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Published: December 2nd 2018
Everything’s on fire in Barcelona during the Correfoc
I turned 50 in Barcelona this year. On purpose.
Unbeknownst to me, it was the exact same weekend as the annual La Merce festival. So, my already celebratic milestone was now elevated to a carnival. "Happy Birthday tooooooo meeeeee!
Any pre-planning we did for our 5 days in Barcelona went straight out the window. Ah, the joys of travel.
We were now at "La Mercy" of the millions of residents and tourists that have crowded the downtown core to participate in over 600 events throughout the city, in just one weekend.
I had no idea what La Merce was. I had to look it up.
In Catalan, the word "Merce" means service, help, a sense of compassion, and loving mercy. Apparently, this festival has been celebrated since the Middle Ages, when the city of Barcelona was forced to pray to the Virgin of Grace for help to rid them of a plague of locusts. Well it worked, and when the pestilence disappeared, the Virgin was named patroness of Barcelona, and she's been revered each year since. Plague of Bugs. Pray to a Virgin. Have an Annual Party.
These Catalonians know how to live!
Castillers of Spain
Doesn’t every family do this?
My travel friend, Winnipeg the Pooh, and I decided to get some of the more touristy things out of the way so we could fully embrace "La Merce." We grab a local festival newspaper and try to make heads or tails of what is where, when is what, who is why. Gah. There is too much going on in this city to decide.
We both agree the Sagrada Familia is top of our list.
I have been an admirer of Gaudi's work since I was a pink-mohawked teen. Our hotel was strategically picked so we'd be only a few minutes walk. We ventured out into the sweltering streets, past all the stinky garbage receptacles and cafes,10 blocks until the crowds thickened and the feeling of excitement was palpable. There, in the distance, the greatest sculpture of all time, materializing before us. No disrespect but it’s like a giant melted ice cream cake, gone horribly wrong.
The Sagrada Familia is just something you need to see in person...to truly grasp its grandure and the pure insanity of it. I just stood there, staring up, not realizing I'd drifted out into the morning traffic, thereby being aggressively
Winnipeg the Pooh and the cheeky Monkey
Great travel buddies, her and I. Sometimes it’s fun to see the world with your friends
honked at. Winnie gently nudges me forward.
What the hell is this Sagrada Familia? Is it a beautiful dream? Or a horrific nightmare? Or both?
The Nuns found me. They encircle my person, as they always do when I'm anywhere in this world. We all queued up for our turn to go inside.
The calming voice of the woman in the headphones describes the significance of each carving and novelty, but my mind quickly becomes a mishmash of religious symbolism. She drops in and out of my subconscious as I was lulled forward by my own propellence.
Inside this magestical structure it feels like a giant redwood forrest. The tree "columns" reach to the heavens in a kaladascope of stained glass. Winnie and I were both lost in it, enjoying the madness of Gaudi's vision. It was a time warp. I don't know how long I was in there.
Out the back of his creation, are sinewy tendons that appear to be holding the entire masterpiece together. I would have hated working for a fruit loop like Gaudi, and his ever changing instructions. But somehow it all comes together. Or at least it should, one
inside Gaudis mind
A nightmare and reality, his amazing ideas come to life in this magical structure.
The city of Barcelona promises it will be completed by the year 2026. I personally think it will never be done. Gaudi would love that.
We easily navigate through the Barcelona Metro and are deposited conveniently downtown. Winnipeg is being a good sport. I've already turned into a demanding birthday girl. She wants to go to the Picasso museum, I want to go to the beach. I win.
My pre-birthday afternoon was spent with thousands of Catalonians, half-naked and half-baked on this very hot 30 degree day in late September, we frolick with them in the waves of the Mediterranean and laze on the golden sands, before finding a wonderful seaside eatery for my pre-birthday-birthday of Aperol spritzers and a seafood paella with a candle stuck in it.
As dusk settles in, we walk up through the gothic quarter, a maze of alleyways with hidden plazas and tapas bars. I found myself feeling extra vigilant because all the locals who were milling about are wearing black hoodies and sunglasses. Pretty sure there wasn’t a Corey Hart concert nearby.
Suddenly firecrackers are going off all around us, red hot sparks are pinging off my forehead
Unbelievable to see it in person. It is like walking into the mind of Gaudi while he’s having a nightmare. Scheduled to be finished by 2026, will it ever really be?
and arms as we duck for cover, laugh screaming as thousands of CorreFoc participants go running by, firing Roman candles into the manic wave of people. We are so tightly packed in that they propel us forward to a plaza, where there is a huge papermache Devil with a nice set of boobs
about to do battle with a werewolf and a dinosaur, both of whom are loaded for bear with pyrotechnics.
Huge explosions are going off in all directions, sparks rain down on us during their mock standoff. And I now fully understand why the hoodies and sunglasses.
You could smell burning hair and gun powder in the clouds of acrid smoke billowing over. It was like being in a pyrotechnic mosh pit.
For the record, Winnie tapped out first.
The following day, much of the same. We pushed through the crowds and did some shopping, visited the Piscasso museum ~ fascinating! And of course, stopped here and there for the 10 Euro tapas deals.
No time left to visit Monserrat, part of our original plan. Instead, we walked through the gothic quarter and found ourselves in political demonstrations, street theatre, live concerts, circus performances.
follow the guys in red tights
a guaranteed way to find the next big celebration going on in yet another square
We perused many of the galleries that had art spilling out onto the streets.
My sandaled feet were on fire from the 50k in iApple steps. Barcelona is such a walkable city. Sorted that with a nice pre-birthday pedicure and foot massage.
But I won't lie, I'm here in Spain for the food. I figured it would be a great place for a last "meat hurrah" before I turn into a vegetarian.
My birthday dinner was in an upscale nook somewhere in the gothic district. So delicious. At our prime people watching table, the house Rioja was poured freely. A charcuterie course arrived first, with too many olives, followed with a do-it-yourself Crustinis platter where you rubbed each piece with roasted garlic and tomato, drizzled them with olive oil and then heap on the cheese and prosciutto. Already full, next came a white asperagus salad with fresh tuna. I’m like, done. But now the waiter is bringing out a tray of crab crokettes. Surely that would be it? Nope. The main course was a Frittata loaded with fresh seafood. Lastly, aperitifs of liquors. Before they brought out a birthday cake. Sweet Jesus.
As we walked it
the devil is a woman...like you didn’t know that already.
Menacing characters looked over the Correfoc crowds before all he’ll broke loose
off, pushing through the crowds strolling up Las Ramblas, Winnipeg pointed out a tiny bar on a second floor building that literally had people hanging out the windows, music at a crazy decibel. So of course, we gravitated up and found ourselves squeezed in with a whole football team of Brits on their stag night. A very fun evening was had by all, drinking Sangria that came with an entire fruit salad in each glass.
As soon as it was discovered it was my 50th birthday, the shots of liquor started arriving at our table in fast intervals. I'm not clear who got a little too obnoxious and grabby. Us, or the footballers. Could have been us.
The following day we were mildly hungover and standing amongst a restless but well-behaved crowd of about 40,000 as the first Castiller family begin to build their human pyramid. Everyone was murmuring and shushing. To the point where you could hear a pin drop. Finally, when you can't believe the human tower could get any taller, a cute little four year old girl wearing a helmet, scampers up to the top of this amazing vertical chain of family members, and
throws her arms in the air triumphantly. The crowd then erupts into a wave of ecstatic cheers.
This went on all day.
I was well hydrated and in it for the long haul but it turns out Winnipeg doesn't care for this crush of humans in over 30 degree weather. Weird. I forfeit my "I get to do anything I want on my birthday" card and we exit stage left to go and enjoy Gaudi’s Parc Guell.
Our last hurrah in Barcelona was trying to finish off our to do list. We zigzagged all over the city, up and down endless Metro stairs, in and out of museums and galleries, and tapas bars.
By midday, My feet are killing me again so I beg Winnie for shady break, sitting on a fountain at the Placa de Catalunya eating gelato and watching the knockoff salesmen from Ghana spread their wares out on a sheet, tied with a rope for that quick getaway, should the Policia happen by.
Our last supper, Winnie zeroed in on a Vegan hamburger joint, and while waiting for our order with some cold beers, a procession of strange giant paper machete characters
He was everywhere, built into the very fabric of Barcelona
glide by. Followed by a school marching band. One after another.
It went on for at least an hour. Pied piper like, we follow them through the narrow streets and find ourselves at the Plaza Juame with at least 100,000 others. The crowds sing and dance and jumping around, we get caught up in it too. Fireworks start to go off overhead, and I ask around and get directed to a rooftop bar, where we catch the end of a huge fireworks display over the beach.
Best birthday weekend ever! Thank you Barcelona.
And to you, my readers, I promise not to get all silly nostalgic and sentimental. But the last 50 years have been a wild journey of travel adventures and full of laughs, joys and sorrows. I wouldn't have had it any other way.
Here's to the next 50! Salud!
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