Category: Spain

14 musts in Barcelona

Did you ever reflect over how some cities in the world seem to be loved by everybody? Like, when you’re having a conversation and the name Barcelona comes up, haven’t you noticed how everyone always goes: Oh, Barcelona! Yes, I freaking love that city, man. It’s so cool, it has everything! I really need to go back there. And if someone in that conversation reveals they haven’t been they’ll probably be told: What, you haven’t been? It’s such a must. Trust me, it’s the best! If the person himself didn’t already interrupt: I know, I know, Barcelona is definitely one of the places I have to visit asap. Everybody always tells me that. It’s on my bucket list this year.

No wonder you’ve been in a similar conversation, because sure thing; Barcelona is one of those cities you just fall in love with. In almost all rankings of Best Cities, Barcelona is among the top 3. The other highly ranked cities are almost always New York, Berlin, London, San Francisco, Cape Town, Rio de Janeiro, Copenhagen, Buenos Aires and Tokyo… Why is that so?

Personally I’ve been a devoted urban traveler for a long time and consider myself a bit over the top interested in trends within the travel industry. Although there obviously are several factors – e.g. geographical, historical and political – that count for a place to become a popular destination among many people (from many different countries), I personally think a city is amazing when it has a mix of great geography (sea, mountain, forest, rivers), friendly locals, vibrant city life (including a variety of food, art, night life & fashion), and a somewhat characteristic architecture. And that’s why I think Barcelona scores so high. It has all of that!

Since my first visit in 2003 and a six months stay in 2005 Barcelona has been one of my favorite cities – thus a city I make sure to visit every year (though I still haven’t visited half of the cities I’d like to). Out of my love for Barcelona I’ve decided to repost a popular city guide from my blog called 14 musts in Barcelona.

Starting off with the obvious temptations:

1. Gaudi, of course. The extraordinary architecture by the highly admired architect Antoni Gaudi (1852- 1926) is known for having made Barcelona into such a uniquely looking city. There is no place in the world you will see anything like the buildings he constructed over hundred years ago. Sagrada Familia, Casa Gaudi, The Guel park (see point 6), Casa Mila and Casa Batllo and much more. At the tourist information in the airport, or downtown (or at your hotel) you’ll get maps over where to find the marvelous constructions. There is also a Gaudi museum in Barcelona that can be good to start a full-on Gaudi day with. My recommendation however is to divide the Gaudi tours into two days according to where the spectaculars are and mix the go-see with other interesting things in each part of the city.

2. Understand the Spanish VS Catalan issue. The sooner you learn some about this, the better. It can in fact affect even a short stay in Barcelona, if the (wrong) person confronts you with this and feel you’re ignorant to the topic. Respect the locals’ feelings about this topic. Advice: Learn to say good day and thanks in Catalan – they’ll love you for it. “Bon dia” & “Merci” (NOT “Buenos dias” & “Gracias” – that’s Spanish!).

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The official flag of Catalunya

3. The beach! When cultural and vibrant cities have a coastline, they often get considered much more beautiful. This fact certainly concerns Barcelona with its not too polluted beaches, despite of occasionally being pretty over-crowded. The beach is long and I always make sure to spend one day strolling from one end to the other along the well-kept promenade. There is a good chance you’ll find whatever you consider is “the perfect beach slot” for you – it be more family-friendly, party-like, high-endish, or hippie-ish. There are small beach bars every 100 meter and good restaurants along the promenade. Make sure to choose local places over major chains like KFC.

4. The different barrios. In my opinion you don’t actually get to know a city before you get to know the features of its different neighbourhoods. Some cities may not have too defined neighbourhoods (something I quickly find boring), but luckily Barcelona does. You can say Ciutat Vella is what makes up the “city center” and within this area you’ll find the gorgeous and well-kept old towns Born & Barrigotic (see the Gothic Quarter!) on one side of the (extremely touristy) avenue La Rambla, and the vibrant (and very popular) immigrant area Raval on the other. And yes; all the barrios are brilliant for people watching, drinking, eating and shopping.

Then you got the area La Barceloneta & La vila Olimpica by the harbour. Here you can look at the boats, eat in a fine restaurant, stroll down the beach promenade and if you’re interested in such visit the Aquarium. If you got plenty of time, and/or are not interested in walking where all the other tourists are, consider visiting the surrounding Le Corts (a little west-endish), Gracia and Glories (though the most famous tourist attraction in Spain (La Sagrada Familia) is situated in between the two latter so you do indeed meet foreigners here too).

born.barceloneta

El born, close to Barceloneta

5. The plazas. Because Spanish people love getting together for chats and drinks (and are privileged with a climate that allows it pretty much all year), small and big squares packed with restaurants, bars and fountains are characteristic in South European cities. In Barcelona they are everywhere, however not always that easy to find on a map. Plaza Real (at La Rambla) is one of the bigger and very touristy, Passeig del Borne (Born) is more of a street than a plaza but cool (young, hipstery) people hang here, Plaza del Sol (Gracia) is small, young and hippie-ish, the huge Plaza outside of MACBA in Raval is chilled and full of skaters and tourists, Plaza triangular (Barrigotic) is tiny and quite local, Plaza de Sant Jaume connects two barrios and this and that plaza, oh I could go on forever… Just sit down for a beer or a cold Clara (Spanish for shandy), some tapas and enjoy.

6.The parks. Barcelona has many small parks hidden between streets and buildings, but Ill highlight the bigger parks where you can spend a day relaxing and enjoying a taste of nature within the hectic city. (All the parks are perfect for people traveling with children). Parc de la Ciutadella is ground of both the Catalan Parliament building and Barcelona Zoo and part of its charm lies in its ornamental waterfall and artificial lake. You can take a boat out onto the lake, play table tennis, or enjoy any of the seasonal activities and events the park hosts every week.

Parc de la Ciutadella im Frühling, Barcelona, Katalonien, Spanien

Montjuïc park got world known during the 1992 Olympic Games and currently offers a green oasis for culture, sports and entertainment in Barcelona. It’s located on the mountain Montjuïc with a spectacular view of the city and offers theaters and museums, fountains and gardens, sports facilities and fairground pavilions.

The park Guell, built by Gaudi between 1900 and 1924 was originally going to host around sixty houses and a chapel, but was never finished. As a result, it became the property of the city of Barcelona in 1922 and is today one of the main tourist attractions in the city. The view from here is stunning and Gaudi’s particular style is clearly noticeable in the uncommon architectural forms and bright colors.

And for even more stunning views (and potentially some hiking) you go to Tibidabo, which happens to not only be Barcelona’s highest mountain but also represents an old amusement park. The place is well known from the movie Vicky Christina Barcelona and for yet another precious cathedral.

7. Tapas! Though some Nationalistic Catalans (they’re plenty) would disagree, Barcelona is in Spain, and the Spaniards love their tapas. Get used to eating your lunch and dinner like them – and remember tapas is to be shared between people. The classic ones: aceitunas (olives), pan con tomate (bread with tomato), aioli (thick white sauce made of garlic and olive oil, to eat on bread and with seafood), patatas bravas (thick fried potato chunks with a special spicy tomato sauce), tortilla (thick egg omelet with potatoes) and albondigas (meat balls with a touch) and gambas a la plancha (grilled shrimps, or shrimps cooked in a dry-fryish way on a pan).

For the seafood lovers there are plenty of options – especially for the valiant. Grilled pulpo (octupus) and calamar (squid) is very common and delicious! Chipirones en su tinta (mini squids served in their ink!!) as well, and trust me- it’s yummy! Grilled or dry-fried boquerones (anchovies) you eat whole, and various bacalao (cod in sauce) dishes are served many places. And don’t forget your sangria, it’s just a myth that Spanish people don’t drink it themselves.

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8. La Champañeria. Actually I was unsure whether to post about this, or not, as it’s one of these places you love just the way it is. But I hate it when others keep those secrets away from me, so here it goes. La Champañeria is a gem of an authentic Spanish cava & tapas bar. It’s located at the bottom of Born, in the small street Carrer de la Reina Cristina 7 (close to the harbour). You find it by noticing the crowd of people outside, especially around midday (lunch time for locals). In my opinion it’s the perfect place to go as a couple or with a small group before or after a day on the beach. The bar is tiny but takes surprisingly many people that don’t mind squeezing together..

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La Champañeria

Beware! You go to La Champañeria to get some local, historic vibes and taste their Cava and tapas (both simple, but delicious). Here you’ll kick your way through used carton plates and tissues, and order at the bar with jams hanging over your head. The old sweaty waiters are in a hurry and don’t speak much English, so be patient and speak clearly as it’s normally crowded and noisy. One bottle is served with three plates of tapas.

Open from 9am – 10.30pm, closed on Sundays.

Champaneria

 

 

9. La Boqueria. Originally called Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, this market is one of the oldest in town, dating back to 1217 (!). It’s easy to find on a map and by walking up La Rambla (with entrance from La Rambla). A perfect place to suck in some history and watch how a typical old Spanish market works, and to buy fresh bread, cheese, fruits, fish and meet (if you’re keen on a picnic in a park or live in an apartment and want to cook).

10. Get inspired! Absorb quirky art and fabulous street performance. Regarding street performance, many seem to think that the street artists in La Rambla are of the best in the world! Regarding contemporary art, visit MACBA in Raval, follow this and google where to find different galleries. Between Barrio Gotic and Born you have two streets full of photo shops and posters and quirky art that I love to visit. For graffiti-interested, the whole city is a gallery actually (just read this). You’ll also find plenty of inspirational stuff by googling the topic.

 

11. Bars! Oh yes: BARcelona! First of all; the nicest bars are obviously not the ones you find in the middle of La Rambla. Then again some of the most historical bars (and also frequently visited by locals) are very close by. Just google and mark them on a map and start your round. The level of cocktail making skills is high! In Raval you have Rabipelao, Ambar and Lobo bar: all stylish, yet odd, chilled & fun. Close by are the two old and unique bars Bar Marsella (be careful with the absinthe, they’re not joking), and Le Pastis (Raval). However Boadas in Barrigotic claims to be the oldest in Barcelona and you should definitely go here if you want a peak into the 1940′s. Sugar bar, Pipa club and Le Petit Jet lag are also all in Gotic, tiny and innovative. In Born around Passeig del Borne and its side streets (mentioned above) you have many more! Not to mention in Gracia.

12. Nightlife! My favorite club when I lived in Barcelona was Sala Apolo; An old small theatre situated in Raval (metro stop Paralel). It still exists and hopefully will forever, has amazing bookings and loads of experimental electronica and hip hop. Razzmatazz is also great, a huge venue with 5 rooms and good concerts from time to time (but check their events online first). La Paloma is a historical gem but be sure to check if it’s open. It constantly has neighbour trouble as it’s in the middle of a resident area in Raval. La Terraza is beautiful and located up in the hills of the city (perfect for warm summer night), though it’s not my kind of vibe (quite high-endish). City Hall (on Placa Catalunya) also had some good concepts going on, but I’m afraid you have to find out of these things yourself when first deciding to go somewhere. It really depends on your music and style, amigo, hence I’d check ResidentAdvisor.com and Timeout.com to find recommendations for the style/music I’d fancy.

El Row 14 is apparently a mad club where they play with inflammable toys and dress out. It typically offers electronic music and is probably for the more party valiant as it’s situated a bit outside town and in the Spanish clubbing-way open til early morning (I’ve heard many people start their daytime party here around 10am). Very good bookings of national and international DJs. (EDIT: This place is closest as of 2014)

13. Festivals. Sure thing, the Spaniards embrace their festivos (“holy days”) and find any excuse to throw a party or celebrate something with a festival. Ill mention the most known events for now. Late March: Sitges (gay) carnival has become a wild tourist attraction. Late May: Primavera sound. Mid June: Sitges gay parade. Mid June: Sonar: Barcelona’s biggest festival – and one of my all time favorites (thus promoted several times before). It offers electronic music but also all kinds of experimental stuff including old school hip hop etc. June 24: San Juan (celebration of a saint (generally speaking: a massive beach party). Mid September: Merce. A massive traditional carnival alike party in which locals, families and tourists gather to celebrate Catalan traditions, watch endless parades and intense street fireworks (!).

14. Avoid getting pick-pocketed or mugged! With mass tourism Barcelona – that unfortunately holds a large number of poor inhabitants – has become a Mecca for pickpockets. Like in any other place in the world you have to take precautions, and the typical advices are: Don’t watch street performers in crowded areas/ stand on crowded metros/ walk in crowded streets without having control of you valuables. It’s also common that poor kids wander around tourists’ tables asking for money, cigarettes or directions, but with an attempt to steal. I’ve been to many places considered more ‘dangerous’ than Barcelona (and it may of course be a coincidence) but I’ve honestly never heard of/ seen (and even stopped) as many robberies as here.

General points: Barcelona is perfect for a lot of walking so wear good shoes. To travel further you depend on taxis and public transport. The latter is more environmentally friendly and a cheaper and fun way to see the city. Also, Barcelona is very children- and gay friendly.

Have fun!

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14 musts in Barcelona

Summer 2013 is around the corner and I’m looking forward to go back to Spain for a month or so this year. As always I’m off to Barcelona in June and the Sonar festival (this year even with a proud V that will present the South Africa launch of Bridges for Music), and hopefully to Ibiza & Costa Blanca (Alicante & Valencia). I’ve written a lot about these places before, and will repost some of it this week, starting with the oldest post.

It is a list I first wrote in 2007 over 14 must do/sees in Barcelona. I’ve been to Barcelona several times since and find the musts equally relevant today. Though I’m unfortunately not too updated on the nightlife scene (I haven’t been to more than one of the mentioned clubs for instance) I know they are all there. But do feel free to share your points of view on newer/ other clubs.

credentials: googleimages.com

credentials: googleimages.com

In 2004/2005 I was fortunate to work as a volunteer for a huge EU-initiated ONG in Barcelona, and lived for six months together with other young volunteers from various European countries. My particular work experience itself was a rather dark chapter, but that’s another story and anyway I wouldn’t change those months for anything. Besides I was obviously keen to go to Barcelona for much more than the job, just like all the other volunteers. We were there to meet others alike, learn Spanish and “have the time of our lives”. And we had! Some of the guys with whom I lived still live in Barcelona and I dream of living there again one day myself.

So. Here are 14 things to do/see in Barcelona, starting with the obvious temptations:

credentials: hdrcreme.com

credentials: landarchs.com

1. Gaudi, of course. The extraordinary architecture by the extremely innovative and very much admired architect Antoni Gaudi (1852- 1926) is known for having made Barcelona into the city it is today – due to its looks. There is no place in the world you will see anything like the buildings he constructed over hundred years ago. Sagrada Familia, Casa Gaudi, The Guel park, Casa Mila and Casa Batllo and much more. At the tourist information in the airport, or downtown (or at your hotel) you get maps over where to find the marvelous constructions. There is also a Gaudi museum in Barcelona that can be good to start a full-on Gaudi day with. My recommendation however is to divide the Gaudi- tours into two days according to where the spectaculars are and mix the go-see with other interesting things in each part of the city.

credentials: architectsandartisans.com

2. The beach! When cultural and vibrant cities has a coastline, they often get considered even more beautiful. This fact certainly concerns Barcelona with its not too polluted beaches, despite of being timely over-crowded. The beach is long and I always make sure to give a day to strolling from one end to the other along the well-kept promenade. On the way you can find the perfect slot for you whether that is the more family-friendly, party-like, high-endish, or hippie-ish…  There are small beach bars every 100 meter and good restaurants along the promenade. Make sure to choose local small places over chains like KFC.

3. The different barrios. In my opinion you don’t actually get to know a city before you get to know the features of at least 3,4 of its neighbourhoods. Some cities may not have too defined neighbourhoods (something I quickly find boring), but luckily Barcelona does. You can say the typically ‘of tourist interest’ “city center” is what is called Ciutat Vella in which you find the old towns Born & Barrigotic (see the Gothic Quarter!) on one side of the avenue La Rambla, and the vibrant (and very popular) immigrant area Raval on the other. Then you have Barceloneta by the harbour/beach with the areas La Barceloneta & La vila Olimpica. Look at boats, stroll down the beach promenade and if interested visit the Aquarium. If you got more time in Barcelona, or if you are the kind of person not interested in walking where all the other tourists are, consider visiting the surrounding Le Corts (a little west-endish), Gracia and Glories (though the most famous tourist attraction in Spain (La Sagrada Familia) is situated in between the two latter so you do indeed meet foreigners here too).

born.barceloneta

Born, close to Barceloneta

4. The plazas. Because people love getting together for chats and drinks in a climate that allows it pretty much all year, small and big squares packed with restaurants, bars and fountains are characteristic in South European cities. In Barcelona they are everywhere, however not always that easy to find on a map. Plaza Real (at La Rambla) is one of the bigger and very touristy, Passeig del Borne (Born) is more of a street than a plaza but cool (young, hipstery) people hang here, Plaza del Sol (Gracia) is small, young and hippie-ish, the huge Plaza outside of MACBA in Raval is chilled and full of skaters and tourists, Plaza triangular (Barrigotic)  is tiny and quite local, Plaza de Sant Jaume connects two barrios, etc etc. Sit down on the pavement with a taken-away beer, or order a cold Clara (Spanish for shandy) and enjoy.

5. Tapas! Though some Nationalistic Catalans (they’re plenty) would disagree, Barcelona is in Spain, and the Spaniards love their tapas. Get used to eating your lunch and dinner like them – and remember tapas is to be shared between people. The classic ones: aceitunas (olives), pan con tomate (bread with tomato), aioli (thick white sauce made of garlic and olive oil, to eat on bread and with seafood), patatas bravas (thick fried potato chunks with a special spicy tomato sauce), tortilla (thick egg omelet with potatoes) and albondigas (meat balls with a touch) and gambas a la plancha (grilled shrimps, or shrimps cooked in a dry-fryish way on a pan). For the seafood lovers there are plenty of options – especially for the valiant. Grilled pulpo (octupus) and calamar (squid) is very common and delicious! Chipirones en su tinta (mini squids served in their ink!!) as well, and trust me- it’s yummy! Grilled or dry-fried boquerones (anchovies) you eat whole, and various bacalao (cod in sauce) dishes are served many places. And don’t forget your sangria, it’s just a myth Spanish people don’t drink that.

6. La Champañeria. Actually I was unsure whether to post about this, or not, as it’s one of these places you love just the way it is. But I hate it when others keep those secrets away from me, so here it goes. La Champañeria is a gem of an authentic Spanish cava & tapas bar. It’s located at the bottom of Born, in the small street Carrer de la Reina Cristina 7 (close to the harbour). You find it by noticing the crowd of people outside, especially around midday (lunch time for locals). In my opinion it’s the perfect place to go as a couple or with a small group after (or before) a day on the beach. The bar is tiny, but it takes surprisingly many people if you squeeze your way inside to the corners. And beware! You go to La Champañeria to get some local, historic vibes and taste their Cava and tapas (both simple, but delicious). In here you kick your way through used carton plates and tissues, and order at the bar with jams hanging over your head. The old sweaty waiters are in a hurry and don’t speak much English, so be patient and speak clearly as it’s normally crowded and noisy. One bottle is served with three plates of tapas.  Open from 9am – 10.30pm, closed on Sundays.

IMG_8744 Champaneria

7. La Boqueria. This is one of the oldest markets in town, and easy to find on a map and by walking up La Rambla. It’s a good place to suck in some history and watch how a typical old Spanish market works, and to buy fresh bread, cheese, fruits, fish and meet (if you live in an apartment and want to cook).

8. Understand the Spanish VS Catalan issue. The sooner you learn some about this, the better. It can in fact affect even a short stay in Barcelona, if the (wrong) person confronts you with this and feel you’re ignorant to the topic. Respect the locals’ feelings about this topic. Advice: Learn to say good day and thanks in Catalan – they’ll love you for it. “Bon dia” & “Merci” (NOT “Buenos dias” & “Gracias” – that’s Spanish!).

9. Bars! Oh lord.. Where to start? I’d say the nicest bars are the ones you don’t find in the middle of La Rambla. Then again, some of the most historical ones (and also frequently visited by locals) are very close by. Just google and mark them on a map and start your round. The level of cocktail making skills is high! In Raval you have Rabipelao, Ambar and Lobo bar: all stylish yet chilled and great fun. Close by are the two old and unique bars Bar Marsella (be careful with the absinthe, they’re not joking), and Le Pastis (Raval). However Boadas in Barrigotic claims to be the oldest in Barcelona and you definitely go here if you want to feel like in the 40’s again. Sugar bar, Pipa club and Le Petit Jet lag are also all in Gotic, tiny and innovative. In Born around Passeig del Borne and its side streets (mentioned above) you have many more! Not to mention in Gracia. Long story short: BARcelona!

1o. Nightlife! My favorite club when I lived here was Sala Apolo! An old small theatre situated in Raval (metro stop Paralel). It still exists and hopefully ever will, has amazing bookings and loads of experimental electronica and hip hop. Razzmatazz is also great, a huge venue with 5 rooms and good concerts from time to time. La Paloma is a historical gem but be sure to check it’s open. It constantly has neighbour trouble as it’s in the middle of a resident area in Raval. La Terraza is beautiful and located up in the hills of the city (perfect for warm summer night), though it’s not my kind of vibe (quite high-endish). City Hall (on Placa Catalunya) also had some good concepts going on, but I’m afraid you have to find out of these things yourself when first deciding to go somewhere. Depends on your music and style, amigo. I’d check ResidentAdvisor.com and Timeout.com to find recommendations for the style/music I’d fancy. El Row 14 is apparently a mad club where they play with inflammable toys and dress out. It typically offers electronic music and is probably for the more party valiant as it’s situated a bit outside town and in the Spanish clubbing-way open til early morning (I’ve heard many people start their daytime party here around 10am). Very good bookings of national and international DJs.

credentials: bcneventsandcrawls.com

EL ROW 14. credentials: bcneventsandcrawls.com

11. Get inspired! Absorb quirky art and fabulous street performance. Regarding street performance, many seem to think that the street artists in La Rambla are of the best. Re contemporary art, visit MACBA in Raval and google where to find other galleries – they’re plenty! Between Gotic and Born you have two streets full of photo shops and posters and quirky art that I love to visit. For graffiti-interested google this too, -there is a lot of inspirational stuff to see in all neighbourhoods.

12. Festivals. Yup. The Spaniards love their holidays and any other excuse to throw a party. Feb/ March: Sitges (gay) Carnival – has become a wild tourist attraction. Each end of May/June: Primavera soundfestival. Mid June: Barcelona’s biggest festival (electronic music but also experimental and old school hip hop. June 24: San Juan (celebration of a saint (generally speaking: a massive beach party). September 24: La Merce (kids, families, tourists enjoying the Carnival parade with tons of crazy fireworks on the streets). Plus more, more, more. Google!

13. Tibidabo. Go hiking (and later watch/try the old carousels) in Barcelona’s highest mountain and get the most beautiful view over the city! On Tibidabo not only do you get nature and a spectacular view, you get to visit the antique amusement park (known from the movie Vicky Christina Barcelona) and see another precious cathedral.

14. Avoid getting pick-pocketed, or mugged! With mass tourism, Barcelona that also holds a huge number of poor inhabitants, has become a mecca for pick-pockets. Like in any other place in the world you have to take precautions, and the typical advices are: Don’t watch street performers in crowded areas/ stand on crowded metros/ walk in crowded streets without having control of you valuables. It is quite common that kids from marginalised backgrounds go over to tourists tables and ask for money, cigarettes or directions. They can put a note, or a map on the table and steel what’s under it without you noticing. I’ve been many places considered more ‘dangerous’ than Barcelona, and it may of course be a coincidence, but I’ve never been a place where I’ve seen (and stopped) as many robberies as here.

General points: Barcelona is perfect for a lot of walking so wear good shoes. To travel further however you depend on taxis and public transport. The latter is more environmentally friendly and a cheaper and fun way to see the city. Barcelona is very children- and gay friendly.

Have fun!

¡Viva España!

On our way down from the monastery yesterday we realised the time had past 8 o’clock and that the football match between Spain and France had started.

A colleague of Hilde & Arild told us to get our buts to Arguineguin, cause if any day, -tonight would be massive there, she said. As David Silva is from this little tourist town, people tend to go nuts of pride when Spain plays.

Right.
Off we went.

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What a contrast to suddenly rush off into the sunset to see a match after the hours we had spent in the monastery, but then again we are three people very found of contrast and impulses!

We managed to park the car just before the sunset and had interesting conversations with drunken teenagers behind the wheels that invited us to see the match with them further down the beach. We thanked them for the offer but decided to go for an overly crowded authentic bar we passed on the way where people were squeezing together in the doorways.

We got a table and ordered tapas next to a table full of oldies that had had more than one sangria before our arrival. They were oh’ing and singing Ole Ole, Ole, Ole more often than we sipped to our beers, and helped us getting in that perfect football match mood, just like we hoped for.

 

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1-0 to Spain quickly turned to 2-0 by penalty and everybody went ballistic!! Suddenly we had the ladies from the neihbouring table at our table chugging down beers with us, and wanting us to sing along Ole, Ole , Ole Oleeee

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Soon we found ourselves taking selfie shots while shouting Yo soy Espanyol arm in arm with a couple of 70 year old ladies. None of the two couldn’t stop telling us how much they loved Hilde’s blond hair, and suddenly kissed Arild almost on the mouth because according to them he was too freaking goodlooking, for Christ sake (eres demasiado guapo, por Dios).

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From there on we sat for another twenty minutes watching people that obviously felt much happier than us about Spain’s championship. They kissed, wept a bit and hugged each other before they ordered una cerveza para todos! (one beer for everybody) and soon stumbled their way out.

Arriving to the flat at midnight we found out that Arguineguin obviously was the place to be tonight (something rare according to A&H). At the beach in front of the flat were young and old, Spanish and non Spanish together having a BBQ and fireplace. And then we remembered, It’s San Juan tomorrow. And people in Spain start their parties early!

So we decided to join them by taking an impulsive night swim in seemingly fresh water to a change, and the smell of warm summer and burnt carton. On her way to bed Hilde popped by my room to say goodnight and emotionally yawned: How can we possibly leave this?, pointing towards the terrace with her head.

From there we can still here singing voices and laughter rapped in barbeque sparkles.

Yes indeed, we love Spain.

Visiting a monastery

Yesterday I promised to write about the monastery visit in Gran Can. Here it is:

To get to the monastery you can’t necessarily rely on the signs around the village of Santa Brigada, and should rather ask some people on the streets. Most people know about it and eventually when you start climbing a hill nearby (google it first, or go with a map) you’ll see a small sign.

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The road up to the building takes you three minutes in a car so for the brave it’s possible to do it walking too. The moment you step out of the car you’ll notice an appealing silence only interrupted by the cliche-like reality of birds singing from all angles.

We didn’t have any appointment to get in or anything and all of the sudden we got a bit worried it may be inappropriate to just step up at a monastery like that as curious tourists. However, although I didn’t have a personal agenda other than visit a monastery for the first time in my life, I was in this case together with two people working for a Christian organisation on the other side of the island. They might know about us, the island isn’t that big, Hilde said while we were waiting at the doorway.

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After knocking twice on the massive wooden door, two young monks dressed in black appeared with calm faces (just the way I would expect a munk to look like). Hilde presented the reason why we wanted to visit them, and before she even finished they welcomed us in with an arm move and whispering voices. After introducing us briefly inside of a small what looked to me as a waiting room with paintings of Maria and crosses on the walls, the monk named Valentin asked us to join him on a tour.

Valentin was born on one of the other Canary islands, but had moved here at the age of 17 to develop his life as a monk. He constantly talked with a whispering voice and held an impressive amount of details about the monastery, its history, how to become a monk, what kind of people that apply to become one, monk life, the suit and their study rituals.

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This is a picture from the ‘patio’, a small garden in the middle of the building, where the monks often walk around in circles praying, or meditate. On the picture is one of the (currently) older monks of this monastery.

After an hour we felt a very good connection with the guide, he told us to take pictures whenever we wanted to and ask questions of any kind. Just like big-eyed kids we went after him from room to room asking all kinds of “myth related” questions.

At 6.30 the bells rang and he told us he had to go to service. That service is one of the many different sessions where the 9 monks, the ‘father’ and the priest gather, sing, read and pray together in church. We were invited to watch it and grabbed some bibles from a book shell. A lady that apparently wasn’t there for her first time told us what pages to look up. Personally it’s a while in between each time I’m participating in a service, whatever the religious institution, but somehow I understood by now that this was one I couldn’t miss.

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Waiting for it to begin

The nine monks entered the room separately and gathered around the alter where one monk was standing lighting up the candles on top of it. Then one monk after the other moved forward and lit up more candles before they sat down on their chairs towards the walls, facing each other with a distance of 1,5 meter. One of the younger monks suddenly started halfly reading/singing a verse from the bible, soon accompanied by another monk or the whole group according to how they’d learned the various texts.

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The sound of it instantly gave me goosebumps and when I looked over to Hilde and Arild I could see they were in the same state as well. The monks took us on a spiritual journey that for a while felt like lasted forever, but never in the sense of getting boring. I was stunned by the feelings that ran through my body during the time I sat there listening, and my eyes went wet on several occasions.

Though they are hard to explain in written form, I will never forget the sound of their voices. Due to the acoustics in the room it also sounded very loud, yet perfectly tuned and I promised myself I’ll look into monk music from now on to listen to whenever I feel like I need some extra peace. And that was what they all had, and that was what they explained through their singing: Peace. Just like that.

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Picture of the alter – taken before the service

I know now that each and every of them had their specific task throughout the ritual and that it clearly wasn’t the first time the monks were singing together. And thinking about all the time and effort they put into these simple rituals every day, really stands to me as something admirable. Although I’m not religious I’ve never doubted that when it comes to love, hope and dreams we are all the same as human beings. And soon Valentin was going to show us more of the monastery’s work in this very respect.

Because straight after the service he wanted to show us more (eager guy)! And by then we could tell he is of the cheerful types, from how he highlighted details about what monks do to have fun and ‘loosen up’ after the long days of studies, prayer and work. He also repeatedly mentioned how social and family alike it is in the monastery and used the words solidarity, democracy and community.

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Sometimes it was a handful to take in all the details of monk living in Spanish before trying to translate it correctly to Norwegian.

We were invited to see the kitchen, where two monks came out and laughed at themselves due to the aprons over their monk suits. Kitchen duty is part of the monks’ various ‘work tasks’ on the monastery for it to go round. Valentin introduced another monk as the organ player of the service that day, while another instantly said that what we’d heard under the service was recorded, and not live.

Everybody burst into laughter and the organ player said we could get a glass of wine. Valentin cut him off with a smile: “I’m trying to do my work showing these people our house”, and took us with him. Giggling at the whole incident and going up the stairs Valentin said “be careful with that guy (the organ player), he’s very passionate about life, when he starts, he’s on forever”.

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View from one of the rooms people stay in

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Where the guests at the monastery have their meals.

By the end of the tour I admitted to myself my ignorance of not ever having thought much or doubted the ‘myths’ related to monks’ lives. Or better said, Ive hardly thought about it, but Ive definitely somehow assumed they all live in silence and pray all day long, hardly laugh or see their families, nor talking to people from the outside. Fail!

The tour turned out to be not only educative meaningful, but social and friendly, and thanks to Valentin, very funny in a cute way. Before saying goodbye we stood on the parking lot and one monk came out searching for the monastery’s cat. Valentin asked him to take a picture of the 4 of us. Before hitting the trigger the photographer monk had a shy looking expression on his face. As if he had a confession to make, he said it was important for him to tell us that “the joke about the organ play not being live, wasn’t true”.

Ah. Sweetheart! I went straight over and kissed him on his forehead (in my thoughts).

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When leaving the monastery we’d been almost 4 hours with the monks, and had to open the windows to get out some of the energy we filled the car with. We were amazed by the experience, our guide, the feeling around them all and of discovering how our old presumptions changed. Besides I was thrilled to have discovered the monastery offers rooms for a very cheap rent. Apparently they’re very popular among poor students. So, as a student and as I’m here I thought to try it before traveling North. If not, it’s a good mention for others to know about.

A visit to the monastery in Santa Brigada, Gran Canaria is highly recommended!

Road tripping in Gran Canaria

One of the most eventful days ever is going to an end.

Just back from a road trip in Gran Canaria. Our initial plan was to check out small villages around, chatting with locals and eating great tapas. As Ive never been to Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Can before, we took what my ignorant mind would assume would be a quick pass by before heading to more remote corners of the island. Somehow Ive figured Las Palmas is a little bigger than Eivissa, the capital of Ibiza. Don’t ask me why! Entering the city I soon understood its even more of a Capital city than my bloody own capital Oslo of Norway (which happens to BE a official capital by the way!!) Considering population figures Oslo is bigger, also the areal is MUCH bigger, but again I was reminded about Spanish history and how influential it is, what a great era they once had – hence the pompous antique buildings today representing the cultural center, cinema, concert halls, and of course shopping malls.. And the streets just never ended…!

Fifty traffic lights later always surrounded by vibrant city life and hordes of tourists, neatly planned parks and wide avenues I was again reminded how small and town-looking for instance Oslo is. Nearly suprised by my own non-awareness of how AWESOME Las Palmas is, I texted my new Gran Can friend Borja and apologized. He forgave me thank God, and at the same time gave us tons of tips on what locals like to do in his city.

Wanting to go back for the crazy celebration of San Juan, we decided to leave Las Palmas alone for today and headed to the tiny village Santa Brigida.

On the way we picked out the narrowest streets on the map to feel lost in the middle of nowhere, and counted to 200 cactuses before deciding to stop. Like always, that is a killer plan to get thirsty. And what do we find? Calletera Vandama, whatever that means, which situated us on the bottom of a hill with a sign indicating we had two options from now. Either to go play golf, or to follow the sign with a fork and a knife on it. Golf in the freaking dessert doesn’t sound very interesting although I thought for a while it could be funny to go see what freaks had placed a course on TOP of a mountain in dessert surrounded Gran Can, for the fun of it. And to check out what color the (potentially fake) grass had, in order to tick it on or off the Responsible Tourism Gran Can list I’m making.

Nah, we chose to follow the fork sign.

Arriving to the parking lot I read BODEGA, and was sold. Winery. Yes. We like! As Hilde is pregnant, Arild and I figured we’d get even more alcohol if we shared a homemade bottle. And the best was that Hilde agreed to just watch us drinking imagining how nice it must taste in a place like the one we had found. From seeing the cars in the parking lot we sensed that the place was popular among the posh locals. Maybe they were golf players coming here to dine, we thought?

Either way, its beauty had to be explored further, so we approached the restaurant and an old handsome man welcomed us with someone we’re sure was his son. We entered and discovered a place so historical, peaceful, and green: Bodega Bandama. It’s named after the street, just that the V is swapped with a B (B & V pronounces the same way in Spanish).

Both outside and inside it was full of flowers and plants, with a modern, yet cute looking bodega fenced with glass walls into the corner of the restaurant.

We got the menu which seemed amazing, but as it unfortunately exceeded our budget we went to the bar instead. The owner – that spoke English abnormally well (considering he is Spanish) – correctly guessed what country we’re from and accompanied us in the bar for a chat. He told us he inherited the place like 50 years ago and confirmed it was his son we met earlier. The homemade wine was delicious and after two glasses I felt in love with the thought of just staying here learning all about wining (one of my old dreams), and marrying his good looking son! 😉

Starting to get hungry, and keen on seeing more of the area, we decided to leave this timeless little spot and promised the old man we’ll be back another day. A little tipsy we headed toward the next village where Arild and Hilde yet had not been and where rumors told us there was an interesting monastery. From the bodega it took 15 minutes to get to Santa Brigida, a tiny town where we easily understood they love painting their brick stone houses in all kinds of colors. Often even defining the rocks in the cement in another color than the wall it self, a funny style that make many houses look like the skin of a giraffe:

In Santa Brigida we asked some toothless locals pimping in a bar what good restaurant we could find, and got instructed around the corner to the town’s square. The paella was perfect, even more accompanied with the local beer Tropical and a burning sun above us.  The waiters were super smiley and service minded, probably even more so today as Spain was about to play against France in the quarter or semi finales (is there a difference?) Two of the waiters were actually Argentinians, something I spotted on their accent, and told us they are many on the island working in the catering sector. One of them was hanging up a huge Spanish flag over our heads to the clients’ thrill, and bottle corks started popping. They offered us a Ron de miel (honey rum) after the meal to digest better, and since this was going to be my first Honey Rum, and I always love these Spanish local liquors defining parts of their local drinking culture, I got super eager to take a picture of the bottle.

And now something awful happens: Eager to document bloody EVERYTHING I got the rum bottle handed over so I could “capture it forever”. Pulling it towards me, I accidentally hit an ashtray (I didnt even know was on our table) to the floor where it literally exploded into pieces and went in ALL directions. Ive never seen anything like it!

Everybody literally stopped living for 3 seconds till the glass pieces found their place and the crushing sound disappeared. I hardly dared to look over to the tables next to me, just sat there with the hands in front of my face saying No, No, No… The waiters came running and said “no pasa nada.. no pasa nada”, and when I looked up I met people’s terrified eyes and saw a lady picking glass from her t-shirt.. I ran over to the tables around and asked if they were fine, told them how sorry I was, how clumsy I am.

Soon everybody around had assured me they were okay, but somehow my mind just couldn’t believe it. Arild (that obviously also was shocked (Hilde was in the loo at the time)) tried to calm me down and soon people started smiling again and cheerfully singing ‘Espana, Espana’ (for the upcoming match).

Oh my. That feeling in my chest was worse then the feeling I got taking the timber sledge on water with my mum at the age of 5, being forced to sit IN FRONT of her, sure I was gonna fall out and into the sea.

The next 15 minutes we spotted glass pieces in other restaurant clients’ chairs -FAR away from were we sat. That nobody was injured is really a true miracle.

My paralyzed state slowly blurred first 30 minutes later when we arrived to the monastery up in the hills of Santa Brigida. Hilde told me there were monks living here for life, but at the time I couldn’t even think of what to expect by that. It was my first visit to a monastery, never actually thought of what they’re all about.

I am so thankful for having cool friends with ideas like these, cause that visit turned out to change parts of my view of life.

To be continued asap!

NAMASTE WEST AFRICA

Day II in Arguineguin, Gran Canaria.

Full of peace, and the returning feeling of being in the one and only place to be, for me, RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW, regardless of whatever is out there.

Out for a walk early in the morning to find a spot for sea side yoga and a morning swim.

NAMASTE

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Catching up with friends

Slowly recovering after yet another awesome time in Barcelona, the city that knows how to keep you going.. The Sonar festival had one of the best line-ups in years although I didn’t get to see half of what I wanted, as normal. All the OFF Sonar events (that I started thinking really overdid themselves themselves. I mean, is there really that many people out there to fill up all these different parties every day..?

Experience showed that yes there is – and other times that there is not – but when there is, it does definitely give the increasingly commercialised – and official – Sonar festival a rather potent competition! The Minus party in Boo on Sunday was mental. Way too crowded as the “secret” venue was fairly small, and Richie and co are fairly big. However I loved seeing some known faces again and got some good laughs hanging with a group of people that had been partying solidly for like three days. At least it serves to put things on the farm (at home) in perspective. (Search for farm in my search field and you’ll see what it’s about).

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Now back in a Norwegian friend’s flat that is situated literally next to Sagrada Familia. Passed by there today, and got stunned like always by its immense beauty, but also by what a tourist machine it is! The queue of people covers the whole building and goes over the street into a freaking park.

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When walking around the streets of this city, over-touristy or not, I cant help but dreaming about living in Barcelona again. Or Spain for that sake.

It’s just something with the cozy street restaurants and bars with tapas in all colors, nice waiters chatting to you over a beer, and locals gathering with friends spending time outdoor, which naturally contrasts a little bit with what is even possible to do many months of the year in my own city.. Besides, Ive always had this special passion for narrow streets, clothes hanging outside the balconies of the blocks in Born, and love Spanish architecture, food, language and culture in general.

Here is what I had at a bar on the corner tonight. Octapus! My favorite is actually the smaller octapus in its own ink Sepia en su tinta, but this is not the most common thing they have in any random bar.

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So, as I don’t want to leave this Spanish atmosphere that I adore yet, I’ve decided it is the perfect time to go see one of the Spanish Canary islands I still haven’t been to: Gran Canaria, where two good friends of mine have been living for nearly a year. They’re working for the Norwegian Sailor church, on an assignment to mainly be in charge of the children and young people using the place as a center for Norwegians living on the island.

Because, if you weren’t aware of it; Gran Canaria holds one of the biggest Norwegian communities outside of Norway. In fact, many of the kids my friends work with have lived there for years, while others come to do a year as part of their secondary school for instance.

My friends have absolutely loved being this year abroad, and I can’t wait to hear all their stories, see how they live, see Hilde’s belly (she is 5 months pregnant), chat all night on their porch with a sea view, eat tapas with them, speak Spanish and laugh a lot.

After the past year I just miss to be around close Norwegian friends I haven’t seen for a while, in this case people that also have a certain happiness affect on me.. And these two are of the kind that makes one see how much beauty there is in love and compassion. They are a truly special team, with a unique admiration of each other.

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Check out their very own blog by the way!