Chasing waterfalls in Catalonia

Next Monday, the 9th of June, is a bank holiday here in Barcelona (at last a long weekend!), and if you’re stuck for ideas in the face of closed shops and a stowed seafront, I have a suggestion.

Hire a car and head for the hinterland.

Because although the beaches of Barcelona and the Costa Brava itself are rightly renowned, inland, Catalan waterfalls are channelling their way through some of the most achingly beautiful countryside you’ve ever seen (and I say that coming from Scotland).

Las cascadas de Cataluña

Up in the Collsacabra region of Catalonia, north east of the town of Vic, is a scene of such natural beauty you’ll be amazed more tourists don’t make the effort to visit. Set into a natural amphitheatre-cum-canyon, La Cascada de La Foradada de Cantonigrós is named after the ‘hole’ in the mountain that offsets it. From above, the waterfall seems to appear from nowhere amid the tree-clad terrain.

Cantonigros-from-the-top

Hike on down, however, and around 45 minutes later you may seriously be considering skinny dipping.

Foradada-Catalunya by Julie Sheridan

The river above drapes itself over eroded rocks, spilling out into a shallow pool ideal for paddling or picnicking alongside. Small stepping stones signpost the way across the river, allowing you to go round back and venture through the gap in the rock to stand right behind the waterfall itself.

If you can, aim to visit in spring or early summer, when the flow of water is at its fullest and the surrounding vegetation at its lushest.

cantonigros-waterfall by Julie Sheridan

Take me to the water

From Barcelona, take the C17 road north past the town of Granollers all the way up to Vic, where it turns into the C25. Circumnavigate Vic on this ring road and look for signs for the local road C153, following signs for the village of Cantonigrós. The village itself is tiny, and you need to look out for the football pitch and park nearby (parking is free). Along one side of the football pitch (behind the goal posts) you’ll see a rocky path – take this path and you’ll encounter increasingly rocky terrain. Follow the track all the way down, and in around 45 minutes’ time you’ll start to hear the tinkle of wild water.

Eventually the path opens out onto the rocky backdrop of the waterfall, where you can happily spend a couple of hours exploring and having a picnic on the river bank. Coming back up is more tricky, obviously, but trust me, it’s worth it.

From a stunning stone village to the Salt del Sallent 

Once you’ve huffed your way back up the track to the car, rejoin the C153 and follow signs for the hilltop town of Rupit. Dump the car at the car park on the perimeter (even the car park is picturesque) and wander into the town by way of the swinging rope bridge for a look around and lunch.

Rupit church Catalonia

Dating back over 1000 years, Rupit boasts some pretty established restaurants, and I’d particularly recommend the rustic Ca l’Estragues’s at number 4 Church Street (Carrer de la Esglesia). Fringed by red geraniums, its postcard-perfect views over the river are a gorgeous setting for lunch, while the traditional Catalan pan al tomate just cries out for some serious smearing of garlic.

pan-al-tomate

But back to the waterfalls.

After sufficient consumption of garlic, head round to the back of Rupit (it’s not far) and set off on the hike that will take you to the spectacular Salt del Sallent (the Sallent ‘jump’).

You’ll be following the river through woods and craggy countryside, and although there are a couple of spots that might be slightly slippy if it’s been raining, most of the track is accessible and fairly flat.

Suddenly, when you least expect it, the tree-lined track opens out into searing sky, and this is what you spy.

View-from-Sallent-Waterfall by Julie Sheridan

Thousands of trees where sea should be, the summits of distant mountains swathed in cloud and, to your right, an almost 100-metre waterfall that wouldn’t look out of place in Lord of the Rings. The space is so spellbinding that it seems almost pointless to take photos, but there are a couple of miradores (look-out points) where you can stand and contemplate the Catalan countryside in all its vertiginous glory.

Let me know how you get on if you visit, and enjoy the long weekend:)

salt-de-sallent


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The glutton’s guide to gluten-free Barcelona

Wheat. It gets about a bit.

Whether you’re among the increasing number of people being diagnosed with Coeliac Disease (an incurable genetic disease whose only remedy is to avoid gluten for life), or simply prefer to avoid this pesky protein for health reasons, finding food that’s safe for you to eat is no mean feat. Throw in a trip abroad, where language issues compound the problem, and things can get hairy.

I was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease in my early 30s, following decades of severe stomach pain. After three years in Barcelona, I’ve figured out a few ways to make living with the condition a bit easier. The plethora of fresh produce on offer in the city’s markets certainly sweetens the deal.

sant-jordi-roses by Julie Sheridan

Wheat – it even sneaks its way into Sant Jordi roses

Spain is no different to most western countries, in that it has a heavy reliance on wheat as a huge part of the traditional diet. Just like in the UK, waiters here will think nothing of bringing you a basket of bread before you’ve even ordered, and tend to look flabbergasted when it’s rejected.

On the plus side, I do think that the Spanish are much more clued up than their UK counterparts in the catering industry when it comes to the terminology. The phrase you’ll need is “soy celíaco” (or “celíaca” if you’re a woman), which you’d do well to follow up with a “no puedo comer gluten/harina de trigo” (“I can’t eat gluten/wheat flour”). Most waiters in Barcelona will nod sagely at this point, and take you seriously.

The good news is, as a Coeliac in Spain you have three amigos on your side: rice, eggs and potatoes. Standout stalwarts on a Spanish menu that are naturally gluten-free include paella (rice with seafood/meat), Spanish omelette (tortilla española or tortilla de patatas – eggs, potatoes and onions), and patatas bravas (a cross between chips and potato wedges, served with a spicy sauce).

But what about the tapas, the cakes, the god-damned pizza, I hear you cry? Yes, I know, I know. Read on.

Best gluten-free brunch: Copasetic

Copasetic is so effortlessly accommodating to those of us on a gluten-free diet, it makes you wonder why other restaurants don’t also up their game.

Copasetic by Julie Sheridan

Copasetic – a clinical interior, a forensic focus on fantastic food

Owners Therry and Omar are welcoming and attentive, the menu is varied, amazingly Coeliac-friendly and economical, while portions are generous and presented with creative flair. Oh, and you can even take your dog. Not to mention their ‘give something back’ initiative, whereby you donate a nominal euro which provides a coffee or sandwich to a person in need. Cool, eh?

Gluten free red bean burger

The gluten-free red bean burger at Copasetic

For the best gluten-free brunch in Barcelona, (and I’ve sampled a few Barcelona brunches in my time), Copasetic is unrivalled. The menu offers GF dishes ranging from crepes (sweet or savoury) and pancakes to hamburgers (meat or veggie). For something ultra-healthy, try their organic quinoa with Greek yoghurt, banana, blueberries, nuts and honey.

I took my Coeliac parents (I know, statistically incredible) to Copasetic for a full-on brunch recently, and my poor Dad almost wept with joy at the sight of his gluten-free crepe – it had only been 26 years since he’d last tasted one. Beer-loving Coeliacs don’t miss out, either – try the light, gluten-free organic Belgian beer to wash down your meal of champions.

Address: Carrer Diputació, n. 55 (left L’Eixample district).

Best gluten-free sandwiches: Conesa

Grabbing food on the go as a Coeliac is where it all starts to go horribly wrong. Fast food is an inherent homage to gluten: think sandwiches, wraps, bagels, crepes, hot dogs, pizza, pasta or cous cous salads. See the dilemma?

If it’s one of those days you really can’t face a full sit-down meal just for the sake of getting something to eat, head to one of the two Conesa sandwich bars in Barcelona. There’s one at the heart of the old town, in the Gothic quarter and another in the district of Sants, not far from Plaça d’Espanya.

Conesa-gluten-free-sandwich

The ‘Catalan’ filling – Catalan country sausages, onions and fried peppers

The bread itself is certified as gluten-free by the Coeliac Association of Catalonia and is regularly tested by outside inspectors to make sure there’s no cross-contamination.

The choice of fillings is satisfyingly generous, too – for something typically Catalan, opt for the llom i pernil (pork loin and ham), or, when the calçots are in season, the botifarra de calçots (sweet onion sausage with Romesco sauce). Vegetarian versions include escalivat (roast peppers, aubergines and onion with blue cheese) or the suitably Spanish manchego cheese with tomatoes and fried peppers.

Address: in the Gothic quarter, at Llibreteria 1, just off Plaça Sant Jaume, and a second venue in Sants on Creu Coberta, no. 80.

Best gluten-free bakery: Baci D’Angelo Patisserie

BacidAngelo-BarcelonaUp and running for less than a year, Baci D’Angelo is the gluten-free bakery Barcelona was crying out for. I only wish they could clone themselves.

This pretty patisserie is located very close to the Clot metro stop, and produces homemade gluten-free everything – from bread (part or wholly baked, as you prefer), to crepes, muffins to full-blown birthday cakes. Most days you can simply drop by and they’ll have something gluten-free ready for you to take away, but to make sure you’re not disappointed, give them a call or order direct on their website – they also deliver.

For locals, Baci also offers regular roll-your-sleeves-up workshops, where Coeliac clients are walked through the basic techniques of gluten-free baking.

To give you an idea of quality, here’s a recent gluten-free birthday cake I ordered, just for the hell of it. God it was good.

gluten-free-birthday-cake

Baci D’Angelo gluten-free sponge cake – genius

Address: Carrer Valencia 656 (Clot district).

Best gluten-free pizza: Il Piccolo Focone

Finding gluten-free pizza is somewhat of a Holy Grail for Coeliacs. Oh, the streets of foreign cities I have trudged, in the vain attempt to track down a slice of bloody edible pizza that won’t poison me.

It’s a phenomenon that I’m hoping changes soon, but Italian restaurants in Barcelona don’t tend to hold a supply of gluten-free pasta for Coeliac clients, the way their Scottish Italian compatriots do. And, frustratingly, gluten-free pizza is even more elusive.

(Beware of the Telepizza adverts for gluten-free pizza, by the way. In reality, while everyone else gets to customise their topping and watch the base being rolled out before them, what Coeliac clients get is a frozen, ready-made pizza whose toppings can’t be customised and which resembles something only slightly less pliant than a brick. Oh, and which costs you a whopping 18-odd euros.)

Il Piccolo Focone is a welcome exception to the rule. Dishing up gluten-free pasta, pizza and desserts (even tiramisu), the owner has first-hand experience of the Coeliac condition, with close family members affected by it.

Inside, the place is cosy, down-to-earth, and the staff exceptionally sweet. Pizza!!!

Address: Carrer del Dos de Maig, 268 (Sant Martí district).

Best gluten-free tapas

Tapas can be tricky, if you’re restricted to a gluten-free diet. Spanish and Catalan food is glorious – the freshest seasonal ingredients, globally fêted chefs and abundance of products from mar to muntanya. But try being a Coeliac on the tapas trail and see how far you get.

Take the usual suspects, for example. Bombas (an ostentatious potato croquette), calamares (squid, usually battered in wheat flour), croquetas (deep-fried and wheat-battered mashed potato), empanadillas (wheat-based savoury pastry), pan con tomate (tomato-smeared baguette), pinchos or montaditos (slabs of bread adorned with a variety of tasty toppings). All of this is a no-go area for the gluten-free diner.

Escalivada-by-Nuria-Farregu

‘Escalivada’, or ‘esqueixada’ in Catalan – gorgeously gluten-free

The good news is, not all tapas have to be deep-fried and rebozados (battered in wheat flour). Coeliac-safe options include my friend and yours, Spanish tortilla, wholesome grilled prawns (gambas a la plancha) or the Catalan cod and roast veg favourite, escalivada (esqueixada in Catalan). Other naturally wheat-free tapas to try are pulpo a la gallega (Galican-style octupus), boquerones en vinagre (anchovies marinated in vinegar), and the Spanish speciality, jamón serrano (Serrano ham).

barramon-papasI’ve yet to come across a tapas restaurant that serves up montaditos or pinchos on gluten-free bread (we can dream, right?), but in the meantime, some lip-smackingly good places to try are Lolita Tapería (Carrer Tamarit, 104, Sant Antoni district) and the little-known Poble Sec hangout of Bar Ramón (Carrer Blai, 30, Poble Sec district), whose papas arrugas (wrinkled potatoes from the Canary Islands) are beyond anything you’ve ever tasted on Earth.

 Best gluten-free slap-up supper: La Lluna

Located down a dark alleyway in the old town’s Gothic quarter, just a couple of cobbles from the Ramblas, La Lluna is a classy joint worthy of a meal on a special occasion. The sense of old-world opulence makes it feel a bit like dining on the Titanic, minus the violins, but if you can get past that, the Coeliac diner is likely to leave a satisfied wee soul.

La Lluna is one of very few restaurants I’ve found in Barcelona that bother to mark which items on their menu are actually gluten-free, and the choice is varied (there’s also a decent vegetarian menu). Then there’s the sheer joy of being served warm gluten-free bread (albeit with a 1€ suppplement) with your meal. Considering it’s smack bang in the middle of Barcelona, the prices aren’t half bad either.

La Lluna restaurant Barcelona

La Lluna – rococo, but a Coeliac life-saver

Address: Carrer Santa Anna, 20 (Gothic quarter).

Best gluten-free supermarkets: El Corte Inglés or Día

Mention to anyone in Barcelona that you’re Coeliac and nine times out of 10, you’ll hear “Oh, did you know Mercadona do a great gluten-free range?”

I’m not quite sure how Mercadona, a large Spanish supermarket chain, has managed to pull this off, but kudos to the Marketing team.

In reality, this is what the Coeliac client can expect (bottom row only, mind):

Mercadona-gluten-free-bread

Mercadona’s gluten-free range (the very bottom shelf): could do better

To be fair, there is the odd desultory GF frozen pizza scattered about the place, but essentially, that’s it.

Give it a miss and if you’re feeling flush, head to the Corte Inglés on Plaça de Catalunya, which stocks a brilliant variety of gluten-free products. A more economical option is the supermarket chain Día, which stocks a fairly good ‘free-from’ range as well, with all the store cupboard essentials.

Finally, I like Catalan organic food stores Veritas when it comes to gluten-free cakes, biscuits and sweet pastries. Again, it’s not the cheapest, but the pre-packaged baked items are fresh and lack the tell-tale crumbly consistency that seems to plague products sin gluten.

OK, I think I’ve used the word ‘gluten’ enough times for one lifetime. Feel free to leave a comment below if you need any specific advice on life without wheat in Barcelona, or of course if you know of any good places for Coeliacs. Cheers!

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Does living abroad give you a split personality?

A few months back, as I was cursing the detritus of a burst teabag in my morning cup of Earl Grey (in shall-we-say somewhat brisk Glaswegian), a Spanish colleague piped up from across the desk with an unexpected appeal.

“Julie, por favor, habla en español.” Looking a bit sheepish, his tone verged on imploring.

Now, this particular colleague speaks excellent English. The request was not prompted by frustration at not understanding.

“Ooh, yes”, every other colleague suddenly tipped in their tuppence, “you sound much nicer in Spanish”.

Guardedly spooning out the teabag gloop, I probed for further details.

Earl Grey by Anaulin

It seems that when I speak in my native English – on the phone, to one of the few fellow Brits in the office – I sound “harsh, hard-nosed, intimidating”. My colleagues didn’t quite go this far, which was considerate of them, but the message was clear – I assume a different personality depending on whether English or Spanish is coming out of my mouth.

Couple this experience with my last trip home to Scotland at Christmas, where even in mundane social interactions I was stunned at my alterity, and I’m really starting to wonder.

Does living abroad end up giving you a split personality?

Identity crisis

Let’s be honest, those of us who have upped sticks and fled our native shores. An appealing perk of relocating abroad is the opportunity it affords you to slough off an old self and reinvent yourself into a shiny new one.

Oh the untrammelled ontological possibilities that await. You can be anything!

Sort of.

Trouble is, before you can don the garb of a brand new foreign self, at least in any way convincingly, you have to shed a lifetime’s worth of cultural tenets and assumptions.

Precisely what you as an individual have to give up, of course, depends on the country you’ve come from and the one you’re trying to settle in. But I think it’s fair to say that whatever your particular set of circumstances, there’s likely to be some common ground in this psychological no-man’s land.

  • Mostly you feel like a pair of scissors. Each blade is a separate self, and on the rare day that the two come together, you could actually kiss strangers in sheer joy.
  • Mostly you feel like a fake. Coping with your new culture’s demands while trying to stay true to your home culture’s values inevitably means you always feel like you’re letting one of them down.
  • You’re perpetually mentally knackered. The daily abrading of two different cultures produces a constant, low-level anxiety, on top of the big things in life that everyone else has to worry about. As Petya Kirilova-Grady puts it so succinctly on her blog: “I feel that as expats/immigrants, etc., we often get pulled in multiple directions, which tends to keep us busy at best, anxious at worst.”
  • You’re constantly sidestepping the somatic tripwire. Sniffles that would have been trifles back home suddenly have the power to land you in bed for days.
  • At work, you’re now a nobody. Your professional identity has been defenestrated. Unless your employer in your native country has posted you abroad, you’re starting from scratch – in a foreign language, in a foreign country – and having to accept that no-one has a clue how good you really are. Your degrees and professional qualifications? They don’t mean a thing.
  • Your social status got chucked out behind it. The way you’ve always traditionally defined yourself (relationships with family, friends, community) is history.
  • You will be labelled in a way no-one has prepared you for. In your home country, you were simply ‘yourself’, and never really gave it much thought. In your adopted country, you may be, variously, a foreigner, an expat, an immigrant, a Scot/Brit/American/whatever, and if you’re in Barcelona, pejoratively, a guiri.
  • Some traits will never transpose. The sooner you accept that if you greet people with just a handshake in Spain they’ll think you’re socially frigid, and, conversely, greeting your elderly neighbours in Scotland with a bear hug and a huge smile frankly distresses them, the better. 
  • You don’t even recognise yourself when you do go ‘home’. Even there, you’re now an outsider looking in, questioning quirks and idiosyncrasies, wondering why your country people have no equivalent of ‘buen provecho’ before tucking in to even the most insignificant snack.

Give us this day our daily dialectic

Even after almost three years in Barcelona, there are days here I feel I’m operating under a mere veneer of authenticity.

Of course, part of the reason I moved abroad in the first place was to gain exposure to people with a whole other mindset, in an attempt to grow as a rounded human being. But being surrounded by folk who are constantly challenging your accepted view of the world can be wearying and unsettling.

Last year, for example, when my Cocker Spaniel was reaching puberty, and every male dog in the neighbourhood was hassling the hell out of her, I took her to be spayed at my trusted local vet’s.

“If you only knew”, he sighed, “how hard it is to convince Spanish people to get their dogs neutered. You’re saving her from countless cancers, unwanted puppies and a lifetime’s grief from other dogs, but try telling locals that.”

Cocker Spaniel relaxing

One hassle-free hound.

This was brought home to me repeatedly throughout the day. As I fretted, imagining her on the operating table, anguishing over whether she’d come round from the anaesthetic, my Spanish, Italian and Portuguese male colleagues didn’t hold back. “You’re evil for doing this”, one said. Another, slathering slabs of ham over his bocadillo, stated point-blank in all seriousness that he would never speak to me again.

“It’s even worse when it’s a male dog”, the vet told me later that evening as I collected my cone-clad Cocker. “Don’t even get me started.”

Even basic daily assumptions don’t go undisputed.

For example, when the pedestrian crossing light changes to green, you put one foot in front of the other in the full belief that the driver will honour your recognised right not to be mown down. But in reality, this is far from a given in Barcelona.

This constant challenging and up-ending of ingrained cultural assumptions gets downright tedious, and on days when linguistic issues come to the fore, it can quickly become overwhelming. To speak another language successfully, it’s not simply a case of conjugating the imperfect subjunctive at the opportune moment. You actually have to adopt a different personality – and way of thinking – for it to come across convincingly.

As a Scot living in Barcelona, it gets even more complicated. Apart from the problem of whether to sign off with an adiós or an adéu, there are macrocosmic cultural questions at work. Spain is a country with a serious split personality of its own, while Scotland currently finds itself in the approach to a historic referendum on independence from the United Kingdom.

With both of my wider environments embroiled in identity crises of their own, is it any wonder I’m confused?

Inscribing identities

So with your identity in freefall on foreign soil, how do you recognise your ‘real’ self?

The deep-rooted cultural values and beliefs that make you you are the bedrock of your identity, and you will fight to retain them at all costs. Look out for the ones you let go, though…who knows – in the long run, maybe those are the parts of your personality you’re better off without.


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