Tag Archives: EPCOT World Showcase

Thursday Doors, Malta

Mdina Door

A door in Mdina, the Silent City and before Valletta was once the capital of Malta.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

 

Travels in Spain, Plaça d’Espanya and Poble Espanyol in Barcelona

Palau Nacional de Catalunya

The train from Montserrat arrived back at Plaça d’Espanya in the middle of the afternoon and this was our chance to take a look at another famous district of Barcelona – Montjuïc, a flat top mountain area which overlooks the port and the city.

The Plaça d’Espanya was included in the plans for the expansion of Barcelona in the mid-nineteenth century and was laid out with wide boulevards and six main roads all converging on the centre of the square where there is a monumental statue surrounded by a Baroque colonnade.  It was completed in 1929 on the occasion of the International Exhibition which was held in this area of the City.

The statue at the centre is designed as an allegory representing all of Spain. Three sides with sculptures that symbolize the three principal rivers of the Iberian Peninsula,  Ebro, Guadalquivir, and Tagus, around the central sculpture, three decorated columns which symbolise  a Spanish/Catalan self-assessment of the qualities of themselves as a Nation – Religion, Heroism and Arts.

Plaça d'Espanya 2

The Plaça d’Espanya is a busy roundabout, on one side is the old bullring, now a shopping centre (because bull fighting is banned in Catalonia) and on the other are two bell-towers known as the Venetian Towers, on account of the fact that design and construction was heavily influenced by St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice.  From there a walk up a gentle gradient towards the imposing structure of the Renaissance style Palau Nacional, built in 1929 as the main exhibition hall and today The National Art Museum of Catalonia.

This is a lovely part of Barcelona that has a national and international ambiance with architecture borrowed and copied from across Europe and with buildings designed to give a representation of all of Spain.  A shame then that large areas of it were destroyed in the calamitous Spanish Civil war of 1936 to 1939.  Fortunately everything is now rebuilt and restored in the original style.

To illustrate this, at the centre of this Spanish showcase, next to the Palau Nacional, is an attraction called Poble Espanyol, built in 1929 and still there now as a tourist attraction.  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.

Poble-Espanyol-2

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.

An interesting thing about the attraction 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? So, I have looked it up; apparently the research designers were unable to organise a visit to the Canary Islands for economic reasons and LaRioja didn’t exist as an Autonomous Community of Spain until 1980.

We stayed around the area for a while but it was too late to visit the museum or the shops of Poble Espanyol so we stopped for a drink in the park and then made our way back to the metro.

Magic Fountain Barcelona

The route took us past a cascading waterfall and four ionic columns originally erected in 1919 to be a symbol of the Catalan Nation and its aspiration for self-governance and independence (the columns represent the stripes of the Catalan flag). The originals were demolished in 1928 under the orders of Madrid but were rebuilt in 2010. I understand the symbolism of the columns but to be honest I found them to be a little inconsistent with the area and a bit jarring on the eye.

Not so the adjacent Magic Fountain which was providing a fountain display where the water was dancing and leaping into the air with a cycle of changing routines. The fountain was commissioned to replace the four columns in time for the National Exhibition. It is a great spectacle but the best time to see it is at night time when the fountains are accompanied by a light show and music.

We weren’t staying close enough to return later (mid-June and not getting dark until quite late) so instead we returned to the same restaurant as the previous evening and instead of the fountain took night time pictures of the Sagrada Familia as an alternative.

Montjuic Columns

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

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…

An alternative Donald Trump inspired Disney EPCOT World Showcase

trump-hall-of-presidents

Following the unexpected election of Donald J Trump to the office of President of the United States the Walt Disney Corporation may find it necessary to have a rethink about the way countries are represented at EPCOT World Showcase at World Disney World in Florida to more accurately reflect the thinking and the policies of the new Commander in Chief.

Here are some ideas that they might consider…

Starting with China the Temple of Heaven could easily be demolished and replaced with a replica of the Great Wall of China to reflect an immigration policy which will redesign the USA/Mexico border with the construction of Trump’s Great Wall of Texas/New Mexico/Arizona/California.

great-wall-of-china

Rather appropriately we come now straight to Mexico which could be completely redesigned with the removal of the Aztec Temple and the boat ride El Rio del Tiempo with its audio-animatronic figures clad in authentic folk clothing, singing, dancing, and playing music. They are all way too happy and friendly and I suggest should be replaced with a Western theme based entirely on the movie ‘The Magnificent Seven’ which will emphasise the Trump image of Mexicans as fearsome gun-toting criminals showing no respect to their neighbours and swarming illegally over the borders of their village.

magnificent-seven

No really big changes required at Norway except for more emphasis on Elves and Fairies because these are the sort of mythical creatures that Donald consults with at his policy think-tank meetings and a lot more Trolls because he is good at being sexist and insulting and trolling is the basis of his interactions with normal and respectable people.

Little People Elves Iceland

Belgium is a beautiful city” Trump said during a rally in Atlanta, Georgia.

Donald doesn’t seem to have an especially good understanding of the complexities of Europe and the diversity of its constituent countries so to make it easy for visitors it would be a good idea to simply amalgamate Germany, France and Italy into one brand new attraction called the European Union and put the Eiffel Tower in amongst the canals of Venice and next to the Brandenburg Gate.

The United Kingdom could be included if it wasn’t for the distracting issue of the referendum and the decision to leave the EU but thinking ahead it would make sense to place the two attractions side by side so that they could easily be integrated if the democratic decision of the British people is overturned by the Remainers.

epcot-eu

Until that issue is resolved the United Kingdom should remain mostly unchanged to reflect the ‘special relationship’ that Donald has promised to maintain but with one important addition to represent his own personal ‘special relationship’  a waxwork image of his pal and UK BREXIT champion Nigel Farage might be placed at the bar of the Rose and Crown pub.

nigel-farage

The concept of Neighbouring Canada is designed to represent the great healthy outdoors with a canyon and a lake with a waterfall and a healthy forest but to reflect Trump’s threatened environmental policies and a reckless denial of global warming it might have to go through a complete remodelling and a whole different sort of attraction.

My suggestion is forest of stumps, trees killed by acid rain.

dead-forest

Currently the only country at Epcot that represents the Muslim world is Morocco where six shops decorate the pavilion which showcase Moroccan art and skills, selling visitors everything from rugs to leather goods and traditional Moroccan clothing.

Donald of course has little or no respect for Islam and seems to regard them all as treacherous terrorists so all of these representations of art and culture and peaceful religion I am afraid will have to go and will need to be replaced with exhibits that explain just how sinister and dangerous these people are.

bomb-factory

With Donald reassessing his foreign policy alternatives and threatening to withdraw support from traditional allies then there will no place in the new EPCOT World Showcase for poor Japan who I recommend simply be replaced by new allies Russia and a replica of Red Square and the Kremlin and a Victory Day Military Parade ride.

victory-day-parade-2016

That only leaves USA and there seems no urgent need for change in this pavilion, Donald has promised great things and Hillary has said ‘give the guy a chance’ and anyway, there are four years of Trump Presidency so if he fails or lets people down we can return to World Showcase USA and make any changes we want any time we want.

Anybody else got any suggestions for a restructured World Showcase?

EPCOT USA

If you are at all interested you can check out my original World Showcase post here… 

Around The World in Eighty Minutes

Morocco, Essaouira – Background and Research

Morocco Postcard Map

In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try and understand the country that I was visiting.

Morocco is in North Africa which geographically and politically is included in the United Nations definition of the area comprising  seven countries or territories; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara.  It is the twenty-fourth largest country in Africa out of fifty-four and is one of the most developed with the sixth largest economy of the continent (after Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Algeria, and Angola).

Of all the countries in Africa it is the closest to Europe and technically Britain because it is just twenty miles or so from the Overseas Territory of Gibraltar and along with France and Spain it is one of only three countries with both a Mediterranean and an Atlantic coast line.

Morocco is placed one hundred and twenty-sixth in the Human Development Index which isn’t especially good and means that it is categorised as having only medium human development in an index that ranks countries by data composed from life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income.  It is sixty-sixth in the OECD Better Life Index and forty-second in the Happy Planet Index which is one place behind the United Kingdom but way ahead of the United States which is as low down as one hundred and fifth.

I wonder however if they consulted absolutely everyone.  There is an awful lot of poverty in Morocco and with no welfare state payments or safety net there a lot of street beggars.  Even for those in work it is not so wonderful and Morocco is in the top three countries in the World where workers are dissatisfied with their jobs, the other two are Nigeria and Japan. Japan?

Essaouira Derelict Doors

Morocco has nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites but the chances of visiting more than one or two in a single visit is very remote because they are spread evenly right across the country.  This time we were visiting the Atlantic port of Essaouira which is included in the list.  Previously we had visited three others at Marrakech, Fez and Meknes.

The country has one thousand eight hundred kilometres of coastline and twenty-three Blue Flag Beaches.

Essaouira is only one of five place names in the World that contain all five vowels in just one single un-hyphenated name.  The others are Donaueschingen in Germany, Dogubeyazit in Turkey, Berrouaghia in Algeria, Alexandroupoli in Greece and Mediouna which is also in Morocco.  So, with two  Morocco is the clear winner in place names with all five vowels in the name.

Football is the national sport and the national team have appeared four times at the FIFA World Cup finals and fifteen times at the Africa Cup of Nations where they were winners in 1976.

I have been to Morocco before.  The first time was in 1989 when I went not to Africa but to the USA and visited World Disney World!

Epcot World Showcase

Of all the countries at the EPCOT World Showcase the Morocco Pavilion was the only one in which the country’s government aided in the construction and they did this so that they could retain some measure of Islamist control over the design of the mosaics and to ensure that everything was as authentic as possible in the representation of the Muslim faith.

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 two 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.”

Well, one thing that I can confirm is that they have certainly got the shopping bit completely right because Disneyland and the Souks of  Morocco certainly have a lot in common when it comes to trying to part visitors from their money as I found out when taking a guided tour of the Fez souk.

Fez Colours

Weekly Photo Challenge: Time

Siguenza Sundial

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 Parador Hotel.

Read the Full Story…

Malta, The Silent City of Mdina

Malta Mdina

We slept well until about five o’clock next morning when there was an explosive thunderstorm that shook the room as though there were an earthquake with lightning flashes dramatically illuminating the sky and rain falling in bucket loads.  The wind rolled moaning down the corridor outside the room which made it sound much worse than it really was and fortunately by breakfast time it had cleared away and the sky looked more promising.

This was our last day in Malta and our plan was to visit the town of Mdina, the old capital of the country and situated in the centre of the island.

Mdina is called the silent city…

because it is a quiet pedestrianised medieval walled town with twisting narrow streets, dead ends and crooked alleyways all of which lead inevitably to the centre piece of the cathedral of St Paul.

St Paul is important to Malta because a shipwreck in 60 AD is recorded in some detail in the Acts of the Apostles and is supported by archaeological excavations that prove beyond doubt that his arrival in Malta is a historical fact.  He was only there for three months but in that time he managed to introduce the Christian Religion to Malta and if you have been paying attention you will know that Malta is the most religious country in Europe.

Napoleon Bonaparte in Malta…

Except for the modern bus service things get done quickly on Malta it seems.  During a six day stay on the island in 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte carried out an exhausting and rapid programme of modernisation.  He reformed national administration with the creation of a Government Commission, twelve municipalities, a public finance administration, the abolition of all feudal rights and privileges, the abolition of slavery and the granting of freedom to all Turkish slaves. On the judicial level, a family code was framed and twelve judges were nominated. Public education was organised along principles laid down by Bonaparte himself, providing for primary and secondary education. After this whirlwind visit he then sailed for Egypt and the Maltese people probably gave a collective sigh of relief.

Mdina Malta

Public Transport issues in Malta…

“Unfortunately, the new designed routes take you half way around Malta in order to save money on buses – that is the problem when an accountant comes in with an Excel sheet and dictates with no real knowledge of what the people need, want or require.” – Malta Tourism Authority (2013)

I am fairly certain that in 1997 there was a direct bus service from Mellieha to Mdina but this is not so today so we had to compete for space on a bus to Buggiba and then wait for a transfer to our destination.  As we waited at the bus stop the skies clouded over, white at first and then grey and then very dark grey indeed and finally ominously black.  The temperature sank like a stone and soon there was another fearsome thunderstorm which made us consider going straight back to the hotel and a day in the indoor swimming pool and spa.

We dodged the downpour in a roadside café and eventually the connecting bus arrived and we went ahead with our original plan.  The bus was empty but at the next stop about three hundred people tried to get on but only two hundred and ninety-eight made it.  This was a very uncomfortable thirty minutes but as we drove towards Mdina the clouds broke and were blown away and by the time we arrived there was glorious blue sky again.

Mdina, restored and modernised…

The bus dropped us off at the main gate where there was a flotilla of horse drawn carriages called Karrozzins with pushy drivers waiting to ambush people as they stepped into the terminus and I am not sure how this happened but almost immediately we were sitting in the carriage and taking an unnecessary tour of the city and my wallet was a few Euro lighter.  Unnecessary because it is only a small place and it is much nicer to investigate it on foot anyway which is what we did as soon as the trip was over.

The first thing that struck me was that in twenty years there has been a lot of restoration in Mdina.  The once crumbling walls have been repaired and the untidy concrete streets have all been repaved.  I preferred it the old way because it seems to me that the Maltese have managed to transform this wonderful place into a sort of Disney World EPCOT interpretation of what it used to be like.

Mdina Malta 2015Malta Mdina 1996

Most of the guide books recommend a visit to Fontanella Tea Rooms for a cake and a coffee stop so we found it and made our way to the first floor terrace.  This had also had a very extensive makeover.

I’d like to be able to tell you how good it was but we sat at a table for twenty minutes or so without being served whilst all around us everyone was giving their orders and getting prompt service.  I asked two times to be served but I think I must have been wearing my invisible clothes that day and the waiter continued to ignore us so finally our patience ran out and we left, stopping only very briefly on the way out to lodge a complaint about poor service.  He said that he would serve us immediately but I told him it was too late, he had missed his chance!

Mdina MaltaMalta_Map (1)

Click on any picture in the gallery to enter the slideshow…

Warsaw, Paris of the East

Warsaw Old Town

I woke early the next morning so made good use of the time before breakfast by reading the complimentary guide books supplied by the Tourist Information Office.

I shouldn’t really have been surprised by this because I have seen it so many times but there on the first page of the ‘Warsaw Top Ten’ guide was the description, Warsaw – Paris of the East.

After Venice it seems that it is the city that more than most other cities want to associate themselves with and in addition to Warsaw.  I have yet to come across a New York of the East, a Moscow of the West or a Canberra of the North but, when it comes to Paris, even without leaving Europe we have:

Baku, Azerbaijan; Bucharest, Romania; Budapest, Hungary; Leipzig, Germany; Prague, Czech Republic; Riga, Latvia; Saint Petersburg, Russia.  As if to make doubly sure, in a belt and braces sort of way Saint Petersburg doubles up in this respect by also calling itself the ‘Venice of the North’ even though it has competition for this particular title from Amsterdam, Bruges, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Manchester, Edinburgh (which also calls itself the Athens of the North) and even Birmingham amongst others.

Including Warsaw I have had the good fortune to visit five of these alternative Paris cities, Budapest, Saint Petersburg, Riga and Prague and I have to say that I can find very little similarity in any of these places with the real thing.  Prague would have to come closest I would have to say but only on the basis that they have a sort of Eiffel Tower.

PetrinObservationTower

Beyond Europe there are a few more but the most bizarre of all surely has to be Beirut! Paris itself if often called the City of Lovers or the City of Light but I have never heard of it calling itself the Beirut of the West and I am fairly certain that it is most unlikely ever to do so.

In addition to the French capital there are of course a number of places that are officially called Paris including nine in the United States in Arkansas, Idaho, Maine, Kentucky, New York, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia and one that was even the title of a film – Paris, Texas. There is one missing from this list however and the one that is most Paris like of all, the one at EPCOT World Showcase in Disney World Florida.  Three other U.S. cities have at some time been called the Paris of the West – Denver, Detroit and San Fransisco but these all seem just as unlikely to me as Shanghai in China!

There is also a Paris in Ontario in Canada and Montreal has been dubbed the Paris of the West.

France EPCOT

My favourite copycat naming however is in South America where  there is an entire country that is called Little Venice’ said to have originated from the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci who led a 1499 naval expedition.  When he landed he saw native people living in houses on stilts and using boats that were shaped like gondolas. He thought that the country resembled Venice so named it Venezuela, which means ‘Little Venice’.  That’s a bit odd I suppose when you consider that Venezuela is nearly two thousand three hundred times bigger than Venice itself!

Other interesting facts that I learned this morning were that in 2012 Warsaw was ranked as the thirty-second most liveable city in the world by the Economist Intelligence Unit (Copenhagen in Denmark is top, no UK city makes the top twenty-five and the highest place North American city is Vancouver at fifteenth).  Warsaw is the tenth largest city in the European Union and that it is ranked one hundred and thirteenth out of one hundred and forty-four in a list of the World’s most expensive cities and I was very happy to know that after last night’s expensive meal, as I examined the damage and counted up the remaining Polish Zlotys in my wallet and wondered how I might be able to repair the overspend later tonight.

Eventually it was time for breakfast and we made our way down to the dining room where we had enjoyed the previous night’s meal and we were treated to a lavish buffet breakfast, hot and cold, Polish and continental, sparkling wine and even vodka for those that start the day in this way.  I mention this because I was quite surprised how extravagant it was on account of the fact that we had only paid £60 a night for the superior room and the all-inclusive breakfast.  A real bargain.

The only disappointing thing this morning was the weather because after yesterday’s blue skies today there was a heavy mist which obscured the top of the Palace of Culture and Science and blotting out the sun made it rather chilly but undeterred by this we set off once more in the direction of the Old Town.

Warsaw Old Town

Travels in Spain – Sigüenza and the Alcazar

Sigüenza Tourist Map

“The museums of Spain had a certain attraction when they were haphazard and underfunded. In Astorgia, a letter was on show written in 1052…. It was stuck in a frame with some sticky tape” –  Christopher Howse – ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

It was mid morning by the time we left the hotel after an excellent breakfast prepared by the owner, Juan and into a stone street bathed in mellow golden sunshine where there was a simple choice – up the hill to the Alcazar or down in the opposite direction to the Cathedral.  After a short debate we decided it might be preferable to get the climb out-of-the-way and start at the top of the town and make our way slowly 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 Parador Hotel.

The Parador Hotels are classy places that are well beyond my limited budget and can be found all over Spain.  These were originally a State owned chain and were luxury hotels in old castles, palaces, convents, monasteries and other historic buildings that were established to promote quality tourism, to act as guardian of the national and artistic heritage of Spain and to assist poorer regions to attract more visitors.  They are no longer fully owned by the State and during the recession have begun to suffer financial difficulties but there didn’t appear to be a drastic shortage of guests this morning.

The present day castle was built in the twelfth century but there has been a fortress here since the Visigoths built the first in the fifth century.  Later as the Northern Kings led the Reconquest of Spain the Moors constructed a new castle on the same site but in 1124, the crusading ecclesiastic knight, Bernardo de Agen took possession of the castle and began the local Christian reconquest and the building of the Alcazar.

Sigüenza Alcazar

The castle was extended and remodelled at various times between the fourteenth and the seventeenth centuries but was partially destroyed in 1811 during the French occupation who finding the place rather easy pickings raided and sacked the town several times.  It again suffered damage during the Carlist Wars and during the Spanish Civil War when Sigüenza became part of the front line fighting during the Aragon campaign.  It had to be almost completely rebuilt after that so although it now suffers the indignity of being a hotel at least we have the Parador initiative to thank for what we see today.

It was possible to walk around parts of the old external areas but there was no getting away from the fact that the interior of the old castle is a hotel so with little or nothing to see except the reception desk, an expensive restaurant menu, some overpriced souvenirs and a couple of reproduction suits of armour we didn’t stay long and made our way down a narrow stone street towards the Plaza Mayor.

On the way we made a short detour through the maze of streets looking for the Museum Casa del Doncel, the alleged one time home of Martín Vázquez de Arce (more about him later) and after explaining several times that we were pensioners paid the concessionary fee and went inside.

I was so glad that we didn’t pay the full price because, to be honest, there wasn’t a great deal to see and it seemed as though it was either in the process of being prepared to be  a museum or it had run out of funding and was part way through the process of closing down.  It also turns out that this was not the home of Martín Vázquez de Arce anyway, it was simply the sort of house that he might have lived in and the association with him represents blatant opportunism!

On account of this it didn’t take very long to complete the tour and soon after we back outside in the sunshine at the front door of the house, a replica of which can be seen in the Poble Espanyol in Barcelona built for the International Exhibition of 1929 and  a sort of Disney World interpretation of Spain that wouldn’t be out-of-place at the EPCOT World Showcase in Florida.

Our route led us to the pedestrianised fifteenth century Plaza Mayor via a number of churches, historic houses and artisans craft shops until we eventually reached the central square of the town which although wouldn’t get into my personal top five Plaza Mayor was very pleasant indeed with renaissance architecture, iron balconies and covered colonnades, palaces and the magnificent cathedral with history dripping like Alcarria honey off the walls.

The Plaza bar was already open and doing some lazy business and we got caught by an invisible tractor beam that pulled us towards a table where we stopped for a while with the first beer of the day before setting off again through the stone pillars and across the cobbles as we left the square and made our way to the cathedral which was where we were going next.

Sigüenza Casa del Doncel