1. TRY DRINKING WINE FROM THE PORRON
So you don’t know what a porron is. Well, get yourself off to a traditional Catalan family restaurant and ask them for a carafe (jarra) of the vino de la casa. Chances are it will come in a porron, a trick carafe that the Catalans devised to sabotage your new white shirt.
The porron is a flat-bottomed bulb with a short neck. Sticking out of the bulb is a spout in the shape of an elongated teardrop that comes to a narrow point. Like most novices, you will assume the spout is for pouring. A messy mistake. As you are busy mopping up, you will see the bloke at the next table using the thing as it was intended; that is, like a wine-skin. You hold the spout next to your lips and then draw it away slowly until there is a long thin cascade of liquid, like an Indian pouring tea straight into your mouth.
It’s best to practise this technique at home first, naked in the bath, before you do it in front of a restaurant full of people, as misfiring in public could devastate an hombre’s ego.
This is men’s business, by the way. You rarely see girls drinking from the porron. They’re either too smart or too vain to risk getting wine splashed all over their nice new white shirt.
2. FEAST YOURSELF AT A CALÇOTADA
The calçot is a vegetable that is half way between a spring onion and a leek and it’s unique to Catalunya. The Catalans go bananas for the things. Eating them is something of an event and the event is called a Calçotada.
You don’t fry the calçots or bake them or boil them, you barbecue them and then you eat them with Romesco sauce (another Catalan gift to the gourmand), which is made from almonds blended (as in, blitzed) with red peppers.
The Calçotada is a rustic ritual, meaning there is no cutlery or fine china involved. The calçots come straight from the barbecue to the plate, sometimes wrapped in old newspaper, and you eat them with your hands. There is a technique to the process so that you don’t get your face blackened by the charred outside bits (they get disposed of in the old newspaper). Like drinking wine from a porron, it takes a bit of practice, but a Calçotada is a gastronomic ceremony not to be missed.
NOTE: The calçotada is seasonal, from January through to March.
3. TAKE THE FUNICULAR TO TIBIDABO
There are two places to go in Barcelona for spectacular views of the city: one is Montjuic and the other is Tibidabo. As Tibidabo is a lot higher than Montjuic (it gets snow every winter), it has by far the best views. There is a funicular to both mountains but, again, the one to Tibidabo is better because it’s open and you can look out the windows, whereas the one to Montjuic goes through a tunnel.
There’s a stop half way up Tibidabo mountain called Carretera de las Aigües and, a pleasant ten minute stroll from the station, you will find Can Martí, a barbecue restaurant with big panoramic windows that give you the best views of any eatery in the city. A funicular to Carretera de las Aigües, a walk through the woodlands to Can Martí, a barbecue lunch at the restaurant . . . you couldn’t find a better way to spend a sunny day in Barcelona.
There are also restaurants and bars at the top of Tibidabo, as well as the amusement park (the ‘Park of Happiness’) and the Basilica which you can see clearly from downtown Barcelona.
You can find more information about Tibidabo, the funicular and Can Martíi on the web.
4. EXPLORE BARCELONA’S AIR-RAID SHELTERS
Unless you suffer from a bad case of claustrophobia, this is a really untouristy thing to do, as these tunnels are not well known, even to the locals. There’s not much evidence of the Civil War left in Barcelona (except for a few bullet holes in the Plaça de Sant Felip Neri), so the Refugi antiaeri (air-raid shelters) of the Plaça del Diamant in Gracia have a special significance.
You wouldn’t know it now but, back in the ‘30’s, Gracia was full of small factories and workshops which were the targets of the attacks. Today, the area is almost entirely residential, which makes the tunnels appear quite out of place. Believe it or not, the tunnels had been forgotten after the war and were only rediscovered in 1992 during some building works.
If you’re into history, this is literally digging into a little-known aspect of Barcelona’s past. There are guided tours every Sunday organised by the Gracia Historical Association.
5. TAKE HOME A CAGANER
The Catalans have a notorious preoccupation with mierda (shit, in your language): in medieval times, the two rivers bordering Barcelona were known as the Merdança (shit stream) and the Cagallel (turd-carrier); an old Catalan saying has it that, “if you eat well and shit well, you will have no fear of death”; there's a candy here called a caca which comes in the form of a brown marzipan turd; one of the figures in the Catalan version of the nativity is called the caganer (the shitter) usually depicted in mid-action, a turd literally being extruded from his arse.
Now, it may seem a little deviant, but you couldn’t have a more unique memento of Barcelona than a caganer and, if you place it strategically on your coffee-table back home, it will be sure to create some interesting conversation.
Think of it as an emblem of Catalan philosophy. For them, shit is the great regenerator, the fertilizer, the source of regrowth and renewal. When the Italians think of fertility they think of sex. When the Catalans think of fertility they think of poo.
So pack a caganer before you leave and spread some of this excremental mentality around back home.
6. VISIT THE WWII BUNKERS OF CARMEL
‘Bunker’ is really the wrong word for this site, because it is not underground, nor is it situated on a golf course. It should be called a ‘lookout’ because it’s on the very top of a mountain where you get vistas right across the city to the Mediterranean.
So why are they called ‘Bunkers’? During the war, these fortifications housed four 105mm anti-aircraft guns to protect the city from the Fascist air attacks. Sounds crazy but, in the case of the Spanish Civil War, it was the Italian and German Fascists who did the bombing in Spain because the Spanish didn’t have an air force to speak of. As Franco was good buddies with Mussolini and Hitler, he got them to do his dirty work for him.
Until 1990, leading up to the Barcelona Olympics, the area surrounding the Bunkers was full of shanty towns where the living conditions were subhuman, without water, electricity, sewage or garbage collection. It took the Olympics to do it, but the shanties were knocked down before the event and the folks living there were moved on, leaving the Bunkers abandoned.
There isn’t so much as an ice-cream shop up there, so not many people visit the site, which makes it quite atmospheric and romantic at sunset.
Looking for fun and laid-back way to see Barcelona? Let us guide you around on a Barcelona City Bike Tour.