Archive for January, 2013

You get what you pay for. (January 2013)

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

For our last adventure we booked a packaged deal through eDreams to Tenerife. The flights were with Ryanair, who’s positioning is ‘Low Cost’

It’s true that the initial airfare is cheap but that’s where cheap ends. If you want to reserve a seat, check-in luggage or have a drink of water, then it’s all an extra and expensive.

The weight of your suitcase is limited to 15kg and your hand luggage has a strict size and weight limit as well.

The airline staff police the line of waiting passengers, checking that they are within the limits. If you’re not then there’s a heavy price to pay.

Once you are on board the cabin staff are more anxious to sell you something than an African hawker on Barceloneta Beach in August. They try to flog you lottery tickets and to my amusement there were ads on the overhead lockers and the seat backs.

There are even ‘smokeless cigarettes’ for sale, so you aren’t forced to abstain or sneak off to the little room at the back of the plane for a quiet puff.

However the flight was on time and it was a very pleasant 3 hours journey to the Canary Islands.

Our hotel in Puerto de la Cruz was also part of the package and again relatively inexpensive.

On arrival we were told that because the hotel was full our room wasn’t that good, but if we wanted to we could change rooms in the morning.

We did change and got a much better room with a terrace and garden view, which was worthwhile considering that we were going to be there for seven days.

We were even offered a free meal in the restaurant as compensation for putting up with the dog box on the first night.

On our last night we took up the offer of the free meal and were happy that we hadn’t taken the ‘Full Board’ option. The bonus that night was an excellent bottle of wine that only cost us €6 (A$7.60).

Tenerife, with its sub tropical climate, is a destination favoured by Northern Europeans wanting to escape their bitterly cold winters.

They are there to get a tan, keep warm and drink beer.

The Canaries are Spanish and 100km to the west of Africa and the outermost region of the European Union. Tenerife is the largest island in the archipelago measuring 2,034.38 km².

We decided that we would replace ‘getting a tan’ with touring and went shopping for a hire car. We thought that a Citroen C3 was great value at €65 (A$82.40) for 3 days, that’s until we drove it.

This little car had had a tough life.

There were dints and scratches on all panels, no sun visor on the passenger side, the glove box had been screwed shut, the key was held together with gaffer tape and the warning lights on the dashboard had been blacked out.

Under the bonnet wasn’t much better.

The clutch had gone (where do clutches go?) and every time I changed down a gear the engine lost 1000+rpm. This became an issue on the climb to Mount Tiede, the highest mountain in Spain and the world’s third highest volcano.

Tiede and the Tiede National Park are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most of the park is formed by a caldera that was created when the original volcano walls collapsed into the sea about 160,000 to 220,000 years ago. This has resulted in the most spectacular moonscape appearance of towering escarpments, jagged rock formations and rubble strewn valley floor.

There is a cable car that runs to within a few hundred meters of the summit and you can then hike to the rim of the volcano, if you get permission first.

The Citroen managed the trip down the mountain with far greater ease.

On the second day we drove north east to Park Rural Anaga and enjoyed the ‘Path of the Senses’. This was through a beautifully preserved laurel woodland, one of the oldest on the planet.

Signs were placed along the walking track encouraging you to Touch, Listen, Smell and See the surrounding forest and spectacular views of the coastline.

From there we drove down to the capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife. This is a port town, and there is no hiding it, as the harbor and container cranes dominate the coastline.

We wandered through Parque Garcia Sanabria, a large urban park in the centre of Santa Cruz with its amazing cactus garden. There you can see, close up, many of the succulents and cacti that are prevalent all over Tenerife.

Buoyed by the survival of the Citroen on the first two days, we became even more adventurous on our third and final day and travelled west. Our first stop was Icod de los Vinos, a quaint village overlooking the northern coast and home to one of the world’s oldest trees. Within the Parque del Drago, with its collection of Canarian flora, is the Millenary Drago which is believed to be over 1,000 years old.

The Drago or Dragon tree is shrouded in legends and mystery and get its name from the deep red sap, known as Dragon’s Blood, that it produces.

From Icod de los Vinos we drove around the coast to Buenavista del Norte then struggled over the mountains to Santiago del Tiede and finally reached the western coastline at Los Gigantes.

Then, to the whine of the failing wheel bearings, we drove back through Parque Nacional de Tiede to Puerto de La Cruz.

We travelled over 400km around Tenerife, had a great time, and to our surprise the Citroen kept going.

When we weren’t touring around the island we were exploring the streets of Puerto de la Cruz and the nearby village of Punta Brava.

It’s a tourist town without a doubt but there are some quaint churches and interesting architecture, but for me, the tourists were the biggest attraction.

We chose to pay for reserved seats on the flight to and from Tenerife. A decision that paid for itself, if only from the looks on the faces of the other travellers. They watched in envy as we went to the front of the line, that’s after they had been standing there for at least an hour. Not only did we board the plane first but we had a row to ourselves and didn’t have to fight for overhead locker space.

This little extravagance cost us €20 (A$25) and was worth every Euro Cent.

I guess we got what we paid for.


But is it Art? (January 2013)

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

Over the last twelve months we have experienced the ‘Arts of Man’ covering a 5,000 year period.

It was therefore fitting that the last gallery I visited would be MACBA. Below is a part of their Mission Statement.

“As a public entity, the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) assumes responsibility for disseminating contemporary art, offering a diverse range of visions, and generating critical debates on art and culture, while aspiring to reach increasingly diverse audiences.”

The theme for one of the exhibits was ‘Content Becomes Something to be Avoided like the Plague’

This is art without rules, obviously without content, and in some cases without reason. But it is art and one day, probably in about 5,000 years, some of it will be held in high esteem.

Calle Murillo 18-20. (January 2013)

Saturday, January 19th, 2013

We have rented an apartment in Badalona, a suburb of Barcelona, that’s about 14km north, along the coast.

We decided to choose this part of Spain after a train trip from Barcelona to Perpingnon in 2008. We loved the coastline and felt that if we wanted to live near Barcelona, then this would be the place to stay.

Here are a series of random snaps of the area that I have taken over a number of weeks.

It’s a strange district with a mixture of old and new housing, factories and large vacant blocks where factories once stood.

There is even a cemetery of old suburban busses.

Then there’s the beaches, long stretches of beautifully groomed sandy coastline that extends for many kilometers north and south of Barcelona.

In summer they’re full of Spanish sun worshippers, cafés and bars. Now that winter is here, all that remains are groups of over optimistic surfers and fishermen, along with the dog walkers, well wrapped up against the winter wind.

Even the beach bars or chiringuito have disappeared, they get dismantled in autumn and will magically reappear next summer.

The vacant area, between the railway line and the beach, now forms part of an extensive coastal path with cycling and pedestrian access. On most days there’s a good cross section of the population, either walking, riding, blading or just sitting, enjoying the view over the Mediterranean.

The railway line that runs along the coast from Barcelona to the French border is ever present, both  visually and audibly. It has become an artificial division between work and play for these seaside towns.

The people of Badalona are fiercely independent and the red and gold stripes of the Catalan flag can be seen hanging from many windows.

Badalona is the third most populated city in Catalonia and has been inhabited since 3,500 – 2,500 BC. The city of Badalona was founded by the Romans in the 3rd century BC, with the name Baetulo.

There are still Roman ruins within the city centre and we went looking for them.

We finally discovered that they are under the Badalona Museum with 3,400 square meters of old Roman Baetulo to explore. There we found the remains of the old Roman Baths plus a urban settlement that was just near the old Forum. The street level entrance is just a portal to the subterranean treasures that house a small part of the Roman Empire.

During a period of urban development, in the mid-1970s’, a number of archeological digs were carried out that revealed the extent and importance of these ruins.

However housing was put ahead of history and a block of flats was built over the site. It wasn’t until the end of the Franco era that the building was declared illegal and subsequently pulled down.

On the same day we found old Baetulo we also discovered the twin parks of Badalona, Parc de Can Solei and Can l’Arnús. The oldest part was built in the Romantic style between 1870 and 1880. There are old buildings, sculptures, arbors, grottos, waterfalls, walkways and playgrounds. There’s even a small lake with a tower.

During the 19th century Badalona was an important town in the industrialisation of Spain and that’s the reason for the old factories and now vacant blocks.

Most of the factories along the foreshore are empty or home to a variety of discos and some very creative graffiti. While the vacant land, where the factories once stood, is now awaiting redevelopment into apartment blocks, shopping centers and hotels for the beach loving tourists.

Just north from where we are in Badalona is Montgat, an area that was the home to the wealthy industrialist who built these factories. It seems to have been left in a 19th century time warp, with the closest development, apart from apartment blocks, being a huge marina and restaurant complex further up the coast in Ocata.

There is still one factory that dominates the skyline from wherever you are in Barcelona, Badalona or even Montgat. It’s the power station at Sant Adrià de Besòs, with its three giant chimneys that seem to be omnipresent in so many of the shots I have taken.

We get plenty of exercise with our walks south into Badalona and north to Montgat and Ocata. So in an attempt to fine new territory we headed up the hill, just behind our street, to the Parc de la Mediterrania.

As the name suggests there were sweeping views of the Mediterranean but they were interrupted by high tension power lines and the ever present three chimneys.

From our elevated position we did manage to get a good view of Calle Murillo and we also discovered that the barking, we hear every afternoon, comes from a dog training centre and adjacent kennel that’s on top of the hill.

There is another factory, well at least their logo, that holds a fascination for the people of Badalona, and that’s Anis del Mono.

The anis factory has been located beachside in Badalona since 1870, with the distinctive humanoid primate logo emblazoned on their walls.

There are many theories as to the origins of the trademark, some even suggest that it’s a caricature of naturalist Charles Darwin.

There is a life size bronze statue of the monkey on the promenade and a constant line of people waiting to have their photo taken with him.

One of the objectives of our trip was to gain a better understanding of what life was like ‘somewhere else’. Living in Badalona, on and off for the last 5 months, has given us a good appreciation for this seaside suburb of Barcelona.

We had hoped to have picked up a bit of Spanish along the way, however most people in this area speak Catalan, so the Castilian will have to wait for another time.

Articket BCN. (January 2013)

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

In November last year we visited the Museu Picasso and were talked into buying two ‘Articket BCN

They are €30 each and give you entry into 6 museums around Barcelona, including Fundació Joan Miró, Museu Nacional de’Art de Catalonia (MNAC) and Fundació Antoni Tàpies.

The exhibitions are all housed in purpose built galleries or old buildings that have been creatively renovated to complement the art inside.

The curation of each gallery tells the artist’s stories from a particularly Catalonian perspective.

We have managed to get to 4 so far and have found the exhibitions excellent and the Articket great value for money.

It’s already paid for itself but we will push on and try and see all 6 museums before we leave.

A Spanish Christmas. (December 2012/January 2013)

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

Over the holiday period we travelled to Madrid, Granada and Seville.

We spent Christmas in Granada with Hayden and Andrea, and the New Year in Seville.

It was all done on the Spanish Rail Network or RENFE.

Madrid, Wednesday December 19 to Saturday December 22.

The trip to Madrid was on the Alta Velocidad Española or AVE, high speed train. The trip took not quite 3 hours and at times we were traveling at over 300kph.

Having spent a lot of time in Barcelona I was struck by the difference between there and the Spanish capital.

While Barcelona bathes in the glory of its favorite artistic sons, Gaudí, Picasso and Miró, Madrid has the galleries where you can see much of their work and a lot more.

We spent 8 hours in the company of Goya, El Greco, Velázquez and Van Dyck, in the Prado and then 6 more hours with Picasso, Miró, Dalí and Tàpies in Reina Sofia.

There were many more artists featured, than just these famous names, with both the museums telling a narrative, that placed what you were seeing, in a very Spanish context.

We punctuated our two days of brain numbing art appreciation with a long walk around Madrid. The architecture and in fact the entire city is much more ‘Old Europe’ with gardens, palaces and arches, many of which were a mass of Christmas lights.

The Plaza Mayor was taken over by a Christmas market, selling nativity scene characters and all manner of other decorations, while a giant Christmas tree dominated the Puerta del Sol.

We also visited the Templo de Debod, a reminder of our earlier adventures. It’s a 2nd century BC Egyptian temple, originally located near Aswan and donated to Spain in 1968, in recognition of their help in saving the Temples of Abu Simbel.

Granada, Sunday December 23 to Friday December 28.

The train from Madrid to Granada was much slower and we even had to change locomotives from electric to diesel.

It was still a pleasant journey with the views of the Sierra Navada, covered with a dusting of snow, looming ever-larger as we approached the city.

Granada was in the midst of an Indian Summer and the temperatures were a balmy 20℃, with clear, deep blue skies.

We were there in August when the temperatures were in the 40s, so this was a pleasant change.

The warm weather didn’t last long and by Christmas day the temperature had dropped and the rain arrived.

Hayden had arranged for us to have Christmas lunch at Mirador de Morayma, an excellent Andalucian restaurant situated in an old Moorish house or Carmen.

As it turned out, a house with a very sad history.

Morayma was the daughter of wealthy spice merchant, and at 15 married Boabdil, the heir to the Alhambra throne. A few days after the wedding Boabdil is jailed by his father and Morayma is confined to the house.

So the poor girl was separated from her husband and then stuck in the carmen, overlooking the palace, where she would never be queen.

The next day the blue skies returned but the temperatures remained low, so we visited the Parque de las Ciencias. This is a high tech, hands-on, science museum, just a 15 minutes walk from the centre of Granada.

Outside there are lots of science experiments and large exhibits, including an observation tower, overlooking the city and the Sierra Nevada. While inside there are a number of permanent and temporary exhibitions, including one devoted to Etcétera, the world famous puppet theatre company started in Granada over 30 years ago.

We also visited the Museo Cuevas de Sacromonte, or the Caves of Sacromonte, which is situated on the hill opposite the Alhambra. There is a distinctly different climate on each side of the valley. The Alhambra side, facing south, is lush and humid while the Sacromonte side, with a northerly aspect, is dry and almost barren, dotted with patches of Prickly Pear.

The caves in this area were first dug by the Moors and then later occupied by the Romani or Gypsies who came to Europe from India 1,500 years ago.

Flamenco music was thought to have been developed in this area, with influences coming from the Moors, Gypsies and Iberians.

Over the next few days the skies remained blue but there was a haze hanging in the valley and at the base of the mountains.

On our last day we visited the Museo ‘Casa de los Tiros’ a very small museum located in an old 16th century tower house. The architectural features of the building were amazing with beautifully carved ceilings and doors.

From there we wandered up the hill to the park next to the Alhambra to visit the gardens of Carmen de los Martires.

It was just before 2pm and the gates were shutting, apparently even parks need a siesta in Granada.

We returned at 4pm and it was well worth trudging up and down the hill, as the light was magic and the park stunning, with surprising views of the Alhambra and Sierra Nevada.

Seville, Saturday December 29 to Tuesday January 1.

Another slow train trip took us south west to Seville, the ‘City of the Lost’

On every street corner you can see tourists, map in hand, scratching their heads and wondering where to turn next.

The old city streets are serpent like in the way they twist and bend. They are also very narrow and seem to have no real logic as to the direction they take.

Seville, apart from many other attractions, has three main tourist destinations, that are all UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

They are Alcázar, Seville Cathedral, and the Archivo General de Indias.

Alcázar or Reales Alcázares is a royal palace and originally a Moorish fort. Over the centuries many Spanish monarchs have left their mark, however it has essentially remained in the Moorish or Mudéjar style.

Richly decorated tiles, relief ceilings and decorative arches are everywhere. Even the expansive garden have an abundance of ceramics and terra-cotta tiling.

Built on the site of a Mosque, Seville Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and the third largest church.

It is also the burial place of Christopher Columbus.

The Giralda or bell tower was built over the original minaret and still has the ramps where the imam would ride his horse to the top to call the faithful to prayer.

It was the New Year period and we found it hard to get accurate information as to what was open. As a result we missed out on getting the trifecta, as the Archivo General de Indias was closed for the holidays.

We did however get to see the monumental Plaza de España, the Spanish Pavilion for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929.

This is built in a combination of Art Deco, Mock-Mudéjar and Neo-Mudéjar styles. It’s a massive complex of buildings, fountains, bridges and moats.

We arrived late in the afternoon, as the last of the winter sun illuminated the curved facade.

The influence of the Moors is everywhere in Seville, even our hotel was in an old Carmen or Moorish house.

There are even ads for sherry in ceramic tiles and all of the street signage within the city are also done in ceramics.

On New New Year’s Eve we went to El Palace Andaluz for their end of year celebration. We were entertained by Flamenco music and dance, all performed with fire, passion and sultry looks.

Near midnight a nightclub band took over the entertainment. They were obviously playing to the locals, as the audience knew all the lyrics and had all the moves.

New Year’s Day was very quiet and the only open attraction was the Bullring. It has a long and proud history of butchering live-stock, as it’s been in use for over 200 years. There’s also a museum that celebrates the bravest of the Matadores and the most stubborn of the bulls.

The morning fog lifted and we spent the remainder of our last afternoon wandering around María Luisa Park. It’s in need of some care and attention but there are still many worthwhile features. Opened in 1915, the park was styled on the gardens of Generalife in the Alhambra and the Alcázar of Seville.

Seville seems to have a predominance of white pigeons and they were everywhere in Parque de María Luisa. There were even some very large white swans and a white Peacock as well.

The next day we took the AVE to Barcelona – seven hours door-to-door.

We had given our Spain Pass a good workout and had enjoyed a very merry Spanish Christmas and happy New Year as well.

If the cigarettes don’t kill you, the cold will.

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Two years ago smoking inside cafes and restaurants was banned in Spain.

Smoking is still widely practiced here, forcing those who want to imbibe outside.

This is fine during the warmer months but it presents a problem in winter, especially in places where the temperatures plummet.

In Granada it can dip below freezing overnight but that doesn’t deter the many who dress warmly to brave the cold and stay outdoors.

I guess that having a cigarette stuck in your mouth will at least stop your teeth from chattering.