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Football: Proud Pique a lightning rod in Catalonia chaos

Barcelona star Gerard Pique's tears of sadness and the vast empty stands as his team reluctantly played were two of the defining images of a violence-scarred independence referendum in Catalonia.

Football: Proud Pique a lightning rod in Catalonia chaos
Pique is outspoken about his support for independence. Photo: AFP

Pique, an outspoken defender of the wealthy northeastern Spanish region's right to self-determination, had been able to cast his vote in an independence referendum deemed illegal by Madrid without obstruction on Sunday morning. 

Others were not so lucky as police fired rubber bullets and forced their way into activist-held polling stations to confiscate ballots, in many cases by violently removing activists.

Clashes left at least 92 people confirmed injured out of a total of 844 who needed medical attention, according to Catalan authorities.    

“I am very proud of Catalonia and all its people,” an emotional Pique told reporters as tears welled up in his eyes after a routine 3-0 win over Las Palmas in an empty Camp Nou on an otherwise extraordinary day.   

“Despite how much they are incited, and despite how much they (the Spanish authorities and security forces) want them to fall into the trap, they have demonstrated peacefully and sung loud and clear.”

Amid scenes of chaos and confusion outside Barça's 99,000-capacity stadium, fans were left waiting for hours before a final decision to play behind closed doors was made less than half an hour before kick-off.   

READ MORE: Tensions hit football as Barça match played behind closed doors

“I wouldn't have played,” Barcelona's most successful ever coach and current Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola told Catalan radio station Rac1.    

“If in the end you play this game, you do it with the public and all the consequences.”

Pique described the match, played in near-silence, as the “worst professional experience” of his career.   

Barça had appealed to La Liga to postpone the game. However, when the football and security authorities refused to do so, the club feared a potential six-point penalty if they failed to fulfil the fixture.

Barcelona's president Josep Maria Bartomeu claimed the decision to play behind closed doors was one of protest at events across Catalonia, while a section of Barça fan groups had threatened a peaceful pitch invasion to interrupt the match.

'Shame' and 'Dignity'

The divided opinion over the decision was evident as two Barça board members resigned, Bartomeu confirmed after an extraordinary board meeting on Monday.

Bartomeu also announced that Barça would take part in a general strike across Catalonia on Tuesday in protest at the violence.   

Barcelona-based daily Sport's front page read “Shame” above a picture of a desolate Camp Nou, and “Dignity” in defence of Pique.   

The reaction of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government to the escalating crisis has drawn widespread criticism both in Spain and across the world.

Pique said Rajoy was not up to the job of leading Spain.   

“He travels around the world and doesn't even know how to speak English,” he said.

Tennis world number one Rafael Nadal said his “heart sank” at seeing the images from Catalonia as he prepared for the China Open in Beijing. He also pointed the finger at bickering politicians.

“It is the time for both sides to use their heads. For that there has to be a willingness on both sides,” said Nadal.   

“It is the moment to sit down, talk and reach points of agreement so that this is not repeated.”

Pique's latest declarations have once again raised the debate over his role in the Spanish national team.   

Despite playing a crucial part of the Spain sides that won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, Pique is routinely jeered when representing his country.   

Those jeers intensified in front of just a few hundred fans at an opening training session on Monday amidst chants of “Pique leave the national team!”    

When politics and football collide!

Gerard Pique's hostile Alicante welcome. #fcb #Catalonia #espana pic.twitter.com/PtmjeDlMYk

— Sportdec (@SportdecApp) October 3, 2017

He has already stated his intent to retire from international football after next year's World Cup, but insisted he could step aside sooner if Spain coach Julen Lopetegui or the federation believe his political stance to be problematic.

Pique didn't make any comment as he joined up with the Spain squad on Monday, but continued to criticise the police's response via Twitter by posting links to videos of shocking police brutality.

By Kieran Canning / AFP

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14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Barcelona is a popular city for foreign residents in Spain thanks to its coastal location, many international companies and great lifestyle. However, navigating life here can take some getting used to, so here are our top Barcelona life hacks to help make things easier for you.

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local
Barcelona life hacks. Image: Michal Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Invest in a good water filter

Barcelona tap water doesn’t taste the best, particularly in the areas around the Old Town such as El Born, the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta and Raval. The water is also very hard, meaning that it leaves limescale on appliances such as your kettle.

Using a good water filter can improve the taste and make sure that limescale doesn’t build up. It’s also much more economical and healthier than buying bottled water every time you want a drink.

Use the Rodalies trains to get across the city faster

Many people when they first move to Barcelona just use the metro and don’t bother using the Rodalies trains. While it’s not always necessary, for certain journeys it can make getting across the city much faster.

For example, if you need to get from Sant Andreu or Clot to Sants to connect to one of the intercity trains, it’s only two or three stops on the Rodalies, as opposed to more than 10 on the metro, as well as changing to different lines.

Don’t try and get anything important done in August

This is probably true of most of Spain, but if you need to get anything important done, whether official paperwork or renovations on your apartment, don’t try and get them done in August.

The whole city goes on holiday for the month of August, including office personnel, builders and handypeople. If you need to get any of this done, it’s best to get it done before the holidays or to wait until September.  

Don’t buy drinks from sellers on the beach or in the park

You’ll find many people selling drinks on the city’s beaches and in the main Ciutadella Park. While it can be tempting to buy these, especially when it’s so hot, you need to be aware that these cans of drinks are often stored inside drains or under manhole covers, meaning that they’re not the cleanest.

A few years ago, El País took the mojitos sold by hawkers on the beaches to a local lab. The results came back a few days later to show that they contained high levels of fecal matter and bacteria in them.

Barcelona’s Chinese supermarkets are a great source of ingredients

Although you can now find many more foreign ingredients in local supermarkets than you could just a few years ago, there are still many that you may miss from back home, particularly South East Asian and Indian ingredients.

Barcelona has several excellent Chinese supermarkets, where you can find a range of ingredients, everything from sesame oil and Thai curry paste to Indian spices and affordable peanut butter.

Don’t take valuables out with you to certain areas, particularly at night

Unfortunately, bag snatchings and pickpockets are still commonplace in Barcelona. While the thieves mainly target tourists, foreign residents often find that they are targets too.

The trick is to blend in like a local, look like you know where you’re going and don’t take valuables with you to areas such as the Gothic Quarter, Raval or the Rambla, especially at night. Bag snatchings in El Born have also increased in recent years, so keep your wits about you around there too. 

Find your favourite beach outside of the city

Barcelona’s beaches may have been one of your prime reasons for moving here, but you’ll find that you actually prefer the beaches outside of the city.

Overcrowded, dangerous and a lot dirtier than other beaches in the area, the beaches in Barcelona are unfortunately not all that they’re cracked up to be. You’ll often find that after you’ve been for a swim, your valuables will not still be on the sand where you left them. Head just 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city however and you’ll find the beaches are far nicer and safer.

Find a beach outside of the city centre to go to. Photo: makunin /Pixabay

Try to join several different clubs or groups

Barcelona is a very transient city, meaning that people are moving here and leaving all the time. As a result, you’ll often find that most of the friends you made when first moving here have now moved away and you’ll constantly need to make more. If you join several clubs and groups, you’ll find that making new friends all the time is a lot easier. 

Don’t buy a single transport ticket

It’s never really worth buying a single transport ticket in Barcelona, because you’ll end up spending much more money per journey than you would if you bought the T-Casual (10 journeys) or the monthly T-Usual metro card instead.

You can also buy 10-journey bono tickets for the Rodalies trains, which will also save a lot of money if you’re making regular journeys out of the city. 

Try and avoid shopping at Port del Angel on Saturdays

Port del Angel is Barcelona’s main pedestrianised shopping street. While it’s great and has all the high-street fashion shops you want, it can be a nightmare shopping here on Saturdays.

If you do need to shop on a Saturday, try Rambla Catalunya or one of the shopping malls instead, which won’t be so crowded.

Be prepared for festivals and events

Barcelona holds so many festivals and events that it can be hard to keep up. In normal (non-Covid) years, there is one every other week.

Because of this tickets sell out quickly and there are many fun cultural events that you might miss out on. Keep your calendar up to date, so you know what’s going on, and make sure to book tickets for anything you want to see, well in advance. 

Tipping isn’t necessary at all bars and restaurants

Tipping isn’t all that common in Barcelona, unless perhaps if it’s a particularly nice restaurant or if there’s a large group of you that the waiter has had to look after.

You’ll find that it’s not expected either, except maybe at some of the city’s very touristy restaurants.  

READ ALSO: Why do Catalans have a reputation for being stingy?

Do lots of research before renting an apartment and if it sounds too good to be true, then it is

Unfortunately, there are lots of property scams in Barcelona, so try and do as much research as you can beforehand. Never pay money upfront before you’ve seen the property and received the keys.

Also, be aware that many landlords will not return your deposit at the end of your stay.

Many people get around this by not paying the last month’s rent, but this can also make things difficult for the good landlords who may genuinely need to deduct something for damages, so speak with your estate agency on the best thing to do in this situation.

READ ALSO: What you should know about renting an apartment in Barcelona

Hire a gestor or lawyer to help with immigration and tax issues

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle with immigration and tax issues if you hire a professional to help you in Barcelona, where getting a cita previa (appointment) for official matters can often be difficult, in part because these law firms often bulk book them.

However, there are certain processes that you won’t need an immigration lawyer for such as getting a residency certificate if you’re from an EU country or exchanging your green residency certificate for a TIE if you are British and moved here before the end of 2020.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How to apply for a TIE residency card in Spain

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