Return to Tarragona

Trip Start Sep 14, 2011
Trip End Sep 26, 2011

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What I did
Santa Tecla

Flag of Spain  , Catalonia,
Sunday, September 18, 2011

It had more or less stopped raining by the time we got up but our plans for the morning were already in jeopardy. Our destination after breakfast was going to be the mountain of Pedraforca but the enjoyment of such places is at least in part dependent upon what you can see and when we looked out of the window we couldn't see as far as the end of the garden. So after breakfast we checked out, loaded the car and set off, hoping that perhaps the thick cloud would either lift or clear. However it was not to be and when we reached the Saldes turn-off we decided that the extra miles to the foot of the mountain would be wasted effort so just kept on heading south.

There was some consolation. CC's youngest, James, had caught the 06:30 from Liverpool to Reus so was due to arrive in Tarragona at about the time we left Falgars and there were castellers in the Placa de la Font at midday.

Vilafranca de la Penedes, home of many of Catalunya's fine wines, was en route so we took a quick diversion into the town centre. We have been a fan of the wines and cavas produced by Pinord for several years, having discovered them at the wine festival in Barcelona, so we couldn't resist taking photos at their base, but as this was a Sunday they were closed so no chance of a guided tour. Vilafranca itself was also more or less closed, with very few people about, so we didn't linger long, reasoning that a fair slice of the local population were probably in Tarragona, where their castellers were appearing.

Our hire car was due to be returned to the Hertz office the next day, because they don't open on Sundays but the chap in the Barcelona office had told us that it would probably be ok to return it a day early if we parked somewhere safe and left a note of where we'd parked. We could post the key through the letter box. The Hertz office took some finding (it's very close to the railway station) and the only parking nearby was in a multi-storey. As luck would have it, there was a sign in the car park to the 'Hertz reserved spaces' and we left the car in the one remaining space. We couldn't return the key though, because the office had no apparent letter box!

A taxi took us up the short but steep road from the station to Hotel Placa de la Font (surely the best hotel to stay in if you're visiting for Santa Tecla) and we quickly checked in, phoned James and arranged to meet him on the square.

By the time we got together, castellers were drawing to a close and we only saw a couple of towers being built but James has spent quite a lot of time in the crowd after checking in to his hotel and had enjoyed his introduction to Catalan culture.

Mamadeta is considered 'the drink of the festa' and is something to try. It's not for the faint-hearted, though. For eight euros (six for a 'recarga') you got a commemorative plastic beaker with a lid and a hole for a straw, filled with a potent mixture of lemon granita (or slush) and green Chartreuse. Perhaps it's the context and the excitement, but this works rather well and the cups can be seen hanging around the necks of locals and visitors alike and many bars advertise mamadeta so you don't have to return to the place you bought the cup for a refill. We bought ourselves three mamadetas to drink whilst showing James around some of the old city.

There's a big emphasis on involving children in the events of the festival and the main item on the programme for today was the Baixadeta de l'Aligueta. This is the childrens' version of one of the main events of the festival, the Baixada de l'Aliga which I wrote about in my 2010 blog and will cover again in a couple of days time. As far as we could tell, this was the first time a Baixadeta de l'Aligueta had been tried, so we felt that we should give it our support.

If we have one single 'hint' to give to people planning on going to Tarragona for Santa Tecla it has to be 'if you find something you like the sound of in the programme, get there early'. We were going to do this to excess for the Baixada de l'Aliga itself, but we found ourselves a seat on the increasingly crowded cathedral steps with over 45 minutes to go. Good thing that mamadetas stay chilly for ages.

The Seguici Popular, or Popular Following forms an important part of Catalan festivals. There are the Gegants del Ciutat (Giants of the city), the Aliga (Eagle), Lleo (the Lion), Mulassa (the Big Mule) Bou (the Bull) and Drac (the Dragon) amongst others and in Tarragona at least, some of these figures have junior equivalents. Another feature of Santa Tecla is the Paso Doble, "Amparito Roca", which might safely be called 'the music of the festa' and if there are parades happening you can be pretty sure that it won't be long before Amparito Roca is performed.

The childrens' eagle (Aligueta), mule (Mulasetta) and lion (Lleonet) were the elements taking part in today's parade and as the appointed hour drew near, a replica of the full sized eagle appeared at the top of the steps, carried by a youngster and supported by a band and it wasn't long before the strains of Amparito Roca were blasting out. Nearly everybody claps along to the paso doble and at the climax they sing along. Hear the tune three times and you'll be joining in too.

The steps, the square at the bottom and the streets leading off were busy by the time the eagle started its descent, pausing several times on its way to dance to the music of the festa. It was wearing a sign proclaiming that it wants to see Catalan taught in schools. The Catalan independence movement is strong in Tarragona as demonstrated by the flags hanging from numerous buildings and draped from balconies and windows. We even had a Tarragona flag (in the same colours as that of Catalunya) hanging from our hotel balcony. The mule (always hugely popular) and the lion followed closely behind, each one with its own accompanying band.

The Tarragona Mulassa is perhaps the creature that attracts the most affection and it is huge. The Mulasetta is big too and it came down the steps, to the tune of Amparito Roca played by a band in white hats and black t-shirts who were well received by the knowledgeable crowd, with the bells on its harness jingling. The band were called "Txaranga Band Tocats" and we were to encounter them again later.

Lleonet was next and the crowd started to thin out a bit as the parade made its way around a few of the streets of the old part of Tarragona but we cut through down Carrer Major and the Baixada de la Misericordia to Placa de la Font, where the Aligueta and friends would finish up, at the door to the Ajuntament. We didn't have long to wait before they arrived and we accompanied them to the steps of the town hall, where all three beasts did a dance together, somehow managing to avoid any major collisions despite the tiny space available.

When the animals were safely returned to the Ajuntament we were ready for a sit down. Many of the restaurants and bars set up temporary street-side bars for the festival and just around the corner from the Ajuntment was a very basic bar at the side of a building. There were free tables so we sat down and ordered some beers. Our friends Tony and Kay were due to arrive on a fairly late flight from Belgium and we did not know whether they'd make it in time to have dinner with us but we weren't in any rush.

Before we were even halfway through our first beers, the Txaranga Band Tocats arrived in force. They seemed to know the ladies running the bar and were soon tucking into some hard-earned lager - playing paso dobles over and over for a couple of hours whilst keeping on the move must be quite tiring. After a bit of refreshment they picked up their instruments again and started to play. They were fantastic. They attracted quite a crowd who were clearly enjoying themselves and hopefully they were getting their beers on the house because I'm sure they helped increase the bar's takings. We had three rounds because there was no way we were moving on whilst they continued to provide first class free entertainment.

I managed to get some of the performance on video, but I missed the highlight, which was a rendition of the Rocky movie theme followed by an hilarious version of the James Bond tune where they weaved in and out and up and down like sharks around a sinking boat during the 'sinister' section. If it was the Baixada de l'Aliga that brought us back to Tarragona for Santa Tecla in 2010 it's the chance of moments like these that are unprogrammed and impossible to predict that will take us back again. Thanks guys.

All the cheering and clapping, not to mention weak euro-lager, had generated something of an appetite so we went in search of Pulvinar restaurant ( ) where pretty good pastas, pizzas and other Italian meals can be had whilst watching the world struggle by up that steep Baixada de la Misericordia. Sitting outside is nice but make sure you check inside for a bit of a surprise.

Kay and Tony arrived sometime after we'd finished eating so we went for a few late drinks and a chat before turning in.

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