Sometimes when I’m getting on with whatever it is I’m doing during my day, I’ll stop and wonder about something. These little ponders can be about anything. For example, I might wonder how, when I put a train ticket into one of the machines at the platform gates, the machine knows whether it’s valid or not. I might perhaps wonder if I was swimming with a gun and a shark attacked me, whether or not I could use the gun to shoot the shark or whether the gun’s being wet would render it useless and I would be better using it to bop the shark on the nose.
Deep philosophical questions like these often occur to me. One of the most regular ponders I get when seeing somebody doing something in the nature of a hobby is, ‘I wonder how s/he got into doing that in the first place?’ Yesterday my whole day was pretty much one long extension of that very ponder.
While idly browsing the net yesterday looking for new things I found out that Tortosa – a town a couple of hours away from Barcelona by train – was celebrating the last day of its four-day Renaissance Festival. Not one to pass up an opportunity of a new experience these days, I jumped on a train and headed for Tortosa. When I arrived in Tortosa at about 6:40pm I discovered that the last train back to Barcelona was leaving in 45 minutes’ time. The first train in the morning left at 6am. I had a decision to make: should I have a quick shufty at the festival then beat a hasty retreat, or should I try and make it an all-nighter and take the first train back? I of course plumped for the latter option, and I am very, very glad I did.
I arrived just in time to see three bands dressed in Renaissance garb playing drums and shawms (a kind of medieval oboe) marching down the road. I marched right after them and came upon a park full of people milling around dressed in Renaissance costumes.
The costumes everybody wore were amazing – so detailed and beautiful – and I was really happy to be pottering about amongst them all and chatting. Well, that was definitely worth staying for, I thought. Perhaps I’ll find somewhere to sit down in a while for a coffee. Little did I know this was just the precursor to a gruelling schedule of fun.
As I wandered back down the road the crowd seemed to have grown noticeably larger. Something looked like it was about to happen. It did. All the assembled Renaissance folk in the park gathered together and took part in a giant parade down the main street. They were led by two riders on beautiful high-stepping horses who danced their way down the parade route.
They were followed by everything you could possibly imagine.
I’ll tell you, there is nothing that makes a day better than unexpected camels. They were so lovely! I’ve decided that some day I want to own a camel. I’ll give it a good stock camel name like Alice or Hump-phrey and we’ll ride around together all day long. This is my new mission.
Anyway, when that had gone past I realised that the party was just getting started. For the festival the whole of the old neighbourhood of Tortosa is transformed into a Renaissance town and so far I had only had a tiny glimpse of it. All the streets were hung with banners – not plasticky Disneyworld-Renaissance-Experience affairs but festoons of velvet and gaily coloured cotton emblazoned with heraldic sigils and gold thread.
Stalls packed into the little winding streets sold everything from spices to swords, hippy jewellery and fans to stinking cheeses and lanterns, mead to mojitos. The scale of the thing was just mind-boggling.
I decided to try and find a hostel room – not an easy task considering the streets were packed with thousands upon thousands of people and there appeared to be only two hotels. However, as luck would have it I got a room immediately at a very comfortable hotel with breakfast included for only 15 euros. SCORE! Back to the party!
The choice of food was endless but I settled for a no-doubt terribly Renaissance baldana (black pudding) sandwich and a timeless frosty beer.
It would be useless for me to enumerate all the awesome things about this festival. I would go back in a heartbeat. It had the atmosphere of a metal festival, but enclosed in a small, cosy town with a castle, amazing cathedral and more monasteries than you can waggle a monk at. Highlights included an impromptu Renaissance flag dancing display at midnight, being serenaded by a guy playing a lute and chatting to some terribly attractive bagpipers.
The town itself is worth going to as well, though I didn’t get to see inside the cathedral this morning as it was closed. My hotel – the Tortosa Parc – was very comfortable and gave me a breakfast which included ham, eggs, cheese, pains au chocolat, orange juice, coffee, bread, jam and chocolate Swiss roll. AMAZING.
Oh, and just one more thing, just in case you needed an extra incentive to go to this insane and lovely festival…