A Note From Greg: Aleix is back with yet another great article about Barcelona. This time, he looks at some typica Catalan activities that will really give you an idea of what it’s like to be a local.

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If you come to Barcelona and you enjoy partaking in authentic and traditional local activities, here’s a few that you can do in the Catalan capital that will give you a small insight into Catalan people’s lives and their day-to-day.

Barcelona Sunset - Copyright by Moyan Brenn -- http://www.flickr.com/aigle_dore
Barcelona Sunset – Copyright by Moyan Brenn — http://www.flickr.com/aigle_dore

(Barcelona sunset photography courtesy of Moyan Brenn)

For those of you that are not very familiar with Catalonia, it’s the northeast region of Spain, although tell that to some Catalans at your peril. However, leaving politics aside, there are some things that you can do in Catalonia that you can’t do in the rest of Spain. Here are a few examples:

Catalonia and Barcelona Festivals

Sardanes - a folkloric Catalan dance
Sardanes – a folkloric Catalan dance

During any of the festivals that take place in Catalonia and Barcelona throughout the year, you can enjoy the sardanes, a folkloric Catalan dance with music coming from the gralles, a form of oboe that makes an loud sound similar to that of a jackdaw, which in Catalan is called… a gralla.

(Sardanes image courtesy of Have a Local Friend)

Another important part of Catalan folklore are the castellers, human castles that can go up to ten people high. No matter how many photographs you see of this, it’s never as impressive as it is in real life.

During the many parades that you can see on the streets, you get to see the gegants, giant figures of well over 15ft tall made of paper-mache with someone underneath it carrying it, the capgrossos, which are big paper-mache heads with someone carrying them, and the dimonis, people dressed as devils that run around dancing and setting of fireworks to the sound of the drums and the gralla. This event is called a correfoc.

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Eating Like a Catalan

Catalan gastronomy is excellent and it really comes to life at the end of summer. The most traditional catalan recipe is the pa amb tomàquet, which is basically a slice of bread with a halved tomato rubbed into it and topped off with oil and salt, to which you can add any cold meat or cheese that you like, or simply to accompany a meal.

It’s also commonplace to toast it and rub garlic in it before you add the tomato. Catalans also love their calçots, a long green onion that you roast, then peel and dip into romesco sauce and eat while dangling it from above your head.

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St Georges Day

If you’re lucky enough to be in Barcelona in April, more specifically on the 23rd, you’ll enjoy St George’s Day, Sant Jordi in Catalan, who is the patron of Catalonia. On this day the tradition is that men buy women a rose and they in return buy a book, which is why the whole city is filled on this day with stands selling books and roses. In the city centre, the atmosphere is incredibly lively and many famous authors come and sign their books to the thousands of people who are queuing.

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Have a Drink!

Vermut
Vermut

A dying tradition is what the Catalans say ”fer el vermut”, which means “do the vermouth”. This tradition is basically having a drink and a snack before lunch, especially during the hot seasons.

(Vermut image courtesy of El Buo de Reus)

The tradition comes from the people who used to meet at bar terraces or at someone’s home and have a glass of vermouth and soda and salty food such as olives, crisps, salty nuts, and shellfish while they waited for lunch to be ready. If you go to inland Catalonia, you’ll still find the older folk doing this in the sunny squares. If you’re in Barcelona, why not continue this tasty tradition, regardless of the modern times.

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Souvineers

If you want to buy a traditional Catalan souvenir, whatever you do, don’t buy any in the souvenir shops on the Ramblas. A bullfighter and a flamenco figurine are about as Catalan as Big Ben, not to mention the Mexican hats which have become so popular in recent times for some reason.

If you want to buy something really original, in the winter months especially, you can buy a caganer, which is a nativity scene figure that’s, to put it bluntly, a man crouching down with his pants down doing his ‘business’. It sounds vulgar but it’s one of the longest-lasting Catalan traditions.

No matter what time of year you go, if you find where to stay in Barcelona, you can experience the city like a true local and enjoy its real and most authentic aspects.

People inside the hall of the Park Guell in Barcelona -- photography by Moyan Brenn --  http://www.flickr.com/aigle_dore
People inside the hall of the Park Guell in Barcelona — photography by Moyan Brenn — http://www.flickr.com/aigle_dore

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The above image, as well as the first beautiful sunset photograph on the page, were taken by the very talented Moyan Brenn. Be sure to follow him on flickr and YouTube.

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About the Author: Aleix Gwilliam is a 24 year old from Barcelona who looks English but thinks like a Catalan. He enjoys travelling, especially on old Czech trains, and trying to start conversations in Hungarian with people at Pecs station, even though his Hungarian is as good as his Bulgarian, in other words, not very good. He’s a trier.

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