Digital Editor Alex McDonald shares his top tips and an inclusive travel guide for a short break in ancient city of RomeWritten by Alex McDonald on 26th December 2017
A Photo Journal: Catalonia, Spain
Travel writer, Gino, shares his photos of the stunning Spanish city of Catalonia
When our world seems to be contorting and conforming at the request of social, political and environmental challenges, geographers will always stand-up to investigate and articulate; because place matters.
Thirty years on from the first meeting of geographers at the universities of Warsaw, Barcelona and Utrecht, where similar principles guided those students to establish an association for cross-cultural and academic exchange across Europe. This was named EGEA.
As a geographer and self-declared Europhile, I easily swapped Birmingham’s Paradise Circus for Barcelona’s Plaça de Catalunya; eager to emerge myself in five days of geographical conviviality for a 'Catalan Experience 2.0' - along with those from the universities of Ljubljana, Budapest, Milan and more. Tucked-up in the northwestern corner of the Mediterranean Sea, and bedded-down in a coastal mountain range, Catalonia is distinguishable for its landscape, as well as language and lifestyle.
Possibly described as a ‘cultural exchange-extravaganza’, the experience had us Salsa dancing on Mediterranean beaches, climbing up the Montseny Massif, and chancing chitchat on the topic of Catalan independence. With more Sangria and Santa Maria's than I bear to recount, the landscape and its people embraced, enticed and exclaimed.
Literally a hot topic; Catalan nationalism caught me by surprise. What had seemed to me, to be a 'Spanish Scotland', caught me in its seriousness. Denied a [legal] referendum by the Spanish government; Catalan resistance seemingly fails to subside. Although a vote is scheduled for September 2017 – organised by the pro-independence Catalan government.
For the Catalans I spoke to, the economic case for independence was at least equal to that of the emotional-cultural appeal. The latter was evidenced across the ‘state’ with endless Estelada Blavas (Blue starred) flags; the symbolic reference point for independence. Thus, where there are Catalans and underutilized concrete surfaces, vibrant street murals burst with colour and a zest for life (and independence from Spain). Although the 1992-2005 ‘golden age’ of Barcelonan graffiti has passed, its streets continue to be a canvas for capitalist critique and next generation Picassos. You’ll even find some artwork in the depths of abandoned WWII coastal bunkers.
Yet, Catalonia did not need a paintbrush to articulate its beauty. See the Costa Brava, which links Barcelona to the French border in the north; a 160-kilometre stretch of rugged coastal formations, alpine mountain slopes, and ambient fishing villages. From beach resorts in unseasonal sleep-mode to Roman ruins in L’Escala, and award-winning turquoise coves at Carla Montgo, Catalonia’s coast is ‘pintoresco’.
As the tide pulls, you’d do well to take note of Catalonia’s other ‘highpoint’: the Parc Natural del Montseny, which is home to the highest mountains south of the Pyrenees. We’d climbed the 1,712 m high Turó de l'Home, after 2.5 hours of snow and ice underfoot. Yet, as the Catalan landscape unfurled below us, only the views made our conversations slip-up.
After Catalonia’s manmade and natural cathedrals to height, cycling tracks and hiking pathways lead a trace through the Catalan heartland and ancient cities like Girona. Here, springtime still equates with tranquility in the stone-built streets that infamously formed the foundations of King’s Landing and Braavos for Season Six of Game of Thrones. Fortunately, the cathedral’s spectacular destruction was at the hands of animation. So we stopped for artisan coffee at Federal, and submerged ourselves in a history that started in 79 BC.