Thursday, November 12, 2009

Have Mercè!

One day back in Montpellier and it’s off for an overnight trip to Barcelona to meet up with Steve and Carolyn, friends from Ottawa who are touring through Spain. We catch an early-morning train for a 4 ½-hour ride to the capital city of Catalunya. I love train travel: the rhythm, the landscapes, the people-watching. We head southeast, hugging the shoreline of the Mediterranean, then turn south and veer inland, passing among the hillside vineyards in Roussillon. Crossing the border into Spain, both French and Spanish border agents check our passports…so much for the European Union!

We arrive in Barcelona right on time and look for the subway to meet up with Steve and Carolyn. After some confusion in finding the right subway line…
Sign Sign everywhere a sign
Blocking out the scenery breaking my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?
…we’re headed for the Plaça Catalunya. It’s the noon hour and the subway is packed. When we arrive at Plaça Catalunya and come back to street level onto La Rambla dels Estudis, it’s a sea of people of all ages. Can all these people be out for a stroll at lunch?! It turns out, no. We’ve arrived right in the middle of the feast day of Our Lady of Mercy (La Mercè): THE biggest festival of the year in Barcelona and it looks like all 4.9 million people in the Barcelona metro area are here to party.

We slowly wend our way though the crowds and acrobats and musicians to our hotel, Regencia Colon, where Steve and Carolyn are waiting in the lobby. Once we check-in, it’s back out to join the street party. There are even more people now. Going in the direction of shouts and cheers, we reach a plaza where something is going on but we’re not quite sure what it is. Suddenly, we see it. Rising up is a human tower (called a castell). Each level is a circle of men who are standing on the shoulders of the men below. They build it level by level, with each level made up of progressively smaller men, then barefoot kids, who climb on the backs on the men on the lower levels to reach the top. Several teams are here to compete. The crowd claps and cheers louder and louder as each level is quickly completed, gasps when a castell starts to sway, and screams if it collapses. And they do, sending the children at the top crashing down to the base of the castell. There are ambulances parked nearby but they don’t need them today.  To see the "largest castell in history", go to

We break away from the crowd in search of lunch. We all play tourist and order paella and rosé wine from Penedes. After lunch, we head away from the heart of the festival to take in the architecture of Gaudi. We visit the Casa Battlo, Casa Milà, and (after a long walk) the unfinished masterwork, Sagrada Familia. All are stunningly intricate designs, a feast of creativity. When Gaudi received his architectural papers, someone commented, “Who knows if we have given this diploma to a nut or to a genius. Time will tell.”

We’ve covered a lot of ground so, on the way back to our hotel, we reward ourselves at La Vinacoteca Torres, a wine bar run by the Torres winery.  I’ve been a fan of Torres wines for many years and, although I think they’ve lost a step in recent years (or I’ve become more demanding), they still produce consistently good quality wines. Too bad that we don’t see more of them in Ontario.

To see photo highlights, go to:

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