Monday, 8 August 2016

Airport With a Beach

Ever wondered how to spend a couple of hours waiting in between two connecting flights in an airport? What about going to a virgin beach surrounded by a Mediterranean pine forest and a natural resort with canals where birds fly high?
You may say I'm a dreamer but I'm not the only one, says a song. And in addition this place exists, right on the foot steps of Barcelona's El Prat Airport. You can get here in no time from any of the two airport terminals either by a taxi or walking. If you come from Barcelona city just grab the city train to the Airport T2 Terminal (ride costs about 1 euro if you use the T10 travel card) and from there you can either bike or walk. The detailed map is included at the end of this page.

Kingdom of Water and Birds

Once you pass the barrier of the Remolar - Les Filipines natural reserve you could feel the air is changing: it gets a bit cooler and the perfume of the wild vegetation around you embraces you just as a shawl. On your left a canal with still sweet waters is bordered by tall water plants pierced from place to place by wooden fences with cut off tiny windows where you can do some bird watching. Bellow the cuts there are displayed all the birds that could be spotted here. The listing is done in English, Catalan, Spanish and Latin. Further away observation towers allow you to get a better view of the area from high platforms.
As you get closer to the beach wild blueberries are inviting you to stop at each step you try to make towards the sea. Then the air starts to feel even fresher and the Med perfume of the pine trees kicks in in a symphony of crickets.

Beach & Sea

After so many treats you are finally arriving at the large Mediterranean sea. To the lest, the Remolar beach is narrower but cosy. To the right, the Les Filipines beach stretches as wide as 50-60 meters and long (a couple of kilometers) flowing into the Viladecans and Gava beaches. The sand is as fine as the flour and the beach descends gradually into the sea that always moves in happy foamy waves. The sand dunes behind the beach are protected areas and when I say protected the local authorities really mean it. You can see patrols inspecting the area.

Golden Lights

The wide beach being bordered by the natural reserve allows sun worshipers to soak in all the sun they want until the big star sets behind the far away mountains offering gold-infused light and unforgettable swims with sunsets brushing strong colours in the sky.

The Flying Giants

Because of its remote location, even on weekends these beaches are not crowded. The space between people is abundant. Bring with you some water and a snack or packed lunch as there are no beach bars. There are no hassling beer/cola/water sellers, no mojito offers, no cheap massage offers or beach towels on sale to disturb your peace and the sound of the sea. The only odd presence that give this place a unique character are the airplanes that are taking off from Barcelona's Terminal 1 Airport. On weekdays at 3.30 pm Emirates' plane to Dubai or the 5.25 pm Qatar Airways' huge aircraft are taking off. Due to their weight they need more space to get higher, so they cruise over the beach like huge whales with a white belly, or like a shiny metal clouds. The effect will let you in awe.

Zero Connectivity to Disconnect

This place is the perfect place to disconnect from the bustling rhythm of the city life. As a bonus to that you can hide your phone in the deepest pocket of your bag as here Internet and phone signals do not work.

Useful Links

Itinerary of the natural area of Remolar - Les Filipines - here
Link of the natural area of Delta de Llobregat - here

Monday, 25 January 2016

Pleasures of Mataró

Mataró is one of those places where you go with little or no expectations at all and you are blown off your feet. In no time you fall in love with this little Catalan town. Being situated in the ribs of Barcelona, you can hardly believe that beauty and charm knows any other address than Passeig de Gracia or Eixample district. In fact you can hop on any regional train from Barcelona heading north along the coast. The journey will stick your nose to the windows as you swish along the coast line where all the small towns pawns their golden sand beaches, marinas and sailing clubs and neo-colonial architecture. Your day dreaming stretches only 30 km and ends once the train stops in Mataró. In fact this very bit of railway that you have traveled is the very first railway in Spain opened on the 28th of October 1848. Another interesting curiosity of this place is the fact that it was the starting point of the marathon competitions during the Barcelona Olympic Games of 1992!

Start With "i"

As soon as you start your stroll you realize that it is a small town with a provincial touch, where everything is at a stretch of a hand, where people are friendly, ready to help you and time flows at a slower pace. I sort of like that. My first stop was at the tourist promotion office on the main walking street (La Riera). After living over a year in Barcelona, the warm and friendly approach of the lady working there made me wow. She listened to my interests and needs and immediately gave me 4 maps and a list of the best restaurants. Here you can get a free audio-guide or if you pop in during the weekend you can join one of the many thematic free guided tours of the town. 

The Sweet Street

The La Riera looked like an Italian corso where high window shops blend well with beauty centres, pastry shops and chocolateries. Unio has a slight 70s, retro style but the chocolate pralines with almonds, hazelnuts or truffles are to die for!

Baroque Fruits

Leaving behind the swanning scene of the town, I plunged into the heart of the old town. Suddenly the Turn-of-the-Century and Classicist architecture peels off into Baroque. An organic food shop in Carrer Nou street makes me say "Gosh!": above the beautifully displayed organic food the walls and ceiling are covered with XVIII century original frescoes! I think it was the most beautiful food shop in the world I have ever seen in my life! 

The Religion of Modernismo

At the end of this charismatic street opens a triangular piazza where among the old lamps raises the Basilica of Santa Maria. The interior is elegantly illuminated and like a veiled voice invites you walk in and reflect on the beauties of life. Not for long as behind a Vth century early christian tomb stone there's the entry to a real Paradise: Capilla de Sacramento decorated in beautiful blend of Byzantine and Art Nouveau styles (1892)! Everything here seems to be so modern, gentle, vegetal and done with such a refined taste - from the lights, the golden mosaics, the powerful paintings to the mosaic floor finished in 1903.


Little Drink in Little Square

If your "wow"s did not dried out completely, try going down the Carrer de Santa Maria. Little boutiques, gourmet cheese shops, more organic food shops will all tempt you to stop at least to admire their windows. 

On your left opens the "Market of the Big Square" (Mercat de la Placa Gran), a picturesque little square surrounded by classicist facades of early 1800s and in the middle there's a miniature market with two faces of stalls. The cosy, human size of the square and market invites you to sit down and have a bite and sip a drink. 

Art Nouveau & Treats

Once you fueled your batteries stop for a sweet bite in the lavish "La Confianza" shop (1896) built by the Mataró born architect Puig i Cadafalch. He was considered the last Modernista (Art Nouveau) architect and among his landmark projects in Barcelona are Plaza de España and Casa Amatller situated to the left of Gaudi's Casa Batlló.

The Italian Connection

Further down, the street opens in a sort of balcony where an elegant colonnade façade embellishes the former fish market (1841). From here, Carrer de Barcelona due to its Baroque lining and design it recalls the Italian pedestrian and shopping streets with loads temptations. It ends at the San Sebastian Chapel and the Church of Santa Anna. 

The Beginning of Gaudi

Apart the beach, the sailing harbour, the technology university campus, Mataró has interesting Roman ruins, a textile museum and a modern art collection hosted in Gaudi's first project: the Gaudi Nave (Nau Gaudi). While still a student, due to his personal contacts with the social movement leaders from Mataró, Gaudi decides to do something innovative for the local workers' association, a nave with wooden arches that will become the germ of his future projects. If you want, this nave has been the Big Bang of a new constellation and architectural movement.

Useful Links:

Cultura Mataro:
This tour's map: click here

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Gnam Gnam Casablanca Style

One of the best food experiences while in Casablanca (Morocco) is to be found in its Central Market. Surrounded by bright white Art Deco palaces, this market is the heavens for the freshest fruit, vegetable and above all fish and sea food. 

Top international chefs come here not only to buy the best ingredients for their masterpieces but also to enjoy a unique culinary experience: eating fresh fish prepared in the simplest way: grilled with plenty of fresh lemon zest. If you want to do what locals do, just follow the tip bellow.

Go to the main hall of the Central Market, pick your choice of fish and sea food that you believe you can handle on your plate and hand in your stuff to one of the waiters at the terraces that surround the market in the circular yard. The grilling will cost peanuts and you will eat like a king. Bon appetit!


Marché central, Boulevard Mohammed V, Casablanca 20250, Morocco

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Casa Bloc

Casa Bloc is an amazing, off the beaten track destination in Barcelona that will blow up your understanding of communal modern living and discover that Catalan architects put their visionary plans into practice as early as the 1930s in the service of working class.

Barcelona, the New Manchester

Just 7 metro stops away from the city center along the red metro line lies Barcelona's district of Sant Andreu (metro stop Torras i Bages). Until late 1880s it was a separate village that catered and provided the large Catalan metropolitan area with fresh fruits and vedge due to its fertile fields and good water supply. But this green paradise will be completely wiped off due to the arrival of the industrial revolution. Barcelona embraces the industrial area and starts popping up factories and manufacturing plants in all the lowlands and outskirts of the medieval walls. Its newest nickname is the New Manchester. Sant Andreu is not spared and soon this new district of the city is inhabited by blue collars. Their living conditions are precarious. Housing, hygiene, working conditions are rough. 

Three Visionaries

Three Catalan architects (Josep Lluis Sert, Josep Torres Clave' and Joan Baptista Subirana) members of the Catalan Group of Architects and Technicians for the Progress of Contemporary Architecture initiate a housing project starting from the model of small fishermen houses from the coast village of Sant Pol de Mar where the ground floor held the living and cooking areas while the upper floor was designed for resting and sleeping. This idea was developed into functional family houses but they still would not answer fully the communal living area idea. So what they did, they put together rows of duplex functional houses and replicated them 2 times on vertical. The result? A block of over 200 modern flats shaped as an S where the bad cardinal orientations (the north and the west) were reserved for corridors.

The Flat Museum

The duplex flats were stripped to the bare necessities (kitchen with coal stoves, running water, toilets and showers, a table, wardrobe, a simple bed. The rooms were illuminated with electricity lamps generating a shabby poor light. Probably the key word of the flats is decency and modernity that at the end of the 1930s for the people that got to live here it represented God's blessing. What I was impressed while visiting a museum flat in this building was the generous space of the rooms. The wide windows from the balcony are folding and allowing a harmonious prolongation of the living area outside, creating a flow of energies from both spaces.

From Social Project to a Living Monument

The original project reflected the progressive thinking of the Catalonian Government from the period of the Second Republic (1931-39) where the focus was on improving the living standards of the workers and lower class. The project planned common areas such as swimming pool for adults and another one for children, bathing areas, library, kindergarden etc. It had to be cut short due to the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. Soon are moving in the first inhabitants, unfortunately not the working class: soldiers, war orphans and widows from Franco's side. Today the building belongs to the Municipality and it is used as social housing under a careful supervision as it is now listed as a protected building and architectural monument. That means that no structural changes are allowed. 

The solidarity policies of the Catalan Government continue even nowadays. At the end of 2015 the local authorities announced that Syrian refugees will be hosted in this building. This way Casa Bloc will continue to be a decent shelter for all people in need. 

Guided tours of the Flat Museum are happening every Saturday at 11 am and they last one hour and a half and cost 4 euros. More info.

Address: Passeig de Torras i Bages, 101, 08030 Barcelona, Spain