A Travellerspoint blog


Las Palmas - Christopher Columbus wuz 'ere (Probably).

sunny 32 °C

We spent our final few days on Lanzarote driving around its volcanic landscape. The roads on the island are incredibly well built, signposted and maintained – and there is very little traffic. The views of neighbouring arid islands from various veiwpoints were spectacular. This is La Graciosa...
Perhaps the most striking feature of Lanzarote is that all the buildings are white...
The island's government strictly controls building based on the ideas of famed Canarian artist Cesar Manrique – no building can exceed 4 floors; all must be white with woodwork either natural or, near the coast, blue, or inland, green.

You've probably heard that a dance floor collapsed in Tenerife in the early hours of Sunday morning and many were injured. After our recent quad biking escapade in Zanzibar you might worry that we've now taken up night-clubbing in the Canaries – not so. In fact we've hopped islands to Gran Canaria where we are soaking up the sun on the prom in Las Palmas...
Many people are in the ocean but after getting accustomed to sea temperatures in excess of 40 Celsius in Zanzibar we decided to skip a dip and have fresh sardines on the prom for lunch...
Las Palmas is something of a enigma. It is a grand port city that lacks the chic of Cannes, the splendour of Hong Kong or the history of Venice, although there are some interesting Spanish colonial buildings...
And, being a Spanish colony, you can be certain that there is a grand cathedral fronted by an enormous plaza...
While it may not quite be Sevilla or Granada, the Island does have one thing in its favour - Las Palmas has been declared scientifically to have the best climate in the world for humans. There is absolutely no chance of a white Christmas here but we thought we might see Santa when the streets filled with hundreds of parade goers on Saturday...
We were still waiting for Rudolph and sleigh when we realised that we were watching a protest against sexual violence toward women by men. However, the many pedestrianised streets are all decked out ready for the jolly old chaps appearance.

America looms large in Las Palmas because it is claimed that Christopher Columbus stopped here in 1492 on his way to prove that the world was round and the east coast of India was just across the Atlantic. But whether or not he actually stayed in this house is widely disputed...
However, Columbus House is an excellent museum in the heart of the old city. The navigator may have even waved to the crowds from this balcony before setting off for India...
Columbus, (actually named Christophe Colon), 'discovered' America about 500 years after Norsemen first settled there, and when he returned to Spain he confidently announced that he had found the westerly passage to the Levant. Modern America was thus accidentally founded by a latecomer and total failure who is still venerated to this day in the U.S.A.

Gran Canaria is a lot greener than its volcanic neighbour Lanzarote and now we are heading into the central mountains to find some shade under the palms before we return to London. See you soon.

Posted by Hawkson 07:17 Archived in Spain Comments (3)

Life on the Moon in Lanzarote

sunny 25 °C

We chose an eco-farmhouse for our stay on the island of Lanzarote and envisaged ourselves surrounded by grazing animals while basking in the warm ocean breezes off the southwest coast of Morocco, We arrived at night and our host cautioned us not to step off the dimly lit path onto the 'flowers' as we approached the villa. We couldn't see the plants in the darkness, but with memories of Zanzibar still fresh in our minds we anticipated being surrounded by a lush tropical landscape. Then we awoke to this view of our garden!...
Where are the flowers? What happened to the tropical plants: the coconut and banana palms; the frangipane and bougainvillea? We had gone from an equatorial paradise in Zanzibar to a sterile moonscape dotted with bare mountains and vast fields of volcanic ash...
We soon realised that when our Spanish host had said, “Mind the flowers,” he was actually saying, “Mind the flows, - the lava flows...
The Canary Islands rose out of the Atlantic Ocean 15 million years ago when the earth's tectonic plates shifted and volcanoes sprouted from the sea bed to rise high into the air. The new land cooled and eventually became forested tropical islands inhabited by settlers of various ethnicities. The Spanish came in search of slaves in the 15th century and the islands were often a battleground. Then, from 1730 to 1736, the volcanoes of Lanzarote erupted repeatedly and completely blanketed the island in molten lava.
But if life throws you rocks – make a rock garden. And that's what the local grape producers have done. These are their 'fields'...
In addition to being hundreds of feet deep in volcanic ash, Lanzarote is also extremely dry. It only rains a couple of times a month and never from April to October. It might rain 3 times in November, (thankfully not this week), when daytime temperatures rarely drop below 25c. But, ingenious wine makers have found that by planting just one vine at the bottom of a wide deep hole it can get just enough moisture to survive. Judging by the number of barrels in the Bodega de Rubicon they are very successful...
The hot, dry conditions are also great for sea salt production at the salinas...
In truth, Lanzarote is just one big pumice stone. But one other asset of an island made entirely of rock is that it is surrounded by miles of fabulous sandy beaches – and that is where we are headed now. Hasta la vista...

Posted by Hawkson 10:41 Archived in Spain Comments (4)

Surprisingly Stunning Seville

sunny 25 °C

Welcome to Seville in sunny Spain where every other tree is laden with oranges...

We don’t expect to experience the ‘Wow!’ factor in every place we visit, but Seville has left us surprisingly short of sibilant superlatives. The splendiferous street scenes of central Seville coupled with the soaring architecture has sent our heads spinning…
And the sacred structures are simply superb...
The spectacular 16th century Gothic cathedral of St Mary of the See, (the Holy See – not the sea), is the largest and one of the most visited cathedrals in the world. We were lucky to catch it on a quiet day. The Cathedral’s bell tower – started by the Muslim Moors in 1184 and later finished by the Christians – has thirty seven sloping ramps instead of stairs and is probably the only wheelchair accessible medieval bell tower in the world.The views from the top of the tower are simply stunning in the sunshine…
Below the tower is the Alcazar palace that was originally a Moorish fort. It is the oldest and most opulent royal palace still in use in Europe and we had been warned that the place would be a zoo. However, by utilising our patented methods of crowd avoidance, we are able to bring you scenes of the incredible splendour as it appeared to us…
The sights of Seville are simply breathtaking and we should have stayed longer, but we managed to squeeze in an evening of Flamenco at the famous Flamenco school…
….before spending our final few hours visiting the magnificent Plaza de Espana and completely exhausting our supply of sibilant superlatives…
Now we are off to visit the Sherry bodegas of southern Spain and all too soon we will be crossing the Strait of Gibraltar to visit the souks of Morocco. There is so much to see in this part of the world that we could write a book about it?

Posted by Hawkson 01:20 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Soggy Santiago

rain 20 °C

The rain in Spain doesn’t always stay on the plain. In fact, Santiago de Compostela in the northern region of Galicia is the second wettest city in Europe and now we know that!
Santiago is the place where El Camino ends; where, after forty or more days of slogging up and down mountains and battling through rain, wind and scorching heat, the weary pilgrims collapse triumphantly on the steps of the Cathedral of St. James…
This year nearly two hundred thousand pilgrims from all corners of the world have conquered El Camino and, for many, the experience will have changed their lives forever. Here are the latest arrivals, carrying a scallop shell as tradition demands, waiting to get their final stamp of success…
We too have arrived in Santiago after a journey marred by cramped conditions, difficulty sleeping and terrible food. We didn’t walk here but we understand the pilgrims' discomfort - because we flew here on Ryanair.

Santiago de Compostela is the land of backpacks and blisters. There are few fatties here, and this is a good job because the streets are very narrow…
And the whole place is on the side of a mountain...
But it is a beautiful old city bursting with historic houses, monasteries, churches, and restaurants. The food is very good, but don’t expect to eat much before nine at night. However, while you are waiting for the kitchen to open you can fill up on local wine – it’s the same price as bottled water. For dessert, the traditional Tarta de Almandras (almond tarts) are a must…

Pilgrims have been hiking here from all over Europe since the announcement of the discovery of the remains of St. James in 812AD. However, this may have just been a stroke of marketing genius by the hoteliers of the day. Imagine that you are the publicity director of one of the rainiest places in Europe: how else do you get people off the beach?

We would like to salute people like our friends Ute, Sharron and Harvey who conquered El Camino, but we think that flying here on Ryanair was punishment enough for us.

Posted by Hawkson 11:42 Archived in Spain Comments (9)

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)

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