Handmade Adventures in Europe: Part 1

Greetings from Europe!

You haven’t heard from me for a while because Neil and I have been travelling in Europe for the past month. Travelling is one of my favourite things to do and I feel so fortunate to have created a life that allows me to explore the world. What I love so much about travel, is experiencing all the little things that vary from place to place. This is especially true when it comes to food! Every culture has their own way of preparing, celebrating and enjoying it. You can learn a lot about a place by eating their food and drinking their wine! It’s also amazing to see how despite our differences, we are all really similar in so many ways. Another thing I love about travel is that you can’t help but be present in the moment. I find it impossible to dwell on negativity when there are so many amazing sights to see and experiences to savour.

My plan on this trip has been to explore the handmade community in each of the places I travel to. Just like food, it has been very interesting to see how each place has their own way of making and selling art. I am very excited to share all the discoveries I have made so far!

Neil and I first arrived at his friend’s flat in Berlin, Germany at the beginning of May. Both of us were pretty exhausted after the completion of our Make It Happen Indiegogo campaign. It was beyond exciting to have successfully funded our project, and we are incredibly grateful to all the contributors that have supported us to create a film about the handmade world. We are can’t wait to share the final film with you too!

So needless to say, the first few days in Berlin were spent catching up on sleep, answering emails and hanging out with our gracious hosts. I did however hear about a massive handmade market that I can’t wait to check out when we return later in June. Berlin is exploding with creativity and art so I am pretty sure it’s going to be amazing!

Lisbon, Portugal:
After 4 days in Berlin, we headed off to Lisbon. I have never been to this part of Europe before and I was very excited to check it out. Lisbon is an enchanting place with red clay roofs covering the rolling hills, panoramic views of the Tagus River and history dating back to before Julius Caesar. It’s one of the oldest cities in the world, and this is evident when you meander through the uneven cobble stone streets and lookup at the intricately tiled buildings and hear the old ladies yelling from across their terraces in Portuguese. We were lucky enough to stay in Almafa, which is in the heart of old town. It felt like being in another world far far from home, until we discovered a vegan tapas restaurant a couple blocks away, which was (of course) owned by a Vancouver expat! Having a healthy dining option came in handy with all the pastels de nata (delicious egg tarts) we were consuming on a daily basis.

Lisbon at sunset

Lisbon at sunset

One thing I enjoyed about Lisbon is the slower pace of life. There are so many cafes and patios where you see people enjoying an espresso and good conversation. Another thing I noticed was that there are hardly any Starbucks or fast food joints and I don’t think I saw one person carrying a to-go cup. Instead they take the time to relax and savour, even if it means standing up at the deli counter to do so. Nice.

Standing at the counter like the locals do

Standing at the counter like the locals do

I did a lot of research to figure out the handmade scene in Lisbon and didn’t find too much happening while we were visiting. They do, however have the second largest craft show in Europe called FIA: Feria Internacional De Artesanato happening in July. In the Barrio Alto district there are lots of cool looking, trendy boutiques that sell Portuguese designers as well as other labels from around Europe. Many of the shops are very tiny and opened for limited hours during the day.

On our last day, we discovered the Mercado da Ribeira Saturday market which did have a small section of vendors selling handmade goods. Some of the booths were selling crafts inspired by traditional Portuguese mosaic tile art and leatherwork. Others sold more contemporary items like neon jewelry. I spoke to a few of the artisans and they said that there weren’t that many craft markets in Lisbon and that it was very difficult to make ends meet solely as an artisan. They said it was necessary to have at least a part time job to supplement their income. I suspect some of this also has to do with the economic crisis in Portugal where unemployment is still at 18%.

Mosaic tile art at the market

Mosaic tile art at the market

Overall I thought Lisbon was fabulous! The people are really friendly (and speak good English), food and wine were top notch at a very reasonable price and there is so much to do and see. If you visit, make sure you give yourself enough time to also check out Sintra. It’s only 45 minutes away and the quaint village and Moorish castles are incredible. You also need to sample Port and take a shot of Ginjinha from a chocolate cup!

Ronda, Spain:
After Lisbon, we took a bus to Seville, Spain. Neil and I both thought Seville was amazing but after a few days we got the itch to rent a car and do some more exploring of Southern Spain. Ronda came highly recommended to so we hit the road and made the 2 hour trip through the stunning Spanish country side. This was a highlight in itself!

Gorge-ous Ronda!

Gorge-ous Ronda!

We arrived at our lovely bed and breakfast owned by a British couple and immediately felt like we were on a vacation from our vacation! Ronda is one of the most beautiful places I have even seen in my life. Picture a stone bridge built right into the the rocky sides of a gorge, white casitas almost hanging of the cliffs and panoramic views of lush green vineyards as far as the eye can see. This is also the place where Neil asked me to marry him as the sun was setting making everything glow the most beautiful pink. It was the most magical and romantic moment that we’ll remember forever. Btw, I said YES!

Handmade work by Spanish artisans

Handmade work by Spanish artisans

Anyways, Ronda was not a place that I thought I would find much insight into the handmade community. But, as we were exploring the narrow streets, I happened to spot a gallery called, Aluna Art and Craft that looked intriguing. The owner, Liliana Montoya is a very friendly British expat who opened her shop less than a year ago. She is a ceramic artist and her husband is a painter who owned a similar shop in East London before moving to Ronda. They wanted to give tourists an alternative to the made in China souvenir crap by selling the work of artists from the area. So far sales have been higher than expected and customers are from all around the world. Aluna carries a variety of pottery, glasswork, art, sculptures and jewelry that all has a Spanish flair. Ronda only has a population of 40,000 but they get almost 2 million visitors every year so appealing to travellers is definitely smart business! Liliana has her work bench front and centre in the shop so curious customers can watch her in action.

Liliana's work bench

Liliana’s work bench

I asked Liliana about what it’s like for artists in Spain. She said that most of them are having a difficult time because of the economic crisis and generally have to supplement their income in others ways. But, Liliana thinks that anyone can be successful if they have enough determination and mindset to do so (like she does). She is a veteran of the London market scene and is impressed with how the handmade scene has grown, especially over the past few years and thinks the future is bright for artisans. I couldn’t agree more!

Barcelona, Spain:
Barcelona is one place I’ve wanted to visit for a very long time. The thought of seeing the Gaudi’s work up close, stuffing myself full of tapas and wondering through the historic neighbourhoods made me mucho excited! And after 5 days in Barcelona, I was not disappointed. My only regret was not having more time to explore this amazing city.

Oh my Gaudi!

Oh my Gaudi!

I also thought Barcelona would have a pretty bumping handmade community, and it did not take long to discover that it does. During our first day of walking around, we discovered a fairly large market in the courtyard of the Gothic Quarter. After check out a few booths, I couldn’t help but notice a recycling trend. I asked one of the vendors if this was a coincidence and she explained that the requirement for the Drap-Art Market is that everything sold has to be made from reusable materials. Cool! This market happens every Saturday during the spring and summer and is very busy because of all the tourists.

IMG_2495

Recycled tape pouches by http://illariyart.wordpress.com

I was able to to do 3 quick interviews where I asked more about what it’s like to be an artist in Barcelona. Apparently there are lots of markets that happen during the weekend and bigger shows throughout the year. Etsy is also popular and I found that the Barcelona team has more than 200 members. Despite this, the 3 women I spoke to said it was hard to make their living solely by selling their work (a common trend in this part of the world).

Friendly artisan at the Drap-Art Market

Friendly artisan at the Drap-Art Market

Overall the work I saw at the recycled market was super imaginative and innovative. I have been to a whole lot of craft sales in my life, but the Barcelonians definitely have their own distinct style. They take risks and use a lot of colour, creating designs are bold and eccentric.

We did come across some other outdoor markets, but most of the stuff looked mass produced and generic. It was apparent that lots of people are trying to make a buck of Gaudi’s genius by selling tiny replicas of the Sagrada Familia and mosaic salamanders from Guell Park. I don’t think he’d be too impressed!

Barcelona reminded me of a mix between New York and Berlin with a little bit of Vancouver mixed in. I highly recommend visiting, but even in May it was extremely crowded with tourists. I can’t imagine how busy it would be in the summer. Finding a good restaurant was difficult because there is so many touristy spots serving up bland paella, watered down sangria and horrible tapas. When we did some research, we found outstanding places to eat that were a little off the beaten path. If you go, definitely talk to your foodie friends who have been and plan ahead. Whatever you do, make sure you see as much Gaudi as possible! We went to the Park Guell, Palau Guell, Casa Batllo, and the epic Sagrada Familia. There is nothing in the world quite like it and your mind will be blown for sure!

Enjoying a panoramic view of Barcelona

Enjoying a panoramic view of Barcelona

So far Neil and I have had an amazing time in Europe. Currently we are in Budapest spending some time catching up on work and recuperating from full days of sight seeing. It helps that the weather is cold and rainy because otherwise I would have a hard time staying indoors here! There is a big handmade market here on the weekend that I can’t wait to check out. We are also headed back to Berlin next week and London at the end of the month. I am sure I will have lots to report from these 3 places!

Just a reminder that the deadline for Make It Edmonton and Vancouver is June 14. If you are interested in being part of our epic holiday shows make sure you apply. These will be our biggest shows yet!

Thank you so much for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post :)

Sparkly love,

Jenna

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