An Ode to the Joy of Travel Moments not just monuments

 

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Joie de vivre may be a French expression, but it is the Spanish who truly embody it. Whilst any conversation between you and your average Spaniard will be heard by the entire city (my neighbours seem particularly keen to ‘chat’ with Barcelona and me, every day, particularly about each other), they truly are some of the most content, loveliest, most even-tempered and kindest people I have ever met. Indeed, one of my greatest joys of living in Spain is the Spanish and, fortunately for me, the behaviour of some of my fellow Brits in Spain hasn’t ever been held against me (although this may be due to the fact that being above average height and blonde means I am Dutch in the eyes of most Spanish).

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There absolutely are some truths behind some stereotypes; there are reasons they exist. In Barcelona we are a hotchpotch of nationalities and my closest friends are American, Polish and Russian (and yes, we did walk into a bar together 😉 My American friend is relentlessly upbeat, my Russian friend approaches her series of dating disasters (several of her dates stole the tip she left for the waiter) with a shrug and “oh well, my grandparents got together in a gulag”, my Polish friend offers ‘honest advice’ on my Russian friend’s dress sense and I act as the classic British diplomat, my speech bubble belying my thought bubble. There is much to divide us, but what binds us, above everything else, is our shared humour, our shared love of travel and our love of life.

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I work entirely with American clients in my work as a tour guide, and almost every single American group has turned up concerned about being perceived as loud and obnoxious. It is at this point I realise Americans really do need to travel more, if for no other reason than to understand that if they want loud, they should try being in a museum with a group of Italians or at a football match with the English, ten p(o)ints down 😉

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But in all seriousness, I always tell them that this simply isn’t true. In fact, and I am not just saying this because I work with Americans, they are the most popular tourists (and I am not just saying that because they tip 😉  The reason is that the majority of Americans that I have taken around Europe are kind, enthusiastic, have a sense of fun and are blown away by what they see; they make me see things through their eyes, eyes which are wide open in amazement at the sites which are all too familiar to me and most other Europeans.

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Stuck between a Brexit and a Cata(lan)strophe

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Outside my flat the bells of Santa Maria del Mar have just tolled, a helicopter hums above and below there is the din of the square: people’s laughter and cups clanking on the metal tables. The sound of the helicopter has become almost as habitual as the ringing of the bells since not only the Barcelona attacks, but in the lead up to the referendum on 1st October. Last night the bells were drowned out by the sound of pots and pans being banged throughout the city, a ‘cacerolazo’ in support of the referendum and as a gesture of defiance towards the Madrid government.

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September is always a particularly patriotic month for the locals, as it is the month during which Catalans commemorate the fall of Hapsburg-supporting-Barcelona to Bourbon-supporting -Spain on 11th September, 1714; incidentally those same Bourbons who today are still Spain’s royal family. It is also the month where they celebrate ‘La Mercè’, the city’s patron saint. These events provide a platform for the ‘Leave Spain’ voters who turn out in their droves, or rather, in their fluorescent green t-shirts emblazoned with the word ‘Sí’ translated into ‘oui’, ‘yes’ and ‘ja’ among myriad other languages, to ensure that all understand the message being conveyed. At such events the mood tends to be upbeat, something helped by the numerous ‘Estrella’ beers being downed and food bandied about. One thing common to all Spaniards is their ability to turn any event into a quasi fiesta.

 

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A ‘Crap’ Article

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No, not my being self-deprecating although you may well think it an apt title upon reading, but rather an article about the Catalan obsession with, well, crap or ‘caga’. This comes particularly into mind at this time of year as I am surrounded by ‘caganers’, ie crappers. Visiting the stands at the local Christmas market in front of Barcelona’s cathedral you are greeted by the usual suspects: Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, but you will also see stands upon stands of caganers. The most traditional caganer is the one wearing his red cap, however, now you can see anyone from the Pope to Obama caught in a compromising position (and no, not the same one Clinton was caught in). Literally, the figurines are all crapping and a pile of poo behind them is  included on the figurine.

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It could be said that the Catalans have a bit of an obsession with crap. The most famous (or nowadays infamous) avenue in Barcelona, the Ramblas is the riverbed of the Cagallel, literally stream of shit, in reference to the sewer that it once was. And as Robert Hughes mentions in his book on Barcelona, ‘the pleasures of a good crap are considered in Catalunya on a level with those of a good meal; “Menjar be i cagar fort/I no tingues por de la mort”, goes the folk saying: “Eat well, shit strongly, and you will have no fear of death”. Quite.

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