Barcelona: Christmas number two

 

Christmas in January at the Nou Camp

 

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.

 

A rainy Pisa

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.

 

Some serious luggage on the ferry

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.

 

Something about dummies

 

Something about letters

 

Something about stars

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.

 

The Crapper comes in many guises

Thanks to Sam and friends in Barcelona for helping us to experience all things Catalan!

Getting ready for a rest…

 

Nothing to see here. Just a sunday bike ride.

To make sure we arrived at our Christmas work-stay fresh, energetic and ready for labour we smashed out a few sightseeing days in Rome, exhausting ourselves walking for miles looking at awesome fancy old stuff. There is so much to see in Rome and I would highly recommend it for a city break, though probably don’t arrive by bike, there was a few crazy big roads until we could get on the Tiber route. If you do arrive by bike, make it a Sunday, as then you can ride right past the forum and up to the Colosseum traffic-free, except for pedestrians. Two of my favourite things were 2000 year old dice in the colosseum, just the same as modern ones, and a 2000 year old door that still opened and closed with fully functional lock and key in the Forum. The Romans were chuffing smart. There were loads of churches, artworks, ruins, musters of starlings and great Christmas lights. Total winner.

Life size nativity and rainbow baubles at St Peter’s

We had to cheat and get the train to Florence to be on time for our Christmas break, gaining an afternoon and evening to walk even further around the sights of Florence. This was aided by the best sandwich I have ever eaten. A few weeks later someone from Florence asked me what I liked about the city. They seemed slightly offended by my focusOn the sandwich. They really shouldn’t have been. Go try for yourself. Confident that it was a short ride out of Florence to our Tuscan Christmas residence we rode up an extra hill to Michaelangelo’s tomb and a great view of the city. It proved to be a good warm-up, the 35km ride was absolutely brutal, lots of very steep climbs and not so many twisty descents.

 

‘I think i can see the sandwich place from here’

We arrived at a hill top outside the village just as the sun was setting, and Tuscany did a great job of looking exactly like Tuscany should. Soft light, layers of steep hills, farms dotted around. It seemed our decision was a good one.

 

Tuscany: Does exactly what it says on the tin.

The family were lovely and we learned lots quickly about donkeys, dog treats, olive oils and (most importantly) food. This is no light matter.

“I do not trust an English woman to cook pasta. I will teach you once, and maybe once you will get it wrong. This is ok. A second time wrong, this is not ok”.

Ditto polenta.
As we were in charge of things for a week alone, we spent a lot of time with this motley crew…

The Donkeys

Judy (middle)

Likes: big fringes, apple pieces, suddenly diving into vines when walking

Sofia (left)

Likes: being pretty, a controlled hairstyle

 

Not sure what the donkey on the right is called.

 

Guarina

Likes: trying to get out, stealing food, being noisy.

 

Guarina checking out the exit routes

 

The Cats

Luna

Likes: Antagonising Vesper, tagging along with dog walks, cuddles with Jo, thieving the dog food. (Caught out one day by loud crunching).

Dislikes: the pink labelled cat food tin, the nativity scene, the hiding of the dog food bag.

 

Nap buddies

Vesper

Likes: James Bond, pretending Luna starts the crazy chases, cuddles with debs, sitting on the dining chairs right before dinner, the English Premier League.

Dislikes: Moving too much, the pink labelled tin, being tipped off the dining chairs so people can sit in them.

 

Come on the foxes

 

The Dogs

Phoenix

Likes: Collecting sticks, food, playing with sticks, doing her own thing, walking slowly, going in the truck, teasing Oliver with sticks.

Dislikes: Responding to commands in any language, walking quickly, walking far, being on a diet.

 

Phoenix probably going the wrong way

 

Oliver

Likes: Being super cute and friendly, long walks, escaping, cuddles, sticks.

Dislikes: Walking at Phoenix speed, smelling nice, the donkeys, the barking dog at Lucardo.

 

Such a cutie but so much trouble…

There are more Oliver stories for another time. The countryside was lovely and we ate lots of awesome food in between feeding the animals and walking the dogs. When the family returned there was more food (including a jabugo ham from Spain) and time for cycling – to San Gimignano and other pretty towns. We also enjoyed the village new year party.
Thanks to everyone in Tuscany who made our Christmas break fab, especially those at Fattoria Barberinuzzo.

#1 Roads that look like race tracks

Day 15 of advent! A well known social media site just told me that two years ago I was snoozing on the sofa by the Christmas tree and an open fire. Won’t pretend that I wouldn’t love a snooze on a sofa sometime soon but we are having an amazing time exploring Rome. This category had a clear winner, still the best day of cycling of the trip, partly because in the cold weather preceding it seems so unlikely we would be able to complete the ride. Would thoroughly recommend this ride – when it’s not snowy you can even do the very top section on a cycle route. Loved the Gotthard Pass! Well done Switzerland, thanks for clearing the snow for us!

 

Spot tiny debs on the scalectrix road
Spot tiny debs on the scalectrix road