It’s the little things

It’s been over four months since we said goodbye to the sunshine and summer of Catalonia and returned to the changeable grey of Melbourne. It’s incredible how fast things disappear into the past, and already our flat in Tortosa seems like years ago.

We will always have a home in Catalonia, as it will always sit in my heart. At the same time, it’s nice to be back among the wide streets and wide accent under the big Australian sky.

As H and I have plowed on with work and friend reconnecting and getting married (!), it’s hard to find time to miss the big life things that we had in Spain. The freedom, the castles, the late nights and the history. It’s more the little things, the subtle ways that I have changed since we flew out of Tullamarine on the first day of summer in 2014.

Seeing as its 12 days until Christmas, here are the 12 little things I’ve noticed since coming back home:

The Accent

I now pronounce my Rs. You can’t help Catalans with their English if you speak with an Australian drawl (e.g. “ya English is geddin heaps bedda” helps no one), so I have learnt to deliveR my Rs.

The Bathroom

Almost all public bathrooms in Spain have sensor lights that automatically turn on when you walk in (more for economic reasons than environmental ones I think). This is surprisingly easy to get use to. After a few incidences of dancing in the dark trying to turn on a sensor light that didn’t exist, I now have to turn the light switch on when I go. I don’t like it.

The Cost

I have to pay $8 for a pot of beer now (rather that €1), and I don’t like that either.

The Dinnertime

This has been easy to get used to actually, and 7pm no longer seems like an offensively early time for tea. However I do miss the relaxing feeling of knowing that the shops are open until late, and there is no rush for dinner.

The Eating of Bread

Last Friday night I ate a hamburger and unconsciously turned it upside down, to avoid stabbing the roof of my mouth with hard baguette crust. This life hack had become second nature after 20 months of eating jamon bocadillos! Not really necessary for a hipster-friendly brioche roll.

The Fresh Food Aisle

On our first weekend back in Australia we went to a supermarket to get some vegetables. Apart from the heartbreak of seeing artichokes for $2.50 each (EACH!), I felt an extreme sense of guilt about not weighing and bagging my own vegetables and obtaining a sticker for the check-out guy to scan. Standard practise in Europe, I had forgotten that we don’t do it like that here.

The Gratis Water

It’s from the tap and it’s free at restaurants in Australia! I still find myself sculling all of the free water before we leave a table, just out of habit.

The Hourly Updates

In Tortosa we lived down the street from the town cathedral, which chimed every 15 minutes from 7am until midnight. It was sort of annoying at the time (particularly because the song on the hour went for about a minute) but now I really miss knowing the time without having to look at anything.

The Impromptu Celebrations

Last month I was in the city (as a free range researcher is wont to do) and I heard a big noise. Did I jump, or hide in fear? No! I automatically assumed it was a parade of some sort, and found myself looking for the marching band which would show up on the streets of Tortosa for celebrations large or small. In the end it was actually just a trolley.

The Joyful Disregard for Safety

There is a reason I don’t know the Spanish (or Catalan) words for ‘safety rail’, and there’s a reason why we loved visiting towers on our weekend. The freedom to clamber all over high, dangerous places is a wonderful treat that is hard to find in Oz. But that doesn’t mean we won’t keep looking.

The Kids Everywhere

I now expect children to be at every event and venue we go to, be it a 10am brunch or 10pm concert, because that was standard practise in Spain. There are plenty of kidlets at cafes here, but I see far fewer out for dinner.

The Love

Even after four months I have to stop myself from saying ‘Bon profit’ if I pass people eating their lunch outside. I’m still getting used to not giving ‘dos besos’ when saying hello. And I’m still missing the wonderful people we met on the banks of the Ebro.

More scientific posts will come in 2017 but until then, Bon Nadal!

Merry Christmas from these two other little Catalan fellows!

The week that was a year

This post is a week late because of a long weekend and a cold. Delivering something a bit later than planned is also an extremely Catalan experience (particularly when it comes to trains), so I think it’s sort of appropriate.

We have officially been here for a year now. Isn’t that crazy? It certainly doesn’t feel like a year to me, although looking back at the blog posts, photos and town maps that we have accumulated in the past 12 months the number of adventures we’ve had makes it easy to think that we have actually been here for longer.

Many of the things that seemed completely foreign to us when we arrived now seem common place. Of course you would not eat lunch before 2pm and all shops will be shut from 1:30pm until 5pm. Naturally you celebrate every religious, local or charity event with a parade through the streets featuring a marching band and some giants. And obviously you would not even consider eating any meal without bread, preferably bread that is rubbed with tomato.Read More »

The week of Festes de la Cinta

“What?!”, I can hear you spluttering at your screen. “Another festival? Is she serious? Surely after Sant Jordi, Sant Joan, Benicàssim, the Three Kings and the Renaixement Festival that is enough, at least for a little while. Do some work for goodness sake!”

That’s what I thought too. And believe me, I am trying to work. But this week, this was a big one. Possibly the most important one for Tortosa, because it contained two important days: the celebration of their patron saint, and a Catalonia’s national day.Read More »

The week it was still hot

Last week was hot. And this week…still hot. Our old bedroom is now the Bed Frame Room, as the mattress permanently lives in the living room under the fan. Use of the oven is forbidden. I’m on a four-day ice-cream streak. And our clothes are drying in about 90 minutes on the line.

So we take to the sea.

The beaches near Terres de L’Ebre are actually quite lovely and pretty close to Tortosa. A 30 minute bus or train trip will get you to a swimming spot, or if you have enough energy you can keep walking or riding until you find a beach all to yourself.

A great walk mentioned by this excellent book is a section of the GR (Gran Recorrido) 92, which snakes from the top of Catalonia all the way to the bottom of the Spanish Mediterranean coast, hugging the sea all the way. One morning a few weeks ago we set out to conquer 17km of this 583km pilgrimage, from L’Ametlla del Mar to L’Ampolla.

The walk was long, and hot, and took us the best part of 6 hours (including swimming stops), but we saw some beautiful water and amazing Catalan coastline. Hiking really is a group activity here, and so we passed, and were passed by, many packs of flour-wearing, pole-wielding walking groups. We were even lucky enough to spot a g-string-wearing abuela trudging along with her backpack. Quite the sight! It’s a bit different from Australia, where people hike to enjoy the serenity.


Some hidden and not so hidden beaches we’ve come across.

We’ve marked our favourite beaches (and the ones with promising camping hideaways) to get us through the rest of the summer.

Another cooling activity this weekend was the XV Piraguada Popular en Defense de L’Ebre, or a paddle down the river in protest of the plans to divert much of the Ebro River into irrigation, threatening the ecosystem of the river and its important delta. The trip was also part of Big Jump, a European-wide day of river celebration. We have been keen to see the river from water height since we arrived, and jumped at the chance to paddle the 10km from Xerta to Tortosa yesterday.

After a short bus trip to Xerta, we found the kayaks waiting for us. More than 150 people took part, as well as a few adorable and brave dogs. The event was launched with a few fireworks (at 9:30am, of course), and included a considerate morning-tea stop after about an hour for bacon sandwiches and beer.

We cruised down the river, ogling the birds, the estuarine ecosystems and the sadly regular piles of rubbish. The Ebro River is the longest river in Spain, and the fourth largest river that feeds into the Mediterranean, although it was very shallow in parts today. In fact we were told that the dam managers up river had to let extra water out so that we could paddle.

We eventually reached Tortosa in about 3.5 hours, including a couple of water fights and swimming stops. After nearly eight months walking along the Ebro every day, it was lovely to finally be in it! Although I am not sure how healthy the water really is – we have been warned against eating any fish we may catch due to high levels of mercury. The motley crew of demonstrators then banded together and paddled through the town en masse, before wading into the water to show just how low the water levels are.

Lo riu és vida!

The week of translation

This past week C3 had the honour of being published in the local newspaper. A half-page spread on who we are and what we do. It’s the start of a regular column for researchers at the university and for our group it was a great, if complicated opportunity for some science communication.

Why complicated? Well, the people who were most excited about the opportunity included myself and a PhD student from Hungary. We both speak and write in English but only un poco Castillano and no Catalan, the language of the publication.

It was a shame then that the instructions for submitting the article were also in Catalan. In our excitement to get started, we naturally assumed that 2.500 caràcters meant that the newspaper wanted 2,500 of our finest WORDS about regional climate change research.

The group met, and brainstormed, and my Hungarian colleague (who is a scicomm superstar in her own country BTW) got to work. It was only 5 days before the deadline (when 2000 words were ready to go) that we realised only 2,500 CHARACTERS were required! Obviously.

So the detailed, friendly essay about our centre was reduced to a neat 600 English words without too much ‘discusión‘. Great work team.

Next, the translation. This was one of the most interesting communication experiences I have been involved in. An English article written by one person whose native language is Hungarian, translated by another whose mother tongue is actually a dialect of Catalan from her home town, with special comments from an extra helper (this guy) about how to translate some English words into other English words that would make more sense in Tortosa’s own unique form of Catalan.

For example, ‘outreach’. How do you describe this simply in English? I tried for ‘public communication of science’ and we settled on the Catalan word for communication (comunicació). That was until our translating extraordinare hit upon ‘divulgació‘, which means communicating out among the community, in programs at schools and with the public. Which is outreach! I felt like I had stepped out of a science department and into a linguistics boardgame.

‘Instrumental research’ was another doozy. Now normally this would mean ‘super important research’, but in our case, we actually mean research about meteorological instruments. Google Translate did not take kindly to that.

In the end I think we are all fairly happy with the results, and no one has called us with any skeptic rants yet, so that’s good. Let’s see what happens next month.

Here is the article in all its scanned glory:

The opinion page of Setmanari Ebre, a weekly local newspaper, featuring us!

It roughly translates to…

The third floor of the campus

International climate research at Terres de l’Ebre

The Centre for Climate Change (C3) ( is a young research institute at the Campus Terres de l’Ebre of URV. Although it is a rather small scientific community (currently with 15 members), a group of enthusiastic and committed senior and junior climate researchers work together here.

The institute is based in the Terres de L’Ebre region not only because of the stunning natural environment and landscapes, but also in order to facilitate the synergy between C3, and the nearby Observatori de l’Ebre and IRTA (El Instituto de Investigación y Tecnología Agroalimentarias).

C3 is focused on researching, outreaching and sharing knowledge in the fields of climate reconstruction and assessment of climate variability and climate change.

The centre is well-known internationally due to its high-quality research on recovering climate information in different countries. The data rescue and database building tasks are implemented by working in international collaborations within projects supported by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Besides the main research line of the centre we add year by year new and interesting fields of climate science to our research profile, such as analysing extreme events (e.g. heat and cold waves or drought), paleoclimatology (i.e. reading climate information from non-direct sources from the past such as tree rings or ice cores) and instrumental research (e.g. calibrating and improving the meteorological measuring devices). We will introduce these activities in more detailed in our upcoming articles.

A couple of months ago a sky blue banner stretched over the main street of Tortosa advertising an event called International Symposium Climate-ES 2015. Well, what was that exactly for and why is it important to organise such events?

First of all it was a unique opportunity for climate scientists, experts from the industry and also from the media to gather, share their results, their experience, their expectations and even their doubts as well as to initiate collaborative solutions to tackle the regional challenges of climate change.

Secondly, the purpose of this international ‘meetup’ was also to discover the latest scientific achievements regarding the Iberian Peninsula since the last comprehensive report on global climate by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was published last year.

There were almost 100 attendees giving a talk, presenting a poster or participating in the round-table conversations during the three day symposium. The sessions covered all the hot topics of recent climate change discussions.

C3 is active in the Terres de l’Ebre. If you want to know more about our activities, our Climate studies and the Climate Change, we invite you to read our next article.