Tag Archives: Life

Northumberland, St Mary’s Lighthouse


Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

Get timings wrong and you will get wet feet coming back.  Local people regularly turn up here at high tide and watch and see if any unsuspecting tourists get cut off and have to either swim for it or spend the night on the island.

Clearly entertainment in Whitley Bay is seriously hard to come by!

St Mary's Lighthouse Whitley Bay


Travels in Spain, Barcelona and The Palau De La Musica

IMG_0296Palau De La Musica 02Palau De La Musica 04Palau De La Musica 03Catalan Flag Palau De La Musica

Travels in Spain, Alternative Images of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Sagrada Familia Sand Castle

Spotted on a nearby beach constructed by two children with the same imagination as Antoni Gaudi.

Looking Back, France 2017

A year ago I spent a week in Northern France with family and friends.  Click on an image to scroll through the pictures…

Travels in Spain, Eixample and the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona


“Most visits to Spain are trouble-free, but you should be alert to the existence of street crime, especially thieves using distraction techniques. Thieves often work in teams of two or more people and tend to target money and passports.”   British Foreign Office Advice

The modern parts of Barcelona are a triumph of urban planning.  We were staying in the Eixample district which was planned and built about one hundred and fifty years ago by a man called Ildefons Cerdà and is characterized by long straight streets, a strict grid pattern crossed by wide avenues and square blocks with chamfered corners all of which means that the traffic always flows freely in a slick one-way system and it is easy to navigate on foot.

Eixample, rather unimaginatively, simply translates as ‘expansion district’ and was developed when the old town of Barcelona became too small and overcrowded, the medieval city walls were demolished and the city overflowed like a river bursting its banks.  This is where to visit the Sagrada Familia and the modernist architecture of Antoni Gaudi but today we turned our backs on this and found our way to the old town and the Gothic Quarter.

Barcelona Streets 2

I mention these details about Eixample because the old town of Barcelona is a complete contrast with a maze of winding narrow streets with soaring buildings that block out the sun, where laundry hangs out to dry, shutters are thrown open like butterfly wings and  balcony gardens are stacked in the sky.

This is where to find sections of the original Roman Wall, the Jewish Quarter and the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia which although now eclipsed perhaps by Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia is the one true Roman Cathedral of Barcelona.

It is quite a nice but these days I am beginning to agree with Kim that all Cathedrals tend to be rather similar and instantly forgettable once back outside the front door so I have become interested instead in the stories of the Saints who are commemorated in these places and this I think is a good one.

Barcelona Cathedral

By the way, if you are squeamish about torture, mutilation and murder you might want to close your eyes, skip this part of the post and go straight to the next picture below.

Saint Eulalia was a thirteen year-old Christian girl who suffered martyrdom in Barcelona during the persecution of Christians in the reign of Emperor Diocletian as a consequence of refusing to renounce her faith.

The Romans subjected her to thirteen tortures…

  1. Imprisonment in a very tiny cell barely big enough for a mouse,
  2. being whipped,
  3. scourging of the flesh with metal hooks,
  4. walking barefoot on burning embers,
  5. mutilation,
  6. rubbing her wounds with rough stones,
  7. branding with cast iron,
  8. throwing boiling oil and,
  9. molten lead over her,
  10. submerged in burning lime,
  11. locked in a flea box,
  12. rolled down a hill, naked, in a barrel full of knives, swords and glass,
  13. crucified in the form of a cross.

Gothic Quarter 2

Eulalia must have been really tough cookie because even after all of this she was still alive so they finished the job by cutting off her head.  A dove is supposed to have flown from her neck following her decapitation and that is why the Cathedral keeps thirteen white geese (one for each of the tortures) in the cloister in memory of her.  Geese because doves fly away I guess.

After the Cathedral we strolled slowly to the sea front and the modern marina and then headed back to the centre along the iconic La Rambla.

Barcelona Sea Front Symbol of City

La Rambla is a riot, an eclectic mix of sights and sounds which easily strays from modern to medieval and back with impressive ease.  Here are the boutiques and tourist shops, the street statues and entertainers, the tapas bars and souvenir stalls but alongside them are the market stalls and animal livestock sales which would appear to be more appropriate to a shopping experience in the Middle Ages.

Barcelona has a reputation for being the pick-pocket capital of Europe and La Rambla is certainly a place to keep a firm grip on your wallet.  As it turned out we didn’t need Santa Eulalia to look out for us because we had Kim.  Ever since being robbed on the Athens Metro she is always suspicious and ever  alert to danger and paced out La Rambla with eyes swiveling left and right, up and down like Liam Neeson after four shots of double espresso and forever heeding her warnings we successfully negotiated the walk from south to north before arriving safely back in Plaça Catalunya and what had become our favourite lunchtime café.

Barcelona Streets 3

Other Unlikely Saint Stories…

Saint James and Santiago de Compostela

Saint Patrick and Ireland

Saint Spiridon and Corfu

Saint Janurius and the Miracle of The Blood

Travels in Spain, Catalonia – A New State for Europe

Catalonia Ceramic Tile Map

“… Spain, so long obsessed with the unity of authority, will loosen itself one day into a federal state… this redistribution of its powers will prove to be the most distinctly Spanish contribution to the progress of the nation states.” – Jan Morris – ‘Spain

I had been to Catalonia before but on that occasion without knowing as much as I do now I had a lot to learn.  That within the Spanish Constitution it is defined as a ‘Nationality’ and enjoys significant regional autonomy it has its own distinct language and is culturally very different to the Spain of Castile.  There is no mention here of El Cid or Don Quixote but rather of Antoni Gaudi and Salvador Dali and in 2012 the Catalan parliament even banned the iconic Spanish sport of bull fighting.

Catalan Flag Palau De La Musica

A bit of quick history – Catalonia was created by Charlemagne as a buffer state to protect the northern Frankish Empire from the threat of further northern expansion by the Moors and like all buffer states that has meant a turbulent history, squeezed between more powerful neighbours, its borders frequently rearranged, dismantled, absorbed and passed back and forth like a baton in a relay race depending upon the prevailing balance of power.

In 1492 Catholic Spain was united through the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella and the new power based in Madrid favoured Seville and Cadiz over Catalonia for monopoly of the New World trade routes and sea there power gradually declined, later there was conflict with Madrid again during the Thirty Year’s War and then The War of The Spanish Succession when Catalonia seemed to have an unfortunate tendency to back the losing side and then suffer the inevitable consequences when it came to peace and settlement.

During and after the Spanish Civil War  Catalonia was one of the last Republican and Socialist areas to fall to the Nationalists of General Franco and then paid the price through years of recriminations, subjugation and suppression of its language and culture as the fascist government in Madrid set out to stamp the authority of Castile on its troublesome region.

Barcelona Casa Battlo Chimneys

The most recent conflict came  very recently.  A controversial independence referendum was held in October 2017, declared illegal one month later and suspended by the Constitutional Court of Spain because it breached the 1978 Constitution. In October, the Court suspended the Catalan Parliament after President Carles Puigdemont signed a declaration of independence.

In response the Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy dismissed the Executive Council of Catalonia, dissolving the Parliament of Catalonia. The referendum led to the arrests of several pro-independence politicians and Puigdemont fled into exile in Belgium.

Today the concept of independent Catalonia is not recognized or supported by the European Union or the international community, which regards the region as an integral part of the Kingdom of Spain.

Sagrada Familia Statues

Everywhere in Barcelona there are a lot of buildings draped with the red and gold flag of Catalonia, some already anticipating a successful transition to independence and rather prematurely announcing themselves as ‘A New State for Europe’. Everywhere there are Catalan flags and symbols, Catalan always comes first in guide books and menus, shops don’t sell King Felipe souvenirs, on official guides the flag of Spain is almost always defaced and the away team colours of FC Barcelona are the red and gold of Catalonia.

Here in Barcelona the hotel staff told me that they considered themselves to be Catalan first and Spanish second although they feared that any referendum for independence would ultimately fail because of the inherent conservatism of the older generation and because, whatever the outcome of a vote, Madrid would simply never allow it.

Barcelona Sea Front Symbol of City

I have to conclude that Catalonia certainly doesn’t feel like the classic Spain of Castile but then again Andalusia doesn’t actually feel like the classic Spain of Castile either. I have now visited fifteen of the seventeen Autonomous Communities and I would find it very difficult to choose one that I might then suggest is most representative of the usual English vision and expectation of Spain.  Castile must come close, or perhaps Valencia or even Extremadura, certainly not Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria or the Basque Country and I am yet to travel to La Rioja or Navarre so cannot offer an opinion on these.

As well as history, economics is a major driving force behind the independence movement because Catalonia is one of the most prosperous of the Spanish Communities and although it enjoys considerable autonomy it resents contributing almost 20% of revenues paid to Madrid and feels hard done by in terms of inward investment in their region in return.

It is the sixth largest region, has the sixth largest coastline and is sixth largest by population density (second overall after Andalusia).  If it were to achieve independence it would be the twelfth smallest state in Europe just slightly larger than Belgium but a bit smaller than the Netherlands, it would have ninety of Spain’s five hundred and fifty blue flag beaches (16%) and six of its forty-four World Heritage sites (14%).

This is me with two life size figures dressed in Catalan National Costume…

Catalan National Dress and Independence

Travels in Spain, Alternative Images of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Sagrada Familia Tiles 02Sagrada Familia Tiles 01

Two tile mosaics from the Sagrada Familia Metro Station directly below the Temple.  I am afraid that I cannot explain the flying saucer that appears top left in the first!