Have Bag, Will Travel
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Sagrada Familia in Barcelona…
It was quite pricey to get in but then I had to take into consideration that this is the principal source of fund raising because the long drawn out construction is not supported financially by any of the National State of Spain, the Autonomous Community of Catalonia, the Province or City of Barcelona or the Catholic Church (it already has one, why does it need another?)
Work on the Cathedral began in 1882 and is currently due for completion in 2026 and although I say long drawn out and nearly one hundred and fifty years may seem a very long time, to put this into some sort of perspective, you can’t really expect to build a cathedral in just a couple of years.
Building a Cathedral takes a long time…
In England York Mister took two hundred and forty-two years, but by comparison St Paul’s in London was rushed up in only thirty-one, Notre Dame in Paris took one hundred and eighty-five years, Seville in Spain one hundred and eighteen years and St Peter’s in Rome one hundred and twenty years.
Even the Basilica of the National Shrine of Immaculate Conception in Washington, USA took forty-two years and although this might seem like snail’s pace construction all of these were positively rapid compared to Milan at five hundred and seventy-nine years and Cologne in Germany at six hundred and thirty-two years.
Following on from my previous posts about places worth avoiding where I suggested the charmless Liechtenstein capital of Vaduz, the dreary Austrian city of Klagenfurt and the pointless Poble Espanyol in Barcelona, I come to my nominations for the top 2…
No. 2 – Les Rochers Sculptés, Brittany, France
Driving in France we were delayed by a longer than expected stop in the attractive town of Dinan and were seriously behind schedule so the sensible thing to do was to go directly to our next intended destination of Mont St Michel but Kim was intrigued by a visitor attraction marked on the map called the sculptured rocks so sensing unexpected delight we left the main highway and set out on the coast road.
Let me now straight away give you a piece of advice – unless you are really determined to see rock carvings do not take an unnecessary detour to Les rochers sculptés! We were expecting a stack of rocks standing in the sea pounded by waves into interesting formations but the site is a small area of stonemason carvings in the side of the granite cliff.
These sculptures were carved just over a hundred years ago by a hermit priest, Abbé Fouré, who had suffered a stroke and lost his ability to hear and speak and the story goes that he began these sculptures as a means of alternative communication. I am not trying to underestimate the value of the work here you understand, what I am saying is that it is a tedious detour and the visit is going to be over in about twenty minutes or so (if you stretch it out as long as you can or go around twice).
If you do want to go and see them then I would do it soon because after one hundred years they are seriously eroded by the sea and the rain and it can’t help a great deal either that visitors are allowed to climb all over them.
After the pointless visit I was impatient to get to Mont St Michel but stuck on the coast road progress was infuriatingly slow as we passed through several towns and villages all with inconveniently snail like speed limits. Out in the Gulf of St Malo we could see the abbey on the island but it seemed to take a frustrating age to get there as the road snaked around the coast and every few miles or so we came across a tractor or a school bus which slowed us down even more. Several times I cursed the decision to go and visit Les rochers sculptés.
Drum roll Please…
No. 1 – The Astronomical Clock in Prague, Czech Republic
I have no hesitation at all in declaring this the runaway winner of places I nominate not to go out of your way to visit and I am not the only one who thinks so because this overrated tourist attraction regularly makes an appearance in similar lists.
We arrived with about forty minutes to spare so sat at a roadside bar and watched a sizeable crowd beginning to assemble. After a second glass of the excellent beer we wandered over to take up a good position to see the famous astronomical clock that stands in the centre of the square strike one. It really was very impressive to look at but not nearly so good that it justified the city authorities blinding its creator after it was completed just so that he couldn’t make another one elsewhere.
Anyway, bang on time, the mechanism creaked into action and the little statues started to do a little jig, I especially liked the skeletal figure of death that to be absolutely certain of the time diligently inspected an hourglass and then rang a tiny bell to get proceedings started.
First came the promised highlight of the event when a small window opened and the twelve Apostles passed by in procession each one in turn blankly gazing out over the square. They had to be quick though because this wasn’t so much a procession as a hundred-metre dash and they sprinted past as though the landlord at the rugby club had just called last orders at the bar. Then a cock crowed and the clock chimed out the hour and that was it. I thought the whole horological experience was over rather too quickly.
Whilst I am in Prague let me also mention Wenceslas Square because this is another huge disappointment. I had been expecting something similar to St Marks Square in Venice but it was lined with shops and familiar fast food restaurants and it felt a little just a little unsophisticated and disappointing. It was big too, much bigger than I had imagined. I was expecting it to be like the Grande Place in Brussels, the Plaza Mayor in Madrid or the Piazza Navona in Rome with an attractive open space and stylish pavement cafés but it wasn’t even pedestrianised and it was full of impatient cars and speeding trams that made the visit rather an ordeal.
If you go to Prague you will probably go and see the clock and the square but don’t expect too much is all that I am saying!
Have you seen the Prague Astronomical Clock? What did you think?
Recently I was reminded about a story I have told previously about map reading.
Driving in Switzerland I allocated navigation duties to Kim and we made steady progress towards our destination – Liechtenstein. After a couple of hours we stopped at a restaurant and this gave us time to examine the map again to find the most suitable route and Kim explained how she had carefully plotted a course to avoid places that the map helpfully pointed out as ‘worth a detour’. Kim had interpreted this information as ‘worth avoiding’ when of course it actually meant ‘worth going out of your way to take a look’.
This little memory nudge made me begin to think about some places that we have gone out of our way to visit and then found them to be desperately disappointing. I offer here my top five places worth avoiding…
No. 5 – Vaduz, Liechtenstein
“It occurred to me that there is no reason to go to Liechtenstein except to say that you have been there. If it were simply part of Switzerland… nobody would dream of visiting it” – Bill Bryson, ‘Neither here Nor there’
We passed into the World’s sixth smallest country and very soon arrived in Vaduz which although looking overwhelmingly dull we felt compelled to stop there and take a quick look.
I don’t really know what I was expecting, it just sounded as though it should be more interesting than it is, the very fact that it has been able to remain independent through two hundred turbulent years of European history should have given me a clue. If none of its more powerful neighbours had taken a fancy to it or annexed it for themselves in all of that time that probably says a lot about its value or its interest.
It is a city completely lacking in interest or charisma, it appears to have rejected completely the enchanting picture postcard charm of neighbouring Switzerland and chosen instead to build a bleak city of tarmac and concrete worthy of the very best Soviet town planners with nothing to relieve the monotony of box buildings and Spartan austerity.
Perhaps this is deliberate, Liechtenstein is a country of tax dodgers and secret bank accounts and the men of finance don’t want too many tourists dropping by.
For an immensely rich place (the Prince of Liechtenstein is the world’s sixth wealthiest head of state) I was expecting something special but I have to say that I found it bone-crushingly dull, the sort of place you might send prison inmates for special punishment, worse even than solitary confinement.
No. 4 – Klagenfurt, Austria
For a few years we were in the habit of visiting different European Christmas markets. In 2007 we travelled to Ljubljana in Slovenia and an examination of the train timetables suggested that we could cross over into Austria and travel to the city of Klagenfurt to see a different market.
This was not a straightforward journey. It was not a direct route and required some time and effort to get there. The train stopped at the border and the Slovenian engine was replaced with an Austrian model and then a few miles later we had to change trains to make the journey to Klagenfurt, we didn’t mind, we were confident that we were going to see a magnificent traditional Austrian Christmas market.
How disappointed we were when we discovered that the market in Klagenfurt was even tackier than the one in Ljubljana – it was full of cheap trash and repetitive rubbish that none of us had a mind to purchase. And there wasn’t a great deal of seasonal good cheer on offer either.
I am sure that the market would be more lively and vibrant at night but in the middle of a cold and overcast day it was just dull and lifeless and minding every stall was someone who looked as though they wished that they were somewhere else.
We hurried through the market towards the city centre but this was in turmoil of improvement works that closed off the main square and the Lindwurm fountain, which is about the only one thing worth seeing in Klagenfurt. I am sure that it is a fine city because it is the sixth largest in Austria and the state capital of Carthinia but the grey clouds made it seem uninteresting and without charm. I do not recommend a visit to Klangenfurt!
No. 3 – Poble Espanyol, Barcelona
On a Tourist Bus excursion in Barcelona we sat on the top deck to just about as far as it is possible to go to visit Poble Espanyol before it turns around and comes all the way back.
This is a showcase attraction built for the 1929 Barcelona Exposition and is a sort of Frankenstein’s monster with various bits of Spanish architecture and heritage stitched together in one open air museum. Whilst this may work at Beamish in County Durham in the UK which restricts itself to the North East of England or St Fagans in South Wales where the exhibits come from a relatively small geographical area it is quite something else to try and bring together all of the differing cultural heritage of a country as diverse as Spain into one setting and succeed.
I found it to be a rather odd sort of place that aspires to celebrate the various regions of Spain but, for me anyway, failed to effectively capture the spirit of the country and it isn’t really a museum but rather a collection of shops and restaurants claiming to sell and serve regional specialities. For anyone who has been to Disney World EPCOT World Showcase you will probably know what I mean.
An interesting thing about Poble Espanyol is that it claims to introduce the visitor to the heritage and culture of each of the Autonomous Communities of Spain and yet it only showcases fifteen of the seventeen and as we left I couldn’t help wondering why the Canary Islands and La Rioja didn’t rate a mention or at least a shop?
The Disney view of the World doesn’t include Spain in the World Showcase, which is an oversight if you ask me, but if it did then something like Poble Espanyol would be exactly what it would most likely look like. It is a curious place, without heart or soul and if you ever take the Barcelona Bus Touristic I suggest that you stay on board when it pulls up here and continue to the Nou Camp stadium instead.
On a countdown of my places to avoid this is 5 through to 3, next time I will reveal my top 2.
Have you ever been somewhere and been terribly disappointed – do tell!
As we nail down 2015, please excuse my annual self-indulgent post to begin the new year as I look back over the last one. I have ignored the WordPress annual statement to produce my own review.
The top ten most visited posts on my Travel Blog always surprise me but then I don’t pretend to understand how search engines work. I say visited pages rather than read because I am neither conceited enough or sufficiently naive to claim that a visit equals a read. I know that a lot of people will arrive here by mistake and swiftly reverse back out via the escape button!
Just to go back a bit, in 2012 the site recorded 170,900 visits and I was optimistic that as I kept posting this number was just going to keep going up but then in February 2013 Google made some devastating changes to its search algorithms and the numbers halved overnight and have never fully recovered. I finished 2013 with 79,470, a decrease of 115%.
I thought it was important to keep going so in 2014 I posted 320 times and the total number of visits recorded was just over 101,000 so there was some significant recovery. 2015 has not seen the same level of improvement but there has been consolidation. I have posted 311 times and the number of reported visits is 106,600, an increase of just 5.5%.
These are the Top Ten posts of 2015:
No change at the top this year and this post has recorded 8,715 visits which is over 3,000 more than last. I posted this in August 2013 following a week touring Catalonia and pulling in a visit to Barcelona along the way.
I’d like to think that this is because it is a knowledgeable and scholarly assessment of Gaudi’s architectural contribution to the urban World but I think it is more likely because the image attracts visitors as it easily found in a Google search and people seem to like it because it has been copied several times!
5,870 hits, up from 3,300 and staying in the Top Ten for the sixth successive year which by that measure makes it my most successful post.
In total it has 17,800 visits which makes all time second after my post about Norway, Haugesund and the Vikings. This one has been around for a long time ( since June 2009) and has always been popular especially around the Spring and Summer when invitations to the Royal Garden Party are going out and when people are wondering how to get one or what to wear if they have one.
This one has been around a while as well and with 1,610 hits and a fifth year in the Top Ten is becoming a stubborn stayer. A bit of a surprise to me really because this is the account of a day trip to Mount Vesuvius whilst on a holiday to Sorrento in 1976 with my dad. From my memories of the same holiday I posted several blogs about visits to Capri, Naples, Pompeii, The Amalfi Drive and Rome but these have only achieved a handful of hits between them.
A second top ten appearance again this year for the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi (maybe I am an expert on Gaudi after all). After I had taken a look at the official Twelve Treasures of Spain I thought it might be fun to draw up my own personal alternative list. I included Antoni Gaudi in a general rather than a specific way. I posted this in March 2013 and this year with 1,455 visits it has risen five places to number four.
This is the first of this year’s new entries with a surprising 1,325 visits and no convincing explanation why that should be.
I visited Southern Ireland in June 2014 and wrote several posts that I personally would consider more interesting than this encounter with a grumpy street entertainer and a worn out old collie dog. Once again, and rather disappointingly, I suspect it isn’t the words but the picture that grabs attention. It was a map of the Ring of Kerry which I noticed displayed on the front of a shop.
The second of this year’s new entries and I must confess that I am rather pleased about this one.
There are some posts that I have written that I would like people to read and this is one of few that have achieved that. Before visiting Catalonia in 2014 I read the book ‘Voices of the Old Sea’ by Norman Lewis which is an account of the Costa Brava in the 1940s and the approach of mass tourism. In this post I attempted some research and some interpretation of the book and the area. It has recorded 977 visits and in this case I like to think that this is because of the subject rather than the pictures.
This post has also been a consistent performer with five years in the top ten but in terms of visits is this year’s biggest loser, down almost 3,200 hits to just 790, dropping four places from last year’s number two and if that slide continues I expect it to be gone next year. I posted this in April 2010 after returning from a visit to Krakow in Poland. It was a good trip but I am not sure why so many people would hit on it. It is not as interesting as my trip to Auschwitz or the Crazy Mike Communist Tour.
I posted this in March 2010 and it finally made the top ten last year and I am glad to see it there for a second year. It has stayed in this year with 740 visits. It is actually one of my personal favourites and is a story about the Spanish seaside resort of Benidorm inspired by some photographs that I came across of my grandparents on holiday there in about 1960.
The last of the new entries and another one that I am pleased about. This is the story of the Italian singer Domenico Modungo. Domenico who? I hear you ask. Well, let me tell you that Domenico is renowned for writing and performing what is claimed to be the most famous, most copied, most successful ever Eurovision Song Contest entry and most lucrative in terms of revenue, Italian popular music songs of all time. Think about it…have you got it…
“Nel blu dipinto di blu” or most popularly known as “Volare”. With 656 visits it has only just about crept in to the top ten but I am happy to see it there.
Seventh place with 636 hits and four years in the top ten which demonstrates the importance of an ‘About’ page.
If you have read one of these posts or any of the 1,785 others on my site ‘Have Bag, Will Travel’, then thank you very much! I guess it proves that George Bailey (It’s A Wonderful Life) was right when he said: “The three most exciting sounds in the world are anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles.”
On reflection, not a bad year but I still haven’t been Freshly Pressed (Discovered). Do I care? Well, maybe a little bit!
I’d be interested to know about other people’s most popular posts in 2015 and the possible explanations why? Comment and let me know. I’m a sucker for statistics!
ZigZag – Gaudi Style
The bus continued along Passeig de Gràcia past the Casa Milà and then turned right along the grid pattern streets and headed towards Gaudi’s unfinished Cathedral, La Sagrada Familia and still we stayed stubbornly in our seats with a plan to see all of these on the next day but the next stop on route was the architect’s vision of a Barcelona middle class housing development away from the grime of the industrial city, the Park Guell and here we made our first stop.