It all started with a random comment from the Catalan Tourist Board on anInstagram photo of me on top of Mount Warning.
At first it seemed as if my knobbly knees had become a global sensation. But, equally unexpectedly, a television director in Barcelona had found Get In the Hot Spot and decided I’d be a perfect candidate for his TV travel show, Catalunya Experience.
Uniquely blessed in his ability to see my latent and long-buried potential to become a TV star, he asked his people to get in touch with my people.
The excitement begins…
Since I don’t have any people I got this email:
“This is E from the Catalan Tourist Board, the official body that works closely with the Catalan public and private sector to promote and consolidate the “Catalunya” brand around the world.
I am writing you in regards of a project we are developing with the main Catalan television station, TV3 – Televisió de Catalunya.
The project is to film 12 TV shows. In each show we invite a travel blogger, a filmmaker , a photographer or an instagramer from abroad to visit different parts of Catalonia and enjoy the traditions, gastronomy and people. The aim is to film a five day road movie showing fun times and great moments.
Our overseas guest, guided by a TV presenter and host, will discover unique landscapes, taste the best Catalan products and dishes, discover festivals, meet local characters and avoid travel cliches. A tailored and unforgettable journey will be designed for them.
We would like to know if you’d be interested in participating?
The Catalan Tourist board will cover your flights and all travel costs.
TV3 would do the final casting and they would have the final decision on it.”
I nearly wet myself with excitement when I read that. A trip to Catalonia would be amazing and having the whole thing captured on film sounded incredible. The TV show would be my best travel souvenir ever.
But first I needed to pass the casting which is what movie people do to chose hot talent instead of boring old interviews.
The casting was scheduled via Skype. I piled on lashings of makeup, banished my children from the living room and chatted with the director, producer, screen writer and a few other drop ins over video.
“We’re looking for someone smiling and enthusiastic,” the director said.
“I should be able to manage that,” I beamed, laughing and nodding constantly.
Despite the inevitable video lags, cultural differences and language barriers, my age old motto “when in doubt smile” held me in good stead.
When the casting was over, I powered down my computer and let my face relax back into its usual lines.
“Right kids!” I yelled “Everyone off to bed!”
But I guess my real enthusiasm for travel, Catalonia and the TV show were obvious. My casting was successful and the flights were booked.
Filming begins on the cable car to Montserrat – Me with Catalunya Experience host Ivana Miño
When doubts creep in…
The director explained that the travel itinerary would be kept secret from me. But the TV production team asked about what I like to do when I travel and said they’d organise everything for me.
That sounded great as I usually have to plan every aspect of our family travels myself, but in practice being led was hard for a leader.
There was so much I wanted to see and do in Catalonia and I was worried that I’d miss out on some vital experience. Plus there was the question of what to pack when you don’t know what you’ll be doing.
I tried and tried to wheedle the secret itinerary out of them but all I got was a packing list. It helped.
Finally I was on the plane winging my way from Brisbane, Australia to Barcelona where I’d be filmed as soon as I got to the airport.
“Just ignore the cameras,” they told me. “Be natural and concentrate on Ivana the presenter who will tell you what to do.”
Having always hated seeing myself in photos and believing that I’m supremely unphotogenic I wondered if I’d be able to meet their expectations and create a decent TV show. I wanted to but I just didn’t know if it would be possible.
I felt like a movie star being greeted at the airport by a film crew and throughout the filming I was given the red carpet treatment wherever we went.
Finding out how it feels to have three TV cameras trained on me at all times!
At our first stop, majestic, mountainous Montserrat, they organised a private viewing of the black Virgin (a statue, not an actual person), a behind the scenes visit to the monastery and a guided tour with the Prior. Being able to talk with this spiritual elder in ancient, soulful surroundings was very special.
Catalunya Experience TV presenter Ivana Mino and me making a Prior sandwich with the amazing Prior Ignasi M. Fossas i Colet of Monserrat Monastery
Then I Cried…
Sunrise view from my window at Hotel Abat Cisneros on Montserrat
The next day we went climbing in the mountain tops then a private helicopter flew us to the Pyrenees. That was one of the most beautiful days of my life.
Hello you heavenly helicopter
As the stone needles of Montserrat fell away behind us and the Catalan countryside unfolded beneath us, the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees slid into view. Grey, white and imposing, a childhood dream of visiting the Pyrenees had collided with my adult dream of flying in a helicopter.
Monserrat from the helicopter
It was a stunning experience. I couldn’t believe that the TV3 crew had gone to so much time and expense to organise it just for me. I felt like an imposter. I was convinced that they’d made a mistake inviting me and would soon realise they’d chosen the wrong person for the Catalunya Experience TV show.
I felt that I didn’t deserve such special treatment or such a beautiful experience. Even as the GoPro video they’d attached to the helicopter recorded my every facial expression I cried.
I cried the tears of a woman who can’t believe her own luck. I cried the tears of a woman who’s struggled to love herself and has never before felt really appreciated. Now these strangers had gone to huge efforts to find out about me, listen to me and make my dreams come true.
People have done nice things for me before. They’ve brought me tea in bed, cooked for me when I was sick and helped me when I couldn’t manage alone. But never before had anyone done anything so decadent for me. It was the best surprise of my life.
How do you follow that up?
On the third day we went ski-ing at Val de Nuria in the Pyrenees then drove back to Barcelona for a private tour of Catalan modernist Gaudi’s building La Pedrera.
I hadn’t been ski-ing for 20 years and I’d forgotten how much fun it is! Val de Nuria is a great spot for beginners.
La Pedrera apartment building (or Casa Mila) designed by Catalan modern architect Antoni Gaudi
On the fourth day we visited Montjuïc Castle and jogged around the Olympic Stadium. Then we got changed into fancy dress and headed to Vilanova for a carnival.
Loving the views of Barcelona and the red and yellow strips of the Catalan flag from Montjuïc Castle.
Posing in purple with the TV3 team whichg included the producer, director, screenwriter, two cameramen, a sound technician, a production assistant, two director’s assistants, Ivana the presenter and two men who fly the drone to take arial shots. This isn’t the entire team either – there are four more people at the studios in charge of research and planning so it’s a big production.
Channeling Madonna to blend in with the crazy costumes and local fun-lovers at the Carnaval de Vilanova i la Geltrú
Laughter is the greatest gift
Even though I thought the helicopter trip to the Pyrenees could never be surpassed the climax of my Catalunya Experience was the candy wars on our final day of filming the carnival in Vilanova.
Escorted by two famous Catalan comedians our party was ushered into the town hall for a bird’s eye view of the action and to hob nob with the local big wigs, or ‘fat fish’ as they call them.
After meeting the vice-president of Catalan, the mayor of Vilanova and the carnival king and his queens we joined local groups in dancing round the town hall square. Then a crazy candy-throwing battle commenced punctuated by endless laughter, dancing and silliness.
The “candy wars” at Carnaval de Vilanova i la Geltrú
The streets were covered in brightly colored candy, our feet sticking to the pavements, our hair covered in confetti.
It was a perfectly random end to a randomly perfect travel experience. a trip in which I spoke with holy men, laughed like a fool and cried with joy at the kindness of strangers and their beautiful scenery, culture and customs. For me it was the ultimate Catalunya Experience.
When will the Catalunya Experience air?
If everything goes to plan and all the episodes are filmed and edited on time the Catalunya Experience will start airing on TV3 in Catalonia in September or October 2015. I hope that the eposides will all be on the Televisió de Catalunya website so they can be viewed all over the world. Of course I can’t wait to watch it and I know it will be great viewing because of the sensational scenery and culture that they showcase and the attention to detail from the creative, professional and highly talented TV production team.
How can I find out more about Catalonia?
Follow the Catalan Tourist Board and the #CatalunyaExperience hashtag on Instagram for amazing photos from all over Catalonia. Or find out more about visiting Catalonia on the Catalunya website.
When will you write more about Catalonia?
I’ll probably give you a few more sneak peaks about what I got up to in Catalonia over the coming months but the production team and tourism board recommend I wait until the TV show airs and cover the experience in more detail on Get In the Hot Spot then.
I kept a travel diary during filming so I’ll be sharing my behind the scenes commentary and photos on the TV show then.
Read my Secret Catalunya Experience Travel Diaries
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