Day 3/197: Traditions

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Over the past 2 weeks we’ve witnessed 3 events which encapsulate genuine Catalan traditions, so I’ve decided to let you know all about them. All three of them revolve around the annual celebration on 23 April of the feast of Sant Jordi (Saint George), the patron saint not only of England but Cataluña among others. It’s the same Saint George legend as exists everywhere else but I suspect their way of recognising the feast day is quite unique, so prepare for a bit more than the odd dragon.

Medieval Tesco

Medieval Tesco

With the weather continuing to be warm and sunny (for once just like you guys in Britain we’re told) we decided to head off last Sunday to the town of Montblanc nestled up in the hills above Barcelona’s other airport, Reus, the birthplace of its famous son, Gaudi, the designer of the spectacular Basilica Sagrada Familia. I hope you don’t mind if I digress a moment here but the People’s Friend have been onto me again and asked for 500 words on the Sagrada to put into some kind of summer travel special they’re doing. I’ve just finished it yesterday and Mary approves of what I’ve written which is my own little Litmus test that it reads well. This time, I’m also getting paid for it, so even better!

Right, let’s get back to last Sunday. Montblanc is the centre of the Sant Jordi legend in Cataluña as it is claimed that it was here that the knight slew the dragon. So there is a full week of medieval events and happenings in this little town and naturally a lot of it takes place at the weekend when folk will be able to attend. This explains our decision to attend on Sunday and not the actual feast of Sant Jordi which was last Thursday. Our Dutch friends, Tom and Margaret (Greeta) were our company for the day and guess who agreed to do the driving? The answer’s a Dutchman!

That decision was always going to prove interesting as Tom isn’t exactly the world’s best navigator and depends hugely on Greeta to keep him right, so when he took the left turn towards Valencia at the motorway toll, I made a mistake by keeping quiet instead of advising him that Montblanc was inland and in the direction of Lleida. When I eventually asked him if he knew the road there, he immediately asked Greeta where the map was and left me to find the best way back round, but there was a perfectly easy route via Reus and that’s how we got to Montblanc. Exciting though! Greeta couldn’t stop laughing!

George with his dragon!

George with his dragon!

Parking proved much easier than expected and we were soon at the town walls where we mingled with hundreds of locals all in medieval dress. The children were especially cute in their smocks with Saint George’s crosses and it was obvious the stalls would be doing a roaring trade in plastic swords, shields, chain-mail, fluffy dragons and wonderful knights’ helmets. (Don’t worry Ben, we got you something!) Inside the walls we walked the narrow streets as the sun tried to burn holes in our heads and thankfully I’d brought the old Panama hat as protection. The restaurants were particularly medieval, offering roast pork of all varieties with toasted bread and not a piece of cutlery in sight.

No smile there then!

No smile there then!

Two hours into our visit we found a queue much shorter than the others we’d given up on and were soon tucking into our own lunch at a huge wooden table. Wine was served in terracotta mugs to wash down the sausage and cheese and as usual the bill was ridiculously cheap, catering for my Scottish roots!

Four friends

Four friends

I like my grub!

I like my grub!

We set back out round the streets one more time until we all started to get a wee bit weary and then it was a final walk to the car park and the journey home. Except that I navigated us back a more direct route and this gave Tom the chance to pop into the town of Coma Ruga and show us the warm spring which leads to the sea and then the carp which nibble at your feet should you give them the chance. Mary and I did exactly that and were treated to a feet cleaning session from surprisingly large carp, although I did warn them that my feet came with a serious health warning. They ignored my advice and nibbled on! Back at Vilanova Park, a quick 40 winks was followed by tea with our Dutch friends and a chance to review what we all agreed had been a splendid day out!

Los Dentes de la Mar

Los Dentes de la Mar

Last Wednesday, we did an airport run for an Irish family at 10 in the morning then decided on the way back to explore the hills above Castelldelfels. That turned into another bit of an adventure once we’d hairpinned it to the top and down the other side into the valleys you normally never see. The narrow roads gradually turned into VERY narrow roads, sometimes just tracks, and soon I had to admit we were a bit lost! Obviously we did get out without falling into the hands of a band of Catalan woodsmen but I tell you there were moments up there …….

Bottom right to bottom left via top middle

Bottom right to bottom left via top middle

The following day was the actual feast of Sant Jordi which we spent on site until late afternoon when we had to go and pick up Guillem for the first time since our return. But instead of straight home and on with the lesson, we parked up in Vilanova town and took a stroll down the Rambla with him, affording me the opportunity to buy Mary the traditional single red rose (believe me, ALL the girls and women had one!) and her the chance to find a suitable book to give me in return, as Catalan tradition demands. Her choice was a Spanish translation of Georges Simenon’s novel “Maigret on Holiday” which I will read slowly to improve my language. Mary then went off to the library while Guillem and I went home to get on with the lesson. All of us ended up having tea with Beti and Ramon at the back of nine when they came back from work.

Man at Matalan

Man at Matalan

Today, Sunday, Tom and Greeta drove us into town at eleven where we settled down at a front table on the terrace of one of our favourite cafés in the Plaça de la Vila to watch a display of traditional Catalan human tower building from the Castellers. And are we glad we did, as we were treated to an absolutely splendid three hours of amazing performances under a warm, and at times hot, sun. This has to be away up there with one of the best days we have ever had since we chanced upon this wonderful town just over three years ago. Is it really that long?

My, my, my what a beautiful day!

My, my, my what a beautiful day!

Picture this. Each of the two teams (the reds and the yellows) numbered about one hundred Castellers ranging from older men carrying quite a few kilos to young, strong lads built like caber-tossers to super-fit eye candy young women to tiny, tiny wee poppets in crash helmets. At a given signal, each team would try to build a certain type of human tower, either three, four five or six to a level, narrowing off to a single nymphet who had to climb to the top, raise one arm then slide down the other side and allow the whole tower to dismantle itself from the top.

The only way is up!

The only way is up!

Thankfully there were no accidents like we’ve seen from time to time on the TV but I can guarantee you that my wee granddaughter Artemis will not be joining any Casteller groups in the foreseeable future! The atmosphere in the square on such a lovely sunny day (it’s pouring it down now – Scouser Carol will be happy: she said it would!) was brilliant and we had a great time watching the tower-building whilst enjoying a coffee, lemonade and some tapas. I loved being able to get right up beside the tower builders and check out exactly how they support each other. The base for each tower is particularly interesting. It consists of what looks like a circle of big lads but is actually more akin to a sixteen-point star of people maybe eight deep, all pressing inwards to create a solid foundation for the tower. The climbers, in reverse order of size, go under the base and climb out from the middle, from where they gradually build their tower. Wonderful!

The King and Queen of Montblanc

The King and Queen of Montblanc

I’ve nothing further to report today folks so I’ll let you get back to your much more interesting lives back at home. Ha, Ha! Missing you already! I leave you with Mary’s medieval meal!

Where do I begin?

Where do I begin?

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Day 3/185: Busy

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All was going really well with looking after grandson Ben in Dundee until a fortnight into our month-long stint when George announced that the wee man had caught Chicken Pox! To be fair it didn’t upset Ben very much but it meant we couldn’t take him to the playgroups and swimming in the mornings and worst of all had to keep him away from his nursery in the afternoons. This change in fortunes caused us to have to rethink our weekly schedule to ensure that not only was Ben comfortable and happy but also that there was enough to keep him occupied and busy.

Ben at the observatory

Ben at the observatory

Thank God for Pingu! Without that loveable little penguin and his family on catch-up TV, the mornings might have been a bit of a challenge, but Ben was delighted to spend the first half-hour of the day in our flat watching a whole series of Pingu cartoons, giving us time to waken up and get the rest of the day organized. As long as we kept him away from other children, all was well, but every time we took him to the park he naturally gravitated towards the other children and I had to keep warning various parents that he was still contagious. To keep him humoured, I taught Ben a pastiche of a song from “Joseph” which went “Benjamin, you spotty boy, you have got the chicken pox!” We both loved spontaneously bursting into song with this rather silly ditty and it kept a grin on his face and mine.
By the end of the month we were tired but happy. We had been to Camperdown zoo again, visited various acquaintances and even watched the eclipse together using Grandad’s patent cardboard box with hole in it. Mary for her part now knew 3 series of Pingu off by heart! Gavin brought over Artemis ,our granddaughter, two days before we flew back here and we had a grand time with her. With all four boys so busy getting on with their lives, it is a godsend to have the grandchildren to bond with and they both appear to have many adventures ahead of them. Speaking of the four boys, here’s a quick update on each of them in order of entry into the world.
The eldest, George, was dealt a blow when his job disappeared all of a sudden. Fortunately he seems to have survived the cull and should still be employed by a sister organization. Scary though! Gavin is approaching the end of his 4-year Law degree whilst still working full-time at the High Court in Edinburgh and trying to find time to be Dad to Artemis. It is a juggling act which has stretched him to the full and we just hope that it will all be worth it in the end. Fingers crossed! Greg is cool and working full-time constructing polytunnels. But the good news is that his partner Karen now has a job pulling pints in a hotel in Montrose where they live. Ker-ching!
Scott gets a paragraph to himself as he has had a difficult time of late trying to cope with the 1-year Primary Teacher Diploma which is mega-intense. Eventually he decided that this type of claustrophobic teaching was not for him and he, sensibly we think, resigned from the course. He was instantaneously much, much happier with his lot and quickly returned to being the obnoxious, over-fussy little bugger we love so much. He will shortly return to his old job working at Dundee University in the pool and gym, with a view to gaining further qualifications in the area of Sport and Medicine, the subject of his degree.
On Palm Sunday after mass, Mary’s mum gave us a lunch and a chance to spend some time with Bruce my brother-in-law. He’s a good lad is Bruce but, like our 4 sons, seems to be eternally put-upon by the demands of work, wife and children. I suppose they will all survive just like we did when every minute seemed to be filled with appeasing someone else’s desires. At 40 I was running a Department in a secondary school, keeping a home and 3 boys under 13 years of age and had neither wife nor parents to help, but I managed somehow and even came through it with my sanity intact (well, I admit some would disagree with that!). I put it down to playing football every Saturday, the perfect escape from real life. Gavin, are you reading this?
That Sunday evening , Mary, Scott and I had the pleasure of hearing Alex Salmond talk about his recently-published book at Dundee University. It was an interesting couple of hours topped by him signing the copy we bought and then accepting a copy of “Wee Georgie” in return. A bit of a “coup” that was! The book’s sales continue unabated by the way and I am close to selling out the 500 I originally had printed. Then it will be decision time again: how many will I have printed second time around? Waterstones seem to think it will continue to sell for a long time to come and were a bit panicked when I gave them a batch of 30 just before we left and told them that would be the last for the foreseeable.

Big day for Alex meeting the Burtons!

Big day for Alex meeting the Burtons!

On April Fool’s Day we left Dundee through a scattering of snow, drove to Edinburgh airport, said our goodbyes to Scott and left him to drive back home while we made the hop from Edinburgh to Barcelona, emerging into brilliant sunshine and 20 degrees of heat. Coincidently, Dundee Sandra’s pal Amanda was on the same flight as us and we gave her a lift to the campsite when Fred came to pick us up in the Audi. We slept the afternoon away and our friends Ernest and Jennifer cooked us tea as they had promised a month or so earlier. On Good Friday we did Stations of the Cross in a wee church at 10 in the morning outdoors then on Easter Sunday we attended mass in the modern church little Guillem goes to. We surprised him soon after by turning up at his door just as the family were leaving for their own Easter celebrations and he was delighted with the Easter Egg we had brought him all the way from Dundee!
That very evening, Mary’s sister Claire, her husband Scott and the 2 boys, Andrew and Sam, arrived here to spend 5 days with us. We had a brilliant time with them, showing off Vilanova, letting them have a day away in Barcelona, plus swimming and playing tennis and table-tennis on the campsite. Highlights included a trip for all the guys to the Camp Nou where we watched Barça beat Almeria 4-0, and a visit to Montserrat for the girls and Sam where I did the driving as usual. I think they left on Friday with some regret and a good impression of life here at Vilanova Park.

The Cross Sam and I walked to.

The Cross Sam and I walked to.

Claire and Sam at Montserrat

Claire and Sam at Montserrat

In front of the funicular.

In front of the funicular.

We’ve spent the weekend resting now and catching up with our own stuff. I’ve had some problems with the charger and battery in the caravan but they appear to be resolved for the moment. Mary and I are determined to do Aquagym 3 times a week at 10 in the morning to help us get fit and we will continue to walk as much as we can. Maybe I’ll persuade her to come and have breakfast with me at the watchtower on Tuesday mornings? Was that a flying pig that just went by?

The ex-First Minister with Wee Georgie!

The ex-First Minister with Wee Georgie!