We spent last weekend with David’s family in the north of Catalunya (Spain) and realised how different our views of the area, the people, the traditions and the food are. We thought it would be a lot of fun and quite interesting to share some insider and outsider tips with you guys and impressions of the area from the point of view of David and myself.
A quick bit of background information first. Llançà is a small fishing village on the Spanish coast at some 20km from the French border, close to the Pyrenees, and about a 2-hour drive north of Barcelona. It is part of Costa Brava in the province of Girona, Catalonia. It also happens to be where David was born and bred. I am now visiting the area for the third time and this is my first time during summer. The weather is generally typically Mediterranean with blue skies year round, hot summers and mild temperatures during winter and little rain. There can be strong winds at times however, the sun normally continues to shine.
Ok, enough of sounding like a wikipedia entry and more about the important stuff.
The people in Llançà, especially David’s family and friends have been incredibly friendly and welcoming despite me speaking very bad Spanish (a work in progress) and no Catalan at all. After my first nerve racking visit to Llanca I already felt part of the family despite the language barrier (my Spanish was non-existent then). David’s parents never made me feel obligated to learn Spanish but I certainly wanted to.
To help me practice, David’s mum (affectionately called Mama P.) decided that we would become whatsapp buddies where we only message in Spanish (his parents don’r speak English or German, though his dad likes to show off the few German words he knows regularly). It has been a tremendous help and I now feel confident to write messages without getting David to check them before they are sent.
At the risk of stereotyping, this hospitality and friendliness is generally characteristic of the Spanish people. They are full of life and family and friendships are a priority for them. There is no other experience like being in a room with a bunch of Spaniards having multiple conversations simultaneously, talking over each other. Somehow they all understand what’s going on :). If they are able to help a complete stranger they will. Just a week ago I was telling a Spanish colleague of mine that we were heading to Bali in the summer and she very enthusiastically told me she had a cousin in Bali who could help us out. Having a friend or relative help an unknown stranger is not unusual to the Spanish.
For those who have spent some time in Spain you will know that the Spanish love a celebration (fiesta) and it is no different in Llançà. They also have a love of food and music which seems to be a part of their soul. Being on the coast and a fishing village, delicious seafood is aplenty. There are some dishes that are found all over Spain but the different provinces also have their own specialities and Catalonia is no exception. Some of my favourites include: Crema Catalana (Spanish version of creme brulee); Coca de Llardons or Coca de Crema (layers of puff pastry with a creamy, custardy centre); hundreds of tapas dishes (small portions made for sharing, yet more evidence of their love of food and socialising); and of course a refreshing glass of sangria (cold red wine with fruit).
This weekend we experienced a medieval fair in the small village of Llançà, due to its medieval history. The whole town came out to enjoy each other’s company, some good food and wonderful weather. There was traditional medieval music, people dressed in costume and a plenty of activities and stalls to occupy the young and not so young. This sense of community was also evident in the main park in the town where the town knitting/crocheting group had gotten together and knitted hanging decorations and little blanket-like embellishments to some of the trees. My initial reaction was that it was a bit of a strange thing to do but the more times we walked through that park the more I appreciated their sense of community, not only to create a group with people of similar passions but to also share this with the rest of the town.
Catalonia also has, what can only be described as, its own unique traditions, two of which appear around Christmas. If you look closely at a nativity scene at Christmas time in Catalonia (and sometimes in other parts of Spain, you will spot an extra character called “el Caganer” (literary translated as “the Shitter”). If you’re lucky you may also find “el Pixaner” (“the pisser”). No-one has ever been able to explain to me why on earth these characters exist. It provides endless amusement to me that they even exist and of course the first thing I do when I see a Spanish nativity scene is look for el Caganer and el Pixaner. The Caganer has become so popular that nowadays they make them using popular politicians, sports people and entertainers.
Another unexplainable Christmas “character” is the “Tió”. I was very excited to be part of this tradition the very first time I visited David’s family as it provided me with endless amusement. Luckily David has a young second cousin who is a true believer in the power of Tió. In short, you go out into the forrest and “find” a Tió (who wears a santa hat, it is meant to be the traditional Barretina worn in Catalonia, and has a painted face), you take your Tió home and put a blanket over him and you “feed” him every day (usually fruit and nuts). On Christmas Eve the kids pray for Tió to bring them presents and then they bash the crap out of the log with a stick. Miraculously, after the bashing and the singing of the Tió song (oh yes there is a song!), the Tió poops presents. This process is repeated until the presents run out and then the final poop is the food that he was fed during the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve. Bizarre!
Do you have any unusual traditions from you own culture or ones that you have experienced while travelling? Leave a comment and let us know :).
Costa Brava is known as a popular holiday destination for northern Europeans. Apart from the beautiful, cute beaches, great food and friendly people, Costa Brava has been made famous by world-renown artists such as Dalí, Miró and Picasso who all lived or visited the area at some point. You will still find plenty of evidence of this artistic influence throughout the region. Cadaqués is one village in particular that is well known for it’s white houses and brightly coloured pottery. It was also a meeting spot for more infamous people such as Franco and Hitler in the past.
If you are in the area then you should not miss a visit to Girona, one of Catalonia’s major cities that has a long and turbulent history. The small laneways of the old walled city are a joy to wander around and explore. The colourful yellow and orange houses along the river make for great photo opportunities on a sunny day. It is highly recommended that you try porras (a long type of doughnut covered in sugar accompanied by thick melted hot chocolate), like churros but even better – leave the diet at home! Find a good traditional churreria for the best porras. Porras is not unique to Girona but it was where I tried it for the very first time and will find it hard to go back to churros.
Catalan is a language that is kind of a mixture of French, Spanish and Italian. When David and his family speak Catalan to each other I do not understand a single word though do on the odd occasion somehow get the gist of the conversation. The fact that all people in this area grow up truly bilingual, learning Spanish and Catalan as their mother tongue, is quite impressive for this very monolingual little Aussie. In addition, a large majority of the people living in and around Llançà are also fluent in French due to its proximity to the border makes it even more unique. After to listening to many a Catalan conversation one of the few things I have noticed is their inability to say good-bye quickly. It literally takes them 10 minutes to say good-bye whether it is in person or on the phone. There are a few minutes of vinga, adeu, vinga, adeu, adeu, vinga-ing and then they start a new conversation and then a new round of vinga – adeu starts!
Llançà and the surrounding areas are also steeped in quite a lot of history. There are many old ruins of castles to visit and the crowning glory is the San Pere de Rodes Monastery. It is not only interesting on its own, it has superb views over many of the surrounding towns. There are also many hiking trails in the area, including to the monastery.
If you want somewhere a little less touristy that has that summery, seaside kind of feel with great food and wine and friendly people thrown in for good measure, Costa Brava is the place for you.
If you want any more tips on travelling in the Costa Brava area then feel free to contact us by leaving a comment. Maybe you have discovered some other cool places in Catalonia, we would love to hear about them.
Stay tuned to read David’s perspective of his home town….
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