Tag Archives: Culture

Travels in Spain, Barcelona and the Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia 01

“What I saw in Barcelona – Gaudí – was the work of such strength, such faith, of an extraordinary technical capacity, manifested during a whole life of genius…” – Le Corbusier (Swiss Architect)

We had been to Barcelona before but didn’t hesitate for a moment to go again.  It might be the pickpocket capital of Spain, maybe even Europe, but a couple of months earlier we had survived a few days in Naples without any thieving mishaps so felt confident that we could handle ourselves in Barcelona.

We arrived in the afternoon and completely out of character hopped in a taxi to take us the short ride to our accommodation, the budget hotel IBIS in Eixample which claimed to be close to the Sagrada Familia, the unfinished Cathedral of the Catalan genius architect Antoni Gaudi.  We were not to be disappointed because it was only a five minute easy stroll away.

After approving our rooms we walked there immediately but couldn’t go inside to visit because it was sold out for the day so we had to satisfy ourselves with a walk around the exterior and then booking some entrance tickets for later in the week.

Sagrada Familia Detail

It was quite pricey to get in but then this is the principal source of fund raising because the long drawn out construction is not supported financially by the National State of Spain, the Autonomous Community of Catalonia, the Province or City of Barcelona or even the Catholic Church (it points out that it already has one Cathedral in Barcelona, why does it need another?)  The only source of income is visitor receipts and construction costs are currently estimated at €1 million a month.  That is a lot of visitors.

Work on the Cathedral began in 1882 and it is 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 – except perhaps for the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City which was built in just two years but, if you ask me, doesn’t really look like a Cathedral in the traditional  sense – so I am not counting it (it’s my blog!)

So just how long does it take to build a Cathedral?

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 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 – a shame then you might think that Allied bombers knocked it down in the space of just a few nights during the Second-World-War!

St_Michael's_Cathedral_ruins,_Coventry

I digress here but the bombing story reminded me that the German Luftwaffe similarly destroyed Coventry Cathedral in 1940 in just one bombing raid.  This Cathedral with the third highest spire in England after Salisbury and Norwich had taken sixty years to build between 1373 and 1433 which I suppose you might consider quite quick, but not as rapid as the new Coventry Cathedral which was built in only six years and which, in a national poll in the 1990s, was voted Britain’s favourite twentieth century building.

I remember going there on a school visit in about 1964.

Back now to Barcelona.

So we purchased our entry tickets and went inside into a surreal world of a combination of church and building site with pallets of stone and brick side by side with pews and confessional boxes and we wandered around the great nave and the side chapels through soaring arches that look like giant trees with a fluidity of the design that creates the illusion of fusion, columns and arches melt into a viscous panorama that foams, drips and provides refuge for plants, animals and people and as we stood and admired it I hoped that although it is difficult to get inside the mind of a genius like Gaudi that I might at least be able to understand just a little of what it all meant.

Sagrada Familia 02

As it happens, I am not certain about what I think about Sagrada Familia. It confuses me. It is a piece of Disney World.  Although it was consecrated as a Minor Basilica by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 (there are currently one thousand seven hundred and fifty Catholic Minor Basilicas and including the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona has nine) I am unsure if this is a place of worship or a Barcelona theme park.  George Orwell said it was “one of the most hideous buildings in the world” .

When the final stone is set in place, the Sagrada Família will be the world’s tallest church, soaring five hundred and sixty feet into the sky. Second highest (currently first) will be Ulm Cathedral in Germany at five hundred and thirty feet high and Lincoln Cathedral in England (currently second) is five hundred and twenty-five.  It will also be the strangest looking and possibly the most controversial place of worship ever built on such an epic scale. Looking for all the world like a cluster of gigantic stone termites’ nest or perhaps a petrified forest, this hugely ambitious church has confounded architects, critics and historians ever since its unprecedented shape became apparent.

Sagrada Familia Statues

Looking ahead I wonder if after completion in 2026 (maybe?) the tourists can be kept away and it can become a genuine Temple of Worship? Currently it is the second most visited place in Spain after the Alhambra Palace in Granada. Will they ever stop that?  Personally, I doubt it. Currently attendance at Mass at Sagrada Familia requires an invitation, rather like the Queen’s Garden Parties in the UK.

When complete, the Basilica will boast no fewer than eighteen spires – eight have been built so far, twelve representing Christ’s apostles, four the evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), one the Blessed Virgin Mary and the tallest, Christ the Saviour

It is a magnificent but ultimately pointless building that I suspect will never achieve its original objective. I preferred the Gothic Cathedral in Barcelona Old Town which we visited a few days later.

Maybe I am just old fashioned and I am reminded of my Dad’s negative reaction to the church in the village where we lived when they started serving afternoon tea and cakes, he was outraged that the Vicar would think about turning a church into a café. It is probably a Starbucks now.

I am getting to be like my Dad but that is not such a bad thing!

Sagrada Familia at Night

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A Previous Visit to Morocco

Epcot World Showcase

The Disney Web Site introduces Morocco like this: “A realistic Koutoubia Minaret leads the way into this faraway land of traditional belly dancers, intricate Moroccan architecture and swirling mosaics made by native craftsmen. The Morocco Pavilion has 2 fascinating sections: the Ville Nouvelle (new city) and the Medina (old city). Discover a bustling plaza with a variety of shops and be on the lookout for some familiar Arabian Disney friends throughout the day.”

Read the Full Story…

Travels in Spain, Guadix and the Cave Houses

Guadix and Sierra Nevada

Not a great picture – it was on the wall of a bar and the lighting was poor but still better than any picture that I could get of Guadix!

“For almost the first time I felt I was really in Spain, in a country that I had longed my whole life to visit. In the quiet back streets of I seemed to catch a momentary glimpse, a sort of far-off rumour of the Spain that dwells in everyone’s imagination.”  –  George Orwell

It didn’t take long to reach Guadix, it is only a few miles east of Granada and we arrived there about at lunch time and instead of going straight to the city centre we took a detour into a neighbouring village in search of something to eat.

We were in a coach trip tourist sort of place lined with shops selling local earthenware and pottery but being just out of high season there weren’t any tourists there today, the shops were empty and we found a bar/restaurant with outside tables and busy with local people, which is always a good sign, so we selected a spot on the pavement in the sunshine and ordered a small selection of tapas.

The owner must have thought that we looked under-nourished because the food just kept turning up, we thought that we had ordered a light lunch but very soon the table was in danger of collapsing under the weight of rustic tapas and plates of fine food. It was rude not to eat it all but this took us some time and after we had finished our glutinous challenge we settled up and continued on our way.

Guadix Street

Guadix was quiet, almost as quiet as Puerta de Don Fadrique and we needn’t have worried in advance about car parking because the streets were empty, the shops were closed and there was almost no one about.  We found the hotel easily enough, checked in, unpacked only what we needed for an overnight stay and then went back out into the centre.

I liked it, it wasn’t Trujillo in Extremadura or Almagro or Siguenza in Castilla-La Mancha, it wasn’t Santillana del Mar in Cantabria but it was authentic and rustic, Spanish and Andalusian and I was glad that we had chosen to spend some time here.

We walked around the centre, along the banks of the crusty dried-up river bed and through some lush public parks but in late afternoon there was never much sign of life.  I looked for a shop to buy some wine but I had forgotten my corkscrew key-ring thingy that I can smuggle through airport security and there were no screw cap bottles anywhere in my price range so I was forced to buy a carton of Don Simon Vino Tinto which is really cheap and tastes just the same.

The product manufacturers make this extraordinary claim…  “Don Simon Vino Tinto Wine offers an expertly and exquisitely manufactured wine with fruity aroma; light fruit flavour, crisp acidity, light body and dry, tart finish. Good for every occasion. Best when served chilled. It looks as good as it tastes.” 

No grape variety information or expert tasting tips and in truth it is the sort of wine that at about 1.50 a litre, if you have got some left over you don’t mind pouring down the sink when you leave if you are not too concerned about environmental damage or taking the risk of destroying the hotel plumbing system.

Don Simon wine in a carton

We sat for a while in the lonely Plaza Mayor which was abandoned and quiet but decided anyway to return later for evening meal.  Two hours after it was transformed, the square was busy and there was fierce competition for tables but we swooped on one and the owner talked us into a Menu Del Dia which, as it turned out was a brilliant bit of salesmanship by him although not a brilliant decision on our part, but we had a hearty meal which filled us up including a truly enormous portion of Tiramasu for sweet for Lindsay which arrived just as she was explaining her planned dieting schedule.

I liked Granada and I liked Guadix, two completely different places which all adds to the richness and diversity of Spain and keeps me wanting to go back again and again.

The following morning we had a good breakfast at the hotel and we cleaned them out almost completely of tomato for the tosta and then we checked out and drove a short distance to the cave houses.

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This is the main reason for visiting Guadix.  It is like Bedrock and the Flintstones.  People still live in caves.

People still live in caves!

Just outside of the City old town there is a community of residents who cling to and persevere with the old ways which includes digging a hole in the limestone cliffs and then setting up home inside.  Not just any old cave however and today the mountain homes have brick façade and all of the modern home conveniences inside.

After a walk to the top of the village to an observation platform and then down again a man asked  us in to his cave home and invited us to look around.  People in Andalusia used to live in cave houses because they are cool in summer and warm in winter and they are cheap to build.  Some people, like those here in Guadix still do!

We spent an hour or so investigating the intriguing village and then we left and set off back east towards Rojales and the Mediterranean coast.

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Travels in Spain, Reflections on a Balcony in Granada

Granada Balcony 1Granada Balcony 7

 

Travels in Spain, Granada Old and New

Alhambra Walk

If you were to visit just one city in Spain, it should be Granada” –  Ernest Hemingway.

We had a leisurely start to the day with breakfast in our apartment and it was gone ten o’clock when we finally left and walked back into the city.

We began the day in the Albayzín neighbourhood which is an important cultural area of the city which is recognised by inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage list for the protection of cultural and natural heritage.  The area has a distinctly Muslim heritage with architecture and street arrangement based on Almohad, Berber design which stretches back over eight hundred years to when the North African Moors were in control of almost all of Spain but strongest here in Granada and nearby Cordoba.

Of all the foreign nationals living in Spain the greatest number are Moroccans and as we pushed our way through the busy streets, politely declining invitations to take tea or to look inside the shops I was immediately transported to Marrakech and Fes, Meknes and Tangier.  This was an interesting part of the city which reminded me once again at just how varied and diverse is the country of Spain.

Alhambra Gate

Although we didn’t have entrance tickets to the Alhambra Palace we decided to walk there anyway because we had been told that it was possible to gain access to parts of the complex without tickets.  It wasn’t very far away but once again the walk involved a steep climb especially towards the latter stages through the woodland approach to the city gate.

Once inside it was indeed possible to see quite a lot of the Palace grounds even without admission to the formal gardens, the Palace or the Alcazaba but we could walk around the battlements and enjoy the views over the city, visit the Palace of Charles V and some minor buildings outside of the main complex.

In a moment of mad optimism we did visit the ticket office  but it was not to be and so an hour after we had walked up to the Palace we began our slow walk back down.

After a light lunch we now went our separate ways, Kim and Lindsay went to the ships and because men don’t do shops, Mick and I didn’t.

Granada Cathedral

So I visited the Cathedral.  Mick doesn’t do Cathedrals so he sat outside and waited.

An interesting one this, unlike most cathedrals in Spain, construction here was not begun until the sixteenth century as it had to await until after 1492 and the acquisition of the Nasrid kingdom of Granada from its Muslim rulers.  While its earliest plans were Gothic the construction of the church in the main occurred at a time when Spanish Renaissance designs were supplanting the Medieval preference in Spanish architecture of prior centuries.  As a consequence of this the interior is light, bright and airy with soaring white columns and high windows and a fine collection of Renaissance paintings to boot.  I liked it, it was different to so many other Cathedrals in Spain.

On the way out I visited a small museum with examples of Muslim architecture which I didn’t really understand and there were no interpretation boards to help so didn’t linger and then the City Hall, the Ayuntamiento, but as I wasn’t registering for citizenship or applying for a Spanish bus pass this didn’t take terribly long either.

Granada Balcony 5

We all joined up again at a pavement café in front of the Cathedral and wasted away the last of the afternoon over beer and wine and then returned to our accommodation to prepare for the evening.  This didn’t take a lot of planning because as I have mentioned before once we find a place that we like then we generally tend to use it again and tonight was no exception.

The food was good but the highlight was the street entertainment, not a musician or a dancer or a singer but a street corner beggar who was an absolute professional when it came to wagging a paper cup at people and putting on a show that ranged from high drama to low despair.  He was quite successful too and every time a coin was tossed into the cup he scooped it out, examined it and swiftly put it in his pocket so he could present an empty cup to the next victim.

Granada Donkey Picture

The next morning we got caught in a ‘sting’ ourselves.  We were leaving Granada to move on to nearby Guadix and we were doing quite well navigating our way out of the city until a moment of hesitation was spotted by a man on a tatty old scooter who approached us, went in like a stiletto and convinced us that we were going the wrong way (even though we had a perfectly reliable SatNav) and invited us to follow him and for some unexplained reason we did.

The SatNav was frantically giving instructions to turn around but we just blindly continued on until we reached a point at the opposite end of the city to where we really needed to be and he pulled up, approached us, told us to follow signs for the motorway and held out his hand for payment.  We were going to give him €5 but Lindsay, feeling generous offered 10 at which point he demanded 15 which was completely absurd but Mick didn’t want a screwdriver being run down the side of his shiny new car so we meekly paid up and went on our way.

We made our way to the motorway junction and drove a completely unnecessary ten miles or so to get back to the place where the Satnav would surely have taken us thirty minutes sooner.  We should have got a discount on the €15 for all the extra fuel he had wasted for us!

We had been thoroughly tucked up, completely skewered, absolutely kippered but once on the open road and heading towards our destination we soon saw the funny side of it and laughed about it all the way to nearby Guadix.  People have got to make a living somehow I suppose.

Granada Matador

Travels in Spain, Tiles of the Bullfight

Bullfight Tiles 2Bullfight Tiles 1Granada Matador

 

Travels in Spain, The City of Granada

Granada Pointless Souvenirs

“Granada! Holy place of the glory of Spain, Your mountains are the white tents of pavilions, Your walls are the circle of a vase of flowers, Your plain a Moorish shawl embroidered with colour, Your towers are palm trees that imprison you” –  José Zorrilla y Moral

We had nice accommodation in Granada, a studio apartment with kitchen and living room.  We liked it and congratulated ourselves on our good fortune and then immediately set off into the city in search of something to eat.

Unlike the previous stop in Puerta de Don Fadrique the streets were busy and everywhere was open so there was a lot of choice.  It was mid afternoon by now so we only wanted a snack so we found a tapas bar and then proceeded to order far more food than we really wanted.

We needed to walk it off so after we had finished and settled up we set off towards the Alhambra Palace and a viewing point called the Mirador directly adjacent.

Alhambra Granada

After a gentle stroll along the banks of the Rio Biera the road turned sharp left with signposts to the viewing platform which involved a much steeper climb than we had really anticipated when we had set out.  The road seemed to go on forever and become steeper and steeper by the step.  The smart people zoomed past on the shuttle buses that were taking passengers to the top but without a ticket we just had to continue slogging away.

It was one of those climbs when every so often you think you are there but you are not, hopes are dashed and another set of steps appears ahead and then another dog-leg to tease and to taunt.

Eventually however we were at the top, there was nowhere else to climb and there was a welcoming bar and some vacant tables.  Hardly surprising really because the prices were as high as the elevation but to be fair we were paying not only for the beer and wine but the magnificent view as well and we sat and looked out over the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains to the south and in the foreground the Alhambra Palace and the hundreds of visitors climbing around the walls.  Busy because with three million visitors a year it claims to be the most visited site in Spain.

The top ten most visited are the Alhambra, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the Mosque at Cordoba, Santiago de Compostella, Burgos Cathedral, the Alcazar of Segovia, Roman Theatre at Merida, Casa Mila in Barcelona, the Cathedral and La Giralda in Seville and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. I have visited them all except for the Guggenheim.

Granada Alahbra Face

The Alhambra complex was built for the last Muslim Emirs in Spain during the the Nasrid dynasty who at the time were becoming increasingly subject to the Christian Kings of Castile.  After the final expulsion of the Moors and being allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries, the buildings occupied by squatters, the Alhambra was rediscovered following the defeat of Napoleon, who carried out retaliatory destruction of the site.

Our original plan was to visit the Palace but due to some sloppy travel planning on my part this wasn’t going to be possible this time.  It seems the place is so popular and so busy that during the peak season it is necessary to book tickets at least three months in advance and when I eventually got around to doing it I had left it too late.  Never mind, on the plus side it means we may need to back.

Alhabra from the Mirador

So for this time anyway we had to satisfy ourselves with a wonderful view of the exterior which I have to say provided a significant amount of compensation. When we had finished our drinks and had stopped drooling over the view we made our way back down into the city which thankfully was a lot easier than the climb up.

We sat for an hour or so now and enjoyed the accommodation before going back into the city for evening meal. We didn’t go far, just into the next street where there was a good choice of restaurants, using the selection criteria of looking at what other people were eating and spotting a man with a very nice steak we chose the first one that we came to and enjoyed a simple meal and a jug of house wine.

We liked Granada and we looked forward to a full day in the city tomorrow.

Granada Tapas