No Time To Sleep, It's Festival Time !

Trip Start Sep 22, 2009
Trip End Oct 14, 2009

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Flag of Spain and Canary Islands  , Catalonia,
Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hola!  Well, 18 hours and 9,200 km's later, we firmly set foot on Espanol soil!  And, all of our luggage arrived with us!  Hallelujah!  God Bless!  Elsie and I have travelled for over 20 years over 5 continents and too many kilometers to keep track and we've never lost a piece of luggage.  That's no small feat if you've seen how we pack!  Those are odds that only our lotteries can match!  Regardless, whenever we arrive at a foreign destination, we always say a prayer of thanks for arriving safely and our luggage arriving with us! 

Although we were obviously tired, the Spanish sunshine and vibrant street activity, with vehicles and motorcycles maneuvering around the city streets and people everywhere, we quickly acquired our second wind!  A quick cab ride got us from the airport into the city center, up Las Ramblas to the Olivia Plaza Hotel adjacent to the Placa de Catalunya.  Although we were a few hours early for check in, our hotel was kind enough to put our luggage in secure storage until our room became available, in approx 3 hours.  

After a quick freshen up in our hotel, we left, map in hand, for a few hours of walking and exploring! It wasn't long before we realized that our hotel was located in a prime location.  Next door was the Hard Rock Cafe.   A short walk away was Las Ramblas, a popular tourist attraction that's 1.2 kms in length consisting of pedestrians, street performers, shops, restaurants, Gothic architecture and history.  It was obvious, Las Ramblas had character!  Directly across the street was the Placa de Catalunya, highly regarded as the center of Barcelona.  And to the south, the Barri Gotic Quarter with history dating back a thousand years. 

In addition, there were lots of people, buses, taxis, cars, motorcycles all around!  And to boot, we learned that today was the start of La Merce 09, a major Barcelona Festival which happened to run from September 23rd to 27th.  Wow!  We couldn't believe this was all happening!  We were absorbing information faster than we could comprehend it!  We were hearing and seeing things before we could understand them!  It was all exciting! 

There was a big stage set up in Placa de Catalunya with music being pumped out of large amps that could be heard clearly in our hotel.  It felt like we arrived in Brazil on the first day of Carnival without knowing it was the first day of Carnival.  Although we weren't aware of La Merce 09 before arriving, we felt it would certainly add to our overall positive Barcelona experience.       

Some locals told us that Merce is the patron saint of Barcelona and this festival occurs annually at this time.  The patron saint of Barcelona was originally Santa Eulàlia, whose remains rest in the crypt of Barcelona Cathedral. However, when in 1687, the city fell victim of a terrible plague, the people of Barcelona placed themselves in the hands of the Virgin of la Mercè who, according to tradition, managed to abate the outbreak. 

Ever since then, la Mercè and Santa Eulàlia have shared the patronage of Barcelona, and although each of them have their own popular festival days, it is the September festival that is celebrated most. This year, La Merce 09 Festival runs from September 23rd to 27th and it's our good fortune that we happened to arrive at the beginning.           

The most traditional activities of the Mercè Festival are, in fact, a compendium of popular culture from all over Catalonia. There is the Gironese Sardana, the human castles and devils from the Camp of Tarragona, dances that still survive today all over the Catalan lands. But the great Barcelona speciality is its street parades, originating from the spectacular processions which took place centuries ago for the celebration of Corpus Christi. They are some of the oldest street spectacles that still exist today. The organisation of the street parades relies solely on groups representing popular culture, working side by side with the street artists, to keep alive the festive and theatrical spirit that these events have always had.

With map in hand, we chose to explore the area, finding Las Ramblas and walking down this vibrant street of unique shops, restaurants, performers, artists, architecture.  The street was crowded with people! Lots of people - locals, tourists!  A few blocks down, we decided to get off Las Ramblas and walk on a quieter but narrower street toward the Barri Gotic Quarter!  Although it was narrower, it didn't mean it was any less crowded.  It meant there was less space to move along a large volume of people!  Recognizing that we weren't going to escape the crowd, we went with the flow.  After all, we weren't in any rush! 

Having walked off Las Ramblas, we noticed the stores did not lower in any quality with very nice stores selling shoes, men's and ladies clothing, leathers, jewellery, etc.  We stopped in a couple stores as Rick, can you believe it, was looking for some brown casual shoes!  It appears the six pairs that he brought for the cruise wasn't enough!  Then, as if to justify his reasons, he proceeded to explain that one pair were black dress shoes, one pair were black casuals, one pair were running shoes, one pair were sandals and two pair were flip flops!  Ohhhh!  Now I can see why you need a pair of brown shoes!! 

We returned to our hotel by 2:30pm and our room was available!  We were on the second floor.  Our room was trendy and had a ceiling to floor window overlooking the Placa de Catalunya!  Cool!  It wasn't very long before we decided to rest for a few hours and catch a short nap before heading out for dinner this evening.  This was a good plan as we likely would've faded early just as the party outside was beginning!

After our well deserved rest, we were out and about by 6:30pm.  First, exploring the La Merce 09 stage at Placa de Catalunya.  With the music pounding from it's speakers, which we could hear clearly from our hotel room, the crowd was starting to gather and become larger.  Naturally, all the lyrics were in Spanish but the sound was Rock!  We left, heading back to the area we were familiar with from this afternoon, the Barri Gotic Quarter.  The crowd, that we thought was large earlier in the day has become much larger as the locals, who worked during the day, now coming out to celebrate in the La Merce 09 events!  We also learned that tomorrow was a bank holiday in Barcelona which meant that most public services had a holiday. 

This evening we encountered numerous stages around the Barri Gotic Quarter, including Placa d'Antoni Maura, La Placa Sant Jaume including a fantastic light show with music reflecting off City Hall.  We watched fire works and the Parade of Giants on Las Ramblas and many street performers.  We dined at a trendy restaurant in the Barri Gotic Quarter, choosing to have a popular local plate of an assortment of tapas with Spanish beer. 

By 11pm, we made our way back to Placa de Catalunya to watch popular Spanish singer Rosario on the main stage.  By now there must've been 20,000 people in the plaza but we were fading quickly.  The long flight here starting to get the best of us!  Thus, we decided to say "adios" to Rosaria and head back to our hotel room which was basically across the street.  

From our room, we listened to the pop latino music of Spanish superstar Rosario until 12:30am!  Obviously, Barcelona has no noise bylaws.  But on stage was no ordinary band!  On stage was Rosario, playing to a large, receptive audience, in the mood to party!  The late hour was not a problem for the Spaniards who kept singing and dancing to the music of Rosario!  Hasta luego!

Buenas noches!  Rick & Elsie!

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