Sunday, September 14, 2014

2014 Festa Major de Gracia

Late summer means vacation time!!!

Most countries in Europe require employers by law to provide vacation, in most cases four or five weeks(!). Back in the good-ole' U.S. of A., there's no mandated vacation time. For the most part, if you get two weeks vacation you count yourself lucky as something like 25% of employees get none.

Having grown up and worked in the United States for many years, I'm still confused when it comes to Euro vacations. Although Diana and I live in the center with its daily throngs of tourists, a lot of Barcelona is closed for a big part of August. Signs like this one (Closed For Vacation From the 15th to the 31st of August and Closed Saturdays in August) are on so many businesses you'd be amazed. I've even seen signs like this on places Americans would never imagine like car dealerships.

Even though a lot's closed, there's still tons for the tourists to do. For locals, not so much. One of the major exceptions is the Festa Major de Gracia (Gracia Festival), which takes place for about a week each year in mid-to-late August.

Almost every neighborhood in Barcelona has its own festival at some point during the year. They're kinda' like a big block party (and cultural celebration) but in the case of Gracia, the party's spread over more-than 160 square blocks!

Although some tourists find their way to these festivals, they tend to dominated by locals. Food and drink are everywhere and many of the streets and plazas are decorated according to a theme that's chosen by each block's residents. The plaza below had an Asian-inspired theme and, the evening we were there, they were having a wine-tasting festival. Woo-hoo!

The crowds on hand in Gracia are surprising when compared to the relative-emptiness of many other neighborhoods. It's nice to be able to get out, meet up with friends, get some food and drink, see the decorations, and watch a couple of bands play.

Diana and I lucked out and were able to do a guided tour of one of Barcelona's left-over Spanish-civil-war-era bomb shelters located below Gracia's Placa Diamant.

These shelters were built in the late 1930s to protect locals during air raids. When the sirens would sound, anyone who had paid their monthly membership fee (yes, membership has its privileges) hid out in the shelters around 50 feet below ground. The guide told us that residents were prohibited from bringing food or drink into the shelters during raids. Apparently this was a big cause of issues between residents. The shelters are austere but functional and definitely worth a visit if you get the chance.

Of course there's bragging rights to be had. Each year, the neighborhood association awards prizes to the different blocks based on things like theme, creativity, execution, and so on. The winning street this year was Carrer Progres with their zombie theme:

So marks the end of lazy summer afternoons, beach days, and sunburns. For most of the world it's back to work and school. But, don't despair, most Europeans still have one or two weeks of vacation to use up before the end of the year! :-)