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Clare
Clare

Day 5: Tarragona to Mataró

We left Tarragona behind this morning and took a regional train in the direction of Barcelona. Our ultimate destination was Mataró, a town on the coast of Catalonia, about 30km north of Barcelona. We had to change at the busy Barcelona Sants station from a normal regional train onto a smaller suburban service. The view from both trains was beautiful as we made our way along the coast, in some places with the train seeming to travel right along the beach :)

It was mid-afternoon when we arrived in Mataró and so our first priority was to find somewhere to have lunch. We wandered around the town centre for a while before finding a small restaurant with a menu of the day for 11 euros. The only catch was that it was written entirely in Catalan. Tim managed to recognise key words such as 'salad' and 'fish' to rule out certain menu items, and with the aid of Google Translate we managed to narrow it down to a first course of spaghetti bolognaise and a second course of chicken breast in honey. The latter sounds rather unusual, but it was actually a beautiful combination of flavours. For pudding we had a chocolate mousse and it was all accompanied by a jug of white wine, which once again didn't appear on the bill and once again Tim was assured that it was included in the price of the meal when he queried it!

At 3pm we were able to check into our hotel, which we knew was located near the train station on the sea front. It wasn't until we got the key to our room though that we realised what a wonderful view of the sea we had.

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This was the view from our balcony.

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Once we had settled in, we set out again to explore Mataró. First stop was the beach.

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There was so much beautiful sand, and only a handful of other people to share it with.

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We then moved on to the town centre, which is compact but has some pretty churches.

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This one is the main basilica.

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Our plan for the evening was to meet up with an Esperanto friend who we hadn't seen for a number of years, except for Tim's visit to the Catalan Esperanto congress last autumn.

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As we were sitting outside with a drink, our friend explained that today was a special day in Catalonia; the festival of Sant Joan. Although on the face of it it sounds like this ought to be some sort of religious festival, in reality it seems more to do with fire and the fact that the night of the 23 June is the shortest night in the year. In the centre of Mataró, the celebrations started when some representatives of the town arrived in the centre bearing a torch which we understand had been lit on a special mountain somewhere else in Catalonia. It looked like they had carried it a long way.

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There was then some Catalan music, including the Catalan national anthem, accompanied by a lot of waving of Catalan flags. There were also some blue flags with a red cross, which our friend explained to us were the town flag of Mataró.

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Four enormous dolls were paraded into the town centre...

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...where they proceeded perform special dances with one another.

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The dolls represented a royal family who had won a decisive victory against Arab invaders at some point in Catalan history.

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There was an infectious mood of celebration in the streets and as we walked to a bar in a different part of town, Tim acquired his very own Catalan flag from a man who was giving them away :)

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We thought that might be the end of the festivities, but our friend had other ideas and arranged for us to gatecrash a special Sant Joan party which was being held in his brother's flat. We felt a little bit awkward about this given that we don't speak Catalan and so couldn't really communicate with most of the other guests, but no one seemed to mind in the slightest and we were made to feel extremely welcome as we sat down to an unexpected feast.

As well as normal food like pizza, there were all kinds of local specialities, including more different types of sausage than we would ever have had the opportunity to try elsewhere. It was 10 o clock at night by this point so felt a bit late to be eating (for us - not by Catalan standards) but we did our best to make the most of it. Just when we thought everyone must be stuffed, pudding arrived in the form of two special Sant Joan cakes, which are apparently only served once a year on this evening. They tasted a bit like Italian pannatone and were decorated with colourful candied fruit. The cake was washed down with a drink I didn't catch the name of, but which turned out to be ice-cream mixed with champagne. I was a bit suspicous of this originally but it turned out to be delicious :)

It was about 11.30 by the time we left and our friend walked us back part of the way until we knew where we were in the town centre. The celebrations were still in full swing here, with tables set out down some of the streets for street parties.

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As it got towards midnight, a huge fireworks display started taking place near the beach.

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The closer we got towards the beach the more chaos there seemed to be in the streets, with people setting off their own private fireworks in all directions.

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Finally we caught sight of an enormous bonfire.

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I think the dolls from earlier in the evening were going to be burned on this, but people had also been piling up old chairs and other furniture in the streams to fuel the flames.

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It was very exciting to see and we were really grateful to our friend for inviting us to the party and trying to explain what the celebratoin was about; we wouldn't have had a clue what was happening otherwise!

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The fireworks and partying in Mataró seemed to continue well into the early hours of the morning but we were exhausted by this stage so headed back to the hotel to recover.... and watch the Brexit results come in on the BBC World Service :(




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