Disembarkation day… or “de-bark” as the US crews calls it. Isn’t de-barking when one surgically removes the voice box from a dog?
Usually the disembarkation procedure is smooth and efficient but tighter restrictions on passport control in Europe made the process more time consuming than usual. Instead of being off the boat by 9:00am as planned, it was nearly 11:00am before we made it to passport control. No matter, we found a comfortable place on the boat to wait and co-incidentally found the other Australian family on our cruise. Three generations were travelling – the grandparents were from the Gold Coast while the children and grandchildren currently live in London. In another demonstration of how small the world is, the (adult) children own a house just around the corner from us in Sydney.
When we finally made it to passport control we were finally able to take advantage of the Navigatrix’ EU passport. There was no queue to have the EU passport checked which was lucky because we could have otherwise waited for another hour.
After a cab ride to our hotel we were able to check in. Our hotel is just around the corner from La Sagrada Familia and conveniently located to metro and bus routes. After a short rest we ventured out to the old town of Barcelona. As with many cities along the Mediterranean, Barcelona has Roman origins. The old city walls are still evident in the Gothic quarter and are even incorporated into the Cathedral (Barcelona Cathedral is different from La Sagrada Familia – more on this later). We decided against spending EUR7.00 to go inside but watched with pity as two British tourists realised they had been scammed by the Romany gypsy who sold each of them a headscarf for EUR7.00 on the pretext of gaining entry to the building.
Instead we wandered through the laneways of the Gothic and Jewish quarters until we came to La Rambla. When Barcelona went through rapid expansion in the middle of the 19th century, much of the new city was planned around large plazas connected by wide boulevards. La Rambla has a large tree lined pedestrian walkway down the centre, with the cars pushed closer to the handsome Art Nouveau buildings lining the side of the road. As it is the middle of summer holidays Barcelona was heaving with people, so we occasionally escaped into quiet side streets and Plaça Reial.
One diversion took us into the central market. It was reading about this location prior to our trip that we discovered the ‘damn tourist’ phenomenon. While we understand the frustration of the locals, it doesn’t help that Mercado le Boqueria seems to deliberately court the tourists. Compared to the central market in Cadiz the stalls are flashier, has permanently installed bars and cafes, and sells significantly more snack-type foods such as freshly squeezed juice, pre-prepared fruit snacks, nuts, chocolate and so-on. We assume these wares encourage the casual observer to purchase rather than just take photos. We obliged by buying the most gorgeous pistachio seeds, so fresh they were still soft and a vibrant emerald green colour.
We continued up the hill to Plaça Catalunya and after exploring some of the shops decided to return to the hotel. It was after 4pm, we were hot and we wanted to rest before dinner. At the extraordinarily early hour of 8:30pm (at least for Spaniards - when we arrived we initially thought the restaurant was not open yet) we went around the corner from our hotel to La Bodega Flamenca. As the name suggests, this intimate little restaurant had a flamenco show. We were initially concerned this might be a cliché but all 22 guests were treated to a breathtaking display of dancing and music, without a castanet in sight. After tapas of fried whitebait, anchovies in vinegar, veal stew, iberian ham, spanish omelette and dessert of creme catalana (like creme brulee) the performers came out on stage - 3 dancers, 2 singers, a single guitarist and a percussionist who tapped on an upturned wine crate. Simple but powerful.
The show started with a song and we were immediately reminded of Spain’s Moorish heritage - the melody sounding like an Islamic call to prayer. We had no idea what they were singing about but we could feel the passion of the lyric. Then the dancing started and the flamenco rhythm pounded out from the hand claps and the foot taps. The rhythm is 12 beats to a bar with the emphasis on the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th beats. To a non trained ear it is extraordinarily syncopated but hypnotic nonetheless. The audience clapped along as we picked up the rhythm. As each phrase progressed to a climax the emphasis changed to every second beat, the crescendo building, building, building. At times the dancers stomped out their rhythms which would physically reverberate through the audience. At other times they tapped out the most delicate of beats in almost complete silence. This was much more than tap dancing - this was passion, intensity, elegance and grace combined.
We hope that some of the show was improvised. There was much discussion before the start of each song, as if it was “which one shall we do next?” As each dancer performed a particularly intricate sequence of steps there were cries of “Ole!” (sounding more like “Allez”, reflecting the French influenced Catalan language). The guitarist repeatedly varied the volume, tempo and rhythm of his playing, almost as if he were trying to catch out the singers and dancers. He never did and there was always much laughter amongst the performers as they matched his challenges.
This was an amazing experience and a perfect way to cap off a day in Spain. There are many of these flamenco shows in Barcelona and we hope La Bodega Flamenca is just that little bit more authentic than the shows one might see in the centre of town. We highly recommend La Bodega Flamenca to everyone on their next visit to Barcelona.