An early night? Don't even think about it.
Trip Start Sep 14, 2011
13Trip End Sep 26, 2011
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Where I stayed
What I did
La Baixada de l'Aliga
We'd expected that last 'night' would be a long one but we knew that tonight would be a very long one. However the noises in the square woke us up at a time that might still be described as respectable and showers and clean clothes helped get us back to a state of near normality. Apart from our feet, that is. They were beginning to ache properly from all of the standing around, dancing and so on. We breakfasted on bocadillos and coffee in the bar in Hostal Nuria and sent texts to James and Tony & Kay to let them know where we were but didn't get any takers. They might still have been asleep.
Tarragona invites pointless strolling and our morning meander eventually took us outside the city walls, where a gegant seemed to be undergoing some maintenance, to the entrance of the Passeig Arqueològic
Yet again it was a 'Portes Obertes', so we didn't have to pay, but our entrance was delayed slightly by a few moments of high farce as the two small groups of tourists in front of us dithered about at the entrance. Perhaps we were at an advantage because we had had the experience at Circ Roma, so we were not surprised that the staff were recording the country of origin of all visitors, but the French group who went in first seemed nonplussed by this. However the group behind them were thrown into disarray by the query "Pais?". JD, reasoning that if they did not understand this question that works reasonably well in Catalan, Spanish and French, they might stand a chance with English, so she tried to be helpful and said "What country are you from?". They ignored her. The lady on the gate asked again and tried about four different languages, slowly and paitently until one of the group responded with "Bel ...". there followed a pause. Quite along one, in which we had time to think that we'd normally expect a group of four Belgian adults to have at least a basic understanding of one of the languages used until the tension with finally broken with "...fast.".
Later on, Tony, Kay and James helpfully offered alternative possibilities including Bel...arus and Bel...ize for countries beginning with 'Bel' but they didn't guess at Belfast
Although the Roman remains are Tarragona's main archaeological claim to fame, this site includes partly Roman interior walls and more recent exterior walls, built during the war of Spanish Succession. The 'passeig' is the path that runs between the two. It is peaceful and well preserved and complemented by attractive trees, shrubs and flowers. The site is linear and so you get to see it all from both sides if you walk to the end and back.
We'd had a text from James and arranged for him to meet us by the 'half' gegant. Of course it was gone by the time he got there but we soon found him and headed for the simple cafe just inside the city walls for a much needed drink. Archaeology is thirsty work.
There were quite a number of things to do later on in the day so we had a relaxing few hours looking around the city and stopping for refreshments from time to time
Tecla Tapa - now there's a nice idea. There's a marquee set up for the duration of the festival not far from Rambla Vella and that's where Tecla Tapa has its home. Tables are set up around the edge and various organisations and companies set up stalls that sell a variety of burgers, sandwiches, baked potatoes and other food at reasonable prices. JD and CC missed it last year due to lack of time so we headed there after filling the backpack with essentials for the night, in time for opening.
Not all of the stalls were ready for opening time, but the smells emanating from one selling burgers was extremely tempting and so that's where we started. And very tasty they were. We went behind the marquee and sat on the wall to eat them, near a statue of Santa Tecla that we hadn't noticed before
When we'd had enough to eat to keep us going for a while we made our way back to Placa de la font where the next big event was the Tronada del Prego which takes place in Placa del la Font and we had the choice of watching from the hotel balcony or from ground level. Last year CC and JD got a good view from the fifth floor so for variety we stayed on the ground this year. A large portion of Placa de la Font is cordoned off and police and security people put a lot of effort in stopping pedestrians from stepping under tapes and around fences to carry on with their normal business for a while and then the fun starts. The Tronada is what it says it is. A prolonged blast of artificial thunder as numerous mortars launch explosive pyrotechnics into the air. The effect is impressive and you feel the explosions almost as much as hear them. Small children cry and grown ups wince and everybody claps and cheers when it's all over.
The fencing is taken down quickly to make way for the Ball de Gegants. The gegants had been parading around the town and as darkness fell, they were starting to arrive back in the square, making their way to the area in front of the Ayuntament
els gegantons Negritos,
els Gegants Moros, els Gegants
Vells de la ciutat o del Cós del
Bou, nano el Caleto del Cós del
Bou, Gegants Vells i Nous i Nanos
del c. de la Merceria, Gegants
Vells i Nous i Nanos de Torreforta,
Gegants, Nanos i Bruixa del barri
del Port, Nanos del Club Maginet,
Nanos de l’Associació de Veïns
Verge del Carme, Nanos de la
Garrotada, Gegants del Serrallo,
Gegants del Casc Antic, Gegants
i Nanos del Col·legi del Sagrat
Cor, Gegants i Nanos del Col·legi
Sant Domènec, Gegants del
Miracle, Nanos de la Unió de Sant
Pere i Sant Pau, Gegants de la
de l’Esplai Sant Fructuós, el nano
Guillem de la Guàrdia Urbana, els
Gegants del passeig Torroja, la
geganta Cristineta i el nano escolà
Magí de l’Associació de Veïns
Maria Cristina i voltants, Gegants
Espineta i Cargolí i els capgrossos
la Nineta i l’Ivori del Club dels
grallers, timbalers, i
les bandes de música.
The square gets busier and noisier as more and more giants and bands arrive and the giants form up into two rows, either side of the Ayuntament doors, in preparation for their dancing, whilst the people who have been carrying them around town for over an hour get the chance to recover a little. The atmosphere is relaxed as tourists (not many) and locals get close up photos of the giants and youngsters use them as a slalom course or try to peep under their skirts to see what's there, generally tolerated by the grown ups. And then the band starts up with the first few stirring bars of Amparito Roca, the locals start to clap in time and as one, the giants begin to dance, whirling and circling in couples, all around the top part of the square
Follow that, then. The thing is, on this night, Tarragona can, because it's only about 9 o'clock and there is much more to do. It seemed absurdly early but even last year when we walked towards the cathedral at 10 p.m. we couldn't get on to the square, so as we'd made our preparations earlier and had backpacks full of food and drink, that was where we went. We weren't the first, and on Carrer Major there were already crowds waiting for a Pilar Caminant (a mobile castellers tower) that was coming down the cathedral steps as we arrived, before shuffling down Carrer Major at surprising speed. This really is one that you shouldn't try at home, even if you have your own flight of cathedral steps. There were gegants around here as well and a small crowd had already formed on the steps. In 2009 and 2010 JD and CC had got as close as we could, which had meant sitting for the best part of two hours on a curb - not the most comfortable seat but better than standing, especially seeing as the previous day's aching feet had not been improved by that days activities
Our mamadeta cups had been recharged and these stay cold for a surprisingly long time and the crowd was not so dense that we couldn't risk moving - in fact we managed to pop back to the hotel in relays to grab a few more provisions and also made sorties to the sweetshop around the corner and to the nearest mamadeta outlet, but shortly after 10 even that option started to become unfeasible as the crowd started to grow bigger and closer. All the seating area on the steps was taken up and then the people seated grew by about 20% as late-arriving friends turned up. If you strongly object to being climbed on or over, or to passing glasses of beer etc. to people behind you, then stay well away. It's all very good natured, though and there is no animosity at all.
There's often something to watch. Some people had made a little replica Aliga out of cardboard boxes. A group had a large Catalan flag. El Lleo came out for a walk and some of Tarragona's senior gegants made their way onto the square. And of course there were frequent, spontaneous outbreaks of Amparito Roca and other chants and songs. The highlight of the lead up to the Baixada, though was when the 'best' bit of Paquito el Choclatero came drifting over the crowd, eliciting an immediate response
The eagle appeared at the top of the steps (just listen for the cheers) and settled down, giving the impression that it was surveying the scene in a magisterial way, waiting for the moment when it would decide to begin its descent and start off the incredible night that so many people had gathered to enjoy. We'd finished our mamdetas and were back on the vodka. We put our olives, crisps, pickles, chorizo and anything else we hadn't finished off in the previous three hours back into our backpacks and we, like everybody else, were ready.
The Baixada de l'Aliga. It should be horrible. It's the most tightly packed crowd we've ever seen. There's a very good chance that at any time you will be in direct physical contact with two or three other complete strangers. You won't always have total control of where you go next. From time to time small groups, usually of young men push each other around like punk rockers at a 1977 Damned gig (without the spitting, though, mercifully) and before that you'll probably have been standing or at best sitting around on a hard surface for two or three hours
The eagle is the first to descend. slowly making his was down the steps with his own band whilst his attendants push the crowd back to give him enough room to pass and then to dance when he reaches the square. Next comes the lion and then best of all, the Mule. Now remember that this mule is huge and he has a playful reputation to maintain and little bells that he likes to hear as he canters or gallops along - and incredibly a tiny little girl perched on his back. Even on the steps Mulassa moves from side to side, giving the crowds the chance to pat him on the nose whilst trying to avoid being trampled - everybody likes to pat the mule on the nose. The little girl must have been given instructions to cling on tight but she managed to maintain a beaming smile, even when the mule was rearing in the air. It looked like fun.
After the beasts, including some less formal unofficial entrants, although the cardboard box Aliga had long since been destroyed and converted into rectangular frisbees, and bands had started, we walked up the steps, away from the main crowd and worked our way around to Placa del Rei,which was the rest point for the animals (and their human companions) and where a concert was underway.
So far I've mentioned the programme a few times but haven't provided a reference and it's a rather good one
It's in Catalan, of course, which is not too difficult to understand, especially if you have a bit of Spanish and/or French. On-line translators will help a bit but might actually make some of it harder to understand when direct translations of idiomatic trminology are attempted. Perhaps best to have an English and an original version open if you really don't fancy trying Catalan.
So if you look at the 21st September pages you might spot that at 00:30, on Placa del Rei there was a 'concert revetlla' featuring the Orquestra Mijanit, or in English, perhaps unnecessarily, the Midnight Orchestra. What a marvellous name and what appropriate timing. We arrived at the 'back' of the square, i.e. behind the stage and it was already packed. The band were playing Amparito Roca when we got there and sounded great. We started to ease our way through the crowd which was a slow business because there weren't many gaps. Amparito Roca finished and they immediately launched into, you've guessed it, Amparito Roca. Trust me, in these circumstances you won't get bored with this tune. The giants and beasts were in a cordoned off area to the left of the stage as we approached and we were lucky to find a place where we could lean against the fencing and see the action on the stage, the giants and everyone having a good time. Multiple Amparito Rocas followed, some played straight and others with some variations - a reggae beat, a tea dance ambience, you know the sort of thing
Rest period over, the barriers were opened and the eagle began the second stage of his journey, which as we had anticipated took him right past where we were waiting, so we got a great close up view of all the participants and the many hundreds of revellers who were getting more and more into the celebration, possibly fuelled by mamadetas, wine and beer.
Experience dictates that you should join the parade near to one of the bands - there were perhaps four or five - some aspects of the latter stages of the night are a bit hazy for reasons unknown and we stopped taking photographs, or maybe just forgot to, after the Placa del Rei concert, but I'm pretty certain that we tagged ourselves on to the section of the crowd that were following El Lleo. We stayed with them for the remainder of the Baixada, which is perhaps only about 300 metres but which takes at least 90 minutes. Balconies along the route are lined with people watching but their numbers are dwarfed by the volume of celebrants on the street. One thing we spotted last year that we didn't see in 2011 was the phenomenon of people in houses pouring water or sometimes beer onto the parade below, where the more reckless sould try to catch it in their mouths - after all it's thirsty work. This practice is not popular with the people responsible for the beasts and giants because they don't want to get them wet, or indeed the bands with their polished and well maintained instruments but there are plenty of gaps in between.
It was after 2 a.m. when we finally reached Placa de la Font but we weren't even tempted to head for our hotels which are both near the entrance to the square that the parade arrives at and we kept going until all the beasts had been safely put to be in the ayuntament and remained for a while to enjoy the exuberant atmosphere