Category: 2011 Europe

Barcelona – Thriving, Busy, Crowded And Lot’s Of Fun

The Final Leg Of Our Spain Adventure
A very comfortable 6 hour train journey from San Sebastian saw us arrive in Barcelona mid afternoon. We then caught the Metro 5 stops and popped up just in front of our apartment which is located on La Rambla in the heart of Barcelona. For those that have not been to Barcelona, La Rambla is the main thoroughfare between the centre of Barcelona and the waterfront. It only has one lane of traffic each way and a wide pedestrian walkway full of restaurants, gift shops, flower sellers and of course, the essential street entertainers. A fun place to spend our 6 days in the city but a little noisy at times.

La Rambla at midnight from our apartment – Still busy

Down To The Waterfront …
Our nephew, Tim works for a large yachting conglomerate (Azzurra) that was competing in the Audi Med Cup whilst we were here, so we organised to go down to Cup Headquarters for a tour. Tim is part of the land crew that looks after maintenance and repairs to the boat, as well as undertaking all the rigging of the boat each time they build a new boat each year. It was interesting to see all the crews preparing for racing which was due to commence that day at 11:00 am.

Azzurra out on the water

It was great to catch up with Tim and meet his Spanish partner, Noa and enjoy their company over drinks and a couple of dinners before they returned to Palma following the finish of the Audi Med Cup.

Rob, Nao and Tim enjoying a beer at a local bar before dinner

Hop On – Hop Off
We had prebooked the hop on- hop off bus as it is a great way to orientate yourselves in a big city like Barcelona. With a short coffee stop in between it took 5 hours to complete both the East route and West route, but it did enable us to get a good feel of the city and where we would like to visit during our stay. Barcelona is very spread out and so you need either the bus or Metro to get to where you want to go other than a few of the sights close to the city centre.

Hop On – Hop Off Bus – A good way to get an overview of Barcelona

To The Castle …
That afternoon the weather had cooled down so we decided to head to the Parc de Montjuic. To get there is no mean feat. First a Metro ride, then a funicular railway, then a chairlift and you are at the Castell de Montjuic which is perched on top of the mountian with 360 degree views of Barcelona. A walk around the castle and a rewarding beer for getting there and we were off again.

Chairlift on Montjuic

Castell de Montjuic

The Olympic Stadium …
We took the chairlift partway down the mountain and then walked to the Olympic Stadium where the Barcelona Olympic Games were held in 1992. The stadium which is now about 80 years old was completely rebuilt for the Olympics but retained its external facade from the original construction. It is a beautiful stadium with a great atmosphere and is now used for athletics, other sporting events and pop concerts.

Main Entrance to the Olympic Stadium

Inside the Stadium

Exploring The Downtown Area …
Saturday we spent exploring the main downtown area of the city, walking everywhere rather than taking the Metro. In particular we went to see two of the famous architect, Antoni Gaudi landmarks. The first was Casa Mila, also known as La Pedrera which was constructed between 1906 and 1910. Apparently the building and the chimneys assisted in inspiring Steven Spielberg’s development of Star Wars. See the photo of the chimneys which look a lot like Darth Vader.

Guadi’s Casa Mila, also known as La Pedrera

Chimneys on La Pedrera – Inspired Darth Vader

The second of these houses is a short walk from Casa Mila and is called Casa Batlló. From the outside, the facade of Casa Batlló looks like it has been made from skulls and bones. The “Skulls” are in fact balconies and the “bones” are supporting pillars. Gaudi used colours and shapes found in marine life as inspiration for his creativity in this building, and as a result it contains brightly coloured ceramics, particularly the roof.

The Incredible Casa Batlló – Another Guadi Masterpiece

Sunday – A Day In The Parks …
Up early on Sunday morning and took the bus to Park Guell which is another Guadi landmark. This park was originally planned as an exclusive housing estate which failed and was eventually sold to the local Municipal Government and converted into a park. Designed by Antoni Guadi the park features much of his work and is well worth a visit. From there back on the bus and to our next stop, Tibidabo Mountain. To get there you firstly need to take a tram ride in an historic tram and then a funicular to the top of the mountain. Complete with an amusement park and a cathedral this park offers fantastic views over Barcelona.

Entrance to Park Guell – Designed by Antoni Guadi

Fun Park and Cathedral on Mount Tibidabo

A Day Of Contrast …
Monday turned out to be a very interesting day. We had a tour booked for the Sagrada Familia (Guadi Cathedral) but needed to fill in the morning so decided to go to the largest of the local markets in Barcelona, Mercat del Encants. Neither of us have seen a greater array of junk than this market contained, but there were locals by the thousand there all buying bits and pieces for their homes. It was a culture shock but interesting none the less. From there we walked across the road to one of the largest shopping centres in Barcelona. A nice centre but not in the same league as Chadstone Shopping Centre.

Mercat del Encants – Junk everywhere

Sagrada Familia – Guadi Cathedral …
We decided to book a guided tour of this cathedral, firstly to beat the queues to get in, but also to gain a real appreciation of the genius of Antoni Guadi, the architect. Whilst the outside of this building is nothing short of spectacular, it is not until you walk inside that you appreciate the grand scale of the construction.

Facade on the east side – The Nativity

About Its Construction …
Work commenced on the Cathedral in 1882 and Antoni Guadi was appointed chief architect 18 months later after the original architect resigned. Guadi was to spend 40 years of his life on the design and construction of this building and knew he would never see it completed. He did however leave detailed models and plans of the building and these are still being used today to guide modern architects and engineers in its construction. Target completion date is 2026 which is the 100 year anniversary of the death of Guadi who was knocked over by a tram in Barcelona. So if it is completed on schedule it will have taken 144 years to build.

Facade on the west side – The Passion

About The Cathedral …
Externally the east and west facades have been completed. The east being a representation of the Nativity and Christs early years and the west side called the Passion, representing the later years of Christs life leading up to his death and resurection. What has not yet been built is the main entrance to the cathedral which will face South and represent Glory.

Inside of the Basilica

Ceiling of the Basilica

Nothing Prepares You For Walking Inside …
We have visited many great Churches and basilicas but nothing prepares you for walking into this Cathedral for the first time. It really does take your breath away as you stand in awe of what Guadi conceived and how people have been able to construct this building. The interior represents a forest with tall trees branching out to a canopy of leaves and palm fronds with glimpses of light peaking through, just as you would see in a real forest. Stained glass adds to the effect, although in many cases this will not be installed until the building is near completion.

Another view of the ceiling which representd a forest

To The Top Of The Spire …
A visit to Sagrada Familia would not be complete without a trip up one of the spires. The spire has a lift which takes you up 75 metres and then you walk the last 10 meters. From the top you get a birds eye view of Barlcelona. You then walk down the 85 metres via a spiral staircase back to ground level. A great experience but not for people who don’t like heights.

View of Barcelona from the spire

The spiral staircase looking down – 85 meters

Despedida de España, vamos a volver …
So we bid farewell to Spain after 4 1/2 weeks. We have visited 10 cities, been involved in festivals and mixed with the locals and visitors alike. It’s now on to Singapore and home.

Sagrada Familiar (Holy Family) Basilica – The Antoni Guadi Masterpiece …
I have included a video of this architectual masterpiece to try and give visitors to our blog an appreciation of this magnificent building.

YouTube Video

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:La Rambla, Barcelona, Spain

San Sebastian – A Beautiful Northern Spain City

Departing Salamanca …
A short bus ride to Salamanca Station and we were on our way to San Sebastian, a 6 hour journey by train. Travelling by train in Spain is economical, efficient and very comfortable. A much better choice than driving because of the long distances. We arrived in San Sebastian late afternoon and were able to walk to our hotel about 600 meters from the station.

The landscape shortly after leaving Salamanca

A Change In Landscape, A Change In Language …
What was noticeable travelling north is how we left behind the dry farming landscape and came into green mountain ranges with small villages scattered along the way. Also a change in the housing style from the white villas to a more french style of housing. The other change that was noticeable was the change in language. Down south the language is Castillian (Spanish) in the north west it is mainly Euskera (Basque), quite a different language. So just as you are getting the hang of one language, there is a change that completely throws you. You find all menus, street signs and many shop signs are in both languages.

A change in lanscape from South to North

A City With Everything …
San Sebastian really is a city with everything to offer. A “Centro Historica”, old town, a modern retail commercial district, fantastic beaches with good surf and plenty of open space. Having now visited, we now understand why it is such a popular tourist destination.

Fabulous surfing beach, lots of white pointers

Centro Historica or old town of San Sebastian

Our First Full Day …
We spent the day exploring the old town and then decided to take the 2km hike to the top of Mount Urguli where there is a castle and a 20 meter high statue of Jesus which is visible across the entire city. Having caught our breath we visited the free Musuem located in the castle, giving the history of San Sebastian, then took the compulsory photos of the town and Jesus to prove we had reached the top of the mount.

Bay of La Concha with Island of Santa Clara

Jesus from the castle

Old town (foreground) and retail/commercial district

Traditional Spanish Lunch …
After our pilgrimage to see Jesus we went back down to the old town for a traditional lunch of tapas and beer. It really is a great way to eat. You grab a plate, help yourself to the tapas you desire, order a beer and sit down to feast, all without paying. Want more, just go back and help yourself to more. When you have finished just tell the barman what you had and he charges. An honesty system and nobody seems to do the wrong thing.

Tapas on the bar where we had lunch

Siesta – Almost Compulsory In Spain …
We have found that siestas are an essential part of the day in Spain. Not only do most of the shops close for about 3 hours, but it is necessary to catch your breath for the night out, as most locals do not eat till 10:00pm. Even at 9:00pm most resaurants are nearly empty except for a few tourists that have not adjusted. Tapas bars on the other hand are full as most locals have a drink and a couple of tapas to get them through to the evening meal.

San Sebastian at night-a different atmosphere

Viva la France …
We met a young couple from the Canary Islands in town the night before, who recommended to us a short trip to France and so we took on the challenge. A bit of research on bus routes and before we knew it we were on our way to France. Hondarribia is the closest northwestern town to the border and just across the river you are in Hendaye, France. So a €1.60 ferry ride and we were in France. Not many people can claim to have had breakfast in Spain, morning tea in France and lunch back in Spain.

The historic town of Hondarribia

Funiculee, Funicular …
We caught the bus back to San Sebastian then took another bus around the Bay of La Concha to the funicular railway. This funicular takes you to the top of Mount Igueldo where there is a hotel and a small amusement park, but for us, fantastic views of San Sebastian. We then walked from the funicular all the way back to the old town via the boardwalk. This walk earnt us a glass of wine and tapas in the old town.

View from the top of Mount Igueldo

Boardwalk and beach

Farewell to San Sebastian …
So after three great days it was farewell to beautiful San Sebastian and a 6 hour train journey to Barcelona for the next part of our holiday.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Sebastian, Spain

Salamanca – A Major University Town

Off To Salamanca …
Salamanca is located about 200km due west of Madrid, 2 1/2 hours by train and has one of the oldest Universities in Spain. University starts back from the summer break mid September so our train was full of young people heading to Salamanca for their first semester.

The landscape from the train, typical for the entire journey

Surprise, Surprise – Another Festival …
Our train arrived on time and we caught the local bus to Plaza Mayor where our hotel was located. We didn’t realize until we reached our hotel that a big festival had just begun and was running for the following week. The town was alive with people enjoying the party style atmosphere. There was entertainment around each corner with lots of taverns serving food and drinks at very cheap prices all day long.

One of the many taverns around the old town set up for the festival

About The Festival
After a walk around the old town we visited the tourist information office to get a program for the festival called the “La Virgen de la Vega”, (The Virgin of the Valley) The festival is important to the locals because she was the patron saint that assisted in defending the city from invading enemy troops during the Spanish War of Succession in 1706. The festival which goes for a week has the widest range of entertainment and cultural events you could imagine and it was a great time to be in Salamanca.

Entertainment at one of the taverns

Our First (And Only) Bullfight
Part of the festival was the traditional art of bullfighting. Yes, it is considered an art not a sport in Spain, and it is something we consider you should see only once. A bullfight consists of six bulls & three matadors with each matador being accompanied by two assistants. In a little over two hours the matadors each kill two bulls or “toros” as they are known in Spain.

Matadors assistant testing the agression of the bull

Following the killing of the bull the crowd reacts depending on how they judge the spectacle. In our case, one of the matadors received a great deal of cheering and was awarded the ears of the bull as a prize. He then paraded around the arena showing off his prize to the cheers of the crowd.

Matador just after he has stabbed the bull with his sword

Bullfighting is an amazing specatacle with a lot of crowd participation. It has deep cultural roots in Spain hence the reason for its survival. It is something we are glad we witnessed, but would not ever consider going again because of the cruelty. What is interesting though is that following the killing, the bull is butchered and the meat sold to high class restaurants, so if you have had a nice steak in Spain, chances are you were a participant in the end result of a bullfight.

Bull being removed after the kill

Some Light Relief – A Concert …
We caught a bus back from the bullfight, enjoyed a meal at one of the taverns and then went to Plaza Mayor (pronounced may-or) to find a fantastic concert was in full swing featuring two Spanish groups; “Folk On Crest” and “La Banda del Soplo”. They played until midnight to a crowd of many thousands in the Plaza. A fantastic atmosphere and a great start to our time in Salamanca.

Concert in full swing at Plaza Mayor

A Medieval Market
Part of the festival was a medieval market selling all sorts of jewelery, soaps, food stuffs and toys with all the store holders dressed in medieval costumes. There were around 50 stallholders including a couple of very unique medieval taverns selling a wide range of typical local food. The market was complete with wandering minstrals and it made you really feel you were back in medieval times.

A stall holder at the medieval market

Entertainment and Taverns Everywhere …
Following our visit to the medieval market we walked the town. Everywhere we looked there was entertainment and taverns including another concert in the Plaza. During our time in Salamanca, we attended all three night time concerts and enjoyed the variety of entertainment.

Street entertainers at one of the many taverns

A Festival Full Of Suprises …
Sunday was a big day for the festival with processions through the town, an historic folk concert in the Plaza, and to our total surprise and half way through the folk concert, about 200 motor bikes all revving their engines and with a police escort, ride into the Plaza. All this going on whilst the folk concert was in full swing. Talk about contrast. The bikies parked their bikes and proceeded to watch the concert until it finished then departed the Plaza.

Folk concert in full swing

Motor bikes on display in the Plaza Mayor

A Sad Farewell …
It was with some reluctance that we departed Salamanca. It is a beautiful city, the young people are all happy and smiling having a great time before uni starts and we did not see one instance of drunkeness or bad behaviour in our three days. In fact, in our three weeks so far in Spain, we have not seen anything that has given us any concerns.

Crowd enjoying a comedy concert in one of the Plazas

If you will be offended don’t watch. We do not condone this artform.

YouTube Video

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Salamanca, Spain


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