amsterdam, it really did rain a hell of a lot. Then it got cold. My ears nearly fell off on one bike ride. Overall, whilst Amsterdam’s climate wins points for atmosphere and romance, only a masochist would opt for that ahead of the glorious weather in Barcelona, with its nearly perma-blue skies, well-behaved temperatures and general LA vibe. First blood to BCN!

Nightlife

It’s hard to judge from just a long weekend, but if what I saw in four days of Amsterdam’s nightlife was representative then it boast much more variety and invention that the often two-dimensional Barcelona nightlife (which is basically either posh house club, or alternative student rock/cheese rubbish). Yes the bars mostly close at 1am (although some continue til 3) and the clubs from 3.30 to 5am, however as the Amsterdammers go out a full two or three hours earlier than the Barcelonins then it’s just the same amount of partying – only done earlier. The jury is still out on this one, as Barcelona does have its hip places lurking in hidden corners and surprise events…. hmmm we’ll call this a draw until I get to do more ‘research’ in the ‘Dam!

People

A hands down win for Amsterdam! The Dutch people are actually friendly. Dear Catalans you should try that sometime! But seriously, whilst foreigner-ennui has killed any interest that the Barcelona locals might once have had for their guests, it is still possible to make friends with the locals of Amsterdam who are open, unsnobby, helpful and just damn nice! Oh and the girls are all tall, thin and cute. What is it about girls on bicycles that is so sexy???

Crime

Whilst my local Dutch host assured me that bicycles get stolen all the time and he had been mugged twice, I have to say Amsterdam felt like the safest place in the world. At least compared to a nighttime walk in El Raval. I saw plenty of unlocked bikes and people even daring to hang up their coat on a coatstand… instead of the paranoid clinging onto possessions that is necessary in every bar and restaurant in Barcelona. Plus, despite its reputation for sleaze, I was accosted by far less prostitutes, drug dealers and thieves in Amsterdam’s Red Light District than I usually am in Las Ramblas – plus at least the prostitutes are good looking! (A bit too good looking… just what does happen behind those red windows???). Another victory for the ‘Dam.

Things to do

Well Amsterdam has museums aplenty, canals to cruise down, a great park in Vondelpark for hanging out in during sunny days, plenty of cool markets and naturally loads of bike paths…. but still can’t really touch Barcelona in this respect. What with the city beaches, Park Guell and Park Ciutadella (to name the biggies), a constant stream of fiestas and festivals and concerts and events (many free!), not to mention an abundance of day trip possibilities and even the Pyrenees mountains if you fancy skiing, Barcelona really is the dogs’ cojones when it comes to entertainment and cool things to do! Oooh it’s getting tight…

Language

I’d rather learn Spanish, Catalan and ancient Greek than take on the Dutch language! I couldn’t pronounce a single word, despite my host’s patience. Advantage Barcelona? Not necessarily, as everyone speaks fluent English! But then it is nice to think that one day, even if it takes five years, as an expat you will be able to speak the local dialect at some stage. If I went to Amsterdam that would almost certainly never be the case… I’m going to award this one to Barcelona!

Its Amsterdam 2.5 points vs. Barcelona 3.5 points! Looks like I’m staying put for a while yet. You lucky lucky people.