Category Archives: Spain

On This Day – Sigüenza in Castilla-La Mancha

Hopefully we are on the countdown to overseas travel but until that happy event happens I continue to trawl through the archives.  On 11th April 2014 I was in the town of Sigüenza in Spain…

It was raining so we took our time over breakfast and it was mid morning by the time we left the hotel and there was a simple choice – up the hill to the Alcazar or down the hill to the Cathedral.  We decided to start at the top of the town and make our way to the bottom.

Lined on each side with caramel coloured houses with terracotta tiled roofs, the Calle de Valencia followed the line of the old medieval town wall and half way to the castle we passed through the Puerto del Porto Mayor which was once the main gateway into the narrow streets of the old town and from here there was a final twisting climb to the Plaza del Castillo and the inevitable Parador Hotel.

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Entrance Tickets – The Island of Tabarca

I am cheating this one a little bit because this is a ferry ticket to the Spanish islet of Tabarca on the eastern coast of Spain near Alicante.

We just about made boat departure time, which was a good thing because the next one wasn’t for about two hours or so (in high season they run a lot more regularly) and after purchasing our tickets we made our way to the top deck and selected seats in the sun ready for the short thirty minute crossing and after being invited to view the marine life through the glass bottom in the boat (really not worth it) we arrived in the small port and disembarked.

Before 1700, the island was known as Illa de Sant Pau or ‘Saint Paul’s Island’ on the basis that this is where Saint Paul was washed up about two thousand years ago. He must have got around a bit because he seems to have been washed up in quite a lot of places in quite a short space of time which begins to make him look very unlucky and me sceptical about the whole thing.

Personally, if I was inclined to believe any of it then I would come down on the side of the story of St Paul’s Island in Malta. The Acts of the Apostles tell the story of how Paul was shipwrecked on an island (somewhere) while on his way to Rome to face charges. You can call me a coward if you like but I wouldn’t have been going back to Rome to face charges that might result in crucifixion or beheading and I would have been inclined to stay on the island wherever it was but to be fair you don’t get to become a Saint by hiding in a cave!

In the eighteenth century it was used as a convenient base for Berber pirates from North Africa who regularly raided the mainland coast so in 1760, to put a stop to it, Charles III of Spain ordered the fortification and repopulation of the Spanish island.

A group of Genoese sailors who had been shipwrecked near the coast of Tunisia, mostly coming from the islet of Tabark, were rescued and considered convenient settlers and the islet was renamed Nova Tabarca. The Genoese were moved to the island together with a Spanish garrison.

The King ordered a fortified town and as a consequence of Royal Decree walls, bulwarks, warehouses and barracks were built. The garrison was removed in 1850 and the buildings began to deteriorate and collapse through lack of maintenance but the Genoese stayed put and now a hundred and fifty years later it is a tourist destination and a thriving fishing community.

We maybe could have done with another hour on the island but if we missed the next ferry back we would be there for another four which was too long so we made our way back to the small fishing port of the island and boarded the boat back to Santa Pola where we had previously found a nice pavement restaurant with a very reasonably price Menu Del Dia and we simply sat and let the afternoon slip through our fingers.

Later we sat on the terrace and drank wine and ate pizza and just wasted the rest of the evening away as well!

Gaudi, Mozart and a Starling

Whilst looking through my pictures for my previous post about El Capricho I came across the picture of the bird on a piano keyboard…

It reminded me of the story of Mozart’s Starling and I wondered if Gaudi  also knew about the unlikely tale.

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El Caprichio – Antoni Gaudi in Cantabria

“(El Capricho) stands out for the Mudejar influence, for the alternation between the orientalist influence and medievalism and for the early appearance of elements corresponding to Gaudi’s later work” – The official guidebook.

In my previous post I told you about a Gaudi tribute house, today it is the real thing.

The entire town of Comillas is a declared historic/artistic site that in the nineteenth century was once popular with the Spanish monarchy and nobility who built many fine buildings and mansions there and is picturesque enough to get it hovering near to any top ten list of best small towns in Spain.

We drove into the old town where there were some fascinating buildings but none better than a rare example of the work of Antoni Gaudi, a mansion called El Capricho complete with a signature tile clad tower in the style of a minaret, playful ceramic sunflowers and whimsical stained glass images of animals playing instruments. From the outside it resembles a model made of lego building bricks.

It couldn’t happen could it? Well, maybe it could…

Gaudi rarely worked outside of Barcelona in Catalonia, he had enough work there after all to keep him busy and El Capricho is one of only three, the other two are The Episcopal Palace of Astorga and the Casa Botines in León in Castilla y León which is about the furthest that he ever got from Barcelona.

It was built in 1883 for a nobleman with the magnificent name of Máximo Díaz de Quijano who wanted an exotic villa in an oriental style and the really significant fact is that this was Gaudi’s very first commission.

There was a €7 admission charge which was a bit of a shock but having walked all the way through the town to find the place we went through with the transaction and made the visit to the house and the gardens and we were glad that we did. Kim may have got tired of towers, castles and cathedrals but she remains comfortable with palaces and Gaudi it seems.

Sadly Máximo Díaz de Quijano died before the work was completed.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

A to Z of Balconies – Chinchón in Spain

Chinchón is a delightful small town about thirty miles south of Madrid. The Plaza in is in a marvellous location with a big irregular shaped square that is used for town festivals and the occasional bullfight; it is surrounded by a hierarchical arrangement of buildings of two and three storeys with two hundred and thirty-four wooden running balconies all painted a uniform shade of green called ‘claros’ and below theses shops, bars and restaurants on the ground floor all spilling out onto the pavement.

It was the location for one of the opening scenes, a bullfight as it happens, in the 1966 film, ‘Return of the Magnificent Seven’ and was also used as a location for the film ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’.

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Capricho Rillano – In The Style of Antoni Gaudi

When we are away we usually make careful plans and are reasonably certain of where we are going and what we are going to see but it is always good to come across something unexpected.

On March 23rd 2013 we were staying in the Spanish town of Siguenza in Castilla-La Mancha. We had driven out of the town and visited the town of Molina de Aragon which on a desperately cold day had turned out to be rather a disappointment.

And so we left Molina de Aragon and headed back along the N-211 which is called the Ruta del Cid and the first village that we came to was Rillo de Gallo and there staring out over the main road was an unusual house.

Unless I was very much mistaken a Gaudi house but I was mistaken because it turned out to be a house built in the style of Antoni Gaudi and, I have to say, looking completely out of place within its surroundings.

This it turns out was the Capricho Rillano built by a Gaudi enthusiast Juan Antonio Martinez Moreno and substantially unfinished which made me wonder if it had the necessary planning or development consents?

So we pulled over, parked the car by the side of the road and walked to the house.  It may not have been designed and built by the Catalan master himself but it was still wonderfully impressive.

I knew nothing of this place of course, it wasn’t in the guide books so I researched it later. Juan Antonio Martínez, a resident of Guadalajara, worked without sketches or plans, like Gaudí in his early days and he is not an architect, but an experienced builder.

The imposing façade is inspired by the great works of Barcelona and in particular the Casa Batlló with the same characteristics of pinnacles and helical columns, paraboloid domes, warped roofs of multi-coloured ceramics, iron bars and doors, of overflowing fantasy and even a terrible ceramic snake that climbs a corner of the façade along three floors and crawls onto the roof in the style of the dragon at Park Güell.

The serpent incidentally is based on a local myth about a gigantic snake which is supposedly as a big as a man and has been sighted regularly – presumably after closing time!

It was interesting to explore the exterior of the building (the doors were firmly locked) and observe the details, colourful mosaics that covered the form and shape of the building that used the trencadís technique of broken tile mosaics. In contrast to the sobriety of the adjacent buildings in the village, the tangled and impossible forms and the colours of this building were a welcome surprise.

I liked it. I don’t know if building a house in the style of Gaudi makes it a Gaudi house?  I suspect probably not. I could paint a vase of sunflowers but it wouldn’t be a Van Gogh. I could write a play but it wouldn’t be a Shakespeare.

But I liked it all the same. I wonder what Gaudi himself would have made of it?

Having enjoyed the unexpected house we thought it only good manners to explore the village because it is said that El Cid himself passed this was on his way to Valencia. Actually, El Cid just like Don Quixote passed through every town and village in Spain, or so it seems.

I would like to be able to tell you that the place was spectacular but I am afraid that I can’t – it was dull and lifeless, cold for the Spanish, shirt sleeve weather for us and the streets were empty. We followed a map which cost me 80c at the Tourist Information Office (every town and village in Spain regardless of size  has a Tourist Information Office it seems) and which showed all of the old town highlights but we didn’t find anything to take our breath away so we started to walk back and then heard some lively conversation from a bodega so we pushed the doors opened, spotted an empty table and went inside.

This explained why the streets were empty because the entire village was in here. It was wonderful and made the long drive absolutely worthwhile – a traditional bar with local Spanish wine and a plate of perfect sticky paella as complimentary tapas – and after we had finished we were very reluctant to leave but we needed to be back in Siguenza in time for the Santa Semana Easter Parade.

Click on an image to view the Gallery…

A to Z of Balconies – Barcelona in Catalonia

The Palau is an icon of modernist architecture in the city, if there were to be an arm wrestling competition with the Gaudi experience then this would hold its own for sure. It is an exercise in opulence, grand salons, tiled columns decorated to reflect nature and a concert hall that would surely distract any performer or spectator through a musical performance of any kind.

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A to Z of Balconies – Antequera in Spain

Due to geography, tradition and culture, Antequera is called the heart of Andalucía and was once considered as a suitable candidate as a base for the regional government  but it eventually and inevitably lost out to Seville.

It is a delightful town with a castle and a cathedral and tiny narrow streets where balconies spill over with flowers.  Andalucía does wonderful balconies.

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On This Day – A Fuel Crisis in Spain

On 11th March 2009 it was the final day of a driving vacation to central Spain.  We had visited the cities of Cuenca, Toledo and Avila and finished in Segovia.  On the final day we were taking a drive across the mountains back to Madrid,

We stopped first at the Royal palace of San Ildifonso o la Granga…

The Royal Palace is set in extensive gardens in the French style of Versailles that was built for Philip V in the early eighteenth century and remains today an official residence of the King of Spain.  The Spanish Royal family used to like to leave Madrid in the baking hot summer months and take up residence in the mountains where the climate is cooler and more agreeable and looking around the place it was easy to see why.

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National Potato Chips Day in the U.S.A.

March 14th is National Potato Chips Day in the U.S.A. and although mine is not a food blog I am happy to recycle my post about potato chips…

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Some of you will have read it before of course.

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