Barcelona birthday and fiesta

I made my way to Barcelona again last week for some festivities. A lot of festivities as a matter of fact as the Gracia neighborhood was all about La Festa Gracia, a week’s worth of activities and concerts all over the neighbourhood.

More importantly though was Monica’s birthday of course, the main reason for traveling to that lovely city and my love at this time.

I flew to Barcelona on a typical Dutch Friday afternoon (that is: rainy) to land in a sun-flooded Barcelona. Monica and I had registered to a coffee cupping session and that wouldn’t have been a problem if my plane would not have had a delay. But as it did, we had to run a bit and luckily we made it all well in time to Wer-Haus.

A coffee cupping session is really interesting to see for a time, but the rules and acts are a bit weird. There is ‘coffee grind sniffing’ (works a lot better if your nose works a bit better than mine), then coffee smelling and sipping. The sipping HAS to be loud. God-forbid if you are out-sipped by your neighbour, so gradually the sipping got louder and louder.

You didn't think I just took pictures there, did you?
You didn’t think I just took pictures there, did you?

But I do like the traditions and manners that happen around coffee making. It makes it a lot more interesting than to merely fill a cup with caffeine.

Anyway… before things got all together too weird we sneaked out (Oh hey, look what’s happening over there!!!). Gained another experience though that I really did enjoy.

On Saturday a lot of photos were in the planning, most of them not mine. We traveled to the MAPFRE-foundation where a terrific collection of Bruce Davidson’s work was on display. Beautiful reportages and I also loved the subtle differences quality and styling of his work in 35mm and medium format photography.

On our way to the CaixaForum for another exposition we passed along the Liceu Opera House of Barcelona. There wasn’t a show on, but they did a short guided tour through the building and at two in the afternoon Monica and I were the only two waiting for a tour, so we got a private one.

The building looks awesome. It’s been destroyed through fires twice and rebuilt twice, it’s in a gorgeous condition. The guide did his best in English for me and as his English was a lot better then my Spanish, we got the whole story. Perfect! The stage and seats are simply beautiful and the ceiling a true piece of art. As is the waiting area. We have to get back there for a proper opera one day, as I’d really like to experience that once, in a location as incredible as this.

As a small picture doesn't do the hall justice, click photo for full size
As a small picture doesn’t do the hall justice, click photo for full screen

After the tour we went on to the CaixaForum for an exposition of Philippe Halsman’s work, mostly known for a large body of work he did for Life magazine and of course for the surreal photo of Dali that he made (there’s a whole series of negatives of failed shots in the exposition btw). Also a terrific exposition.

Philippe did a huge series on jumping people (mostly celebreties) and that’s a whole story on getting the right shot of Marilyn Monroe who (at the beginning of his series wanted no part of it and much later returned to do shot upon shot upon shot to get the right photo. But for me the photo of Dali ‘wins’: it’s so well known and I never guessed it was part of the Jumping series.

On Sunday we viewed the streets of Gracia a bit, the people there were putting the final touches to the preparation of the Fiesta de Gracia, a magnificent party in the Gracia barrio, but more on that later!

Every part of the bear's skin is individually made and put in place, really. We saw it happen!
Every part of the bear’s skin is individually made and put in place, really. We saw it happen!

We then visited the Parc del laberint d’Horta, next to the Velodrome (closed for maintenance). Entrance was free as they’re working on the waterworks in the park. No waterfall, no fountains or anything. It’s still a lovely park though and we took some portraits there making use of a small Joby tripod and a hole in the wall. It’s a bit gimmicky, but it worked :D

In the afternoon we went to Parc de la Ciutadella where we rented a boat to row in the pond a bit and then took shade in a park for a while. In the evening we ended the day pre-celebrating Monica’s birthday with her friends on one of the terraces of Barcelona. I finally got to meet all of Monica’s friends (or at least the ones that weren’t on vacation). Terrific ending to a terrific day!

After a practice run in Sevilla I know my stuff now. Rowing is easy-peasy :D
After a practice run in Sevilla I know my stuff now. Rowing is easy-peasy :)

On Monday the Fiesta de Gracia (also know as Festa Major de Gracia in catalan) kicked off. There were streets upon streets decorated in their own themes and they made a lot of work from that. Big decoration towering the 5 or 6 level apartments, the sky often invisible through the many decoration.

The streets all had themes: Rollerskates, Surfing, Pirates of the Caribean, Love and lots more, all of them were decorated with a lot of detail and attention as it’s a prestigious event. Prizes are to be won and honour is at stake. The festival is considered to be Barcelona’s biggest and most popular (and certainly most colourful) street festival held annually in August.

Ship ahoy matey! Look at the size of this thing!

Originally meant as a way to bring the neighbourhood and the residents of Gracia together it’s grown into a massively popular festival bringing over a million and a half visitors each year, so you can imagine the streets are a bit crowded every so often.

All the streets and plaza’s had stages for music and other demonstration. After wondering the streets admiring the decoration we stopped to see a demonstration of the homebrewing of beer (lovely but if I have to wait 6 to 8 weeks for beer to finish, I’ll get some beers from the store, thank you very much).

The official opening was at the main plaza with castellers (the human towers) and correfoc. The castellers are always impressive, especially with the little kids climbing up, on and over the top of the man-made tower. The correfoc makes a lot of smoke and is cheered on by all.

Celebrating Monica’s birthday we have a wonderful dinner in a restaurant and then head into the Fiesta de Gracia. Lots and lots of concerts with something for everyone. From cover pop bands to jazz and folk. And all the streets are full!!! I have to mention the Lindy-hop dancing at the jazz-concert, that was so incredibly awesome to see. Not just two or three pairs, but nearly the whole street was dancing, man that’s nice!

A different view at night with lights ad a lot of people!
A different view at night with lights ad a lot of people!

On Tuesday Monica is still free and we take the opportunity to visit Tarragona, a village that lies a bit south of Barcelona along the coast. There’s some impressive ancient roman history to be seen there (and as it was, quite a few Dutch tourists). The Anfiteatre is a good starting point and has a great view to the sea as well.

From there we went into the historic center of the village to see the cathedral, the small streets and lots of decorated poles in the street. A colourful arty area.

I think he misses his friend

There is also a really impressive sculpture of castellers to be seen and before we headed back to Barcelona we walk that sculpture. We were not able to visit the Roman aquaduct, but we’ll save that for next time.

Once back in Barcelona we dived into the Fiesta de Gracia once more and saw a really, really good concert by the Spanis band A Contra Blues, a very impressive band!

And just as suddenly it’s Wednesday. Monica has to go back to work and I get to do the long insane walks. I wanted to redo some photos of the Sagrada Familia and walk there (to some it’s a long walk, I call it a warming up). The view of the Sagrada Familia as you walk there along the Avinguda Gaudí is great. Upon arrival there are no more tickets for the day (or days). Of course it’s a peak-time in tourism, so it’s not all too surprising.

After a few more photos outside the Sagrada Familia and taking in a few new details I walk further through Barcelona. Monica has a Barcelona map called ‘ Specialty Coffee’  that shows about 20 of the most interesting coffee bars in Barcelona and I decide that in the next few days I’m going to try and find as many as possible. I find a few at Diagonal Avenue, the big street leading me to the Torre Agbar en the market at Encants Vells where I did some ‘long exposure’ photography. Spending this much time on getting the photos just right when I’m out with Monica always feels a bit unfair to her, so now that I’m on my own I can get as nerdy as I wanna be :)

I walk on past the Arc de Triomf onwards to Nomad for a coffee and meet a Dutch girl working behind the bar there. Good to have some Dutch contacts there (you never know when I might need them) and after buying some beans to take home I made a stop at Cafe Ina before rushing back to meet Monica. We are to meet at the cafe where we had out New Years dinner and I have to run and run the last bit as I’d forgotten the time it takes to get from the metro to the location (I could have easily gone to the station near the cafe, but forgot that part…).

After a late lunch (well, for me that is) we went to photo-exposition number three! In the Fundación Foto colectania there is a good collection of Vivian Maier’s work and even though I’ve seen several collections, seeing work like this is always great, she might not have been known as a great photographer in her life, but she had a terrific eye for composition and scenes.

One ‘Vivian Maier-like’ selfie in a mirror then before we head into the Fiesta de Gracia a bit.

On Thursday I have a marvelous idea:  I’ve seen that Pave is a bicycle store in Barcelona that is often mentioned in the top-X-listed stores of the world and as I’m looking into a new roadbike I didn’t mind a look in a gorgeous store in Barcelona. I made sure I had a good idea where to go as it’s nowhere near the center of Barcelona. Took a long metro-line to the end of the red line near the Bellvitge hospital.

That is the building with a UFO on the roof that always makes me think of ‘No Word from Gurb’ and had a walk of well over an hour to find the Pave-store in the El Prat barrio. And guess what??? Closed! Even though there was no word of that on the building, internet or Facebook. So after looking around for a bit hoping they’d suddenly open up again, I made my way back to the hospital. It is a lovely walk with some new views, I’d just prefer to have seen the inside of the shop.

This is what the closed version of PAVE looks like
This is what the closed version of PAVE looks like
Got a bit artistry on my long walk
Got a bit artistry on my long walk

In the afternoon I head back to the Coffee-map to take a few more coffee’s. I have some really good experiences and one really, really bad one. Looking for one of the coffeebars I end up in a neighborhood (where that shop is at) where I felt more unsafe then anywhere I’ve been ever before. I’ve walked into some weird streets in New York, walked unafraid through Rome and Napels and many other places, but this particular piece of Barcelona gave me the creeps. Walked on quickly, found the coffee bar, but decided to skip it. I found my way to the bar Satan’s Coffee (weird eh… but it’s good there, really good) in the Gothic Barrio. Had a good coffee and some fruits to calm the nerves.

I do love coffee... did you know that?
I do love espressos… did you know that?

In the evening Monica and I head to Poble Espanyol. In daytime it’s a ‘theme parc’  that shows all the different areas of Spain, but in summertime, much like many other touristic location they have music-nights and tonight Johhny Big Stone and the Blues Workers play at Poble Espanyol, a great blues-band with a superb background. We start nearly at the front, but after a while take a seat in the grass a bit to the back. It’s a lovely location to spend the evening. Lovely music, great weather…

Click image for the set of Johnny Big Stone & The Blues Workers

On our way back to the metro Monica shows me a location with a beautiful sight, especially when the moon is out in full. Unfortunately a huuuuuuge cloud drifts in and appears not to want to leave anymore. But with the strong lights that are sent upwards and the moon shining just a bit through it’s still a gorgeous sight.

On Friday I don’t really do much in photography in the daytime. I try to cross a few more coffee bars of the list, but although I do find them, they’re all closed for summer vacation. By the end of the afternoon, once Monica is back from work and the weekend has started, we see another type of castallers: they build a single line-tower (normally the tower had three to four people on avery layer). Once the tower is stable, they WALK DOWN THE STREET! Really, down the street, around a corner and on the plaza. Once there the crown explodes in applause and cheers and the tower is disassembled. Very impressive.

We spend the evening on Tibidabo to see the sun go down and once it’s dark the lights of the park come on and I shoot some long-exposre work with the lights. It’s a lovely park and the view over Barcelona is great. Although tonight there are a few too many clouds in.

Freaking a bit with long exposures
Freaking a bit with long exposures

On Saturday it’s all sunny again and we head out to the beach. Not the one in Barcelona of course, that’s where all the tourists go and as a true Barcelonean you do not share the beach with that lot ;) So we took a train and head up the coast for an hour or so and find a great beach. And after a full week of sensible outings it’s of course now that I get terribly burned. I leave the beach a mere few hours later in a perfect resemblance of a fiery red lobster.

As it’s my last full day in Barcelona we have a nice dinner and take a bit more of the Fiesta de Gracia (have you figured out I LOVE the fiesta?) It can be a bit crowded at times, but it’s a truly great fiesta. I’m quite sure I’ll be there again next year!

On Sunday sadly I had to go home again. We had a beautiful morning walking the streets of Gracia and visiting the terrace of the hotel Casa Fuster. Also we managed to track down a good bottle of Vermut in a real bodega and then I really had to go to the airport. The flight to the Netherlands took a mere two hours, it took well over 4 hours and a loooooong detour in trains to get from Amsterdam to Assen. The next trip is planned in two months and will take us over the big ocean, can’t wait for that!

As you’ve noticed by now there are a lot of photos in this blog-entry, but there are still many more in the full set. Unless it is mentioned that a photo will lead you to another set or image: click any image for a visit to the full set of photos.