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Spain

BARCELONA – WHACKY ARCHITECTURAL DELIGHT

sunny 35 °C

After a long, hot day of driving we arrived at the seaside town of Moncofa in Valençia province. We had chosen this as a halfway stop between Granada and Barcelona. We met a pleasant Irish couple parked on the campsite next to ours, and after a chat and a beer, we all headed off along the beach front in search of tapas for supper. We had a fun evening together, then set off the next day for Barcelona, as we had arranged to meet and chat with a medical doctor, who ran an integrative medical clinic in the city, at the end of the week.

It was a stressful trip, as we had to negotiate Barcelona at rush hour, then travel another 30 minutes further north to Camping Barcelona at Matarό. Being so relieved to have finally arrived, with the journey taking us several hours longer than we had calculated, David tried to turn left into the campsite without noticing that it involved crossing a solid line! Instantly, a Spanish cop on his bike was alongside, and screaming and angrily gesticulating at us! Most unnerving, to say the least, especially as we were still shell-shocked after our robbery and the horrid response of the Spanish authorities to our plight!
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It was a lovely campsite, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, but also the most expensive [at €45 per day], that we have stayed at. Many extras were included in the price, such as free shuttle buses to the beach and shops, and an inexpensive bus into the city. By now it was summer holiday season, and the site and pool were bustling with visitors. We tried setting up in the pitch they allocated, but had to move with the hour, as our neighbour's drainage vent was blocked and beyond foetid. In desperation we poured Toilet Duck in and around the drain, burned incense, and breathed through tissues, but soon gave that up and moved to another, less stinky, pitch a bit further along. Stultifying heat and stench are not welcome companions!

The next day we booked a bus ride into the city, and were dropped at the Plaça de Catalunya, the heaving heart of the city.
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Leading from the Plaça is the renowned la Rambla; a wide, tree-lined pedestrianised boulevard, all the way down to the harbour, full of stalls, buskers and animals for sale in cages. We had to queue for 30 minutes before we could get onto a Bus Turistic for a audio-guided full-day tour of the city sights. Subsequent hop-on-hop-off buses were more frequent - thank goodness, because standing in queues in the intense heat was no fun.

We started along the Passeig de Gràcia, where several architects had competed with each other in designing and building the most fanciful buildings in the Modernista style. The most famous of these is Antoni Gaudi, who designed and built many of Barcelona’s most extravagant buildings in the early part of the 20th century. A journey into the inner workings of his creative mind would be fascinating!
Casa Lleo-Morera

Casa Lleo-Morera


Casa Amatller next to Casa Batllό with its undulating chimneys (Gaudi 1906)

Casa Amatller next to Casa Batllό with its undulating chimneys (Gaudi 1906)


Casa Batllό

Casa Batllό


Further up, on the opposite side of the street, one finds la Pedrera [named after the quarry in Catalan, from where the stone came], also designed by Gaudi in 1910.
IMG_3228.jpgThe wrought iron balconies evoke the motion of waves.

The wrought iron balconies evoke the motion of waves.


Gaudi even designed the street lamps in this part of town

Gaudi even designed the street lamps in this part of town

The church of la Sagrada Familia is awe-inspiring in being so different to any other place of worship we have ever seen. It has continually been under construction since 1882, and Gaudi spent 43 years of his life on it. The building works continue as public donations come in, and it should be complete by 2030. It will have 18 towers; one for each of the 12 Apostles, 4 Evangelists, Mary and Jesus.
IMG_3243.jpgIMG_3244.jpgThe Crucifixion tableau above the front entrance.

The Crucifixion tableau above the front entrance.

We had a steep climb from the bus stop to visit Park Güell, named after Gaudi’s patron Count Güell. Initially designed as a residential garden city, it never took off commercially and later became a municipal park integrating his architectural work into nature.
One of two gatehouses; could this be the original gingerbread house?

One of two gatehouses; could this be the original gingerbread house?

The other gatehouse; every surface is covered in broken tiles.

The other gatehouse; every surface is covered in broken tiles.


The salamander or dragon fountain

The salamander or dragon fountain


Ornate tiled bosses on the ceiling of the market hall, which supports the seating area above

Ornate tiled bosses on the ceiling of the market hall, which supports the seating area above


An arcade of stone trunks, with no purpose other than to support a path above.

An arcade of stone trunks, with no purpose other than to support a path above.


The long, curved bench, built by Gaudi's assistant, snakes around the whole seating area.

The long, curved bench, built by Gaudi's assistant, snakes around the whole seating area.

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Another fountain with the Market hall behind.

Another fountain with the Market hall behind.

View over the gatehouse towards the city and the sea.

View over the gatehouse towards the city and the sea.


Pretty statues in a shop window nearby

Pretty statues in a shop window nearby

Back on a bus, we passed the huge roundabout called Plaça d’Espanya with its central monumental fountain.
IMG_3235.jpgIMG_3237.jpgScooters are obviously the most popular way to get around the city.

Scooters are obviously the most popular way to get around the city.


Huge joints of smoked ham are ubiquitous, and obviously savoured by the Spaniards.

Huge joints of smoked ham are ubiquitous, and obviously savoured by the Spaniards.


An un-named but attractive old building in central Barcelona.

An un-named but attractive old building in central Barcelona.

We rode up another hill, past the 1992 Olympic stadium on Montjuϊc, from where one has a magnificent view over the city from the Montjuϊc botanical gardens. There is an intriguing Jewish burial ground, dug into the vertical side of the hill,which we would love to explore on a future visit. Finally, we disembarked in the Barri Gòtic, and wandered through the streets of the old Roman quarter, but were too tired to visit the Cathedral.

It had been a long, very hot day, and we certainly managed to pack a lot into the day. By the time we had staggered back to the train, [luckily] caught the last campsite shuttle, and arrived back at the campsite at 11pm, we thoroughly exhausted.

The next day we had arranged to visit the doctor and her clinic at 0900, so had to make an early start. We had to walk 2km to the rail station, as it was too early for the campsite shuttle. The train ran all the way along the coast, passing miles of beautiful beaches. Then from Estaciό de Sants station, we had another 30 minute walk to Av Diagonale, where she had her offices. The whole building was in Art Deco style with a charming old elevator.
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Montserrat was a charming lady, who spoke reasonable English, but unfortunately the effort expended in getting to see her did not really justify the benefit gained from our visit.
A modern glass-fronted office building in Av Diagonale

A modern glass-fronted office building in Av Diagonale

As soon as we got back to Camping Barcelona, we left for France. When we crossed the border, we both felt immediately at peace and sensed the return of equilibrium to our souls. Although we had seen some sights of great beauty, Spain had proved to be a challenging struggle.
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Posted by davidsandi 09:50 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

THE HIGHLIGHT AND THE LOW-LIFE OF GRANADA

sunny 40 °C

The road from Portugal to Granada was baking hot and exceedingly dry. Surprisingly, the service stations along the route provided no shade for heat-drained travellers, so we had to wind out the awning for some respite, while we ate our watermelon, which had chilled slightly in our little fridge [it really takes strain trying to operate in the heat, which is perverse, as that is when we need it the most!]. We realised that most of the locals have the luxury of getting out of their air-conditioned cars, straight into the air-conditioned restaurants for their refreshments!
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The arid landscape was covered in rows of olive trees, as far as one could see, and beyond.
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The sunflowers in the fields, like us, could not take the intense heat and drooped their heads en masse.
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We saw several “farms” of countless rows of solar panels, which seem to be a big industry in this part of Spain.

The city of Grenada nestles in a valley overlooked by the snow-topped Sierra Nevada range.
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Our campsite at Suspiro del Moro, Otura, was 10km south of the city. It was pleasant enough with a large swimming pool and restaurant, where we had a delicious salad for supper.

The next day heralded our long-awaited visit to the Alhambra, which we had pre-booked on-line. On advice, we planned to take the local bus, only to discover from the bus-driver that the bus route went nowhere near the Alhambra! So we rushed back to the campsite and jumped in the van, as we had a timed entry to the Nasrid Palace complex. At the Alhambra, we were chased out of the shady parking area by an aggressive Spanish security guard on a scooter, and directed to park much further away, in another park, without shade, which he decided was for vehicles such as ours. The fact that we had to pay exactly the same parking fees, without equal amenities, was of no interest to him in the least.
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We spent the next few hours exploring the majestic, and yet intricate, beauty of the Alhambra palace city. The name is from the Arabic for the local reddish clay from which it was built. It dates back to the 9th century when it was used as a fortress. In the 13th century the first Nasrid king built his palace on the site, which commands a spectacular view over Granada city.

Once again it was hot, hot, hot, and we rested in the gardens for a while, stopping to photograph the roses and waterlilies.
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Remnants of the servants' quarters adjacent to the gardens.

Remnants of the servants' quarters adjacent to the gardens.

We popped into an artisan studio and shop to admire the intricate inlay and marquetry on display. We were so enthralled with the beauty of the finished products, and the skill displayed in creating them, that we bought an exquisite little table to be shipped back home. We were both excited to have invested in such a beautiful heirloom and can't wait to see it again.
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Our timed and controlled visit [along with only 300 others] allowed us into the Nasrid Palace at 12.00, with its intricate carvings adorning the walls and ceilings.
IMG_3167.jpgIMG_3166.jpgIMG_3168.jpgIMG_3177.jpgIMG_3183.jpgThe walls are covered in Arabic script telling many stories

The walls are covered in Arabic script telling many stories

The intricately carved ceiling of the Hall of Two Sisters

The intricately carved ceiling of the Hall of Two Sisters


IMG_3189.jpgThe Court of the Myrtles

The Court of the Myrtles


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The many rooms and courtyards were relatively cool in the heat of the midday sun.
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Apart from the Muslim history and architecture, there is also a big Christian influence: Emperor Charles V built his Renaissance Palace within the complex, the courtyard of which is used for concerts.
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It houses the Alhambra museum, containing many interesting artifacts from the palaces, including this exquisite urn, of which David sneaked a photo while the guard’s back was turned.
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David explored the Alcazaba Fortress on his own as Sandi was too exhausted by the heat to climb another step.
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After the long walk uphill back to the van, we were aghast to discover the sliding door standing ajar! Oh No! We peered fearfully inside to see everything topsy-turvy. Sandi immediately looked for the 2 laptops, but they were gone from their hiding place. We were paralysed! How could this happen to us? What do we do now? The violation was compounded by the indignity of finding Sandi’s underwear and toiletries scattered everywhere, assuming the thieves were looking for jewellery or other valuables. We realised too, that our 3 precious bottles of Rioja Gran Reserva had also been stolen! We had bought them to celebrate each of our birthdays and our 30th wedding anniversary in August, knowing that partying in Ireland would not be an option later. The low-lifes had ignored the 6 bottles of cheap Rioja wine, and made off with the special ones.

Feeling numb, we drove down to find security, but all we could find was the nasty little man who had caused this problem by chasing us away. He did not, or refused to, understand a word of English, but took us to the office, where another man tried to take a statement from David, which was difficult, given the language barrier. He claimed that there was nothing to see on the security cameras. He directed us to take his Spanish statement to the Police Commissioner in Grenada city to file a report. He really wasn’t bothered by our situation, and never expressed any concern or apology. Frustrated, and feeling angry with ourselves for all the things we “could have” done differently, and thoroughly depressed, we limped back to the campsite.

The main laptop contained Sandi’s travel labours with 18 months of research, book, and business work contained therein, besides all the rest of her computer data spanning years and years, plus all our photos, music etc. etc. She was about to back up onto the external hard-drive before we left Portugal, but ran out of time. We would therefore have to rely on the previous backup, which we had paid an IT expert to save for us, several weeks earlier in Cape Town, and which the thieves had not found. So although there would be a 6-week loss of data, we tried to be grateful for small mercies, as we could at least recover our photos and all the old data files barring the previous 6 weeks work [of which there was plenty!]. It was not until much later that we discovered even more devastation, relating to the back-up! Somehow the IT guy had duffed the back-up, and less than 10% of Sandi's total data had been saved. We contacted him later to ask what had happened, but he couldn't explain it, so we just had to accept it and move on. Depressing, frustrating, confusing ....... the words to describe how we felt have not yet been invented!

That evening we persuaded the receptionist to let us use her computer to do some damage control. Firstly, it was not easy to get any help as it was a Sunday night, the World Cup Final, and Spain was winning [the fireworks and celebrations went on for days afterwards!] Our bank security codes were in a document on the computer, so we were worried that our accounts would be cleaned out by the morning. We needed to change passwords etc., but were both running out of airtime, and it was impossible to get any top-ups locally. Our friend Bernie, in Scotland, thankfully came to the rescue by buying a top-up in Scotland and phoning the code through to us, so that we could make the necessary calls - an exercise also fraught with obstacles.
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Since we had to report the theft to the police in Granada we booked an extra day at the campsite and caught the bus into the city. We found the Police Commissioner, but he could not speak any English and wasn’t bothered! We gleaned that he wanted us to phone our statement to a central police operator who would speak English. So out we traipsed again to do his bidding. When we tried phoning the number, it would not accept an international call [our mobile phones were on “roaming”]. David then put the call through from a public callbox, but the instructions were all in Spanish, so again we hit a wall! Luckily we found a helpful lady at the Tourist office, who called the number, followed the instructions and connected David with an “English-speaking” person. He then proceeded to take down a statement, including the birth dates and maiden names of David’s parents! He directed us back to the Police Commissioner, who would download the statement for David to sign. After another grilling as to the veracity of the details, the policeman printed out about 12 copies, each of which had to be signed. Finally, we had a copy for our insurance, but…..it was all in Spanish!

Seeing as we had wasted the better part of the day, and seen nothing of the city, we decided to have a look at the Cathedral, which is apparently quite special. After getting lost a few times, we eventually found it, only to discover it was closed for the next few hours for la siesta! By now we were so weary, hot and thirsty we could barely think and decided to head back to the campsite to collect the van and set off on plan B without wasting any more time. This entailed heading off to the biggest computer warehouse, to replace at least one laptop so that we could try to make contact with the greater world again. Not so easy, as we soon discovered that all the laptops have Spanish keyboards and Spanish software! Again Bernie came to the rescue, and offered to courier her spare laptop to our next stop-over in France. It was a wonderful gesture, which gave us a glimmer of light to look forward to, but in the end it didn’t work out, and we had to wait until we got back to the UK before being able to buy another one.

That evening, though still very heavy of heart, we sought comfort in food, and ate the most scrumptious paella at the camp-site restaurant.
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Posted by davidsandi 03:06 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

RIOJA WINE AND CORK TREES

We crossed the Pyrenees through the long Somport tunnel and could not believe how the country on the Spanish side is so arid in comparison with the lushness of France. The dryness was suddenly relieved by the incredibly turquoise blue water of the Yesa Dam. We wondered whether it was radioactive, as there was hardly any sign of human habitation along its shores!
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We passed Pamplona, with only days to go before the annual Running of the Bulls Festival.
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Villages such as this one, Berdun, are built on hilltops.

Villages such as this one, Berdun, are built on hilltops.


IMG_2913.jpgLots of windpower in N Spain although La Mancha is much further south!

Lots of windpower in N Spain although La Mancha is much further south!


Our first campsite in Estella had a swimming pool, which was a great relief after the long, dry and hot drive.

We then had 2 days in Logroño, the capital of the Rioja wine region. Our campsite was conveniently located, 10 minutes walk from the centre of the old town, next to the sludgy river Ebro. We visited the cathedral de Santa Maria de la Redonda to try to escape the oppressive heat.
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The highly ornate wall behind the altar was awe-inspiring, and worth paying 1 euro to light it up.
IMG_2944.jpgIMG_2947.jpgBeautiful statues but no tombs like the English cathedrals.

Beautiful statues but no tombs like the English cathedrals.


An artwork attributed to Michelangelo is kept securely barricaded behind the altar, but we declined to pay to light it up.
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A meal at a pavement cafe was good value [€9.90 for 3 courses with bread, a bottle of water and a bottle of wine] and enough to lay us out for the rest of the afternoon. Oh, la siesta is a wonderful idea!

The next day we wanted to visit a bodega [winery] to sample the renowned Rioja wines. In Spain one has to make an appointment to taste wines! The first two bodegas David phoned only had tours in Spanish that day, and “no” we couldn’t just come and taste! We were given an appointment at Bodegas Ontanon for 12.00, and arrived to find an extremely plush, family-run establishment.
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Our guide gave us a fascinating tour for an hour.
The cellar where the Gran Reserva is left to mature in bottles for 3 years, after being in oak casks for 2 years.

The cellar where the Gran Reserva is left to mature in bottles for 3 years, after being in oak casks for 2 years.


The many beautiful sculptures and stained glass artworks throughout the cellar were specially created to reflect the Greek mythology of viticulture.
IMG_2955.jpgA Centaur, with Oinopion, son of Dionysius and Ariadne, on his back.

A Centaur, with Oinopion, son of Dionysius and Ariadne, on his back.

Persephone is credited with giving birth to the first grape pip, and this beautiful statue shows her breast-feeding it.

Persephone is credited with giving birth to the first grape pip, and this beautiful statue shows her breast-feeding it.


Both sides of her face, light and dark, representing summer and winter seasons, are reflected around her on the marble walls.

Both sides of her face, light and dark, representing summer and winter seasons, are reflected around her on the marble walls.

The love story between Dionysius and Ariadne.

The love story between Dionysius and Ariadne.


IMG_2971.jpgBacchus

Bacchus

Ganymede, the cup-bearer of Zeus, provides the link between the cellar and the outside world.

Ganymede, the cup-bearer of Zeus, provides the link between the cellar and the outside world.


The wine-tasting itself was an experience to be remembered; our guide, Jesus, showed us in detail how to taste their Reserva 2001 for 30 minutes, then produced some tapas, after which we had to taste again and see how differently the wine tastes. We only tasted two wines, but how heavenly they were! We could only afford to buy three bottles of the good stuff, which we decided to keep for our birthdays.
Relaxing with a beer later in Plaza San Augustin to beat the heat.

Relaxing with a beer later in Plaza San Augustin to beat the heat.

We still had two days of hard driving before we reached the Algarve. Central Spain is very arid and the roads very straight and long.
Vineyards in the Rioja district.

Vineyards in the Rioja district.

Poppies amongst the wheat.

Poppies amongst the wheat.

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Our Molly [GPS] again let us down by taking us around in circles, looking for our campsite near Plasencia, which was our half-way stop between Logrono and Albufeira. When we eventually found it, more by luck than persistence, we were pleased to find a shady pitch and a large swimming pool. That night we both got massacred by mozzies, and David started the runs for the next 5 days.
Millions of cork trees in Spain and Portugal along our route. Many have been harvested, the lighter the colour the more recently harvested.

Millions of cork trees in Spain and Portugal along our route. Many have been harvested, the lighter the colour the more recently harvested.

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Ubiquitous olive plantations.

Ubiquitous olive plantations.

Storks are everywhere, and structures are often erected to encourage them to nest.

Storks are everywhere, and structures are often erected to encourage them to nest.

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Finally, at the end of the second day we arrived in Albufeira, in the Algarve region of south Portugal.

Posted by davidsandi 10:40 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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