Girona’s Top Bars

Girona is brimming with bars.  Check out my favourite haunts for a drink … or two … or three…

Vadevins

Vadevins streetHead down this alley and you’ll find a bar spilling over with locals and wine.  Why are they there?  The wine is fantastic and cheap.  The cheese and meat platters are delicious and endless.  The atmosphere buzzes and bubbles. Why aren’t you there?

https://www.facebook.com/Vadevins-Girona-287416708029075/

Sunset Jazz Club

Sunset Jazz Club

The Sunset Jazz Club: a time machine.  Give me a sequined dress and I could be back in 1920s’ New Orleans, soaking up the notes and the liquor pouring forth.  The smoky atmosphere of arched ceilings and lip-stick red velvet feels as if it’s always been there.   The bar has the rare ability to recreate another era without feeling like a sham.  And that’s because, it’s not a sham: it’s a genuine jazz bar with genuine live music.

https://www.facebook.com/pg/SunsetJazzClub/

Nykteri’s Cocktail Bar

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Hands down, the best cocktails I have ever had: ever.  I cannot do justice to the cocktails or the artistry of Mariona Vilanova who crafts them.  On top of exquisite drinks, the bar oozes sophistication and intimacy without the pretentious arsy-ness which often accompanies it.  Sipping a cocktail here, you feel as comfortable as if you’re sitting in an armchair at home and as awe-struck and cultural as if you’re watching the ballet.

https://www.facebook.com/pg/nykteriscocktailbar/photos/?ref=page_internal

Txalaka

Pinchos at Txalakas

The best bar in town for pinchos.  Associated with the Basque Country, pinchos are mini tapas on slices of baguette bread.  The selection is vast and delicious: squid, tortilla, moorhen, fuet, chocolate…  Moor-ish!

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Txalaka/160619130649512

Girona: What’s on in May

If you live in Girona, don’t go away – enjoy your weekends here.  If you don’t live in Girona, get here fast!  May is Girona’s ultimate month for culture.

1. Flowers, flowers, flowers …

Girona is always beautiful, but May is the month that it truly blossoms.  Literally.  For two weeks, Temps de Flors festival will adorn the historic city with flower exhibitions.  You can follow a route through the flowers, crumbling walls and historic buildings.  At the same time, workshops, expositions and flower-filled menus will vie for your attention.  This celebration of all that is beautiful is not to be missed.

2. The Acapella Music Festival

As if your senses weren’t already overwhelmed enough with the sight, smell and taste of flowers, the Acappella Festival will also charm Girona throughout the middle of May.  The line-up features international choirs singing throughout the city and often for free.  In particular, be sure to check out the atmospheric, evening performances in Plaça Independencia.

3. Museums for free!

If you are yet to explore Girona’s museums, then May is the month.  The Museum of History, Cinema, Jewish History, Art and Archaeology… There are so many opportunities this month, and all of them are free…

  • 7th May (Museums are free on the first Sunday of every month).
  • 18th May (International Museum Day)
  • 20th May, 19.30-24.00pm (The Night of the Museums)
  • http://www.girona.cat/turisme/cat

4. The Moscow Ballet

Try ballet – well, watching ballet; see the Moscow Ballet perform for just €38 at the Auditorium.  You won’t need to be able to understand the language, you’ll get a full theatre experience and you’ll be watching the ultimate ballet masters in action.

Getting naked in Spain

My Britishness is difficult to hide; my skin glows white and I still speak Spanish like a toddler.  But most British of all, I find getting naked in public horrifying.  For me, trying to blend in in a Spanish changing room is an absolute nightmare. 

First, getting changed.  To give you some idea of my public nakedness to date, as a Brit, I have been brought up to obey the following rules of changing room nudity:

A Brit’s guide to getting changed:

  • Step 1: Choose the corner bench (for added privacy).
  • Step 2: Wrap yourself in your extra-large towel and clench it between your teeth.
  • Step 3: Extract (with some difficulty) your clothes from beneath the towel shield.
  • Step 4: Tuck in your extra-large towel – firmly.  
  • Step 5: Shuffle to the shower (while avoiding eye contact).

In contrast, as far as I can tell, Spaniards feel very little difference between having their clothes on and having their clothes off.  In the changing room, they chat naked, stroll naked and look in the mirror – naked.

And don’t even get me started on the changing room showers.  Why are there no shower doors? It may just be my gym, but there are no doors.  The first time I went to the gym showers, I kid you not, I did a quick recce of the doorless situation to see if people were wearing swimming costumes to wash.   The answer: a revealing no.

Ok, I may be exaggerating the differences slightly – but seriously not much. And I’m not alone: statistics reveal even more: 63% of British women feel uncomfortable naked.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is good thing.  I mean, let’s face it, British changing is a far more time-consuming and difficult process.

But despite this, I can’t imagine myself blending in at the gym anytime soon – not without a fake tan and a personality change anyway.

The ultimate April Fools’ jokes

In Spain, the equivalent of April Fools’ Day is known as the Massacre of the Innocents.  Yes, you did read that correctly; rather than the British day for “plonkers” the Spanish have named their funniest day of the year after Herod’s massacre of infants – perhaps it’s a cultural difference, but it doesn’t sound quite so funny to me! 

Unlike the Spanish tradition, the origins of April Fools’ Day, celebrated in the UK, and many other countries, are less clear.  Some say the origins are in poetry, some say fishing traditions and some say a Roman custom where servants controlled their masters for a day.  It doesn’t really matter though as the day of jokes is brilliant regardless.  Here are some of my favourite April Fool’s pranks

1. Spaghetti grows on trees

In 1957, the BBC broadcast a news segment on the troubles facing the spaghetti harvest.  The footage showed a Swiss family carefully picking strands of spaghetti from a tree and drying them in the sun.  The programme was watched and believed by millions – some viewers even called the BBC, wanting to buy spaghetti bushes.

2. Talk with your pet hamster with Google’s app

In 2009, Google released an app enabling you to record and translate all kinds of moos, baas and quacks.  Google stated that they had worked alongside senior fellows of Oxford University to remove the “language barriers between the species”.

3. Volcano erupts!

In Sitka, Alaska, thousands awoke to the sight of black smoke billowing from the long dormant volcano.  A Coast Guard helicopter went to investigate.  The pilot nervously approached the crater, only to find a huge pile of burning car tyres and a spray painted ‘April fool’ sign. I’m not sure everyone would see the funny side of this!

4. Update your black and white TV for free … using nylon stockings

In 1962, thousands of Swedish parents stripped off their nylon stockings and carefully stretched them over the screens of their TVs.  When their TV screens failed to update from black and white to colour (this technology wouldn’t be available for another 8 years), they wondered if the stockings were the wrong denier.  What they should have been questioning was the technology “expert” of the national TV channel, SVT, which had broadcast an April Fools hoax earlier that day.

5. Iceberg in Australia

Australians were shocked to find an iceberg floating past the Sydney Opera House in 1978.  Radio stations at the time provided a blow by blow account as the iceberg hit national news.  Only when it began to rain did the truth come out: the shaving foam melted revealing the plastic structure.  N-ice prank!

Girona: What’s on in April

Check out this selection of the top things to do this month:

1. Don’t miss Easter!

Easter is filled with performances of palm leaves, romans and crucifixes, telling the story of Jesus’ last days.   On 9th April (Palm Sunday), head to the Ramblas at midday for the celebration of Christ entering Jerusalem.  On Friday 14th April, starting at 9pm on the cathedral steps, follow Christ’s story in the ‘Holy Burial Procession’.  The procession will be hard to miss: it is headed by Romans, followed by costumed church groups and statues.

  • Sunday 9th and Friday 14th April
  • Central Girona

2. Head to a music concert

Last Saturday, a concert held by Pont de Pedra officially opened Strenes music festival.  The festival runs from 25th March to the end of April.  The line-up of predominantly Catalan artists will perform across the city in both indoor and outdoor venues, including Pont de Pedra and the cathedral steps.

3. Wander a local art market

Mercat de La Volta is a small-scale art held on the second Saturday of every month.   It features stalls by 28 small-scale artists and artesans in the Plaça de l’Assumpció de Sant Narcís.  The vibe is chilled with a mix of live music, mini workshops and friendly stalls.  A lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

4. Watch live theatre

If you are looking to practise your English or you just love the theatre, check out the performance of ‘No Man’s Land’ at Cinema Truffaut.  London’s National Theatre broadcasts the performance live allowing you to experience it here in Girona.

5. Take part in a tradition of love

Head to the streets on Sunday 23rd April in search of love!  The streets will be lined with book stalls and flower sellers, celebrating the Catalan tradition of giving roses and books to loved ones.  More detail to follow on this.

  • Sunday 23rd April
  • Central Girona

 

Catalan Easter Food

My sister has given up chocolate and all things sweet for 40 days and 40 nights.  Why?  For Lent. In the UK, people traditionally eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday) and then they give up a sweet food in the run up to Easter.

In Spain and Catalonia, people party day and night for carnival and then they eat traditional Lent sweets in the run up to Easter; I know which country I prefer!

Here is your guide to Catalonia’s top foods for Lent and Easter:

  1. Buñuelos (Eating only 1 buñol is simply not possible)

These mini doughnuts, known as Lent fritters (buñuelos de Cuaresma), are eaten throughout Lent.  (To be fair, buñyols were traditionally used as a way of getting through the traditional forty days of giving up meat).  There are a number of variations to try: buñyols de crema (cream-filled), buñyols de vent (literally wind fritters: air-filled), buñyols del Empordà  (a bit denser and common in Girona).

  1. Tortell de Rams

This ring-shaped marzipan cake, decorated with candied fruit, is traditionally eaten on Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter).  Godparents give the cakes to their godchildren.

  1. Mona de Pascua

On Easter Sunday, godparents once again give a traditional cake to their godchildren: the mona de Pascua (Easter cake).  In the past, these round cakes were topped with the same number of hard-boiled eggs as the age of the child.  Now, they are chocolate masterpieces: chocolate palaces, topped with chocolate eggs, chocolate spidermen, chocolate princesses, chocolate spongebobs…

Once again, you have to give it to Spain, these chocolate masterpieces go above and beyond the chocolate eggs we give at home in the UK.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking Spanish in Catalonia

“No hablo catala.  Puedamos hablar en español?”  Many times this request for Catalans to speak Spanish is met by a couple of minutes of Spanish followed by a couple of hours of incomprehensible Catalan or occasionally by an outright Catalan “no”.  This can leave Spanish-speaking foreigners, isolated, unable to understand, first, the conversation and, second, why Spanish speakers won’t speak Spanish.

For many international people, explaining that they can’t speak in Catalan but could instead speak in Spanish, seems a completely reasonable suggestion.  To start with, Catalan is spoken by an estimated 9 million people whereas 350 million speak Spanish as their first language: naturally, more people can speak Spanish as a second language. Secondly, from a foreigner’s perspective at least, Girona is in Spain and therefore it doesn’t seem wrong to ask a Spaniard if they could speak Spanish.  But having lived in Girona for over six months now, I’m beginning to understand why some Catalans are reluctant to speak Spanish.

It’s political

First, the choice to speak Catalan or Castilian (Spanish) is political.  Throughout history, the Catalan language has come under attack time and again and consequently many Catalans feel a strong need to protect their language.  Most recently, under Franco’s dictatorship (ending just 42 years ago), the Catalan language was banned in all public spaces.  This means that all Catalans aged 50 or over are likely to remember a time when Catalan was banned, Catalonia was marginalised and children were beaten at school simply for using their mother tongue.  When you look at it like this, my request that someone speak Spanish to me no longer seems quite so innocent.

It’s super political now

Indeed, many Catalans would argue that this attack on the Catalan language continues today.  In particular, the strong Catalan Independence movement considers protecting the Catalan language as crucial to protecting and strengthening Catalan identity.  On top of this, the central Spanish government continues to put pressure on Catalonia to invest more education time on Spanish rather than Catalan: a linguistic attack which feels hauntingly familiar to many Catalans.

Not everyone is bilingual

In fact, it is said that by the time Catalans leave school, education data shows that their Spanish equals that of students elsewhere in Spain.  However, this is not to say that all Catalans are comfortable or even fluent in Castilian.  One reason that I think some Catalans won’t speak Spanish to you is simply that they feel unable.  (However, this is normally only the case with those from extremely rural areas).

It’s confusing

Conversely, having lived in a mix-pot of Catalan and Castilian, some Catalans are so comfortable with both languages that they are almost unaware of the difference.  This is because Catalan-speakers are used to communicating perfectly through speaking Catalan and listening to Spanish replies.  This is true in cafés, shops and, most importantly, families with Spanish immigrants.  A child might grow up at a bilingual dinner table where the mother speaks Catalan, the father replies in Spanish and everyone understands.  This means that Catalans often don’t realise how hard it is for Castilian-speaking foreigners to understand Catalan and also that Catalans may switch between the two without realising.  Catalan – Castilian – Castilian – Catalan… You can see how the languages could begin to blur.

Bearing all of this in mind, asking a Catalan to speak in Spanish to me no longer seems so simple.  I mean, imagine if a Catalan friend asked me to speak in American English because they had studied American English.  (And y’all imagine that I was capable of speaking in an American accent and lingo too!)  Firstly, I wouldn’t want to: I’m not American!  The British define themselves as different to Americans just like some Catalans define themselves as different to Spaniards.  Secondly, I would quickly switch back to the language I am most familiar with.  And finally, I would forget how difficult British accents are if you’re not familiar with them.  Or imagine, you asked a Kiwi to speak in an Australian accent.  Or an Austrian to speak with a German accent… The list goes on.  When you look at it this way, it seems completely normal and reasonable for a Catalan to speak in Catalan to foreigners.

Note: Please note that this article includes lots of generalisations and stereotypes.  I have no wish to offend anyone but it is very difficult to talk about differences between people without generalising.  Many Catalan people that I meet and many Catalan friends are incredibly patient with my poor Castilian, … or my English.  It is as a result of conversations with many Catalans that I now understand the complexities of the Catalan-Castilian dynamic: I’m certainly still no expert.