Hot water anywhere! 1 euro wines! 24-hour electricity! No stray dogs! We finally arrived in Europe, after visiting four airports (Kathmandu, New Delhi, Doha, Barcelona) and taken three flights. We’ve been in Europe before, but not in Spain… it was interesting to visit this country after being in South America for so long – and seeing where many customs and dishes came from. It was also very useful to be able to speak to people in Spanish, even though they have a totally different accent from what we were used to.
François and myself stayed in a hostel for three days, and then we were joined by my parents who flew from Montreal. We then moved to a beautiful (but tiny!) apartment very near Gaudì (modernist architect who lived in the late nineteenth century/early twentieth century)’s chef d’oeuvre, Sagrada Familia Templo. It was my parents’ first time in the old continent, and they were really awed by everything!!! They also brought me my dear Panasonic Lumix GF1 which I had lost in India (I ordered a new one and had it delivered to their home in Canada). I am stoked to be able to take nice photos again!!
So, in Barcelona, we had a fully equipped kitchen and we made many yummy lunches and dinners… after being in Asia for so long, and in countries where cheese and cold cuts are a huge luxury, it was nice to be able to indulge in such unhealthy delights. And we did, almost every day, haha.
Like I mentioned earlier, our apartment was very close to the Sagrada Familia, so naturally, we visited it first. We got up early to enter – and it’s a good thing we did, because the line-ups to get in were disastrous a few hours later…
In this basilica, everything is highly symbolic. I haven’t read too deeply about it, but you certainly feel the magic when setting foot inside.
We took an elevator that went up one of the towers, where we had an amazing view of the city and different details of the church. You could parts that were still being constructed… apparently, the project should be completed in 2026!
We got the chance to see the church bells, or should I say, the speakers! I don’t understand why such a cool looking church has fake bells. Come on Gaudì! He’s probably rolling in his tomb right now.
We came back in the evening and took a few photos. The church totally took a different look in the night… it looked like it came from outer space or something:
Like good foodies, we also tried some yummy tapas, which are a Spanish speciality. Tapas are little “snack”-like portions of food, which you take in large quantities for a full meal. We had many, many, many of ‘em:
Myself and my mom also went for a cooking course, where we learned to make fried spring onion with romanesco sauce, salmonrejo soup, pan con tomate, seafood and artichoke paella and Catalan cream. It was really fun, but confusing at times because a few recipes had to be done at the same time… ok, I admit we also drank quite alot of wine, hehe.
We also visited the famous touristy street Las Ramblas… the street itself is quite boring but what’s interesting is the beautiful boqueria St-Josep, a huge market with nice exotic fruits, charcuterie, cheeses, wines, olive oil, olives, and tons more. It’s a paradise for food maniacs like me, but also a hell when you are as broke as myself! Haha!
You can taste some food on site, or take some home to cook in the kitchen:
Around was a Palace that Gaudì constructed… I think it was one of his earliest projects. We didn’t visit inside unfortunately, but I did take a photo of the really cool facade:
We also walked near Plaza Catalunya and relaxed near some nice fountains and sculptures.
A few days later, we went to the gothic neighbourhood (barri Gòtic) – the old side of Barcelona. It was quite beautiful, but I was expecting everything to look much older. Perhaps I was awaiting for too much, or everything was renovated or something. Anyway, it still had some really cool things – like the gothic cathedral for example – which was started in 1298.
Around the cathedral was some kind of bridge that lead to another religious building. It looked super awesome:
A few steps further is an old Roman temple that was discovered a hundred years ago while doing renovations. Only a few Corinthian columns were left, but it was still cool to see such old architectural remains:
We of course went to the famous Casa Batlló, which are weird apartments designed by Gaudì. They were super cool and organic looking, but I also enjoyed the one right next to it, which was done by another architect:
On the Saturday evening, myself and François went to join my friend Salva (arghh don’t have photos of us!!) at a metal bar called Hell Awaits. The bar itself was really metal looking with a bunch of 3D sculptures of known metal albums on the walls, but unfortunately the music they played was 90% mediocre. I was totally expecting European bars to be slightly better in terms of the quality of metal played, but I was wrong! OK, at least they played a 70’s JUDAS PRIEST song at the end, which made me order another beer. Haha.
On our last day, our friend Carlos Flores (who we met in Valdivia, Chile more than a year ago on the same trip!!) was also in vacation in Barcelona, so we met up and went to visit Parc Guëll (another of Gaudì’s works), do some metal record shopping and eat some tapas. It was raining as hell in the morning so our visit to the parc was quite fast, but I still enjoyed it. The parc itself was supposed to be something for the high-class residents of the Gràcia neighbourhood but was eventually turned into some kind of touristy place. Carlos, who read much more about Gaudi than ourselves, told us that Gaudi was often under the influence of a type of fungi who made him hallucinate and think “outside the box”. All of his work is made with symbols that all mean something as a whole… it is quite fascinating when you read more about it:
We then went for some “pincho” tapas (baguette bread with stuff on top), to warm up a bit:
And then off to do some record shopping! Most of the shops are located on the Calle de Talleres, and they are not very good except for PENTAGRAM records where I scored some seriously awesome 7”’es.
Finally, Carlos took us to a really popular but obscure local place (Champanones or something? I really don’t remember) to drink some Cava (Spanish champagne!) and indulge in sweet, sweet, pig flesh:
The next day, we quickly packed up our stuff and headed north for a few days in the wild South of France…
Pays Cathare / Languedoc-Roussillon/Midi-Pyrénées
We rented a little countryside house in the middle of Aude, in the midi-Pyrenees area of France. Our goal was to soak up fresh mountain air, visit old castles, drink wine and eat cheese… We didn’t know THAT much about the area we were getting into, but we soon learnt that it was extremely rich in history – more than we could ever hope for! While driving to our home (which was located in a cute 12th century village), we saw tons of ruined medieval castles nested on top of gorgeous mountains, and passed through tons of really ancient stone villages. Of course, we also saw many wineyards and wineries…
So we rented a house in a tiny village called Termes, which is in the middle of a bunch of castles (actually, there is a castle right in our backyard!!). It was quite creepy for the first few days we were there, because there were no people in the streets, only cats – who slept lazily in alleys. Somebody later told me that there was only 50 people living in the village!! We stayed in a really old house made out of stones, and it was absolutely peaceful…
Every two days, a baker from a nearby village would come and deliver some fresh wood-oven baked bread – and once a week, a cheese maker came and sold delicious artisanal goat cheeses. It felt like we were transported a hundred years ago…
The cheeses were completely out of this world, we tried some “Écu” – a local speciality, as well as some fresh goat cheese and a less fresh one, haha. Actually, it’s the same cheese but dried a little. It was the best of the lot!
Of course, as we had a castle within walking distance, we went to visit it. The totally ruined Termes castle dates from 1200 and was once home to the Cathar Raymond de Termes. In 1210, the castle fell after a siege lasting four months… which was really long for back then. The castle eventually was taken over by a band of brigands who used it as a base from which to terrorise and pillage the surrounding country… and then it was blown up with gunpowder in the 1600’s.
Oh yeah, and for your information, Cathares are a heretic branch of Christians… they followed what they thought was the “pure and right way”, and did now follow what the pope and Catholic church said. They weren’t baptised or married, and they would restrain from carnal pleasures. They would stay poor by choice, as they thought Jesus was. Since they were in a mountainous region – they were separated from the normal Christians and Catholics and got to grow to a substiancial number, but eventually they got discovered by the ruling church of the time. In a large inquisition, they were eventually killed or burnt alive one by one (unless they changed religion).
In the same day, we went to visit the Villerouge-Termenès Cathare castle, which was where the last surviving Cathare was burnt. The village itself was really beautiful and the castle was quite simple but incredibly picturesque.
A day later, we went to Narbonne, which is a medium sized port city – about an hour and a half from where we lived. Compared to the villages surrounding us, it was HUGE!!! (Sometimes villages would have only two or three houses…) Narbonne was founded in Gaul in 118 BC, and was colonized by the Roman legion – who built the Via Domitia, the first Roman road in the area.
Narbonne has one huge cathedral, which was very hard to capture on film, haha. The church itself had huge power over the region, and its archevêque helped getting rid of the Cathare heretics.
In Narbonne we went to our first typical French restaurants, where I had a wonderful magret de canard (duck steak with thick skin). It was sooo good!! And for dessert, a crispy and creamy crème brûlée:
On Sunday (Easter day), we went to visit a French couple that we had met previously when we were in Kampot, Cambodia. They invited us to the Hotel Restaurant du Midi, a restaurant in Revel which had a wonderful chef who made us his speciality – cassoulet (white beans cooked in duck fat with confit de canard and Toulouse sausage)! We also had some local typical dishes, like a salad with dried liver and radish, ris d’agneau, as well as an Easter special: lamb! Unfortunately, I was so excited about the cassoulet that I forgot to take pictures of it. It sucks because it was the best cassoulet I ever had… but you can still see it on a few photos (from far hehe). We also had some amazing desserts… good thing I am staying in France only a week, or else I think I would die of a heart attack haha
Mik and Jacqui are really intriguing people. They specialize in everything that smells (!) and own a lab where they extract essential oils from organic objects – as well as do smell-related research. They also do really wild things like odorize events and concerts… so, imagine if they would odorize a CAUCHEMAR gig… it could smell like a Canadian forest if we would want to! Or if they did WATAIN… they could truly capture the essence of fear and spread it among the crowd. Anyway, Mik gave us a visit of his lab and it was truly fascinating.
On Monday we went to Rennes-le-Château, which is a small hilltop village known for various conspiracies and where a Templars treasure was supposedly discovered by a priest in the 19th-century. The location has been populated since the pre-historic times and has been colonized by the Romans, Visigoths, Franks and eventually the Occitans. Because of the legendary treasure, many hunters started digging all over town and doing excavations in the local church and its cemetary. Nothing was found, only a skull bearing an incision…
The priest, Bérenger Saunière, apparently found his treasure while renovating his church (who is dedicated to Mary Magdalene). Out of nowhere, he had a great fortune and put a lot of money into the church, as well as building a luxurious tower overlooking the mountains. He also lived like a prince, spending huge amounts of money every day… The church itself has been built and rebuild many times, and has a strange sculpture of the devil holding the holy water!
Oh – also, Rennes-le-Château has been in the center of theories that say it contains the treasures of the Temple of Solomon that was the booty of the Visigoths (it included the Ark of the Covenant and the Menorah), that it is the place where the Holy Grail and the Priory of Sion are hidden, and that is has sacred geometry aligments… people even say that it is the only place that will not be affected during the end of the world in 2012! Haha! All of these mysteries bring at least 100 000 tourists per year to this tiny hilltop village… I can assure you that it has one hell of a strange vibe…
On our last day, we visited the treasure of the south of France… the fortified castle of Carcassonne! The fortress of Carcassonne, the biggest fortress of Europe, is a Unesco site (yet another one…). Protected by two layers of extra-sturdy fortified walls with 52 towers, it has 2500 years of history, and has been populated by Gauls, Romans, Visigoths, Saracens and Franks!! It has been renovated by an architect in 1853, and now about 100 people live within its fortified walls. The city was a stronghold of Occitan Cathars, and was located on the border of Aragon (Spain).
The fortress also has a church, the Basilica of St. Nazaire and St. Celse. It was the main cathedral of the place until 1801. The original church was Romanesque and built in 1096 but it was expanded in the gothic style.
Inside there was some kind of exhibition with several war-related objects and other things. A guide told us that they used huge round rocks that weighted around 200 kg and more, and dropped them straight on the people trying to climb the walls of the fortress! It would crush their heads and a part of their body… pretty gory stuff.
Since my parents also brought my CAUCHEMAR cape for our tour, François took a photo with myself in it and the fortress as a background. It came out looking pretty cool!
After visiting everything, we found a little restaurant that was recommended by our Michelin guide. We went to Dame Carcass and had some delicious Southern French food:
While coming back home, we stopped by a few wineyards and did some tastings. One of the places was Château Villemagne – which was located in another beautiful 12th century house! The land itself was once inhabited by Romans, and the owners found all sorts of treasures including an old amphor and stuff like that. The winemakers living there have been passing down their profession for 5 generations, and they sell their wine bottles at their home only. Apparently, they sell about 10 000 bottles a year! It was truly excellent wine, and we kind of all got drunk at the tasting haha
Et c’est fini!… That’s pretty much it for our trip in Spain and France! Now, we just just arrived in Berlin, Germany. It’s the first time we are in Germany and we are really excited about it… in exactly a week, we will play our first gig and then start the tour. Now, I don’t know really what will happen with the blog… it might take a long time for me to update it, or perhaps I will do brief posts, but we will be very busy (or too hungover) while being on tour! Wish us luck, and come say hello if you catch us at one of our gigs!!!!! (See previous post for dates). Cheers!!!!