Archive for October, 2012

Paradores de Tourism de España. (October 2012)

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

After experiencing the wonders of Gaudi’s Barcelona we decided to see the city from a different perspective and climbed both Montjuïc and Mount Tibidabo. They are on opposite sides of the valley and the views give you an excellent understanding of the city’s layout.

We then drove along the coast to Tarragona, past the Roman aqueduct and on to Tortosa to start our Paradore experience.

The first Spanish Paradore was opened by King Alfonso XIII in Gredos, Ávilia, in 1928.

There are now over 90 of these luxury hotels spread over Spain and the Canary Islands.

There are even some in North Africa.

Many of the hotels are in former palaces, fortresses, castles, convents and monasteries.

Being built in either public or religious buildings, a large number of Paradores occupy the high ground.

Our first night was in Paradore Tortosa.

This hotel is in a converted 10th century castle, it dominates the skyline and sits proudly over both the town and the river below.

The Gothic Cathedral of Santa Maria of Tortosa has a flat roof, this is very evident when you view it from the the Paradore above. Inside you wouldn’t know, as it has all the arches and vaults of a traditional Gothic Cathedral.

Apparently many churches were built with this flat roof style.

From Tortosa we drove via Valderrobres to Paradore Alcaniz, formerly a 12th Century Castle housing the convent of the order of Calatrava in Teruel.

We took the tour of the castle, not knowing it was only in Spanish, then tried as best we could, to understand what was going on.

It was a good lesson in what it’s like for tourists who don’t have a narration in their native tongue, or English as a second language.

We did learn, mainly from the leaflet that was in English, that these Gothic wall paintings are unique, in that they show civil scenes as well as conquests and religious themes.

The next day we went via Lleida to Cardona.

The Cathedral at Lleida also has a flat roof but again you wouldn’t know if from the high, lofty interior.

The Paradore ‘Ducs de Cardona’ is built in a ninth century castle with a tower dating from the second century.

It was the most spectacular of the three we visited.

There is a long, steep, winding driveway that takes you to the top of the hill and the Paradore. From there you have an commanding view of the town and the salt mines that have made the area famous.

It is estimated that the mountain of salt, that is opposite the hotel, is 2km deep.

We drove down into Cardona in the evening and were lucky enough to capture the sun setting on the Paradore high up on the hill.

On the way back to Barcelona we climbed the 9km of winding road to visit Monserrat.

The weather had turned stormy and the clouds hung low over the mountain, creating an erie backdrop to the monastery.

The beauty is in the detail. (October 2012)

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Barcelona owes a large debt to Antoni Gaudi.

It’s October and the crowds are still flocking to see what this genius of Art Nouveau architecture has done to churches, parks and private property.

I first visited Barcelona in 1972, Franco was in power and the Sagrada Família was a fraction of the size it is today. It has been under construction since 1882 and not due to be completed until 2026, the centennial of Gaudi’s death.

I visited again in 2005 and the workers were still there.

They are still there today however the interior is almost compete and it has now been consecrated.

What struck me most this time was the detail of the interior. The organic nature of Gaudi’s initial Nouveau designs have been echoed in every aspect.

The exterior view is still marred by cranes and scaffolding but it’s the interior that gives you an insight into Gaudi’s vision.

On the same day we also visited Casa Milà or La Padrera, an innovative example of domestic architecture, designed by Gaudi and built in 1912.

He even included an underground car park.

Again I was taken by the detail of the interior. There seems to be no angular surfaces and everything has a fluidity.

Inside La Padrera is a museum that illustrates how Gaudi, influenced by nature, approached his designs in an organic rather angular way.


Contrasts. (September 2012)

Friday, October 12th, 2012

We left grey, damp England and arrived in dark, stormy France.

Our first stop was the WWI cemetery at Armentières, where we visited the grave of Patrick O’Farrell, Thea’s third cousin, who died on February 24th, 1917.

Then to the Somme and the other historic battlefields of the Great War.

The weather suited the location of this somber place.

Names such as Villers-Bretonneux, Pozières and Le Hamel conjure up images that have been etched in our consciousness.

The Australian Memorial Park at Le Hamel, opened in 2008, commemorates General Monash’s brilliant victory on July 4th, 1918.

The site has panoramic displays that explain Monash’s strategy and the significance of particular areas of the battlefield.

There is even a panel dedicated to Manfred Von Richthofen, the Red Baron. He was shot down over this area on April 21st, 1918.

Who actually shot him down is a subject of some conjecture.

From the darkness of the Somme we journeyed to Chaufour Les Bonnières, which is only a few kilometers from Giverny, the home and garden of Claude Monet.

In total contrast, the day was bright and sunny. It even managed to warm up in the afternoon.

Monet, the founder of the French Impressionist movement, was an avid gardener and transformed the old farmyard into an Impressionist wonderland.

It’s Autumn, yet the variety and colour of the blooms were as fresh and vibrant as if it was a balmy day in early Spring.

It’s no wonder that he painted some of his most memorable pieces, en plein air, in this idyllic location.

As well as gardening, Monet’s other passion was for things Japanese, especially their woodcuts.

The house is full of these delicate impressions of Japanese 19th Century life. You can certainly understand how Monet’s love of Japan influenced his art and featured in many of the paintings from Giverny.

Even the famous bridge over the lily pond is a replica, taken from a Japanese photograph, that can be seen in the house.

The village of Giverny has been home to many artists but it’s Monet who draws the crowds.

Apart from his art it could be his influence on the weather that has something to do with it, as the next day it was back to dark and stormy skies for our return to Barcelona.

A green and pleasant land. (September 2012)

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

We have just been in England.

After 8 months of struggling with foreign languages, it was a change to be able to read a menu, understand it, then order food from it, and be understood.

The rain was ever present and the cloudy skies our constant companion.

England is green for a reason.

Our first stop was Land’s End in Cornwall.

This is a rugged, windswept coastline with the sea on three sides. Our hotel is about as far west as you can get on the English mainland and the wind tried hard all night to get into our room.

From Land’s End we headed to Dorset with a side trip to St. Michael’s Mount. This bears a striking resemblance to Mont St. Michel in France, which we visited only a few days before.

There is also an historical connection.

The church, built on the summit of the mount after the Norman invasion, around 1066, was granted to the Benedictine Abbey of Mont St. Michel.

Mount St Michael is still home to the St. Auburn family, who have been in the castle, on and off, since 1647. In 1954 the island was given to the National Trust, with the family retaining a 999-year lease to live in the castle.

Next we spent few days with friends in Burton Bradstock, Dorset, a beautiful little village on the Jurassic Coast.

The Jurassic Coast has 153 km of World Heritage coastline, that can document 180 million years of geological history.

It was made famous by the paleontologist Mary Anning, whose discoveries changed the thinking about prehistoric life.

We visited the fishing towns of Lyme Regis and West Bay, where we enjoyed an excellent lunch of local seafood, in the rain.

Then, in an attempt to stay dry, we visited Althehampton in Dorchester, a quintessential English Manor House, with beautifully preserved rooms and formal gardens.

Apart from the many water features in the gardens, there is a finely detailed marble statue of a rather stern Queen Victoria.

From the coast we drove inland to visit the Cerne Abbas Giant. Aptly named a giant as he is large in every respect.

There is a lot of conjecture about his actual age, as some say he is from the Bronze age, while common belief is that he is a lot younger.

Then to the Avebury Standing Stones, not as impressive as Stone Henge but a lot more tiring to walk around.

The final stop on our prehistoric investigation was to see the Uffington White Horse, dating back 3,000 years.

On our way to London we did a circle around the Cotswalds, starting and finishing at Burford in Oxfordshire.

In London the grey skies were still with us.

We walked along the Thames between London and Tower Bridge and got a rare view of the bridge opening to let a Brazilian war ship pass under.

To shelter from the weather, and to tie up a few loose ends, we visited the British Museum.

Having discovered how important the Rosetta Stone was to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics, I wanted to see the real thing.

This visit also gave us the opportunity to see the other 50% of the remaining marble sculptures from the Parthenon and Acropolis. There is still a great deal of sensitivity surrounding the ‘acquisition’ by Lord Elgin of these ancient artifacts. So much so that the only free piece of literature in the British Museum, is a leaflet setting out their side of this argument.

We also visited the Natural History Museum, this time to see some of the amazing fossils Mary Anning discovered in Lyme Regis.

Our final day was spent in seaside town of Southend-on-Sea.

Apart from the world’s largest pleasure pier, it doesn’t seem to have much else going for it.

Except the Turnstones.

These migratory birds, who get their name from turning stones to find their dinner, seem to spend a lot of time on one foot.

The next day we headed south to Folkestone and the Eurotunnel. This amazing engineering accomplishment takes you from England to Europe, by train, in just 35 minutes.

French posters. (September 2012)

Monday, October 8th, 2012

The French have a history of producing excellent posters.

Many are a strange combination of art, design, sales and humour.

I found this one, with a peculiar Australian perspective, in Chauffeur Les Bonnièreres.