Archive for the ‘Cities’ Category

Barcelona – Day Trip to Montserrat   10 comments

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A week in the city and time for a day out in the countryside. The Mountain area of Montserrat is a well know day trip from Barcelona and very well organised on public transport. A direct train from the city to the bottom of the mountains, a cable car ride or funicular railway to the centre and a couple of other funiculars to get around. All included on one ticket. Easy

The train journey was a relaxing way to kick off, trundling through the suburbs before reaching open country and the first glimpse of this amazing range of mountains through the window

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It was pretty chilly when we hopped off the train to wait for the cable car. I worried we might not have dressed appropriately for cool mountain weather. The cable car was a fantastic way to make the trip into the heart of the mountains

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Montserrat is a hugely significant and sacred place in Catalonian culture. It felt fitting to visit it now in the midst of the current situation. The Monastery, Monestir de Montserrat is the home to La Moreneta, (the “Little Brown One” or Black Virgin”) a wooden sculpture of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus. It’s a sacred relic of Catalonian culture.

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The small complex of buildings also houses a museum with some original works by Caravaggio, El Greco and Picasso.

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We took a brief wander around in the morning sun, pleased that our fears about cold temperatures were unfounded. It was warm and wonderfully sunny

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We’d come more to explore some of the walks as well as the Monastery. We took a trip down below the main complex firstly as I figured it would be in the sun for another hour or so. A short funicular railway eases the burden

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The views are spectacular and you get your first views of the weird towers of limestone that form this unique landscape

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The one on the left is called the elephant rock

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There is a level path that wanders around to the chapel of Santa Cova, built into the rock

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We returned to the village (if that’s the right word) and being close to lunchtime decided to head up the longer funicular to the top to eat our picnic

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The views back down to the Monastery were great and showed how high the railway takes you

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However the views across to the limestone pinnacles and formations was magnificent

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Found a warm spot in the sun to eat our picnic with views all around. Not a bad place for lunch

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TJF decided she didn’t fancy a walk and was happy to sit around and catch some rays. Me, TJS and TBF headed off across the amazing path that cuts across the base of some of the pinnacles and into the heart of the mountains

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There were flags on most of the pinnacles and several people climbing them. You can see one party strung out below the summit in the photo below

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It’s an amazing place and even though we didn’t want to walk far and leave TJF alone for too long, the views and the easy path just draw you along

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There is a viewing platform where you can look across to the high point of Sant Jeroni. It was tempting to try to reach the top but we didn’t have time

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The views all around and the warm sunshine and blue sky would have to do

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Panorama mode was engaged to try to capture the full effect

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Another pinnacle with flags on top and people climbing

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On the way back I spotted a path that looked like an alternative way back to the railway. TJS and TBF returned to collect TJF and I went exploring

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It climbed with ever-increasing steepness that had me blowing hard when I reached the top. The views just got better and better

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Here’s one of the climbers just topping out on one of the pinnacles

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The area is crisscrossed with trails and looks a fab place for a full day walking route around these monoliths and many chapels secreted within

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On the way down the route traversed an airy ledge and short tunnel through the rock. Very exciting

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A brief walk past the Ermita de Sant Joan to meet the rest of the family

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A magnificent and all too short walk

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We were back down in time for a better look at the Monastery before the sun dipped behind the mountains

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Its beautiful inside, more reminiscent of the churches we saw in Venice and Rome. La Moreneta is above the altar in the lower middle of the photo below but there was a long queue to see her up close to we left that to the more spiritual types

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A last look outside before the sun effectively set here and we headed down on the cable car to catch the train back to the city

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Something completely different from our city experiences. A grand day out.

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Barcelona – Montjuic Castle & Olympic Park   10 comments

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We paid a brief evening visit to Montjuic on our first day but it deserved more attention. After one of our lunches in the market we headed up to take a look at the castle and beyond

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We walked up the top part of the hill to work off the excesses of lunch past this rather nice water feature and cascades, the Mirador de l’Alcalde

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The views through the trees to city below were very fine

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We decided to give the castle a go as it was, by Barcelona standards, reasonably priced

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It’s not terribly old having been built in the 17th and 18th Centuries and has been used more to bomb and destroy the city in the civil war and various uprisings than defend it. The site has several guns still in place

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The views across both the commercial and pleasure harbours as well as the city are superb, more than making up for the fact that the castle is well sited, well-kept and intriguing rather than genuinely interesting

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It’s clearly not one of Barcelona’s main attractions as there were only a handful of people there.

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All the better for us as we had time to stroll around in the peace and quiet and soak up the views and the abundant sunshine

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The main industrial port complex of the city

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It was pretty hot up here so many rests were needed

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A very relaxing and pleasant stroll for a couple of hours

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I tried to find some of the gardens listed in my guide-book on our way back down but only seemed to find roads and dusty kerbs. Almost by surprise we came across the 1992 Olympic Stadium

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I was even more surprised to find that you can just wander in and take a look for free – most unlike Barcelona

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It was rather cool to be able to see inside, made up a bit for not doing the Camp Nou tour

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The stadium looks a little tired but the Olympic Park itself is still rather grand and completely deserted

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Not entirely sure what this tower is. Some kind of telecommunications mast I think. It looked quite impressive with the sun behind

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I really enjoyed looking round the Olympic site (my first one)

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We carried on down the hill past the Palau Nacional and its art galleries

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Its an ornately grand building visible from all over the city

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It has a massive fountain at the base of the steps

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Very impressive in the late afternoon sun

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We’d be back here on our last night – more in a later post

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We finished our long walk at Placa Espanya with its Venice San Marco replica towers, insane traffic and bewildering underground world of subways and metro stations

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Barcelona – Sagrada Familia   10 comments

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Barcelona’s most famous site and its most visited one. Another you have to book ahead to be sure of getting in and we chose the morning. Despite the fact that it was only a few minutes walk from the apartment it only comes into view when your almost underneath it

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The entrance was under the Nativity Facade and we took a quick look before we took our trip up the tower on the Passion Facade

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The views from the top were impressive but very much obscured by protective mesh and scaffolding.

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You can only see one part of the city and the area you can explore is very small

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The views from the Bunkers del Carmel were much better and I’d suggest that paying the extra to go up the tower is probably not worth it. I think in years past there was an extremely narrow and airy bridge between the towers you could walk across. It doesn’t seem to be there any more (possibly it was structural while the towers were being built)

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Back down and we picked up our audio guide (which was excellent by the way) and gave this extraordinary building, the pinnacle of Gaudi’s ambitions, the attention its deserves. The level of detail is staggering to try to take in.

It feels kind of special to be able to witness a building of such complexity and design taking shape and what the intentions are rather than historians trying to re-create those intentions from historical artefacts.

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This is the green cypress tree, a refuge for the white doves of peace in a storm

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I was immediately struck by the intricate detailing of the Nativity Facade, one those parts completed in Gaudi’s lifetime under his direct supervision. It depicts the details of the birth of Christ and you could look at the details for hours and still see something new

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It’s a breathtaking introduction before you step inside

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Even the doors are works of art and represent the diversity of life in a forest. Gaudi’s work was heavily influenced by what he saw in nature

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Once you step inside the effect is quite simply staggering. The roof is supported by a forest of pillars and sprouting branches. The forest analogy is entirely accurate as this effect was intentional. Gaudi wanted to recreate the feeling of a natural forest and he expanded that thought to how the interior is lit. The branching pillars were also of significant structural importance allowing the roof load to be spread more evenly and thus reduce the thickness of the pillars themselves

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Having been lucky enough to visit St Peters in Rome I was able to recollect the massive pillars that supported the dome there and compare them to their slender cousins here

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The pillars are made of for different types of stone to bear the weight in different areas

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I mentioned the forest theme and that is also a feature of the lighting. The intended effect is of the dappled light through branches that you would see in a sunlit forest. Gaudi wanted to retain that close link between the natural world, spiritual beliefs and his own architectural designs. Once you see and study his buildings, even someone with no architectural knowledge like me can see these same patterns and influences in all his buildings and those of his contemporaries. He hated straight lines. There were none in nature he contended

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The stained glass on either side is also designed to match natures cycles. The cool greens and blues of dawn on one side and the darker red and orange tones of sunset on the other

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It was consecrated in 2010 by the Pope and the audio guide recreated the choirs singing. I’m not a religious person in any way but I have to say that standing there listening to the music was uplifting

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As ever photos just can’t do it justice. More than any other of the buildings we visited on our travels this year, this is the one you just have to see for yourself. Words and images just cannot convey what an utterly staggering, unusual, unique and breathtaking building it is

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We stepped outside to look at the Passion Facade that depicts images from Christs death

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Less detailed but perhaps appropriate given the sombre nature of the subject. Gaudi was long dead when the work here was completed by sculptor Josep Subirachs with his own angular style, very different to Gaudi himself. If you look at the bottom left figure in the photo below, called the evangelist, it’s based on a likeness Gaudi himself. A small tribute by the sculptor

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This cryptogram has numbers that add up to 33, the age of Christ at his death

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An explanation in the museum under the church

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The museum was extensive and excellent, containing a whole host of information about Gaudi, the Sagrada and many other things. You could also look into the workshop where they use intricate models, using 3-D Printers to assist with what must be an engineering nightmare of bringing Gaudi’s vision to life

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We wandered back through the inside for another mouth agape look at this extraordinary place

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We took a last wander around the outside from where you can get a better view of the enormous scale of the building

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A bit of background. Its been under construction now for over 100 years and is still far from finished. At the moment its only 2/3 of its final height when finished which seems quite amazing considering the height it is already. This video gives a view into the future as to what it will look like when it’s finished, especiallly the Glory Facade which is still under construction

Estimates range from 2026 to sometime after 2040. It will be worth the wait

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The tower outlines are apparently inspired by the peaks of Montserrat outside the city. More on that in a later post

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I have read a few disparaging remarks (one compared it melting wax candle) and the construction has been plagued with controversy and incident over the years. It is hard to appreciate it completely while it’s under construction and dominated by tower cranes but on the other hand its special to be allowed to still visit in such circumstances

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I think its a truly stunning building and a marvel of design, form and architecture. One of the truly unique sights of the modern world

 

Posted November 15, 2017 by surfnslide in Barcelona, Cities

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Barcelona – Food!   12 comments

One of the real pleasures of Barcelona is food! A special short post to celebrate that fact. Any of my readers who may be Vegetarian or a little phased by dead things in shops probably ought to skip this post

One of the big surprises and a must see in the city if you visit is the Mercat de St Josep La Bouqueria. It was like no other food market I’ve seen

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The place was packed both times we went and its a real sensory overload for anyone who loves food. They have everything to tempt you. Fruit and Veg, dried fruit and chocolate, spices and a huge variety. Even if you don’t taste what’s on offer just looking at the stalls is an event. It really is a place not to be missed

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Being on the Mediterranean, pride of place goes to the seafood. It’s fresh in as much as most of it is still alive and still moving and they have some weird and wonderful stuff. In the photo below, bottom right are Goose Barnacles and they are seriously weird

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The sea urchin and crabs were still wriggling. One seafood stall had shrimps and while we were looking the stall holder scooped a few up and the rest all started bouncing around. It was weird and gross all at the same time

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Our special favourites however were the stalls that seemed to specialise in sales of the bits we squemish Brits no longer eat. Heads, Tripe, Lungs, Brains, Trotters and the like

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It takes me back to my childhood when we used to buy whole pigs and we would eat the lot (although I never tried brain on toast which is a Black Country delicacy!)

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On our first visit we tried some of the take away stalls for some fresh seafood

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The Funsters were also rather partial to the chocolate coated strawberrys on sticks

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The real eating heaven in the market are the Tapas bars and on our second visit I was determined to try one out

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You have to hover around and wait for a seat at the bar and we got lucky with this one. The menu is on a hand-printed sheet and you just mark off with a pencil what you want. They then cook it in front of you while you wait. I had the best fried Calamari ever and some blood sausage and onions. It was divine

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The hustle and bustle of the place is intoxicating and I absolutely loved it. Eating freshly cooked Tapas sitting a bar in the market where they source the food is quintessentially Barcelona.  It would be the first place I’d head for when I visit again. I could have lived in the place.

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A small diversion here to say that outside the market on the opposite side of the road is the Erotic Museum. Talk about sublime to ridiculous

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There was a resident Marilyn Monroe lookalike (at least that’s who I assumed she was supposed to be). We declined the offer to go in. Not really a family outing.

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Back to food. We ate out many times and it was always excellent. On our second night we ate in a very hectic but friendly restaurant on the seafront for some Paella

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The waiter took some photos so a rare chance to see yours truly

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We went back on the last day as well for another slap up meal before heading home

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We tried some amazing food. I sampled razor clams (a bit gritty for me) and Aubergines with honey and soft cheese (amazing). My favourite dish was the one below. Squid with wasabi deep fried in batter flavoured and coloured with black squid ink. It looks odd but the taste was sensational. It was another really friendly restaurant just around the corner from the apartment (we went twice)

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You need to “eat” Barcelona as well as see it!

Posted November 12, 2017 by surfnslide in Barcelona, Cities

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Barcelona – La Catedral and all things Catalonian   12 comments

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A bit of a mixed bag post to cover a bunch of stuff we did over several days that don’t warrant posts of their own

Firstly Le Catedral which presents a magnificent facade, reminiscent in many ways of Cologne Cathedral. Whilst the main structure was built between the 11th and 13th Centuries, the facade was only added in 1870

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Inside you realise what a huge and impressive structure it is. As always on a whistle stop walk around without a tripod its very difficult to capture decent images

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It has a fine display of stained glass windows

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The real delight – for me anyway – is that you can visit the roof for a few Euros

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There is a metal gangway you walk along and its really rather excellent. The old heart of the city has many large churches and from our wanders you can visit the roof of most of them, all claiming to have the best views in Barcelona!

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The younger members were struggling in the heat of the sun and needed a rest

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These two unusual bell towers caught my eye

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A distant view of the Sagrada Familia

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South West across the city

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Panorama taking in the roof and half the main tower

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The bright green ridge tiles of the building next door caught my eye

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The cloister next door was also a rather nice way out

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This is the old city’s other main church the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar. I really liked the old city and its maze of narrow streets. Very like Venice without the canals. We didn’t explore as much as I’d have liked as we wanted to be out in the sun

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Unless you’ve been living in a cave you’ll know that Barcelona is in Catalonia, much in the news of late with its squabbles over independance. We though we ought to see some Catalonian heritage and where better to start than the Camp Nou, home of the mighty Barcelona FC

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Only me and TJS went for a poke around. You can do a tour of the stadium but as with all things in the city they make a hefty charge. Its a huge stadium holding close to 100,000 and and I’d assumed it would be a towering structure. In fact most of the terraces are below ground level so from the outside it doesn’t look much.

We had a look in the club shop at some distressingly expensive merchandise (25 Euros for a baseball cap anyone?)

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We’d hoped to be able to see a game but the only one was the evening we arrived so we were out of luck. Another excellent reason to go back

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It was an interesting week to be in the city as whole independence thing was really in full swing. We’d seen a few minor protests and there had been a huge rally that had just finished the evening we arrived

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On our last day there was a big anti-independence march. All very civilised and interesting to witness

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A couple of days previously the Catalan Government had formally decalred independence prompting the chaos that we’ve seen since with leaders arrested and others effectively in exile

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The people we spoke to just seemed uncertain about what was going to happen next and how it would affect daily lives rather than any passion, one way or another. Not sure if they will achieve independence (seems unlikely) but if they do then at least we can say we were in Catalonia when it was born (in a way)

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More Catalonian sights. This is the City Hall

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And on the other side of the square the official residence of the Catalonian President, the Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya

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A short walk across town is the Catalonian Parliament Building

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Lots of Police around but an otherwise unremarkable building where some momentous events had and were to take place

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They chose a nice spot for it in the very nice Parc de la Ciutadella

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The heart of the park is the Cascada Monumental.

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Barcelona has loads of these green parrots flitting about. No idea if they are indigenous or a population spawned from escaped captives (the zoo is next door). After many attempts I finally got a decent photo

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We were in the park at the end of the day as the sun as setting when the light was just superb

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A very Catalonian experience

Barcelona – Bunkers del Carmel   10 comments

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After a lazy afternoon sunning ourselves on the roof terrace we set off for one of the city’s lesser known sites. It’s a bit off the beaten track but as luck would have it there was a regular bus there from just round the corner that had us up in the hills above the city in about half an hour.

A word here, as it seems an appropriate point, about Barcelona’s transport system. Much like Budapest its superb and cheap. You can travel anywhere in the main part of the city for just one euro (best value is the 10-trip T10 ticket). It allows you to swap between buses and the metro and even includes a couple of useful funicular railways. The metro gets you close to most sights and the buses fill in the gaps and are often a better bet than the metro. There are trams but not much use for sights etc (sad – I like trams!) The times always seemed accurate and we rarely waited more than a couple of minutes for a bus or metro. We used the buses/metro several times a day and it was useful and fun. Cost about £80 for all our travel for all four of us for a long week, which is pretty decent value

Anyway back to the story. We were heading for the Bunkers del Carmel on a hill that overlooks the city, the Turo de la Rovira. My guidebook said it was a great spot for views across the city and from where the bus dropped us off we had a first glimpse across the suburbs behind the city

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The clouds of earlier in the day had now completely gone and the sky was crystal clear. A glorious late afternoon. As we climbed to the top of the hill the views opened out and the vistas across the city to the Mediterranean Sea were breathtaking

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This shot is of the main heart of the city. Montjuic, with its castle is the distant hill, which we visited the day before and later in the week

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It was our first proper glimpse of the Sagrada Familia. A quite extraordinary construction that again we saw later in the week

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Barcelona’s very own “Gherkin”, the Torre Agbar

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The panorama shot below really gives a great feel for just how expansive the views are. Anyone who reads the blog knows I have a passion for views from hills overlooking cities and this is one of the best. High enough to give the aerial feeling yet still only a couple of miles from the city

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There is a small collection of houses up here. What a fantastic place to live

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A more expansive view inland to the hills and suburbs behind the city

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A close up of our neighbourhood. Our apartment is – I think – somewhere in the centre of the photo

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The north-eastern suburbs

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A view looking back up at the top of the hill. The Bunkers in the name are from the Spanish Civil War, an anti-aircraft battery used to defend the city from the forces of General Franco. After they were abandoned it was taken over as a shanty town. The residents made the bunkers into homes. You can still some of the ad-hoc tiled floors clearly liberated from waste tips in true Gaudi style. They managed to make the place look pretty homely according to the information boards and even devised a water supply system. Eventually the people were re-homed nearby and the site abandoned in the 1990’s

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There are a maze of paths and walls to clamber about on and its all free to access (a rarity in Barcelona!). It seems to attract a young crowd and people were gathering to watch the sunset with a picnic and cold beers. I have happily stayed with them but late afternoon, high above the city in late October it was getting chilly and we weren’t really dressed for it. Next time I’m here, I’ll come prepared

Fascinating place. Fantastic views.

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As we walked back down the light was colouring the city in a golden light, especially the Sagrada

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A final shot over the hills behind the city before the bus whisked us back down to town

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A place well worth seeking out

 

Barcelona – Park Guell   12 comments

Park Guell is one of Barcelona’s most popular attractions and one that has to be booked in advance as they limit the numbers entering the park at any one time.  It’s another of Antoni Gaudi’s great works where he went into landscape gardening. A bit of background. The wooded hillside was purchased by a Count Eusebi Guell around 1900 and Gaudi was hired to create a sort of parkland with houses for the wealthy. It never materialised and the project never really took off but not before Gaudi had created this strange wonderland of roads, walks, gatehouses, steps and garden features. It’s now a Unesco World Heritage site.

Our first stop was the Portic de la Bugadera (Portico of the Washerwoman)

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The helicoidal columns are quite extraordinary and its the first real glimpse of Gaudi’s use of the shapes and forms of nature in his architecture.

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The effect both inside and outside was mesmerizing. It gives the impression of a passage in the earth supported by tree roots

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This is the aforementioned washerwoman herself

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This is the Hypostyle Room, a covered space that would have been the market had the original project succeeded. I like the way the columns were aligned in whichever way you looked at them

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I liked the roof decorations as well

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From outside you can see both of the extraordinary porters lodges for the site. I’ve often had an image in my head of what the gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel looked like and these are the nearest thing I’ve ever seen

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They start to become familiar as you see more and more of Gaudi’s buildings and their trademark features, curves, natural shapes and embellishments

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Above the Hypostyle is one the parks most famous features, The Teatre Grec or Nature Square and its flowing Serpentine Bench. Unfortunately they are working on this at present so half of it was closed off so you couldn’t get the full effect and the crowds of people (which were large) were squeezed into half the space. It’s still a stunning feature once you’ve pushed past half of Beijing to see it. The Mosaic tile effect is called Trencadis, that is deliberately random (if that makes sense) and created from small pieces of broken tiles, often from rescued from demolished sites and unwanted materials

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The open space was planned for open air events and shows and if you can see it without scaffolding and tourists it must be a glorious place.

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Having really looked forward to seeing it, I was slightly disappointed not to see it at its best

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This area also highlights Gaudi’s engineering prowess as well as his unique design style. The whole terrace is a water catchment system, collecting water washed down the hillside, filtering it through a layer of sand and stone, depositing it in an underground cistern

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This Porters lodge houses the bookshop and you can take a look inside. TJF insisted it looked like a lighthouse. You could argue it does if you ignore the fact it’s 4 miles inland, has no light and has a cross on the top

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The other Porters Lodge (this one has a name Casa del Guarda) and houses a museum but there was a queue to get in so we settled for exterior admiration

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These steps between the lodges and the Hypostyle were very impressive (and crowded)

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Both buildings have elaborate roofs tiled in the Trencadis style

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The snake and dragon sculptures are distinctive and the subject of endless souvenirs across the city

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Gaudi lived in this house during his later years and it now house a museum (Casa-Museu Gaudi). There was a hefty charge and another queue so we declined their kind offer

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The main centre of the park has an entrance fee but the rest of the park is free to enter, huge and very fine to stroll around, containing many more features similar to the pay section

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As you climb higher, the views across the hills and over the city begin to open out. This one is Tibidabo (more in a later post)

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This is another Gaudi designed house on the estate, quite understated by his standards. I’m not sure what this one was, or indeed is, used for

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Be a damned fine place to call home though

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We finished our exploration of the park by climbing to the Turo del Calvari which had fine views over the park, surrounding hills and the city

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I left feeling slightly disappointed with Park Guell. Whether it was the crowds, the fact the serpentine bench was under repair or the poor lighting for photos in the first part of the day (sun shining through grey clouds washed everything out) I’m not sure. It was a fascinating place and glad we went but of all the stuff we did in the city it was the most underwhelming. A revisit at a quieter time perhaps when everything is open for viewing.

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