Tag Archives: festivals

I’m Not The Messiah…

I’m a very naughty boy. And I haven’t updated this blog for what seems like hours but is actually months.

And I’m not going to now either. After all it’s Arsenal vs. Dortmund in the Champions League tonight.

So let me draw your attention instead to a little guest post I’ve done over at my good amigo, Rob Dobson’s blog, the excellent Homage to BCN. After meeting him during a cookery class, in which he mocked my inability to chop up veg. let alone rustle up an edible meal, I promised to contribute to his excellent city diaries… and naturally I chose my specialist subject: Barcelona’s nightlife!

So here it is… if you’re wondering what are the top five clubs for late night fun in Barcelona all your questions have just been answered.

But as I was keen to point out at the end of the post, nightclubs are just the tip of the Torre Agbar really when it comes to partying in Barcelona. There are so many fantastic events and fiestas, such as Sant Joan (midsummer’s night), the crazy Sitges Carnival, Primavera and Sonar Music Festivals, and the billions of Festes Majors (street parties which take place in various districts over summer) that there really is never a dull moment in the Catalan capital. A fun new fad for travellers recently, for example, is also to jump on board a hedonistic booze cruise, and drink copious amounts of beer in the midday sun before diving off the side of the ship into the ocean. Totally responsible behaviour.

Unfortunately there are some shit aspects of Barcelona’s nightlife too… such as noise restrictions and, for aspiring Casanovas, horrible male to female ratios in the clubs, whilst fannying around with guest lists can be a pain (but save you money and possibly queuing time at least).

Overall BCN may lack some of the cutting edge cool of Berlin, London and New York, but good luck listening to live bands as you get wasted on a €1 carton of Don Simon sangria at a street fiesta, followed by a Cava breakfast on a stranger’s rooftop terrace, in any of those cities…. I’ll stick with good ol’ Barna for now!

Cinema Under The Stars

Picture the scene. Up high above Barcelona, in the fading light of another dazzling summer’s day, the sweet refrains of modern flamenco guide film lovers towards the grassy scarp beneath Montjuic’s castle walls. Here they lay out their picnic blankets, break out a hamper full of fresh treats from La Boqueria market, and settle down to watch one of the year’s most arresting offerings on the silver screen. Friends share a glass of Cava, couples cuddle close together and fireflies skit like miniature shooting stars through the ink-blue sky.

No doubt that was the vision of the organisers when they conceived this romantic(-sounding) al fresco cinema that screens four movies a week from late June to early August….

Summer cinema season at Sala Montjuic

Summer cinema season at Sala Montjuic

However as I trudged up from the funicular stop that didn’t take us anyway near as high up the mountain as I would have liked, my new shoes pinching my toes harder with every step, I got my first reminder why I don’t visit this festival on any old occasion. My second reality check was the enormous queue of hopeful cinephiles who hadn’t bought their ticket in advance and were now waiting in the (unlikely) hope there would be enough space to admit them (I’d been there before two years ago and that sure wasn’t fun!). The third whiff of coffee was when, having found that rarest commodity at Sala Montjuic, a patch of vacant grass (admittedly way at the back where we could barely see the screen) we were joined by approximately twenty loud American teenagers, who parked their blankets approx. 6 inches away from ours and proceeded to regale all and sundry with their schoolboy/girl humour. Hardly conducive to romance.

Undoubtedly the biggest obstacle to enjoying this festival of cinema however, was just how impossible it is (at least for a fidget like me) to sit on a rock-hard piece of turf for the two hours required to ‘enjoy’ the film. As the scant cushions and blankets we had managed to carry with us on the hike up Montjuic became soaked through with humidity I found myself constantly wrenching my moist ass to and fro in the vain hope of finding a position I could hold for more than 10 minutes, whilst hands and elbows were overstrained and redistributed on multiple occasions as I balanced the pros of sitting up and being able to see the screen, and lying down and being at least moderately comfortable – the latter requiring I glean what was going on from the top 25% of the projection only. After 90 mins I was begging the film to finish. Not that that signals the end of the evening’s ordeal. When several thousand people try to exit one of Barcelona’s least accessible locations all at once, the results were quite predictably chaotic and frustrating. At least for those foolish enough to enter the melee. I enjoyed a good stretch, attempted to pat dry my saturated buttocks and finished my Cava, before even thinking about making the long journey home.

Tips for Attending Sala Montjuic

Ironically enough the film I had gone to see on this occasion, Moonrise Kingdom (a typically pointless, enjoyable, unsatisfying, Wes Anderson diversion), was all boy scouts, and the moral of both that story and mine should be “always be prepared”. With that in mind here are some tips that can make or break your Sala Montjuic experience!

1) Buy your tickets in advance! If you don’t there’s a very real chance you’ll be climbing the mountain for nothing.

2) Even having bought your ticket in advance get there as early as possible. If you want to put down your blanket anywhere near the screen this is essential. Also there is a limited number of those funny little beach mattresses which you can borrow for free, plus also deckchairs for rental. The latter cost 3 euros, but I don’t think you can reserve them in advance, so getting there early essential once more.

3) Arrive by car if possible, or scooter or taxi. That way you can bring loads of comfy blankets, pillows, cushions, mats etc, as well as your picnic. Parking can be a bit of a mare, so see point 2).

4) Bring loads of comfy blankets, pillows, cushions, mats etc:)

5) Bring a sweater. It may be hotter than Satan’s sauna when you leave home but it can get chilly, esp. after two or three hours of reclining.

For more info head to the official website.

The Three Kings Parade

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.

three-kings-barcelonaFor 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. festival-parade(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.

Festes Majors: Barcelona’s Street Parties!!!

Barcelona is melting, every sensible city dweller has buggered off to the Costa Brava or the Balearic Islands, tourists swarm round La Sagrada Familia like cockroaches around a Bicing-flattened kebab… what does it all mean? It means, dear reader, that it’s another sweltering mid-August and the peak of the “festa major” season in the Catalan capital.

Street decorations at the Festa Major de Gracia

Festa major is Catalan for ‘grand festival‘ and during summer every district in Barcelona and pretty much every poble in the region has their own knees up, lasting several days to a week and varying in intensity and renown. The most famous is the Festa Major de Gracia, when the streets of the Gracia district are decorated in different themes (the residents of each participating street form a council and spend half the year preparing the decor) and in fact tonight, as I write this, is the closing night for the 2012 edition…

As you see I’ve decided to stay in to (finally) update my blog, but I did pop along last week for three consecutive, somewhat blurry, nights. I must say, I do love Barcelona’s street parties. They are a little bit ‘cutre‘ but there’s something charming about their complete erm well let’s be honest crapness. Taking the F.M. de G. as an example, whilst some of the decorations are pretty fun and impressive, others look like they’ve been put together by a children’s playgroup with a few cereal packets, a pair of safety scissors and (the quintessential) double side sticky tape. As for the music… I can see how the Catalans might enjoy what is obviously their equivalent of Kajagoogoo after a few cervezas but it might leave guiris like you and me a bit perplexed (solution: even more cervezas!). But anyway, to pick holes in the programme / presentation is utterly pointless. You go for the atmosphere. For the chance to see teen punks, village drunks, dreadlocked anarchists, local hipsters, lost tourists and even the occasional granny carted out onto the street in her wheelchair all hang out together around the district, either sinking beers and mojitos from the bars and ad hoc kiosks, or – my personal preference – surreptitiously swigging from a carton of Don Simon sangria.

Sing Don Simon if you love sangria

I must say this year in Gracia wasn’t the best year I’ve seen… and the effects of the crisis were notable in the relative lack of stages / concerts. Maybe it was just my imagination but there seemed to be a lot less going on than previous years, and when you did find a stage in full swing therefore it was absolutely rammed. Also the music was switched off at the distinctly un-Spanish time of 02:30… leaving you feeling if it really was a proper party or not. (And more evidence of the noise restriction policies that are dampening the city’s nightlife).

Anyway this weekend it’s the Festa Major de Sants and last year it kicked ass. There was even some dubstep on the main stage! Plus a firing range where took a shot of tequila before taking a shot at magazine cut outs of your favourite baddies, like Zapatero, Belen Esteban and Ronaldo.

Come September and you’ve got the fiesta del Poblenou… which is a bit spread out but tends to be fun. And of course La Merce… the grand festival of Barcelona if you like, and Europe’s biggest street party! This one naturally takes itself a bit more serious and if you haven’t seen the Catalan traditions of correfoc and castellers yet, then this is your chance. Not only that, but unlike the other festes majors you may have even heard of some of the bands that are playing. Nonetheless, like all of the district fiestas everything at La Merce is free (except the drinks of course, but you can always bring your own… as per my sangria advice earlier!).

Finding reliable information about Barcelona’s festivals is like finding a scrunched up 50 euro note in the key pocket of a pair of jeans you haven’t worn for 6 months. Fantastic and improbable. Some of the festes have their own (poorly-maintained) sites, such as:

www.festamajordegracia.cat
www.festamajordesants.cat

Whereas info about La Merce is put up here.

But most seem to require a Jedi-like prescience to divine when they start and what’s going on. Keeping tabs with Barcelona Life’s events page and Facebook profile is a good start.

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.

Sitges Carnival: A Fancy Dress Fiesta!

For most of my life I have been inclined to see fancy dress parties as a royal pain in the @ss. Choosing who or what you are going as is the first hurdle, then going hunting for whatever you need round every second hand store in town (or your mum’s wardrobe if you’re lucky enough to not have been kicked out of the parental nest… ah those were the days!), then coming home trying it all on and realising you have just spent 50 GBP to look like a prize tw@t. At least, in this scenario, no could accuse you of not making the effort, whilst the other alternative – to turn up with a sheet over your head with two holes cut out, or possible a sword and eye-patch made out of the back of a cereal packet – guarantees you the social acceptance of a known sex offender.

More recently however I’m coming around to the exact reverse way of thinking… I can only assume that because I go out a lot less, making the effort for one big night seems less of a hassle. I’ve even started enjoying putting together a costume (I like to think of it as a creative challenge) and I understand now that the effort and expense you put in before a fancy dress party are all part of the anticipation – the build up! That’s why I was really looking forward to the Sitges Carnival this year, and I must say it didn’t disappoint. Yes, there were a few lame devil horns and plastic forks, but by and large the costumes on display were fantastic. Babies were a popular theme, as were air hostesses – the best ones for my money being the cross-dressed ones, and a wag in a Zapatero mask proved a big hit with the cameras. Others went to further extremes, coming as giant-sized multi-coloured clothes pegs, Barbie dolls still in their boxes, 1980s rally drivers, or a troop of Flintstones, complete with the iconic foot-powered car (which was a bit of menace in the narrow streets of Sitges!).

If you’ve never been to Sitges Carnival then there’s really not too much to explain. It’s basically a big piss up on the streets of Sitges, just down the road from Barcelona and is pretty much considered the best place for Carnival in Spain, after Santa Cruz in Tenerife and Cadiz. Everyone descends on Sitges en masse, usually via train from Barcelona, and trawls the streets booze in hand shouting and singing and laughing at one another’s costumes. Whilst there was no denying the party spirit here in Catalonia, I was a bit disappointed by the lack of official entertainment. In our, admittedly limited, wanderings we didn’t come across any live music or DJs, although of course all the bars and clubs were open and improbably dressed drunkards stumbled between them all. If I were to go next year I’d probably choose either the Sunday, which boasts the enticingly named Rua de la Disbauxa (‘The Debauchery Parade’) or the closing night, which falls on Tuesday. The Tuesday is marked by the Rua de l’Extermini (‘Extermination Parade’), another huge affair this one known for it’s proliferance of drag queens… and I did see some nice flamenco dresses when I was out second-hand shopping…

Some quick tips for those thinking of going to the Sitges Carnival in future years…

1) Aim to get there about 11pm, this is when things start going
2) You can catch the train from Sants Station in Barcelona. Buy a return ticket (6.30 euros in 2011), the police were out in force at the station.
3) The train timetables can be found on www.renfe.com. I think the first one on a Sunday morning left around 5am. We got one at 5.30 or so.
4) Dress warm. It may be Spain/Catalonia but it’s still February/March time… I was wearing a helmet, gloves, leggings, and four layers and still got cold after a couple of hours of being outside. Mind you there were plenty of guys dressed as Baywatch Lifeguards who seemed fine in just a red swimming costume, blond wig and pair of fake tits.
5) Bring your own supply of booze… but not in glass bottles as police will stop and search you at the train station and glass not allowed. I recommend a carton or two of Don Simon sangria available at all good supermarkets for around 1 euro.

Summer: Part Dos – Fiesta Forever!

Ah yes, Sant Joan/Sant Juan/St. John’s…. call it what you will. This crazy fiesta, celebrated on midsummer’s night, is the equivalent of New Year’s Eve in the rest of the world and easily the biggest booze up in Spain (including Catalonia).

Sant Joan’s has two elemental components: booze and fireworks. Possibly the least responsible combination since Roman Polanski and underage girls were last teamed up. However the Spaniards are never ones to let an EU health and safety manual stand in the way of having a good time (running the bulls, anyone?) and so it is that children, drunks and cretins (sometimes even cretinous drunk children) are allowed to play havoc with explosives to their heart’s content.

The utter stupidity of this was rammed home as me and my friends made our way to Mar Bella beach to enjoy the celebrations. Everywhere rockets and bangers were being set off, some at worryingly horizontal angles. One idiot let off a rocket that exploded just a metre above some hapless bystander’s head and I walked hurriedly, with shielded eyes, from the metro to the relative safety of the beach where most people were more intent on drinking than unleashing pyrotechnical chaos.

Sant Joan... the aftermath on Mar Bella beach

Once we’d run the gauntlet and survived it was time to enjoy the festive atmosphere and as tonnes of my friends and Couchsurfers had all gathered it became a great social occasion. Sadly I had barely finished telling some American dude how I never miscalculate how much I drink these days, when – still early in the night – the white wine/beer/mojitos hit me like sledgehammer over the head. I had to lie down… for five hours. When I woke, with a girl in my arms (yeah even I don’t know how I pulled that one off!), it was sunrise and my God the beach was a mess. You could barely see the sand for the empty cans, cartons, plastic bags and burnt out rockets. I had to puke up a bit first, but by then I was ready for the tram/metro journey home. So there you go, my first Sant Juan party! Slightly wasted on me, but we’ll chalk that up to experience. (ie. don’t drink 79 cents white wine from litre cartons).

Otherwise the Barcelona party season has carried on. From Nasty Mondays at Sala Apolo to the usual Saturday nights at Razzmatazz there has been some epic nightlife. And whenever I was getting bored of Barcelona’s clubs a fresh idea would come along. Recently I’ve been to a couple of awesome pool parties up on Montjuic, whilst last Sunday we went to an all right beach party on Playa Parc Forum with German DJ MANDY. I was particularly pleased with this event as the f@cking Barcelona council with their ever more fascist noise restriction policies have banned DJs from playing at chiringuitos at most of Barcelona’s beaches, but as this one is just outside the city limits it was full steam ahead for the all night party. Lots of cute girls too…:)

Right now it’s one of the very best festivals in Barcelona, the Festa Mayor de Gracia… another week of liver-busting fun beckons! Think I’ll stick to a couple of shandies…