• El Camino,  Spain

    Compostela to Land’s End

    Santiago de Compostela is full of the walking wounded – but they are the happiest, most joyous band of walking wounded you will ever see in peacetime. Under the watchful gaze of the statue of St James flanked either side by the two soaring lichen and moss-covered spires of the cathedral (okay, one was covered in a facsimile of its real self as it received a facelift but I do hope they leave the lichen where it is), the vast expanse of the Plaza de Obradoiro is the perfect place to sit and watch the extraordinary scene of pilgrims enter the concourse in pure celebration and sheer relief that their…

  • El Camino,  Spain

    Buen camino

    The familiar greeting of “Buen Camino!” (literally meaning ‘good road’) amongst fellow pilgrims personifies the friendliness and camaraderie amongst the wayfarers who travel along the Way of St James. Often carrying a scallop shell and occasionally a gourd to signify their pilgrim status – and to ward off thieves or those with less than honourable intentions – the vast majority of pilgrims walk whilst a minority, including myself, cycle the route. I’ve already met a Dutch couple who are travelling with their young son on brightly coloured recumbents festooned with flags; gangs of lycra-clad mountain bikers in search of the next adrenalin rush; cycle-tourers on tandem bikes; and even a…

  • El Camino,  Spain,  The Bike

    Camino calling

    It has taken a while but the bean is back on the bike – this time to follow ‘El Camino’ (also known as The Way of St James) across the Iberian Peninsula towards Santiago de Compostela. My original intention has been to update the blog as I go; to write about the exhilarating highs and occasional lows of cycle touring, or the elemental experience of wild camping across the diverse patchwork of regions that make up northern Spain. Yet, I’ve not been able to commit the words to the page until now. It’s partly because I’ve wanted to resist the compulsion to write and be in search of the next…

  • Spain,  The Bike

    Back on the Road

    One important lesson that I have learned over the last few months is that you never truly know what is round the corner. After the indignity of a spiked drink temporarily turned my world upside down at the start of this year it has taken exactly 109 days, six weeks on crutches, four trips to A&E, three sessions on my sprained ankle from the healing hands of Acupuncturist par-excellence Tania Spearman, two x-rays on said ankle, one night spent in hospital with a suspected hernia later downgraded to a groin strain (Note to self: Do not attempt to lift a 50 kilo bike under any circumstance), copious amounts of Rioja…

  • A Field Guide to Coffee Bars in Barcelona,  Spain

    A Pilgrim’s Refuge

    Caelum Location: Carrer de la Palla, 8 Beans on the menu: Café Mochy Mezcla Caffeine delivery method: Cortado Crutch compatibility: 2/5 stars. Negotiating the steep stairs to the basement could prove fatal for the crutch-enabled crusader (there are street-level vestibules available for the less inclined) Hit to the wallet: €4,55 Music playing: Stevie Wonder (and friends) Website: www.caelumbarcelona.com Architecture aside, one of the most striking features of Barcelona is the prodigious amount of tapas bars and cafes. So finding good, distinctive coffee bars in a caffeinated city of this magnitude is a bit like trying to find a needle in a pile of proverbial needles. There are so many, they…

  • A Field Guide to Coffee Bars in Barcelona,  Spain,  The Bean

    A Shining Light for Generations of Coffee Lovers

    Cafés El Magnífico Location: Carrer de l’Argenteria Beans on the Menu: More than forty different varieties and blends worldwide to suit the most discerning of palettes plus a wide variety of speciality tea Crutch Compatibility: Sins muletas, con cojera (without crutches, with limp) Caffeine delivery method: Freshly roasted Tunki filter coffee. Also purchased: 250g Espresso Virtuoso Mezcla (Brazil, Nicaragua, Colombia, India), 250g Ethiopian Harrar Boldgrain Hit to the wallet: €10,50 Music Playing: No jukebox required Website: www.cafeselmagnifico.com Señor Salvador Sans is a fast-talking Catalan who is serious about coffee. You could say that it runs through the veins. Well it certainly has been running in the bloodline for generations since…

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  • A Field Guide to Coffee Bars in Barcelona,  Spain

    A Small Corner of Coffee Heaven

    Mesón del Café Location: Carrer de Libretería Crutch compatibility: 4/5 stars (the liberal sprinkling of sawdust on the ceramic floor provides ample traction for the crutch-enabled coffee enthusiast) Beans on the Menu: To quote: “‘Top Secret’ South American Mezcla” Caffeine delivery method: Cortado, (glass of Catalan Mescaro, no ice), cafe con leche Hit to the wallet: €9 (and worth every eurozone bean) Music playing: Radio Catalunya Steadfastly resisting the contagion of brash souvenir shops that appear to be advancing from both sides, the Mesón del Café (Coffee Inn) evidently has its roots planted firmly in Catalan soil; and isn’t budging. Walk a few yards from the grandiose Plaça Sant Jaume…

  • A Field Guide to Coffee Bars in Barcelona,  Spain

    A Field Guide to Coffee Bars in Barcelona

    Nursing a chronically sprained ankle whilst periodically pounding the streets of Barcelona on a pair of standard-issue crutches does have has its own advantages. Although not an exhaustive list, here are just some of the reasons why: The polite (but not forgotten) tradition of having doors opened for you at the threshold of establishments is revived with gusto You get your own personal ‘shopping assistant’ who will offer to carry your basket for you in supermarkets (most of the time) Your faith in the spirit of human solidarity is restored… between other people on crutches Motorists slow down – or even stop – as you cross the street You have…

  • Spain

    The Dark Side of Barcelona (parte dos)

    I wonder what Don Quixote would have made of Barcelona in 21st century Catalunya. Would he have tilted at wind turbines? Or jousted with Gaudi’s larger-than-life lizards? Maybe, the Man from La Mancha, and his faithful sidekick Sancho Panza, would have shored up the city’s defenses with a two-man bulwark in an effort to repel the chaotic crowds that surge up Las Ramblas, believing them to be the advancing enemy? And, as for a ‘plague’ of thieves and villains, what would have the knight errant resorted to in his chivalrous bid to rid the world of evil-doers and scoundrels? All said and done, only the late – and great –…

  • Spain

    The Sunny Side of Barcelona (parte uno)

    A Catalan new year was heralded in with a noisy fiesta of fireworks, lighting up the clear starlit night sky over Barcelona. Five floors up in the heart of El Gótico, the panoramic views from the bijou ‘atico’ flat of good friend (and Warmshowers host), Richie Thomas, conjure up a world-gone-by-vista punctuated with richly decorated mosaic church spires and rambling apartment terraces stretching as far as the eye can see. In the distance is the table-top hill of Montjuic overlooking the harbor. This unassuming terrace affords one of the best views of the Neo-Classical spires of the Correos (Post Office) in one direction and the venerated 18th century baroque Basilica…