November 13, 2013

BARCELONA


 From the air Barcelona looks like a series of gift boxes, appropriate for a city that makes you feel like every day is your birthday. Fanciful sights await you if you just open the boxes. The top of every building is crowned with ornaments. And there is plenty of room to play: to walk or relax, to eat good food, to enjoy the beach.

Barcelona Fancy by Gary

Fountains by Michele
If American cities had the kind of vision the leaders of this city had in the early 1900’s, our cities would be more livable. They would have space for people, not just space for buildings and cars.











They would be compact and yet not feel dense. They would combine art at every turn (even for
Green Houses by Michele
communication towers) and they would not fear innovation.





Our hotel is in the Las Ramblas district, an area that bustles day and night. One-half block away is a dragon designed by Joan Miró for an umbrella shop.

The Umbrella  Shop by Michele


We also are not far from the Erotic Museum. I am uncertain about what is inside, but whenever “Marilyn Monroe” comes out on the balcony and lifts her white skirt, the school boys on the promenade punch one another on the shoulder and drool.

We have been in the city for eight days and traveled from one end to the other. Our favorite tourist sites were:

The extraordinary Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

This museum is filled with Medieval and Renaissance Art from the Catalan area of Spain. The interior of the building, constructed for a world exposition in 1929, has been re-designed to hold exhibits of church niches and apses in their original form.

Catalan Museum by Gary

Casa Batlló (designed by Gaudì)

I wonder how Gaudí persuaded anyone to build a house like this one and yet his work prevails throughout the city. Stop to realize that this was built at the turn of the last century.


Casa Batlló at Dusk by Michele


These are chimneys from another of Gaudí’s houses.

Rooftop by Gary

The incomparable Sagrada Familia

This work of Gaudì’s is ongoing, 87 years after his death. Even before it has been finished, UNESCO has declared it a World Heritage Site.

The artist believed that his church should be filled with light and should resemble nature.
The interior is designed, and the ceiling supported, in the same pattern as trees.

Sagrada Familia Interior by Michele
Sagrada Familia Ceiling by Gary











When completed, the church (now a basilica) will have three facades. This is the stark façade that depicts the passion of Christ (Compare the soldiers to the Gaudí chimneys)

Veronica's Veil by Michele

Palau de la Musica Catalana

This fanciful building was a project begun by the Orfeó Català, a choral society founded in 1891.

Palau Facade by Gary

I was struck by how much the Music Palace emphasizes women. It claims to have established the first women’s choir. The stage is surrounded by muses: women dressed in the clothing of different countries and playing instruments from around the world. (Two of the muses cannot be seen from the audience and are visible only to the performers.) The center of the ceiling in the main concert hall is a profusion of colored light surrounded by the faces of women singers.

Palau ceiling by Gary
The Palace offers more than 300 concerts a year and more than half a million people a year attend the musical performances. The Music Palace’s mission is to promote Catalan music as well as international music. It also presents classical music and more popular forms, such as jazz and modern music. The only musical form it does not produce is opera, because the stage’s ornate decoration does not permit the inclusion of stage sets.

Layers of Modernism by Michele

Last Note from Europe:

We will soon be making plans to return home, grateful for our many experiences and the privilege of being able to spend three months abroad, but also grateful to be back in time zones more compatible with those we love. There will be more blogs about our European trip, but no more from Europe this year.


November 7, 2013

ANDALUCIA, PART ONE


SEVILLA, ESPAña

Seville is modern; it is steeped in history.

Seville’s soul is Catholic; it has a Moorish face.

Seville is quiet; it is energetic.

Seville is warm in climate; its people are warm and engaging.

Seville is safe; it is charming.












During the week the shopping areas are closed to most motor traffic so that pedestrians can easily view the stores on both sides of the wide streets. 
On Saturday afternoons the squares are filled with families, parents drinking wine or beer, children playing, everyone talking and laughing.


The highlights of the city are its three World Heritage sites: its massive Gothic cathedral (full of gold and silver while the unfortunate beg outside), the Alcázar (a wonder—until we saw the Alhambra in Granada) and the General Archives of the Indies (which had a display of documents about the discovery of the Pacific).







JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA

We had a tour of the Tio Pepe sherry plant, where kegs are signed by royalty and other famous personages who have visited the winery. It’s amazing how quickly a group of people on tour become fast friends after two glasses of free sherry.



We also saw a demonstration of Andalusian horses at the Andalusian School for Equestrian Arts. Pictures are only allowed for a couple of minutes, so I don’t have a photo that’s good enough to share. The show, however, is spectacular! Horses dance in rhythm to the music, prance, skip, and jump into the air with all four feet off the ground.

CÓRDOBA

We heard you could enter the cathedral for free if you went to the early Mass. The fee for seniors in Spain is already a deal, as they extend it to all seniors, not just members of the EU (as in the other three countries we visited). “An extra Mass couldn’t hurt us,” we thought, and trudged across town, early in the morning.

What a blessing! A youthful choir from the University of Rochester (England), in their red robes, sang from the sculpted choir seats in the center of the Cathedral, their angelic voices kissing our heads with their grace. The Mass was concelebrated by so many priests I never got a full count. There was enough incense to fog the altar from our view. Before, and after the Mass, all the priests chanted the Hours. I am always surprised at how often the universe sends us moments that touch our hearts and inspire us as we travel.





ANDALUCIA, PART TWO


GRANADA



We went to a gypsy cave in Sacromonte, on the outskirts of Granada one evening for a flamenco show. No castanets, no partners. Just one guitar, two singers, four dancers, and a complicated pattern of hand clapping, but there is no experience in this entire trip that can compare to visiting the Alhambra in Granada. It is breathtaking and I cannot find words to describe it, so I will only include some pictures, although they do not do the subject justice.

Alhambra Columns

Alhambra Design

Alhambra Reflection

Alhambra Design

Gary's Photo of Generalife's Gardens

Gary's Photo of Moorish Lace

















ANDALUCIA, PART THREE


MÁLAGA
Picasso only lived here until he was nineteen,
but the city tries to make the most of this happenstance.

Picasso Selling Tapas


Gary Hanging Out with Picasso






The museums in Malaga obviously do not house Picasso’s best works and we found the interactive museum of musical instruments much more interesting. This picture shows a percussion and stringed instrument made from an armadillo. 
GIBRALTAR

Gibraltar is unique, almost magical. It is a self-governing territory in the English Commonwealth, only 2.6 square miles in area and home to only 30,00 people. Spain wants to possess this strategic entrance point to the Mediterranean, but the people of Gibraltar, many of Spanish descent (although their origins are international) vote heavily to maintain their independence.

We took a bus tour from Málaga that wound through the beautiful beach towns of the Costa del Sol. When we arrived at Gibraltar, the queue to get in was two hours long, so our guide told us we should disembark from the bus and walk in, as there would be no delay that way. Since the airport lies between Spain and Gibraltar we would just have to walk “through the airport,” he said. I assumed he meant the airport terminal, but, no, we walked on a wide pedestrian path, beside a road, right across the runways. A loud klaxon sounded after we passed and all vehicles and pedestrians stayed on the sidelines while a plane landed.

We visited a ginormous cave (yes, that word is in the dictionary—and appropriate here) full of stalactites and stalagmites that has been converted into a theater. We frolicked with the Barbary macaques as they came up and pulled on our trousers, their way of asking for food. The law prohibits feeding them and the fine is steep (£ 4,000), but the government cares for them, as there is a belief that the British will hold Gibraltar as long as the monkeys (an African breed) remain on the rock. For the better part of the twentieth century the military used to care for them, tracking them officially, naming them after famous British figures, and caring for them in the military hospital when ill. 

Gary's Monkey Picture

Michele's Monkey Picture























The military also built 34 miles of tunnels inside Gibraltar during World War II, which held 16,000 troops and a store of food to last for more than a year.

Touring the Tunnels

You can see Africa, the home of the monkeys, from Gibraltar! I don’t know why that was so exciting, but I felt like a child who had just seen a fairy!