We had finally arrived in Barcelona. After several nights moving from hotel rooms to guestrooms, and two nights of sleeping on the train, we were thrilled to finally settle in somewhere, even for just a few nights. And in Barcelona, we had our own apartment.

Anytime we’re in a place for more than a couple of nights, we tend to rent an apartment rather than stay at a hotel. It’s more common in Europe than in North America to do so: many people have “vacation apartments” that they rent out privately. There are lots of good reasons for this. First of all, it’s a good value. For the same price (or often cheaper) than a hotel room, you can get a 1-bedroom apartment with your own kitchen, a nice terrace, and – a blessing for road-weary travelers – free laundry. But more importantly, you have your own “home”, and for a few days, you can pretend that you actually live in this new place. You can check out the neighbourhood, buy food in the local markets, enjoy a home-cooked meal instead of yet-another-restaurant. It provides a nice break from the tiring on-the-move, living-out-of-suitcases side of travelling.

It also suits the way we like to see the world. Museums and monuments are good, but we get as much out of seeing the everyday world of a new city: a food market is just as exciting as a museum for us. If you’re of the same mind when you travel, we totally recommend renting an apartment.


The view from our terrace. Yet another reason to get an apartment!

On our first day in Barcelona, we did a workshop with the “Hanfris Quartet”, a Spanish barbershop group. They’ve got a great sound, and they taught us a few traditional barbershop “tags”.

The Hanfris Quartet (L-R): Jordi, Gener, Adria and Juan

The next day was for sightseeing. Barcelona is a beautiful walking city, and after rainy Germany, we were glad for the nice weather. On our walk we saw the famous La Sagrada Familia church, designed by Gaudi.

We also saw the famous concert hall “Palau de la Música Catalana”, considered a tourist site on its own, and possibly the most beautiful concert hall we’ve ever seen…

(you need to few pics to truly see this, so check out the Spain Photo Gallery)

… and found out that we were there for the last night of the “Calalunyan Guitar Festival”. We decided to take a chance and buy tickets for the concert. What would we hear… flamenco guitar? Jazz? Classical? We’d find out later that night. The answer was:

Catalunyan Indie-Rock.

The group is Mazoni, and they are well-known in Catalyuna, the part of Spain that includes Barcelona. They also recently played Canadian Music Week! They sound a little like the Canadian group Blue Rodeo, with a little surf-guitar thrown in. Though it’s not our first-call type of music  — and we couldn’t understand the words – the music was great, the songs catchy and well-formed, and we had a great time.

It also got us thinking about the differences between European and North American audiences. In North America, when people go to a concert, they see what they know: if they haven’t heard of the group, most people won’t buy tickets for it. In Europe, where the arts are arguably more respected and audiences more open, people will go to a concert not knowing who they’re going to see, trusting that the presenters will give them a good show. That’s the approach that we took with this concert, and when you take a chance, you open your mind and, since you already paid for the ticket, you commit to enjoying the show. Take a chance, open your mind: this is an approach we hope that Canadian audiences and presenters will take more often.

Up next, Madrid. Madrid has a very different feel from Barcelona, but is equally beautiful: a combination of wide, modern avenues, filled in with charming medieval-style streets and neighbourhoods. Our next apartment was right in the middle of one of these neighbourhoods, and we loved it.

Our trip to Madrid was done “on spec”: with a few days between our Barcelona gig and our next dates in Germany, we made contact with some Spanish singers at the last minute and hoped that some workshops or shows might happen. Though we couldn’t make them happen this year, we made new friends with our Spanish contacts and laid a solid groundwork for next year. Even better, they taught us all about the Spanish Revolution.

The day before, we walked though Puerta Del Sol, Madrid’s main square and the symbolic heart of Spain: it’s considered “mile zero” for all the roads around the country. It’s also the scene of many protests and uprisings throughout Spain’s history. As we walked through, we saw this:

… and this …

… and realized something big was happening. But when you’re on the road, it’s like a media blackout: you easily lose touch with the news at home and abroad. The next day, Dylan’s relative Katie Arnup posted this link on Facebook:

The Spanish Revolution

Ironically, it was sent from Canada, and Katie had no idea we were in Spain!

That night, we met up with our new friends, Spanish a cappella singers Javier Gallego and Inigo Sanchez, bass singer Luismi Baladrón and his girlfriend Lara Paxton, an aerialist from Seattle.

Our Friends in Madrid: Luismi Baldaron, Dylan, Javier Gallego, Suba, Inigo Garcia Sanchez and Lara Paxton

Inigo is a passionate supporter of the Spanish Revolution, and he took us on a tour of the site at Puerta Del Sol. It was amazing. The Spanish have a tradition of leaderless protest, and seeing it in action was impressive. For a non-top-down grassroots movement, it was very organized, with stations for food, water, medical help, and even legal services and advice. The whole atmosphere was peaceful: even the police, who had tried to forcefully evict the protesters the week before, were relaxed and nonchalant. For all we knew, they supported the cause!

Here is Inigo explaining the Spanish Revolution, in his own words:

click here for a link to one of the main organizing forces behind the Revolution.

After the tour, we all went out for beer and some streetcorner singing. Inigo’s friend Santiago, a Cuban writer in self-imposed exile from Castro’s regime, took us home. On our way, we stopped in to hear his friends from Cuba play — a fantastic Latin-jazz dance band.

All in all, it was a spectacular time in Spain.

Click here for Spain Photo Gallery

We left Madrid for another round in Germany. This included, again, a couple of night trains with a daytime stopover in Paris. Thanks to some track-work in France, we arrived no less than four hours late! Not much time for sightseeing in Paris, so we did what most good French folks do: we walked around the city for a couple of hours, traipsed down the Champs-Elysees… and saw a movie.

Still no Louvre. This was Dylan’s 6th visit to Paris (Suba’s 4th), and we still haven’t seen the most famous museum in Paris. Next time!

Up next: Chapter 4 – “Germany Part Zwei”. An 86-year old grand dame singer, and an “unexpected” extra day in Berlin. Coming soon!

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