So, about Catalan independence…
…that’s about as high on my conversational wishlist as deconstructing Brexit. It does seem though that a rise in nationalism is sweeping every corner of the continent as people fight to defend their cultures against the sweeping tide of globalisation. As someone who prefers to cultivate a personal identity more than a national one, I hope they all go away and we can finally establish a lovely peaceful global world order where we all speak Esperanto and trade in globobucks the planet’s one official currency. Only by banding together can we hope to stave off the alien invasion when it happens.
Anyway the three remaining readers of this blog (hi mum, hi gran, hi aunty Pamela) might be wondering what the devil I’ve been doing in the two years since I last got round to penning a post. Well a tonne of stuff actually. And not just attending festes majores and trying to finally improve my Spanish this time.
Did I ever tell you about my travel blogger’s collective? Well we’ve been working with the Spanish tourist board to promote locations like Menorca and Northern Spain. Which is a bit like being paid to convince people that puppies are cute, Lamborghinis make for a nice car or ice cream can be quite refreshing on a warm day. I’m not going to write about those trips again though… so check the links if you want to find out more (or find all my Spain travel stories here, along with those from other contributors to my blog, Urban Travel Blog)!
Northern Spain has some of the best beaches in the country…
I’ve also gone and launched another damn tour with my pals at BCN.travel to add to the artisan beer tasting tour we launched back in 2015 and the alternative small-group bike tours we launched even further back than that. The new experience is a Barcelona tapas tour that goes by the rather fancier name of ‘The Evolution of Catalan Gastronomy’ and is designed to take people from the traditional eating habits of Barcelonins right up to present day trends when Ferran Adria-inspired creative tapas abound on the menus of the city’s progressive restaurants. Check it out, you might like it!
Also I’ve decided to launch a niche website aimed at more mainstream tourists. If you’re reading this it’s probably not for you, but if you know someone who is coming soon to Catalonia on holiday maybe send them this guide on things to do in Barcelona. The idea is to put everything a first time visitor needs on a single page.
For those who fancy themselves as hipper holiday makers looking for less queues and more local experiences check out this post I wrote about sustainable tourism in Barcelona for my friend Iain’s website Mallory on Travel.
See you in another two years or so…
If you are unlucky enough to come from the UK, or perhaps some other bland ultra-“Western” country, your Christmas probably ends the minute the clock chimes midnight on the 25th, whereby you groggily go to bed early and set your alarm so you can hit the Boxing Day sales. Meanwhile, across the entire nation, all festive cheer immediately vanishes, passers-by grumble and swear, shop attendants get lippy and public officials become morose and perfunctory once one.
For Spain (and indeed Catalonia) however Christmas is much more about romance than rebajas, and right here in Barcelona you get a full 12 days of festive fun, culminating in the Epiphany on the 6th January, which for non-church-goers out there is the very day the Three Kings are said to have arrived at Jesus’ manger bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Appropriately enough, it’s on this day that Spaniards and Catalans exchange presents, making it a far more interesting date than Christmas itself – at least if you’re a Spanish kid waiting for the latest version of Call of Duty on Xbox.
The eve of Epiphany is also a particularly charming time to be in Spain because in many cities you’ll get to see a lively carnival-esque parade around town of floats, led by none other than the Three Kings themselves. In Barcelona this festival is given a fun twist as the Wise Men actually arrive from their exotic kingdoms via boat… naturally I was keen to check this out and went down to Moll de la Fusta to investigate. Sure enough at 5pm sharp on the 5th January, a vast and archaic vessel (the sort Christopher Columbus might have chartered… and indeed he has a good view of proceedings as this all takes at the port not far beneath his famous statue at the bottom of La Rambla), sweeps into view as the crowds huddle up to the railing to wave back at their royal visitors. It’s quite a cute site, with hundreds of toddlers sitting on their dads’ shoulders to get a view of the Magi. (Although my idealistic notion of Spain/Catalonia as the home of free spirited romance was dented by the cheap cardboard crowns sponsored by Samsung!). Next there were speeches by some old Catalan dude and the chief King (I’ve no idea which of the three he was supposed to be though!), which were wasted on my linguistically-limited ears, before the crowds were parted and the Wise Men walked between two barriers shaking hands with wide-eyed children and generally looking pretty badass in some chic zero-BC robes. One fun thing to observe was the kids, aided by their parents, handing their Christmas wishlists to the Kings and their numerous helpers, presumably to be passed on to Santa later (talk about short notice – they have to be delivered that night! – but seems like Papa Noel still has a better logistics set up than Amazon. It’s all about the reindeer and elves).
Anyhow after the initial boat landing, The Three Kings Parade parade starts proper (around 18:30) in a route that starts at the port then heads to Parc de la Ciutadella, up Via Laitena, and then back along Carrer Sepulveda all the way to Placa Espanya. As I’d already received my pressies back in London on the 25th I didn’t hang around for the calvacade, but if it’s sweets you’re after this is when to arrive as they apparently handed out by the bucketload!
For more about traditions in Spain on the day of Epiphany itself (6th Jan) check out this article in the Spain Scoop.