Some places have got it right – why have one Christmas when you can have two? It’s weird writing about Christmas in February but then again it was weird enough experiencing it again in January.
After Christmas in Tuscany, we said goodbye to the animals in the rain and went by train to Pisa for some final sightseeing. Some places are empty when it rains – Pisa not so. We were the only fools there on bikes though and had to fight our way through umbrellas to take the obligatory photos. The rain got heavier, we set off on the 20km ride to Livorno, made it as far as Pisa train station before sacking it off and taking our second train of the day. Then after a horrific ride several kilometres out to the port on roads that were definitely not designed for bikes we pulled into the waiting area, got off the bikes and heard an English accent say the magic words – “alright girls, fancy a cuppa?” Wet and cold and with a couple of hours still to wait this was music to the ears. Bob was from 3 miles from where we live and was campervanning around Southern Europe for the winter. After a brew and some warm shelter, he sent us off with a massive handful of PG Tips bags and Sue Perkins’ book. Magic indeed.
The ferry from Livorno to Barcelona goes on to Morocco, and the vehicles being loaded on were piled high with possessions cling-wrapped or tarped to their roofs. Most passengers were on for the full duration and were clearly seasoned ferry travellers. Gaps under the stairs had been turned into bedrooms and one guy even had an extension lead and electric kettle. We had the luxury of a cabin but eyed the electric kettle with jealousy. The weather meant a rough 20 hour crossing which was about 19 and a half hours too long for us.
With a few days to explore Barcelona we ate tapas, wandered around the streets, toured Gaudi buildings and watched a football match at the Nou Camp. But the main event was Los Tres Reis – the three kings – Christmas number two. 6th January is when the Kings brought the gifts, so in Spain this is when many families exchange presents. On the 5th January the Kings come to the city on a boat and parade through the streets taking gift letters off the kids (giving a seriously short turnaround time) and handing out sweets at the end. We were told this was a popular parade in Barcelona and had expected a few floats and some crowds but we seriously underestimated the scale of this. Everyone in Barcelona was out on the streets waiting and like the prepared ferry goers, some of these kids were seasoned paraders. Parents had brought stepladders to give a better vantage point for the kids and they were armed with shopping bags to collect as many sweets as possible. The better prepared had the bigger reusable supermarket bags. All we had were our pockets but we were prepared to fight it out with the kids when it came to it. And it did – after half an hours worth of elaborate floats with some kind of story to it that we didn’t really understand but had an undercurrent of kids must go to sleep to get gifts, if not they get coal, sweets were shot out of huge spray guns at the end. We fought our corner and came out with a few handfuls, bowing down to the more experienced youngsters who somehow filled their bags while we caught a few. The worst thing for the kids is the next morning they got their gifts (or coal, who knows) but then go back to school the day after giving no time to play with the new toys. The following weekend there were many kids wobbling around the bike paths on new rollerblades and bikes.
Another strange thing about Christmas in Barcelona is El Caganer – translated as the crapper. This is a Catalan nativity tradition of a figure with his pants down having a poo. Every nativity scene has one, every home, even the large public ones in the streets. You can buy a crapper figure of any famous person/character imaginable. This year there was talk of removing the crapper from public nativities, as authorities trying to stop people urinating in the street recognise the irony of having a crapper in public. Yet public power – including a song supporting the continued inclusion of the crapper – won and for another year at least he remains. Strange old country. But we had a great time.
Thanks to Sam and friends in Barcelona for helping us to experience all things Catalan!