Tag Archives: Walt Disney

Alternative Twelve Treasures of Spain – Segovia, Aqueduct, Alcazar and Cathedral

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“Here were churches, castles, and medieval walls standing sharp in the evening light, but all dwarfed by that extraordinary phenomenon of masonry, the Roman aqueduct, which overshadowed the whole…’The Aqueduct’, said the farmer, pointing with his whip, in case by chance I had failed to notice it.” Laurie Lee – ‘As I walked out one Sunny Morning’

The “Twelve Treasures of the Kingdom of Spain” was a contest/poll that was conducted by the Spanish Television Company Antena 3 and the radio broadcaster Cope.  The final results were announced on 31st December 2007.  I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the eight out of the twelve that I have visited and having completed that I thought I might come up with a personal alternative twelve.

Top of my personal list is my current favourite city in Spain – Segovia in Castilla y Leon…

On a first visit there we walked out into the sociable main square and followed a street adjacent to the Cathedral and walked in the direction of the Alcázar, which, by some measures, is the most visited castle in Spain.  The route took us through narrow streets, past artisan craft shops and churches and eventually brought us out at the north of the city on the top of a rocky outcrop that was the location of the fortress that was begun in the twelfth century and was subsequently occupied by a succession of Castilian monarchs from Alfonso X to Phillip II and Charles III.  In the nineteenth century it was destroyed by fire but was restored to its present magnificent status soon after.

Segovia and the Spanish tourist board would have us believe that the Alcázar was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella’s Castle at Disneyland and Disneyworld but there is no real evidence to support this. In fact it is more likely that the famous icon of the Disney empire was inspired principally by Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria and several picturesque French palaces, most notably Louis XIV’s Versailles although I like to think that it is also quite possible that the Alcázar in Segovia may also have been an important influence as well.

The Alcazar of Segovia above and Walt Disney Castle below…

Cinderella's Castle Walt Disney World Florida

We purchased tickets to visit the Alcázar and paid a little extra to climb to the top of the Torre de Juan II (total price €6 each). The castle was busy with a coach full of Japanese tourists and several school visits so we had to try and arrange our journey through the rooms and exhibits to try and avoid the busy sections and the crowds.

After visiting the state rooms and the armouries we ended our visit with a climb of three hundred and twenty steps up the spiral staircase to the top of the tower where we were rewarded for our efforts with fabulous views over the city and the surrounding countryside.

Leaving the Alcázar gardens we followed the old city wall along its northern side where there were good views over the river valley below and a barren plain stretching away in infinity towards mountains in the north. The city walls were not so impressive as those in Ávila however and eventually we left the old city through the Puerta de San Cebrián and followed a small road past the Santa Cruz monastery and the City’s bullring to the nearby village of San Lorenzo.

Here there was a splendid church in a main square lined on every side with medieval houses and little shops. I imagine that this pretty little place becomes quite congested in the summer but today it was unhurried and charming and the local people paid no attention to us as they went about their business.

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Leaving the village we returned to Segovia through a modern residential development and entered the City at the Plaza de la Artilleria, the bus station underneath the Aqueduct and from where we roamed leisurely through the streets past Romanesque churches and Renaissance palace residencies and older medieval buildings and it was by now time for a beer and a tapas so we selected a bar with tables in the sun and sat and enjoyed watching the residents of Segovia as they went about their business of the day in probably the same way that they have for a thousand years. A walk around the square, a sit down, a chat, a walk around the square, a sit down, a chat and so on and so on.

If the Alcázar isn’t enough for one city the Aqueduct is the most recognised and famous historical symbol of Segovia. It was built at the end of first to early second century AD by the Romans during their occupation of the Iberian Peninsula to bring water from the Río Frío about eighteen kilometres away and requiring an elevated section in its final kilometer from the Sierra de Guadarrama to the walls of the old town. This is supported by an engineering achievement of one hundred and sixty-six arches and one hundred and twenty pillars constructed on two levels. It is twenty eight metres high and constructed with over twenty thousand large, rough-hewn granite blocks, which are joined without mortar or clamps and have remained in place for two thousand years.

We liked the Aqueduct and looked all round it from every possible angle, it is one of those structures that make you appreciate just how brilliant the Romans were. I never tire of visiting these ancient structures, I feel privileged to able to enjoy them and the sense of wonderment is never diminished no matter how many I see.

There was only one more thing to do in Segovia so after a refreshment break we went to the Cathedral to finish off the day. The building was completed in 1577 and is regarded as the World’s last great Gothic Cathedral. There was an admission charge again, which seems to becoming quite normal, so we paid the €3 and then entered what I suggest is quite possibly the coldest cathedral in Spain and probably all of Europe.

We were inappropriately dressed for sub-zero temperatures and although the cathedral was well worth the admission charge and the visit it was too cold to enjoy it so we sprinted around the naves and the chapels with rather indecent haste and were glad to come about again into the sunshine with only seconds to go before hypothermia set in.

Later in the agreeable afternoon sunshine we needed to warm up so we ambled around the pretty little streets, bought some wine from a little shop near to the hotel and then went back to the room to drink it and look out from our balcony over the square at the late afternoon activity. The Sercotel Infanta Isabel was a good hotel in an excellent location and we enjoyed the setting and the atmosphere as we drank our bottle of local Spanish wine and thoughts turned to dining arrangements for the evening.

 

Around the World in Eighty Minutes – Part Eight

American Adventure

So, that’s it, I started off with a simple recollection post about EPCOT World Showcase at Disney World, Florida and then I took off around the World to compare Disney with the real places that I have visited.

I have taken a look at the United Kingdom, GermanyItaly, France, Norway and Morocco but I can’t post about Canada, Mexico, China or Japan because I haven’t been to those countries yet.

In the course of writing, dragging up memories and doing some research I started to think more deeply about World Showcase and became intrigued by the rationale behind the concept, design and construction and in particular the reasons why these eleven countries in particular were chosen for inclusion in the park.

This is partly explained by the fact that the Walt Disney Corporation, strapped for cash, tried to find sponsors for the showcased countries and failed in all but one attempt – Morocco.  This in turn explains why some of the Pavilions are so disappointing, the absence of rides and attractions and the over reliance on shops and restaurants all designed to get visitors to part with their money.

But the failure to attract government sponsorship or private sector investment still leaves us with almost a dozen countries and no explanation why these eleven so I have been giving the matter some thought and whilst at first the inclusion appears to be rather random I think there is a credible reason for almost all of them.

The United States is of course obvious and requires no explanation for its inclusion or for the fact that it occupies the prime position on the World Showcase Lagoon and is the biggest and the most lavish and expensive of all the Pavilions.

Canada EPCOT Postcard  044 Mexico EPCOT

Canada and Mexico are easily explained.  It would be rude I suppose not to have your nearest neighbours ( it would be like EPCOT World Showcase in England without Wales and Scotland) but there are some important statistics that reveal that it is not just about being neighbourly.  In terms of tourism by international visitors these two countries make up over half of all travellers visiting the United States and according to official data in 2013* Canada with over twenty-three and a half million visitors provided 34% of all international visitors and Mexico with fourteen and a half million contributed 21%.  Way behind in third place was United Kingdom with 5.5%.

The inclusion of Mexico is even more easily explained by looking at population statistics that reveal that the second highest number of foreign born residents in the United States (by a very long way) is Mexican.

It is easy to see therefore that the inclusion of these two countries makes obvious commercial sense.  Strange however, and this is just a personal view, that the two Pavilions provide the contrast between the best (Mexico) and one of the worst (Canada).

EPCOT England   germany world showcase 1

And so we move on to Europe with five of the eleven Pavilions coming from the second smallest continent –  but why these five, why not Spain or Greece, Poland or Sweden and once again I am rather easily convinced that it is based on US ethnic ancestry and visitor numbers.

In terms of ancestry the top ten European nationalities (in this order) are Germany, Ireland, England, Italy, Poland, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Scotland and Sweden.  Germany (at 17%) genuinely surprised me and explained immediately why it is at World Showcase but (at almost 11%) why no Ireland? Why Norway and not Sweden? I suppose Poland, at the time of construction, was part of the Warsaw Pact alliance and that might have ruled it out but why not Holland because surely all of those windmills and canals would have made a great attraction.

Visitor numbers also explain why these countries are here because four of the five (but not Norway) are in the top ten of international visitors to the United States.

ITALY EPCOT  Boulogne Street Entertainer

Japan and China must be explained by visitor numbers.  After Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom Japan contributes the fourth most visitors to the United States and China is also firmly in the top ten. Conversely, in the top ten but not represented at EPCOT are Brazil, South Korea and Australia.

Of all the countries at the EPCOT World Showcase I suppose the easiest to explain is Morocco and this is in part due to the fact that the 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.

I cynically conclude that any country could potentially be included if the government of that country was prepared to stump up the cash.

Epcot World Showcase

So who is missing?  Well, there is nothing from South America but the United Kingdom itself provides more visitors to the USA than the whole of Latin America combined so perhaps there is a clue there?  And apart from state funded Morocco there is nothing from Africa which might be considered surprising when 13% of the US population are of African descent but (and here is the crucial commercial factor) visitor numbers from the African continent are the smallest of all at only three hundred and twenty-seven thousand in 2013.

There is a small African Trading Post and Disney excuses the omission by pointing out that there is an entire African themed park at the nearby Animal Kingdom.

Finally, I have been giving some consideration to an alternative World Showcase and here are my suggestions:

Moscow Metro Park Pobedy

Parthenon Acropolis Athens

First, Australia with an IMAX film narrated by Mel Gibson and Kylie Minogue and a ride based on the theme of the World’s deadliest snakes.  Then Russia  because now the Cold War is ended there must surely be space for Red Square and the Kremlin and a Moscow Metro ride.  Next, Brazil, with a ride based on the Rio Carnival and then Peru because Machu Picchu would be a good replacement for the Mexico Aztec pyramid. After that, Egypt with a Nile Cruise ride;  India and a train journey ride to visit the Taj Mahal and the Golden Temple of Amritsar;  Equatorial Africa, which was once suggested but abandoned.  And from Europe:  Greece with a visit to Mount Olympus to meet the mythical gods in an animatronic show; Spain and the legend of El Cid and the Conquistadors and the Netherlands with a cruise of the Amsterdam canals (leaving out the red light district as not being entirely appropriate for children).

And finally, wouldn’t it be fun to include the World’s smallest sovereign state – The Vatican – with a roller coaster ride around St Peter’s Basilica!

Francesco Pizzaro Trujillo Extremadura Spain  Amsterdam by DelphSt Peter's Square, Rome  Ireland Cliffs of Moher

Whoops, Sorry, I nearly forgot Ireland, lets have twelve countries (it’s my list and my rules) and let’s  have a visit to the Cliffs of Moher (sponsored by Guinness).

Please let me know your suggestions, I would be interested in your views…

* US National Travel and Tourism Office.

Around the World in Eighty Minutes – Part Six, France

France EPCOT

For people who imagine that Paris is full of men in berets, black and white hooped shirts, a string of onions around their necks, playing the accordion and speaking like Peter Sellers in the ‘Pink Panther’ films then EPCOT  is wonderfully accurate but actually I think I have to say that it is probably one of the worst representations of all in World Showcase.

That’s because I believe that  the only way to see Paris is to do it properly as I did when I visited the French capital in 2002 and rather like EPCOT, where you can see a whole country in just a few minutes, I saw the major sites in a foot-slogging, energy-sapping half a day and invented what my son subsequently called ‘speed-sightseeing’!

We started at the Avenue des Champs-Élysées where the traffic circle surrounding the Arc de Triomphe was extremely intimidating.  There are no lanes and none of the usual rules of driving etiquette as hundreds of cars race and weave in and out of each other like dodgem cars at a fairground.  The French have a ludicrous driving rule called priorité à droite where vehicles from the right always have priority at junctions and roundabouts.

This rule is in fact so ludicrous that even the French themselves have seen the sense of virtually abandoning elsewhere in the country but it remains the rule here at the busiest roundabout in France (probably) and cars entering the circle have the right-of-way whilst those in the circle must yield.  Braking is forbidden and the use of the horn is compulsory, there is no apparent lane discipline that I could make out and entering the roundabout is an extended game of ‘chance’ where drivers simply waited to see whose nerve would fold and who would yield first.

  

We approached the Arc from the Champs Élysées and as far as I could see there was no safe way of crossing and getting to the monument until we eventually found the underground tunnel which took us safely below the traffic chaos above and into the Place de Charles de Gaulle. We shunned the elevator and climbed the steps instead to the top of the fifty metre high building (the second largest triumphal arch in the World) and enjoyed the views of the boulevards and roads converging and radiating away from this famous landmark.  Close by we could see the Eiffel Tower and this was where we were going next.

The Eiffel Tower is an iron lattice tower located on the Champ de Mars and has become both a global icon of France and one of the most recognizable structures in the world.  The tower is the tallest building in Paris and the most-visited paid monument in the world.  Named for its designer, engineer Gustave Eiffel, the tower was built as the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair.  It is 324 metres tall, about the same height as an 81-story building.  Upon its completion, it surpassed the Washington Monument to assume the title of tallest man-made structure in the world, a title it held for forty-one years, until the Chrysler Building in New York City was built in 1930.

The tower has three levels but we didn’t have time to stand in the queue for the first stage elevator so we took all six hundred steps to the second level and we would have climbed to the very top if we could but the third level is only accessible by an expensive lift.  I have visited the Eiffel Tower four times now; in 1979 on a Town Twinning visit to Evreux in Normandy, in 1990 on a weekend trip with some work colleagues to celebrate a new career, this occasion and finally in 2004, the last time that I visited Paris.  Unfortunately on every occasion the weather has been overcast and I have never enjoyed the clear views that should really be possible from the top.

World Showcase Epcot

Our next stop was Notre Dame Cathedral but as we had walked quite a distance already we took a Batou Mouche barge ride the short distance the River to the Ile de Cîte and as the vessel made its way through the centre of the city we soaked up the historic sites along both banks from the viewing platform at the back of the boat.

Although we had already climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe and half way up the Eiffel Tower we bought tickets and waited in line to climb to the top of the Cathedral but sadly by the time we reached the top and walked around the external galleries the mist had returned and wrapped Paris in a gloomy grey shroud again.

We were beginning to flag by now and as it was late afternoon we walked a little further around the streets of old Paris and then took a metro back to Montmartre where we walked along the boulevard with its seedy sex establishments and grubby shops and into the touristy cobbled back streets of the district famous for painters, night-life and a red-light district.  I found a shop to buy some beer and we rested for a while at the hotel before going out again in the evening when we walked to the Sacré Coeur Cathedral which on account of it being built on the highest point in the city involved an energy sapping walk which more or less finished Jonathan off for the day!

The plan was to find somewhere to eat but he was so tired that he preferred my suggestion of returning to the hotel and like all good Parisians I would fetch a McDonalds meal from around the corner and we would just stay in and crash! So we did just that.

The real Paris is a much better experience than the EPCOT version except in one respect – EPCOT has no dog shit all over the pavements which is something that really spoils Paris and most other major cities in France.

EPCOT France

Travels in Spain, The Alcázar of Segovia

Segovia and the Spanish tourist board would have us believe that the Alcázar was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella’s Castle at Disneyland in California and Disneyworld in Florida but there is no real evidence to support this and in fact it is more likely that the famous icon of the Disney empire was inspired principally by Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria and several French palaces, most notably Louis XIV’s Versailles.  Having visited the Magic Kingdom I am inclined to agree with this although, being generous, it is always possible that the Alcázar in Segovia may also have been an important influence as well.

Read the full story…

Disneyland Paris

Disneyland paris 01

When we had suggested a visit to Disneyland we hadn’t really appreciated just how far it was and it was a shock when the Satnav told us that it was about three hundred kilometres and a two and a half hour journey but there was no going back now because the girls were too excited about the visit to let them down.

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Segovia – the Alcazar, Walt Disney’s Castle (Perhaps?)

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I had a disturbed nights sleep full of wild dreams because I was still feeling a bit unusual and I hadn’t slept well now since the delightful room in Belmonte but we woke to another beautiful clear morning and a sunny Plaza Mayor that had been scrupilously swept and washed in the early hours of the morning.  After two cups of tea it was time to go to breakfast and as I selected clothes I realised that I had left my favourite blue linen holiday shirt in the hotel wardrobe in Ávila and as it wasn’t practical to go back for it this was a bad start to the day.

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