A Travellerspoint blog

October 2009

Barcelona's Street Art.

semi-overcast 18 °C

The elegant 19th century building fronting the wide tree-lined boulevards of Barcelona reminded us of Paris. Even the weather had a slight northern chill after our time in the balmy south. The appearance of coats and hats signalled the fact that we have now begun our journey towards home and winter.
Barcelona is renowned for architecture, culture, cuisine and Christopher Columbus. Here is the great sailor pointing the way to America - saying, "Just turn right when you get to Mexico."…

But Barcelona today is fundamentally about two things - its architecture and football. The most famous designer and architect was the modernist Gaudi. Antoni Gaudi died in 1926 when his great art nouveau cathedral, The Sagrada Familia, was barely off the ground. This cathedral has now taken more than a hundred years to build and some of the older parts are already looking worse for wear. This could become a permanent work in progress.
Buildings designed or influenced by Gaudi can be seen throughout the city. If you are thinking of doing a few home renos to add character to your place you might want to get a few ideas from here. How about this for kerb appeal?

There are many such artworks and, not to be outdone, today's street artists do their very best to improve on the works of Gaudi and his contemporaries. Hardly a door or wall escapes these "Picassos" of the paint spray.

Wonky English is as prevalent here as it was in south east Asia. How's this for a cafe's expensive sign!

Posted by Hawkson 04:11 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

Captives in Caravaca

sunny 27 °C

Blog followers may remember the time we were Hijacked in Hanoi, well now we’ve been held Captive in Caravaca.
Yes - that’s right - after a gruelling five hour drive on a roller coaster from Cordoba we badly needed some R and R. Dot, our borrowed SatNav gal, couldn’t help with a decent hotel, so she directed us to the Tourist information Office.
“I think you need a place of peace and serenity,” the attendant said after hearing of our bone-jarring journey. We readily agreed and eagerly headed off to the town's “other hostelry.”
And, guess what, dear readers, we ended up in a Monastery cell - a real Monastery cell in a real Monastery with real Monks.
It seems that monastic life is not so appealing as it was 400 years ago when the place was built, so the poor Monks have been reduced to letting their empty cells to mere mortals for a few bucks a night… seventy-five actually.
The two enthusiastic Monks who greeted us were very nice young men. They spoke no English but our Spanish is coming along so Sheila asked them to which order they belonged. She thought they said, “Nazarines” but it sounded more like “Nasturtiums.” (In any case they were definitely a couple of pansies). We should have run at this point - and would have done so had there been another hotel within fifty miles.
Here’s the Monastery at night - the only time we saw it.
And here’s Sheila in the cell …
The cell was, as you might expect, very Spartan. Just two very firm beds overseen by a gruesome painting of Christ with blood streaming down his face, and, in the corner of the room, a life-sized tableau of Christ’s dead body being anointed by Mary Magdalene. If these images were designed to deter hanky-panky - they definitely worked in our case.
Here’s the tableau …
According to the guidebook: Caravaca is a pretty town with many medieval streets and picturesque squares. It is the site of one of the oldest settlements in Spain and was a stronghold of the Knights Templar. It has a major fortress which was used by the Christians in their fight to oust the Muslim Moors in the 13th Century.We would love to show you some pictures, but we can’t - because, in the morning when we planned to take a tour before heading off to Barcelona, we discovered that we were prisoners.
Anyone who believes that Monks are up at dawn, taking cold showers and singing matins, would be sadly disabused here. At 8am. this lot of zealots were still in their cells with every door and window in the entire place locked and barred. We tried them all. There was no way out. We tried making noise; we stamped around the corridors and talked loudly - no one came. We were on the point of sounding the fire alarm when two very guilty looking monks slipped out of their cell and let us out.
By now it was too late for a tour so here’s another night picture.

Hasta la vista Caravaca - we'll see you in daylight next time... if we don't end up in the cells again.

Posted by Hawkson 01:01 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

The Road to Caravaca

sunny 28 °C

Bob Hope and Bing Crosby took many roads in their movies, but they never took “The Road to Caravaca” across the High Sierras from Cordoba. Why? Because few people in their right minds would choose to take this road.
Dorothy - our borrowed GPS navigator - had never been this way before, but she instinctively knew that it would be a roller coaster and did everything in her power to guide us onto the fast new Autovia that skirts the highest mountains and tunnels through others.
“There has to be a more scenic route,” said Jim as he eyed the lengthy detour that the new road took past the mountains. And we already had the experience of driving the mountainous road from Granada to Cordoba. “How much worse could it be?” he asked rhetorically.
The road from Granada the previous day had taken us through Spain’s oil patch; nearly two hundred kilometres of mountainous terrain with oil rigs dotting every square metre of the landscape in every direction. But these rigs are not the nodding donkeys that blight the landscape of Alberta or Texas. These gushers are oil trees - olive oil that is: liquid gold - Spanish gold! And there are millions of them; probably billions.
The Phoenicians are believed to have introduced olives to Spain about 4,000 years ago and now they are everywhere. Here’s a small snapshot …
….and another …
And here's one of the many refineries...
Every hillside and valley in this part of Spain is covered with olives. But we digress - which is exactly what we did when we turned off the main road and headed for the High Sierras west of Cordoba. Dorothy, (Dot to her friends), kept her cool but for over an hour insisted that we should turn around.
But the wheel was in Jim’s hands and we headed skyward; the scenery was breathtaking, the vistas were stunning. Range after range of mountains took us on a five hour switchback ride worthy of Disneyland.

Fortunately there were few other vehicles on the narrow mountain roads, but we were not alone - herds of goats still cling to these steep mountain passes.

As we traversed the high passes of the Sierra mountains we focused our thoughts on our destination - the medieval town of Caravaca, A place renowned for its revered religious relict - an altar cross containing a fragment of wood supposedly cut from the actual cross of Christ.
This icon, The Cross of Caravaca, is widely believed by ‘certain types’ to have the miraculous power to grant wishes. We are not in any way the ’certain types’ who might believe such fantasies but, as the tortuous miles of mountain roads stretched our journey into the evening, we began to wish for a fruitful end. However we needed no miracle - we had the power in our own hands. We had Mr. Visa and his flexible friend, Master Card, with us. So we decided to reward ourselves with a night to remember. We would stay in the best five star hotel in Caravaca. We would have dinner, spa, and room service breakfast - we would have the works. We set our budget at "High" for the night and the remaining miles simply slipped away as we talked of silky sheets, soft beds and haute cuisine with at least one bottle of Cava.
Dot eventually got us over the mountains and did a great job until we reached Caravaca and asked her to find us the best hotel in town. There is only one hotel, she informed us, and it’s a nothing more than a Budget Inn in a Spanish cape. "But we want something special," we protested. "We want a Ritz not a Ramada." However, arguing with a GPS receiver is about as useful as arguing with Revenue Canada.
So, how did we end up spending the night locked in a cell?
To be continued …

Posted by Hawkson 01:10 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Cordoba - City of Culture

sunny 27 °C

Cordoba may not be highlighted on everyone's tourist map because it is a very long way from anywhere, but don't be deterred - it's well worth the trip. For instance: It has this bridge which was built by the Romans ...
Note that the Romans were driven out of Spain by the Visigoths in the 5th. Century AD, but this bridge has been so well reconstructed that it looks as though the Italians only finished it last week.

The narrow, winding streets of the Jewish Quarter are also interesting, but it was the cathedral that took our breath away.
Beneath almost all of the world's greatest religious monuments lie the tattered remains of the opposition's cherished buildings. Churches, synagogues, temples and mosques have all been built from sacred materials painstakingly quarried by the vanquished members of previous faiths. But here in Cordoba the Christians had a better plan. When they re-conquered this Muslim enclave in 1236 AD they didn't knock down the magnificent mosque that had been built with stones from the destroyed Visigoth Temple, they simply turned the mosque into a cathedral.
Take a look... Does this look like a cathedral to you?
... and what about these traditional Moorish arches?

Cordoba Cathedral is absolutely breathtaking in its size and architecture. There were hundreds of sightseers in the cathedral when we took these pictures, but they simply vanished into the vastness.

The core of the mosque was turned into a more traditional Christian cathedral by a team of architects, Senors Ruiz, Praves and Ochoa, in 1523 AD. At that time they integrated the underlying Muslim structure into a gothic, renaissance, baroque transept and choir. This remodelling was controversial at the time and is still the subject of heated ecumenical argument today ... so they will probably pull it down one day and start all over again.
The work is definitely over-the-top. Not one square inch of the place has been left unadorned by oppulent, even gaudy, carvings. Here are some of the wooden choir stalls ...

Cordoba has been chosen as the European Capital of Culture for 2016 and, judging by the amount of reconstruction going on, they might have rebuilt the whole place by then.

Posted by Hawkson 11:23 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Alhambra .... A Tale of Cabbages and Kings

sunny 29 °C

Alhambra - a castle in a cabbage patch.
Neat rows of artichokes, aubergines and cabbages on the irrigated terraces of this ancient fortress disguise the fact that this was a place of conflict for thousands of years. The Muslim Moors built a castle here in 888 but the Phoenicians, Carthagens and Greeks were here nearly two thousand years before them. In the 5th. Century BC the Jews controlled this land. Then the Romans took over until the Visigoths of Northern Europe overran them in 500AD. The Arab Moors, together with the Jews, threw out the Visigoths in 711 AD. but the Christians were always knocking at the gates. The Christians finally overthrew the Muslims in 1492 - the same year that Christophe Colon claimed America for Spain.
If all of this history makes your mind spin - don’t take a guided tour of Alhambra. This place has so much history it can burst your brain. This area has been home to humans for over four-hundred thousand years. But we only saw the surface; modern history - Castles like this one built by the Arabs in 1238...
This was the home of the Sultan and his harem. Here‘s his swimming pool!

The numerous domed ceilings are simply breathtaking …
…. And so are the views across the ancient city of Granada
The Christian kings of Aragon and Andalucía built their own great palaces and cathedrals here - once they had destroyed the Muslim's mosques.
This palace is called “Generalife”


Today, Muslims, Jews and Christians from all over the world flock to see where their ancestors fought and died for world domination - if only they could learn from the history lesson they receive here.

Posted by Hawkson 02:27 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

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