El dret a Gaudí(r) ›

Park Güell, Gaudí’s fairytale playground, pays as much homage to modernist art and architecture as it does to Catalan identity. But nowadays it all comes at a price…

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Built between 1900 and 1914 and inaugurated as a public park in 1926, the quirky wonderland has, for nearly a century now, been lending itself to those searching for a bit of peace and quiet amidst Barcelona’s intense mix of city centre high rises and traffic jams.

What was once a tranquil haven set aside from the hustle and bustle of the Catalonian capital, Park Güell is now surrounded by fences, guards, workers and Guàrdia Urbana vans. Since 25th October 2013, the Ajuntament de Barcelona have been charging visitors €8 to enter, something that will amount to approximately €1 million euros a year destined to “help with park maintenance”

No longer can you venture up to Park Güell, bocadillo in hand, ready to awe at the sights and while away a sunny afternoon – a common pastime of my Erasmus days. Five years ago I spent 6 months studying at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona because I studied Catalan at university. While claiming to be no expert, I’m no stranger to the Catalan culture, independence plight and what some of Gaudí’s artwork represents and means to the nation. As a Catalanist (he hardly ever spoke Castilian), Antoni Gaudí incorporated many emblems of Catalonia, hidden or in plain view, into his works. Such emblems adorn the park and are often portrayed using the technique that many would say is synonymous with Gaudí: trencadís, or mosaicing.

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Symbols of religion and nature are abundant and the use of water, both actual and allegorical, is a common denominator throughout the park. As well as the iconic dragon perched on the entrance steps, a serpent can be seen nearby emerging from the Catalan flag (above). This symbol of Catalan identity refers to Sant Jordi, the patron saint of Catalonia who, as the legend goes, slayed a dragon to rescue a princess. Of course, the flag is a further, more direct use of imagery to portray Catalan nationalism. In fact, the park was the venue for the First Congress of the Catalan Language in 1906. The blue tiles that surround the flag may also be another reference to water and national unity. Yet another possible reference to Sant Jordi is made through the naming of the park – Gaudí and Eusebi Güell, who comissioned the project, chose to use the anglicised version of the word “park” because it has a “very English pedigree”.

Several of the above symbols are also present in Gaudí’s other works in the city such as the impressive (though incomplete) Sagrada Familia and eyecatching Casa Batlló, the latter offering skull-like balconies and an impressive serpentine roof reminiscent of the dragon which guards the gates of Park Güell. Visitors are also charged a pretty penny to enter each attraction, with prices for Casa Batlló andSagrada Familia set at €21.50 and €14.80, respectively, with the extra fee of €4.50 to go up the spires of the cathedral.

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The question is: how far are we to believe that the idea to charge an entrance fee is to “preserve the emblematic zone of the city”, as stated on the FAQ’s on the official Gaudí Park website? Authorities now only let 400 people per half hour visit the monumental zone of the park, which covers the part stretching from the “Gingerbread houses”, past the emblematic dragon/lizard, and the trencadísadorned balcony that offers unique vistas over Barcelona city centre. Basically, if you want to see any of Gaudí’s famed tile artwork (or any of his works in the city, for that matter), you have to pay up, son.

Have the measures really been put in place to protect Gaudí’s artwork from the adverse effects of mass tourism? Or is this just a scheme set to make money off of tourists who have their heart set on seeing the works of one of Europe’s and, arguably, the world’s most famous artists? Tourism is a polemic issue right now in Barcelona, with a huge new cruiseliner set to regularly drop off thousands more tourists starting from next year. But, for a country in crisis, is complaning about tourists spending money in your cityreally the way forward? Xavier Fernandez, a tourism consultant, told The Sunday Times, “Frankly, [the closure of the park] is a good idea…Tourism is pretty much the only industry that is working [in Spain] right now. So the authorities are constantly looking for new ways to raise revenue from tourists.”

One blog and Twitter account, Defensem Park Güell, made a documentary, El dret a Gaudir, to address the people’s fight against the park closure. They say, “Queremos ayudar a romper el silencio sobre esta iniciativa municipal, la que convertirá un bosque urbano, espacio de descanso vecinal y encuentro artístico, emblema de la historia de Barcelona, en museo privado.”

The video interviews various project members, neighbours and board members, one of whom says, “The objective of the exercise is not to earn money”. Ok, love. We also see that, despite regularly earning over €2 million from Casa Gaudí and Casa Guarda entrance fees and parking, none of this money is destined to park maintenance. The same group wrote this piece about the results and possible conclusions 6 months after the closure of the park to the public. Read the platform’s manifesto on why they think the park should be públic, grati de lliure pas per qualsevol personahere.

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The fight against the initiative also saw vandalised ticket machines outside of the park in protest of the closure.

General views and comments on newspaper articles on the subject seem to depict the same sentiment… “ha sido un parque público… nos roban”

A recent trip to Barcelona sparked a mix of nostalgia and anger upon trying to reenter my favourite part of the city. If only I was a resident in one of the surrounding barrios, then I’d get in for free.

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My view? Is it selfish to want a 100-year-old UNESCO park to remain free (or at least cheaper than €8) for all? After all, shouldn’t we be encouraging people to enjoy cultural, educational and artistic exhibits, not deterring them? I’m all for protecting the park but, in a country famed for its corruption, it would be interesting to see where those millions of euros really go.

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A weekend in Cabo de Gata ›

Rugged landscapes, hidden beaches and free tapas: Cabo de Gata Natural Park in a nutshell.

The Cabo de Gata area, located at the south easternmost tip of Spain, is vast and sparsely populated. Apart from greenhouses and the odd hamlet, the area is mountainous and desert-like as far as the eye can see. All of the coastal towns, however, are charming and bustling and offer some of the best beaches in Spain.

Base camp for the weekend was Níjar – a beautiful little Andalusian town famous for its pottery andjarapa rugs. Its central location means that nearly all of Cabo de Gata’s beaches can be reached in about a half hours drive.

A cove that kept being mentioned on our quest for The Perfect Beach was Cala de Enmedio. Enmedio? It is literally in the middle ofnowhere and is only reachable on foot, up a sketchy mountain “path” surrounded by desert-like landscape and scrub for miles on miles. 40 minutes and various scratched shins later, we were dipping our toes into the clear, turquoise waters.

One thing we’d heard about the area was that is had a definite hippy vibe. This came all too obvious when, while looking for things to do over the weekend, we came across a meditation festival:

[Las actividades] Fueron creadas con la intención de hacer accesible la meditación al hombre contemporáneo. En muchas de ellas, se han incorporado técnicas ancestrales de otras corrientes espirituales como el sufísmo, el tantra o el zen.”

Needless to say, the promise of hippies practising tantra in the Mediterranean moonlight was quickly overruled in favour of beachside drinks with free tapas.

Highlights of the area: 
Agua Amarga: A charming little town with a bustling square and extensive beaches.
Alcazaba de Almería: Despite not having a great reputation, the city itself does boast a 10th century Muslim walled city. Kind of like the Alhambra’s less flashy, younger sister, if you will.
La Fabriquilla: A tiny coastal town close to the Arrecife de la Sirenas and the lighthouse. Drive the precarious, cliff-side lanes to reach the stunning viewpoint at the end of the road. Stop off at nearby Las Salinas for flamingo spotting, and check out the old town on the coastal road which featured in the film Vivir es facíl con los ojos cerrados.
Fresh fish: Seafood dominates Andalusian menus. For a tasty local tapa try the boquerones or sardinas.
The Andalu accent: ”Tre’ servesa’? Qué tapa’ queréi’? De donde soi’? Vai’ a La’ Negra’?” etc. Very breathy. Very airy. Very reluctant to use the letter S.

One thing you need if you’re thinking of visiting Cabo de Gata is a car. There is virtually no public transport between the towns, and be wary of walking from beach to beach up the barren hills – unless you don’t mind being confronted by a nudist twisted into some obscure yoga position, that is.

See the photo gallery here: http://www.sepiavlc.com/cabo-de-gata/

Girlz-N-The-Hood: the ghetto gospel truth about Guatemala City ›

“Big, dirty and dangerous” are the only words that Lonely Planet can find to describe Guatemala City.

My friends and family had no trouble finding alternative adjectives when I told them I was moving here for 2 and a half months to write my dissertation: “one of the highest rates of violent death in Latin America”, “I’d feel better if you got a gun”, and “Have you died yet?” were personal highlights on my ‘How Not to Reassure Someone’ list.

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The week before I left, The Guardian printed an article entitled “Murder in Guatemala: ‘I won’t allow my daughter to become another statistic’. It was clear that this was not going to be an 18-30s holiday to Zante. Briefly, I flirted with the idea that maybe everyone around me was right; that maybe this was one trip too far. Fortunately, though, I had already spent all my savings on the flight, so I had no choice but to dye my hair ‘Hispanic brown’ and hope for the best.

Divine intervention seemed to be on my side as I boarded the plane from Madrid to Guatemala City with two nuns and a priest. Perhaps if they’d prayed a bit harder we might have had a film or at least some decent food on the 11-hour flight.

As we came in to land, Guate (as it’s known to locals) sprawled as far as the eye could see, saturated by run-down barrios with the odd palm tree reminding you that you were in the tropics. Stepping out of the plane, the smell hit me like a tonne of bricks: humidity mixed with street food that tastes delicious but will probably give you The Shits for days, and an added dash of the unfamiliar. It gave me that ebb of contentment that you get when you’re travelling somewhere exciting; a contentment that continued when my luggage arrived in one piece.

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No sooner had I arrived, I was whisked away for my first taste of Guatemalan cuisine and a thorough safety brief. Over enchiladas that weren’t really enchiladas (vegetables on a toasted tortilla?), I learned that I shouldn’t do any of the following: take taxis from the street, carry anything of value, look lost, look like I’m carrying anything of value even if I’m not, walk anywhere after 8pm, take public transport, panic when inevitably robbed at gun or machete-point, and definitely don’t trust the police with anything. N.W.A was right…

I had found my accommodation through Couchsurfing, so there was a niggling worry in the back of my head that I might have signed myself up for living in the Headquarters of a narco-trafficking exercise. I couldn’t have been further from the truth, unless you consider talking through the world’s injustices over copious joints to be a criminal activity (which some of my more cynical friends might). It was clear that my only concern in this flat would be pulling a muscle doing Downward-facing Dog (not a euphemism) or developing a taste for molasses as sugar was strictly banned on account of the unacceptable production practices in Central America.

Guate is a funny place. It contradicts and confuses itself constantly. No one seems to question the fact that staunch Catholicism is spliced with references to Indigenous witchcraft, or that sellers on the buses threaten to turn to delinquency if you don’t buy their sweets. The biggest contradiction of all comes in the form of the people: the majority of whom will bend over backwards to help you out and make you feel welcome, while a small undercurrent of the population would probably shoot you for 100 Quetzales. But it would serve you right for not buying their sweets.

On my first night in Guatemala City, I found myself in a bar-cum-art gallery for a Joy Division/New Order tribute night. Surrounded by Guatemalan hipsters, we drank bottles of Gallo in buckets and talked about bands that had transcended borders and made it onto our respective iPods. A projector screen showed footage of a New Order concert in Glasgow, the city that I had just left. As we watched footage of the Botanic Gardens and the river, all shot with a backdrop of grey clouds, a Guatemalan turned to me and asked: “is it dangerous there?”

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Spotlight on: Juan Llorens and Extramurs ›

Extramuros might not be first on your agenda when planning a night out in Valencia city. Appearing somewhat off the radar in comparison to other nightlife hotspots such as Ruzafa or El Carmen, Extramuros, or Extramurs in Valencian, lies just to the west of the old town, within walking distance from El Carmen. Here’s why you’d be wrong to overlook it…

The area is often simply referred to as “Juan Llorens” after the main road running through the neighbourhood, a nod to the one of the men behind the Germanías rebellion in the 16th century. Think wide, tree-lined streets with bustling terraces and you’ve got an accurate depiction of the Extramuros barrio.

Where to eat?

Alhambra
Famously scrumptious tortillas. This small cafe is closed most afternoons and on weekends, which can only mean one thing – their tortillas make them so much money that they only really need to open for almuerzo. Get there early, and get there quick. “Son enormes!”
Calle Calixto III 8

Funky Food
A small but bustling restaurant that serves typical Spanish cuisine; tapas and bocadillos. In their own words… “COPAS Y BUEN ROLLO GIRAN ENTORNO A MÚSICA DE LA MEJOR CALIDAD…IT’S FUNKY FOOD!”
Calle Calixto III 17

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La Venganza de Malinche

La Venganza de Malinche 
An awesome Mexican restaurant catering  to all your burrito, fajita and chipotle needs. Tequila, anyone?
Calle Perez Escrich 11

La Greta
An eccentrically decorated bar-restaurant offering “different” tapas. For those of you that way inclined, there’s also a vegetarian menu. Las Gretas is found over the big Fernando El Católico avenue, but still belongs to the 46008 postcode.
Calle de Pere Bonfill 7

Dukala
Also over the big avenue lies Morrocan joint Dukala, which comes highly recommended. Typical Morrocan food in a charming atmosphere.
Calle Sanchis Bergón 27

Where to drink and get your groove on?

Sala El Loco
El Loco is a seasoned gig venue often attracting international as well as local groups, particularly of the rock genre. When the gigs have ended, head here for pop, soul, garage and indie tunes. Click here for the review of the last gig we saw there: Wau y Los Arrrghs!!! demolish El Loco
Calle Erudito Orellana 12

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Magazine
Rock bar and club Magazine offers drinks promotions on the terrace for early birds and opens til 3:30am. Generally spinning a variety of rock music, Magazine also hosts gigs – recent highlights of which include the Festunizer and No More Lies, Carmonas and Cigüeña.
If you’re really going hard, you might want to try their eponymously-named cocktail Magaziner – that’s lemon slush with absinthe. 2×1 if you get there early. You’re welcome.
Don’t forget to try smaller venue La Llimera next door to experience a more intimate gig venue, workshops and cultural activities.
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Many of the above restaurants and bars have recently taken part in the Distrito 008 initiative, promoting art, culture and gastronomy in the 46008 district of Valencia. Last 20th-22nd June saw a successful 4th edition of Distrito 008 which showcased, among other things, an art market, wine tasting, kids activities, tapas routes, graffiti exhibitions and gigs, including a 12 hour run of music and art for World Music Day last Saturday at La Llimera.

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The above information shows that Extramuros thoroughly deserves a place on your Valencia radar.

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