Monthly Archives: March 2012

Parties to live I: Festa Major de Vilafranca

Vilafranca Location Map

Vilafranca Location, 35 km from Barcelona

Today I want to present one of the most complete festivities of Catalonia, and one of the best places to see the human towers. Many people come every year to Barcelona to pass some tourist days, but not that many know what they can find around it. The possibilities are numerous, and one of the best if you are there on the right time, is the Vilafranca’s Main Festivity.

It takes place in the village of Vilafranca del Penedès (famous for its wine) from 29th August until 2nd September. Its origins date back to the 17th century, and it was declared patrimonial festivity of national interest on 1991, consolidating itself as one of the biggest parties’ in Catalonia.

Castellers de Vilafranca

Vilafranca's Castellers. You can see the best Human Towers on 30th of August

With some popular dances and folkloric acts dating from 1600, the popular participation is key to the development of the party, and during 5 days the streets get filled with people who want to accompany the traditional dances, to live the best Castells performance or see the entrance of the Saint in the Church of the town.

Although the town festivity begins on 22nd with low intensity acts, the main days of the festivity are from 29th to 31st, finishing with fire performances and other acts on 1st and 2nd of September.

August 29th starts with the Bell Ringing and Firecrackers, emotional moments which indicate that the party has started one more time. The folkloric groups walk in a procession dressed up with their traditional clothes while showing their abilities. Giants, devils, dwarfs, dragons, human towers and the eagle, among others, can be seen in the procession, that ends in the Council Square (Plaça de la Vila) where the human towers are built.

On the evening takes place the Saint Felix Procession, where the image of the Saint is taken from the Administrator’s house to the St. Maria’ basilica, accompanied by all the folkloric dances seen in the morning, followed by a fireworks display. In the night of Empalmada (literally meaning “connected”), music bands plays around the village until morning, helping those who, following the tradition, don’t go to sleep.

Drac de Vilafranca

Vilafranca's Dragon is the oldest in Catalonia dating from year 1600, and a symbol for the city.

30th August is Saint Felix Day, the main day of the festivity. St. Felix Relics are on display in order to venerate them. Early morning the grallers start playing the Matinades walking around the town in order to wake up everybody.

After some more dances, begins one of the central performances of the festivity: the DISPLAY OF HUMAN TOWERS, known in the local language as Castells (Castles), showing the best formations and performances in the world in this field. Well, in not many places people play this kind of sport, and as Vilafranca has maybe the best Castells group, we can say it’s the best place to see it. I can recommend you to see it, it’s spectacular!

Entrada de Sant Felix

Burning Santa Maria's Church for the Entrance of Saint Felix

In the evening, the procession is formed again to take the Saint for the last time to the Church, moment known as Entrance of Saint Felix, deep and intense moment accompanied with fireworks, dances and the sound of the gralles all over the square. And after dinner the bands and concerts come again until the next morning.

Resuming, if you come from abroad, it’s clear that 30th is the best day to visit the festivity.

The Matinades come again next morning for those who still have some energy left, and the day continues similar to those before. During the day, you’ll see the folkloric dances, human towers (littler), and the Saint is finally taken from the Church to the Administrator’s house. And the music follows the whole night…

On 1st September takes place one of the most outstanding and participative shows: the Correfoc (fire-run), where groups of devils from all over Catalonia are happy to burn with fireworks all the brave people who defies them, while people on the balconies help a little by throwing water to the young courageous ones.

Finally, the 2nd is mostly devoted to the children, who do more or less the same as has been done two days ago.

Resuming

Right in the month of August, when Barcelona and Catalan shores get crowded by tourists, you have one of the most amazing festivities in Europe right some kilometers away. Three days of non stop party in the city of wine.

It’s important to take a look at these things when we go somewhere: most festivities are in summer and we are mostly traveling in summer. It’s not difficult to make things match. But if we plan only to go to capitals, we are missing many things. So I would recommend leaving the tourist guide for a while, and make some little research about the places we are going in order to find some local event. And, of course, Vilafranca’s Main Festivity can be the next.

Here you have some photos:

Castellers de Vilafranca

Vilafranca's Castellers

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Categories: Catalonia, Europe, Parties to live, travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Entering Moldova

Laza - Hincesti

Laza - Hincesti. Click to enlarge

Getting up in Laza was an easy thing. Pack up the tent, a couple of vagabond dogs and thumb on the road. A father with his child appeared and took me to the next town (Vaslui), where I could ride a van that left me in a crossroad to the village of Crasna.

There I met Constantinu, a man who was working and living in Spain and was temporally in Romania because his mother was ill in the hospital. He was with his two children, picking some plums from a nearby tree. He had the double nationality, and showed me a crumpled paper that truly proved it.  He was working in Oviedo’s El Corte Ingles as furniture fitter, but had lived in Valencia, Tarragona and, as many other Romanians, in Alcalá de Henares. He was a man worn out by work, with tired honey eyes, with plenty of stories about the ages he had been working.

I stayed with him and his children one hour or so, until their bus came and we said goodbye. I kept hitching in the same place without much luck, until it came a lightly dressed beautiful girl, asked me if the bus was gone and, as I answered affirmatively, began to hitchhike by my side. I knew that was going to be fast, and I was right. The first car that passed in front of us stopped.

The girl sat in the front seat. Nobody was saying anything. Until the girl got down.

“Can I stay in the car?”, I asked.

“Oh! I thought you were together with the girl”, answered the driver, “of course, you can”

And then it turned to be some familiar thing. His wife was living in Barcelona and knew Spanish, and he had been many times there. He had made money in the timber business with wood from those Carpathian forests, selling it to the growing Chinese market. He knew some words in Spanish and said:

Ven a mi casa, this must be celebrated”

Cart crossing the Romanian lands

Carts crossing the Romanian lands

His house made me remember a typical Mediterranean house, a big pitcher, a giant decorative mortar and a grapevine covering with shadow the front of the façade. Further, apple and lemon trees, and a couple of dogs wandering or sleeping around. And three women talking bla bla bla under the shadow.

One of them was the wife of Laurian. She knew Spanish very good; she was a designer living in Barcelona, now on Romania for vacations. Their newborn baby was there, so I congratulated the family. At her side, her sister was a little bit shy, beautiful 25 years and dark brilliant hair falling down the neck. She demonstrated her good English as we were making a small talk, but the sister insisted to put me inside the car and drove right to the border of Moldova, with Laurian speeding up a big motorcycle at our side.

Romania - Moldova border

Romania - Moldova border

I stayed a long time on the border. Picking up a foreigner can be a funny thing when you are driving alone and you are a little bit bored, but nobody sees it so clear when it’s the time to cross the border. There, it wasn’t an exception. Golden dry grass was covering a flat zone without any shadow in the deep hours of the midday and my head was starting to burn. My hat was lost in a lonely Bosnian road, so I had nothing to cover, but suddenly a van stopped.

It had many seats and some exhausted people. They were Moldovans living in London, and came all the way by bus for the summer holidays. The bus was half empty, so half of the people were Romanians who already went down. A couple of them talked a little with me, but they were so tired, so the conversation was not fluid. A woman who only spoke Russian was repeating “Samaliot, samaliot” and the customs guards let us go without many hassle. Then happened something strange. There was some misunderstanding when they were talking about me. There was a discussion about how I got there. Some said I came by plane, another said by train… I told them I came hitchhiking, but nobody wanted to listen. They were very happy with the discussion, and I was having a funny time. But it didn’t last quite long. They were tired.

The green and yellow beautiful Moldovan rolling hills passed upon my eyes as the car was making kilometres until half the way between the border and the capital, where I decided to get down in the harmed town of Hincesti.

I thought that in that decrepit place I would be able to find something cheap to sleep. But cheap or expensive, I couldn’t find anything, so I followed the road without any hurry, sitting in a bank, and eating some smashed berries I had in my bag. Those berries really looked bad, but they seemed to calm the need of asking for something of two gipsy woman. But they were two nice fat old gypsy woman and I sat with them and laughed and made some tricks and I kept following the road, stop at a couple of bars and at the end of the town there was a beautiful road pub near a forest in the foot of a hill, and I decided to take a couple of beers and plant my tent near the pub because I was still afraid of bears and wolves and all the fucking beasts in the world.

And that was all. And goodnight.

Flower

Categories: Europe, hitchhiking, Moldova, Romania, The Sun in my Forehead, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Places to go IV. Sundarban

Sundarban map

Sundarban map. Click to enlarge

Right between the tourist hub of South East Asia and the crowded India, Bangladesh hides a joy of natural wonders and wild life. It’s the biggest mangrove forest in the world and one of the largest reserves for the Royal Bengal Tiger. Of course tigers are the main attraction of the place, but there’s plenty of other wildlife, botanic beauties and stunning landscapes of warm color waters under sunset lights.

Lying in the vast delta of the Bay of Bengal, in the confluence of the rivers Padma, Brahmaputra and Meghna, it consists in a flat wide net of meandering streams, creeks and estuaries. There are two ecoregions: the “Sundarbans freshwater swamp forests”, seasonally flooded, and the “Sundarbans mangroves”, flooded everyday at high tide. The mangrove system serves also as a natural barrier against the floods inland in the cyclone season…

This post have been moved to the following page:

210 Countries

Keep reading there! More photos awaiting for you!

Tiger

Royal Bengal Tiger in Sundarbans

 

 

Categories: Asia, Bangla Desh, Places to go, Sundarban, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gay vampires in Transylvania

mapo 6

Campulung - Laza. Click to enlarge

With the daylight it came the calm. But when I got outside and thought the last night’s tight spot, I discarded that it was a bear. For the trajectory of the beast, when it touched my little tent had surely passed under the guy rope, so it couldn’t be that big. And as Romania is the country of the vagabond dogs, I supposed it was one of them.

Adrian was my first lift of the day. He was a quads mechanic and 4×4 mountain races driver on his free time. He was pretending to be angry because I wasn’t making so many photos of the landscape, which he considered very stunning – and it actually was. Finally he stopped his car in the top of a mountain pass where I was obliged to make some shots. Here you have one of them:

Fundata

Around Fundata, between Campulung and Brasov

Concrete lorry full of decorating souvenirs

Cabin of the concrete lorry, full of decorative souvenirs

Then we went to his business, a house full of quads, paintball stuff and 4×4 cars, all made to attract tourists on summertime, he explained me something about all the show and gave me a jar of delicious marmalade. From there I jumped into a funny concrete lorry with souvenirs from all over Europe decorating the cabin. The driver had been to the Vatican and was very proud of it, but it was the only thing we could exchange: he didn’t speak any language but Romanian and was incredibly bad in understanding the body language. He even couldn’t understand what my name was. But for some strange reason – maybe instinct – he dropped me in the exact place I wanted to go: the Bran Castle.

The Bran Castle is part of the Dracula industry in Romania. Even thought there’s no historical evidence that Vlad Tepes had been in the castle, its walls are covered with Dracula’s illustrations, genealogical trees of his family and other stuff about him. But why not? It’s a beautiful castle in the middle of Transylvania, so even it’s too modern for a middle ages castle, let’s believe Dracula lived there, make many photos and say “hey, I set the foot on the same floor Dracula did!”

Bran Castle

Bran Castle dominating the village

From there, a surgeon brought me right to the center of Brasov. I decided to look for a hostel, it wasn’t hard to find.

I spent two days in the city . With a center full of colors like many other Central European cities, Brasov has a small center that is rapidly seen. Then some tour on the nearby mountains and it’s done. And comes the time to join the every night party in the hostel, drink many beers and meet new friends. That night it was the World Cup 2010, playing England against Australia. There were many Australians and English in the hostel, so it was not difficult to find a subject to talk about. The Koreans were more quiet, and a French girl told me stories of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, where she had been to and I was heading for. But I stopped the conversation afraid of getting ti know too many things, because it’s always better to discover them by yourself.

After two nights, on a rainy morning, I was next to Otniel as he was driving me some towns away from Brasov, where Daniel picked me up. He was a dentist going to Hasi to make an exam to reaffirm himself as a good doctor, and he decided to take me until Bacau (that is quite a long ride). He was complaining about his country. He was not agree about the measures to be implemented by the Romanian Government against the upcoming crisis, that was going to cut the public employees salaries by 20%.

“And nobody protests in the streets! We don’t know how to fight for our rights!”

Then he complained about the Romanian drivers, telling that people drive too dangerously in his country, criticizing all the cars that were overtaking us… until he made a mistake and we nearly had a small crash. He said shyly “sorry”.

But despite this, it was a very nice ride, maybe the best I had until the moment. We talked a lot about the revolution against Ceaucescu – killed by Romanian people -, the Franco dictatorship in Spain, and other political facts. In one moment, he revealed himself as gay, so I gave him the advice to come to Sitges, a famous gay destination near my town, and he got happy when I told him gays could get married in Spain.

“You are an advanced country!”, he said. But I didn’t know what to answer.

Once in Bacau, I got a lift with Radu, who had become father some days ago and was very happy. He was still a student, and now was going to spend some days in his family cottage in the town of Ivanesti. There he had a vegetable garden, some livestock and bees that made exquisite honey. He said he liked more to work in the field than the engineering he was studying, but there was no future there.

There I took the last ride of the day. As I was planning to reach Moldova the next morning, I didn’t exchange more money. And the driver of the next car wanted a bit, the first of the whole trip who asked me for this. I told him I had not enough, to stop the car so I would wait another, but he was not stopping. Finally he agreed to take my little money and threw me out of the car after the next curve.

But sometimes fortune smiles to someone, and as I looked around, I discovered I was in a wonderful place near a lake, not far from the town of  Laza.

Romania Laza

Near the lake in Laza

Categories: carpathian mountains, Europe, hitchhiking, Romania, The Sun in my Forehead, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments