Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Barcelona in Two Days

Ok, not even 2 days, but long enough to know that I want to go back again. I wrote this blog on the train to Toulouse and will post it when I find some wifi.

I arrived via Ryan Air (see note below) at the Baracelona xx Airport and was whisked to the xxx, in the centre of Barcelona and a 10 min walk to my hostel for only 5.65 €. It was just after noon when I settled into my new digs and set out to explore. The first thing I had to do was buy a new camera as the one I had brought somehow had developed a black cloud over one spot on the frame. The camera guy said it was a malfunction of the sensor and couldn't be repaired. The good news is that I was able to purchase a new one - one model up an SX230 - tax free - for 210 €. I was told the price was much reduced since the model came out last year and it certainly was cheaper, as I recall, than the old one I bought just over a year ago. This model features a GPS and so records the location of each picture taken. More importantly to me, I could use the accessories I had for my old camera and best, I don't have to spend time reading the manual.

The Rick Steve's Guide recommends the city bus tours and after looking at the extensive routes for the hop on, hop off double decker bus ride, I purchased a 2 day ticket for 24€, deciding to focus on the north or blue route on day 1 and the south or red route on day 2. The blue route essentially covered buildings which were architected by Goudy and other modernista architects.

Barcelona is a tremendously interesting city architecturally. From wiki:

Barcelona is today one of the world's leading tourist, economic, trade fair/exhibitions and cultural-sports centres, and its influence in commerce, education, entertainment, media, fashion, science, and the arts all contribute to its status as one of the world's major global cities.

From the reading I have done, the city may have originated as early as 3 BC and in about 15 BC the Romans redew the town as Castrum. Between 1885 and 1950 the Catalan modernista architects, such as Antoni Gaudi and Lluis Domenechi I Montaner, their work was related to Art Noiveau in the rest of Europe and it left a major legacy in Barcelona. The result is a city which is wonderful to behold by tourists as it is full of magical buildings.

It is hardto believe that Gaudi became involved in the construction of the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família in 1886 and his involvement continued until his death in 1926 when it was less than one quarter finished.

I found this picture of the Sagrada Família with the cranes digitally removed. Gives you a better idea of what he had designed.

After an hour or so on the bus I began to feel a bit sick so I headed back to the hostel to rest. Unfortunately, I think I picked up a little bit of a flu because I ended up in bed for the rest of the day with fever, chills and stomach cramps. I started to feel better during the night and rested easier knowing I would be able to set out to explore Barcelona in the morning.

The hostel was pretty good. I had booked a room in a 4 bed dorm but lucked out with a large 3 bed room with a private balcony. My roommate was a young girl from Scandanavia who had been working in Spain and was visiting friends in Barcelona and attending a rock and alternative music festival for a few days. So she was out most of the night and I pretty much had the room to myself. Not that it would have mattered - I was dead to the world for most of the evening and night.

On Friday morning I felt much better and left to check out the Barcelona Touristica's Red route. The hop on hop bus was perfect as I needed to go to the Sants train station to get information regarding my train trip tomorrow and it was one of the stops. Barcelona sits between two large hills and route took us up to a great vantage point on the hill which also served as a stop on the cable car ride down to the Harbour and Barcelona's World Trade Centre. It would have been nice to have gone on the cable car and I guess that is a reason as good as any to plan to return to Barcelona.




As it was, I was able to get off thie tourist bus and see the panoramic view of the city and in particular see the towers of Gaudi's work in progress, Sagrada Família. Construction is slow as it continues at the pace dictated by the amount of donations made to finance it. When finished there will be 18 towers in all. Interestingly, as I flew into the city I was able to see the distinctive towers spiraling above the Barcelona skyline.

My zoom lense allowed me to take this photo of the towers.

After getting a bird's eye view of the city, the bus whisked off down the hill and we toured the harbour area. There were many things to see.

The Columbus statue is the largest one in the world, which is appropriate since it was here that he arrived to tell Queen Isabella about his discovery of the new world.

After a drive by of the Barcelona beaches we turned back and headed to the Bari Gothic, in the old city. Here I took the opportunity to go to the Piccasso museum. His work was presented chronologically and here I saw how his work progressed from his more realistic portraiture during the late 1800s to the impressionistic and avant guard work through the 1900s.

From here I moved on to The Rambla, Barcelona's main street, (actually 5 streets joined together)- but it is a main street like I have never seen. It winds down from the Plaza Catalunia to the Harbour, but it's more pedestrian walkway than road as there is only a single lane of traffic, either side of the wide pedestrian boulevard down the middle.

I stopped and ordered a sangria and a bowl of gaspacho and watched the world go by. I was struck by how much of the city is geared to being outside, with the numerous plazas and outdoor cafes and this wonderful Rambla.

On my way home I stopped at a cafe and ordered what turned out to be decidedly mediocre pizza and saved half of it for my lunch on the train tomorrow. My research told me that there is no service on the train and I will be traveling all day and didn't want to be without food.

Stay tuned - tomorrow is over the Pyrenees.


Endings and Beginnings - Leaving Fisterre

As planned, Barb and I explored the long beach toward the beginning of the peninsula on Sunday morning. We agreed that this was probably quite the happening place in the heat of the summer. Though the day was cold and cloudy, it was great to walk the 2-3 km to the end of the beach and enjoy the fine view back. Colourful houses and small private hotels spread the length of the beach and the little Harbour was filled with neat rows of fishing boats. There were a couple of cafes strategically placed at the centre and the end of the beach, so we were able to take a couple of breaks and sip some lemonade and savor the view.

It was a holiday - a fiesta - and the fishing boats were all parked for the day. The townsfolk all walked in a procession with their Virgin Mary (see note below) along the streets and back again, accompanied the whole while, over an hour and a half, with what seemed to be fireworks. It seemed very odd that they were set off in the daytime. I wondered if it could be possible that they had a daytime version of fireworks, designed for more boom and no lights, as I never heard of fireworks in the daytime. In any event an hour and a half of fireworks would cost an awful lot, but maybe not so much if they are designed just to make a lot of loud booms.

We finished our walk at what had become our favourite spot, a restaurant called Pantone, which had great pizza and fresh pasta, wonderful dessert and best yet, tables on a patio by the Harbour. After the noise stopped, we hung out with a group of Peregrinos from the cohort of our last few days and had a fine afternoon sipping wine and drinking pastas. We also had a few shots of the yellow herbal liquor which we have become so fond of.

A few of us carried on through the night enjoying a "prime steak and pepper sauce" dinner and then on to a local bar for Queimada. While the "prime steak" was a real disappointment, the Queimada was not.

According to wiki, a Queimada is a punch made from Galician aguardente (Orujo Gallego) - a spirit distilled from wine and flavoured with special herbs or coffee, plus sugar, lemon peel, coffee beans and cinnamon.

According to the server, our Queimada was made of tequila, but I thought it tasted like brandy. It was a pretty potent drink, even though some of the alcohol had been burned off.

The wiki article says that a special incantation is recited as the flaming punch is stirred, but we just took turns stirring. Perhaps we should have done our homework and come prepared with the ritual incantation ready to recite. It would have been nice had there been more theatrics, however a good time was had by all.

As Barb noted, it was fitting that our last night together would be our latest night out as well as the drunkenest and with the worst sleep due to the noisiest snorer we had to date. We had checked into an albergue for our extra night's stay in Fisterre and so we were back to a dorm room full of people for our last night's sleep. There wasn't much asleep to be had.

We were early up the next day in order to catch the 8:15 bus back to Santiago. Barb and I parted at the bus station. She was starting to make her way back to Matrid for the flight home early Thursday. She will be stopping at Astorga and Salamanca which will break up the long bus ride. I am in Santiago for a couple of nights before I catch my plane to Barcelona.

I was hoping to meet up with a group from our first cohort on the Via de Plata on Tuesday - Eileen and Dick from Australia. Unfortunately, that was not to be as somehow we werent able to connect. It would have great to connect with them before I leave.

I did however catch a mass at the Cathedral where they swung the Bothafumerio and was able to video the whole thing, which I will upload to you tube and post when I get some decent wifi. In the meantime this photo is the best I can do. It shows the thurible as it is just lit. The smoke is rising and they are just starting to swing it.

From wiki: The dome of the Cathedral contains the pulley mechanism to swing the "Botafumeiro", which is a famous thurible found in this church. This thurible was created by the goldsmith José Losada in 1851. The Santiago de Compostela Botafumeiro is the largest censer in the world, weighing 80 kg and measuring 1.60 m in height. It is normally on exhibition in the library of the cathedral, but during certain important religious high days it is attached to the pulley mechanism, filled with 40 kg of charcoal and incense

I know I owe you all a blog about the sights in Santiago - the Cathedral is quite spectacular - and I promise that is next on my agenda while I fly to Barcelona tomorrow. In the meantime, it is late and I have to get packed up for an early morning flight.

Hasta luego amigos!

Note: The Virgin Mary is a statue (no, they don't use real virgins) and apparently each church in Spain has one. They use her for various festivals and parade her around the street and in some cases even move her from her "home church" to a larger cathedral and "loan her out" as it were, for a period of time. Such was the case with the Festival we observed in Astorga. In Finsterre they just paraded her around in a procession through the village.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Fisterre - The End of The World

Barb and I took the bus to Fisterre on Friday while Ian headed to Bilbao and San Sabastian. Ian was keen to spend some time at Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum while we wanted to keep with the Pilgrim's tradition of travelling the see the Atlantic Ocean at what was once thought of in Spain, as Lands End.

According to Wiki:

Cape Finisterre is sometimes said to be the westernmost point of the Iberian Peninsula. However, this is not true, since Cabo da Roca, in Portugal, actually the westernmost point of Continental Europe, is about 16.5 km farther west. The name of Cape Finisterre, like that of Finistère in France, derives from the Latin name Finisterrae, which literally means "Land's End".

We had a lovely bus ride which followed the coast for several hours prior to arriving in the small town of Fisterre. The Cape of Finisterrae is a peninsula which has spectacular scenery and beaches. Near the end of the peninsula is Monte Facho and beyond that a small hotel and lighthouse. There are also several spectacular beaches. I assure the place is swarmed with people in the hot months of July and August, but now the place is pretty deserted. There are just a few Peregrinos wandering around town.

We settled into a really cozy hotel (Barb was happy to see a bathtub instead of the usual shower). Next door was a little bar where the owner played guitar and sang Spanish songs.

On Friday we walked out to the western beach over the hill on the other side of town. It had been raining, but as if we were granted a wish, the clouds cleared and the sun came it as we set out. I can't do justice to the landscape with words and I am sure my pictures don't do it justice, but they will have to do.






An hour before sunset it clouded over. Maybe we will get lucky with a beautiful sunset tonight or tomorrow night. We have decided to stay until Monday.

On Saturday we set off from town in the other direction around the cape, toward the lighthouse. The views cannot be described. After exploring the area of the lighthouse and climbing out to the point of land which is as far as you can go on the penninsula, we climbed Monte Facho, elevation 238 m. We wound our way back from the opposite side of the mountain, down what seemed to be goat tracks.






Can you see the lighthouse fade into the distance?



We are at the peak of Monte Facho. You can see the two sides of the penninsula.





the same beach as we sat on yesterday, watching the sunset.

Back to civilization! Tonight there is a fiesta! Tomorrow we explore the long beach which spans 2 or 3 km just before you reach the town.