A Travellerspoint blog

Don’t come to Spain if you want a quiet holiday.

sunny 27 °C

They really like their noise (traffic, sirens, motorbikes without mufflers, loud voices and fireworks), and especially last weekend when there was the festival of Saint Joan.

In the weeks leading up to the festival fireworks go on sale and kids of all ages enjoy letting them off in the park especially when unsuspecting and unaccustomed travellers and tourists are walking by. As the festival gets closer the frequency of the bangs seems to get closer and bigger … any time of the day or night. Sunny (our dog) could never be a Spanish dog, but the dogs here don’t even seem to notice.

As a preliminary to the evening we went to check out the ‘Magical Fountain’ – a water and light show people said we should see. Every half hour the fountain starts up and coloured lights shine through the water making a truly beautiful scene. This is all choreographed to orchestral music and it is very impressive. Perhaps it was less impressive though on the night we saw it because the music was often drowned out by the noise of the fireworks and crackers going off continually nearby. Rather than a big city planned firework event, each family buys their own fireworks, crackers and sparklers and heads to an open space – thus the non-stop noise and scattered cardboard remains the next day.

The festival of Saint Joan culminated with a BIG beach party around midnight. According to the local press 100,000 people, (less than previous years!) gathered on the Barcelona beaches to party, dance, drink, let off crackers, bungers, and fireworks, make a lot of noise and hang out there until dawn. We went to see what it was all about, and yes, there probably were that many people on the beach. And al least half of them were trying to catch the same metro as us at 11.30pm to the beach.

It was amazing … crowds and crowds of people, all trying to get on already over crowded and packed trains in the middle of the night. When we had finally progressed our way to the platform, we waited for 3 trains to pull in (each one cheered by the waiting crowd), but when the doors opened we couldn’t even push our way in. We ended up walking to the beach which was at least in the open air.

We weren’t keen to spend the whole night at the beach, but catching the metro home at 2.00am was almost as crowded as the ones getting there. Needless to say the noise, fireworks and crackers went all night.

Late the next morning when we finally arose, the streets, parks, beaches all looked the worse for wear with litter, and firework debris everywhere. Thank goodness for the street cleaners who come out daily though to sweep, rake, and hose the place and keep it looking litter-free.
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Posted by dworgan 02:45 Archived in Spain Tagged events Comments (0)

Travellers Beware

sunny 27 °C

We have been here for 3 months now and Barcelona seems pretty much like home, but I guess we still look like foreigners and easy pickings for the local pick-pockets. We have always been careful with possessions and money, and no less on this day – but they had us, or rather Jeff, targeted.

We were on the metro and just standing towards one end of a carriage. A group of 4 or 5 young men all bustled their way towards the end of the carriage where we were standing. There wasn’t any real need to crowd, which was a warning sign that we might have picked up on. When the train slowed on approaching the station we were heading to Jeff was standing with his back against the door on the non-platform side. He realised that he would have to move around the bunch in the middle just as the train lurched a little and a couple of the men apparently lost balance and leant back and pinned him against the door. When he found he couldn’t easily move over to the exit door, something clicked and Jeff realised that one of them had his hand in his pocket and was pulling out his wallet. Jeff grabbed his arm and yelled and pushed the guy away and then as he got angrier, pushed him out onto the platform where the pick-pocketer proceeded to look all surprised and innocent. There was quite a group gathered around and watching by then. The guys slunk away and just walked out of the station. Jeff still had his wallet but was pretty angry, but suddenly the next thing to do wasn’t really clear. Where were all those station security guards and police dogs when you need them?

Some young American tourists in another carriage on the same train were less lucky however and when they saw our scene, they checked their pockets only to find that their wallet was missing! It seems the pick-pockets were just working their way through the train and had got them just before their attempt on us. You can report the theft but it is almost impossible to catch them I have heard.

So what have we leaned? Don’t keep valuables in pockets of pants, don’t stay in a crowd if there is room to move to, take a seat if there is one, keep backpacks on your lap or in front of you, make a scene if you think they are targeting you – point, yell - in English is OK as the last thing they want is to be noticed and identified, if there are security or officials there, tell them.

We had heard about the organised pick-pockets and been told that you never see them or hear the results of their activities as they are really professional and people usually only discover after the event that their valuables are missing. We were very lucky to have had first hand experience of how they operate and not to have lost any money or cards in the process.
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Posted by dworgan 08:42 Archived in Spain Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

Bicing

sunny 27 °C

I have mixed feelings about ‘Bicing’ the new, Barcelona rent-a-bicycle public transport system. It is a good idea – as a member you can take a bike from any bike station and ride for free (for the first 30 minutes) to another bike station where it locks back into the rack. There are bike stations at most metro stops and in the central public places, there are bike lanes on the major streets or where streets are divided with a walking/riding path and riding on the pavement is not frowned apon. Barcelona is pretty flat and you don’t need a helmet or a lock so it is easy to use. It is really nice to be self-sufficient and out in the air rather than on the metro or hot buses, especially with the weather as it is getting very humid. It uses a complex computer system to track and time the bikes … but I have some reservations.

One problem with Bicing is it is such a big operation – admittedly it is still in its first 3 months of operation but the bike stations are often empty or alternatively full so you can’t deposit your bike; the bikes sometimes have flat tyres, loose steering, broken seats, no bell or other problems and there are not enough bike stations or in all suburbs

The real problem for me though is the red tape involved in getting a membership card. It had me completely defeated. You do all the right things – you sign up on the net, you pay the annual 6 euro fee by credit card, you give all your details – passport number, address, telephone etc, you receive a acknowledgement of enrolment letter via email, and the money goes out of your account, and are told to wait 10 days for the card to arrive in the mail. 10 days go by – no card – you brave a visit to the Bicing office, to wait in a queue for up to an hour to be told, there is an error in the system and only residents can enroll - passport holders do not qualify. You explain your passport holding husband has received his card … there is an error in the system he shouldn’t have received one either … you have paid … there is an error in the system there is no record of you so they cannot refund the money.

I give up!!

PS: Jeff went in a week later after I had refused to have anything more to do with Bicing. He didn’t mention passports or his connection to me, just had our address and the acknowedgment letter sent 3 weeks ago and they gave him a card on the spot!

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Posted by dworgan 09:11 Archived in Spain Comments (4)

La Pedrera

sunny 27 °C

We have been to see La Pedrera – an amazing Gaudi house in the centre of Barcelona. It is hard to know where to start – no corner is square, no wall is straight, everything is curved, carved, tiled, circular, twisted, arched, swirled, inlaid, made from stone, wood, tile, glass, mosaics and wrought iron. Nothing is as you’d expect. Every room or space is an art work itself.

The building was made as an apartment for a wealthy family a despite nothing being straight or square, is a very liveable space. The roof however, is where Gaudi has really gone to town. The roof is an undulating, tiled and stepped surface crowned by the most fantastic, (as in weird) chimney pots. Some are like monsters out of Star Wars and other are more like soft serve icecreams – definitely not your standard, boring chimney pots. With the late afternoon sun enhancing their colours and shadows they seem to almost take on a life of their own. I can only looks at them in awe and try to imagine the type of creative mind that can design and build these things. Gaudi has done it again.
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Posted by dworgan 04:05 Archived in Spain Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Lily is here!

sunny 28 °C

After 29 hours of traveling Lily finally arrived in Barcelona – a bit dazed and very tired, but definitely pleased to be off the plane. She is going to spend the next 6 weeks in a Spainish/ European / English summer – a nice change to Bathurst in winter.

That is one of the main shocks for the body to acclimatise to – to replace the thermals with a bikini. The other difference is the time – but Lily has always been a good sleeper! - no problem going to sleep when the clock says rather than when the body says.

The days seem long though with lunch at 2.00 and dinner at 9.00. But it is light until so late here and the schools don’t finish till 5.30 and shops stay open till 8.30 – it is easy to do things later.

The food is a difference – seasonal and regional differences aside, the diet here is based on rice, fish, beans, bread, coffee, olive oil, bottled water, beer and wine. No too hard to get used to.

And the language of course – be limited to saying ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ doesn’t get you very far. Max is finding that he has to be the personal guide and translator.

And just getting around – the metro and buses are easy to use but you have to know where you are going. Even walking out the door – because all the streets around here are on a grid pattern, they all look the same and until you recognise the street names or different shops it is really easy to confuse them.

But Lily doesn’t have to do any of this on her own. At last Max has someone closer to his age to share converstations and experiences with, and we are really keen to have someone to show around, translate for, introduce to people and places, explain customs and share our Spanish life with.

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Posted by dworgan 08:43 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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