Lucca, Italy

Day 62, Sunday November 5, 2017

We passed Carrara on the way to Firenze (Florence) today but didn’t have time to stop.  The white areas on the mountains are all marble quarries. The marble for Michelangelo’s David came from these mountains. Our friends spent time in Lucca a couple of years ago and told us how much they enjoyed their time there. We thought we should stop for a visit on our way to Firenze. Lucca is described as having peaceful narrow lanes that wind among medieval buildings. Well, that isn’t exactly what we found today.
We aren’t really sure what this sign meant at first but decided that all masks and weapons must be in backpacks or sheathed before entering Luca. There are police checking inside bags and backpacks of everyone entering the walled old city.There are people everywhere. We read that 500,000 people come to Lucca for the Comic and Games Convention. This is the 51st year that the convention has taken place.

I soon discover the people love to have their picture taken. When I ask if I can take their photo most of them strike a pose. What great people watching!  Such fun.

People of all ages enjoy dressing up.This convention has a rather strange effect on us…but I made a new friend.
It starts to rain just as we are ready to leave Lucca and make our way to Firenze and our new Airbnb. It looks like the weather may get a bit colder and wetter for the next while.

Amsterdam to Zagreb

Day 10, Thursday September 14, 2017

The alarm went off at 5:00 am this morning, as we needed to catch the 6:00 tram to the train station and then take the train to the airport. All went well and there weren’t many people out and about so early in the morning.

The Amsterdam airport is very large. We took a five minute bus ride to get to our plane. There were dozens of KLM Planes were parked in rows, waiting for passengers.

Soon we are on our way. These were our last views of Holland and I loved the interesting shapes of the farm fields.

And these are the sights as we head towards Croatia. The bottom photo is just before we land in Zagreb. Can you tell I love looking out plane windows?

The Zagreb Airport is very new and not very big. There were only two luggage carousels, and a big empty space where more can be added at a later date. We catch the waiting bus into town and then a taxi from the bus station to our apartment. It is only 48 Kuna, or $12 Canadian which is a bargain. We have discovered how nice it is to have someone else take us right to the door of our new accommodation. It is money well spent.

There are lots of stairs up to our third floor apartment, 78 of them!  We were both definitely puffing by the time we reached the third floor. Our host was waiting for us with maps, brochures and lots of information about Zagreb. It certainly helps to have a host who speaks English.

We went out for groceries and walk through a nearby park where a film festival /burger food fair is taking place. Seems like a strange combination. We find a grocery store and pick up a few groceries and a cooked chicken for only 22 kuna ($4.50 C). We then both crashed and we have a nice long nap before going back out for more groceries. We need to visit two stores, but we find what we need for the next few days. Here is the park where the film/burger festival is taking place.

We climb those 78 steps one more time and settle in for the evening. We only have three days to explore here because we lost one day with our flight cancellation.  Too bad, there is a lot to see and do here. This is the view of the street from our apartment windows.

Our Second Correfoc!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The local festival taking place in our Barcelona neighbourhood this week has a Correfoc, or Fire Run tonight.  We went to the Mercé Correfoc in Barcelona the first week of our trip, and I am delighted to have another chance to experience this wild and crazy parade one more time. FullSizeRender

Wikipedia’s definition: Correfocs (Catalan pronunciation: [ˌkorəˈfɔks], Western Catalan: [ˌkoreˈfɔks]); literally in English “fire-runs”) are among the most striking features present in Catalan festivals. In the correfoc, a group of individuals will dress as devils and light fireworks – fixed on devil’s pitchforks or strung above the route. Dancing to the sound of a rhythmic drum group, they set off their fireworks among crowds of spectators. The spectators that participate dress to protect themselves against small burns and attempt to get as close as possible to the devils… running with the fire. Other spectators will watch from ‘safe’ distances, rapidly retreating as necessary.FullSizeRender

The Children’s Correfoc starts at six pm and we are both very surprised to see little devils actually carrying the fireworks.  We had assumed that adult devils would be setting off the fireworks and that it would just be a tamer version of the adult Correfuc we had seen earlier at the Mercé. Some of these little devils look barely four years old.

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There is so much excitement that it is palpable!  There are drummers, very loud drummers, and the noise from all the firecrackers and the participants and spectators.  During the Mercé Correfoc we attended in September we were pretty much stuck in one spot watching everyone go by. Here we are able to walk and run alongside the participants and follow them through the streets.  It is so much more fun!FullSizeRender FullSizeRender FullSizeRender

I even get brave enough to participate!

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The parade lasted for over an hour winding its way through the narrow streets.  We went back to our apartment to have dinner and then we head back out at 8:00 for the adult Correfoc.  It took us a while to find the beginning of the route and as we walked down a narrow street we noticed that the shop windows were all covered up with cardboard.  We soon found out why, as the parade came straight towards us! FullSizeRender

Remember, these streets are very narrow, so we ducked into a shallow doorway as the first devils passed us and we were showered with fireworks!  We quickly decided that we needed to get out of this street as there was no where to hide or move away from all the sparks.FullSizeRender

Did you notice the string of fireworks above the street on the last two photos?  We were very glad that we had decided to move into a nearby open area, as these fireworks were lit as the devils came by and they rained down on everyone below!FullSizeRender

It was quite the spectacle, and there were people running, screaming  and laughing as they tried to get out of the way.FullSizeRender

We are so amazed that all this is going on, and it probably could be quite dangerous but no one seems to think of that. It is totally crazy!! I am sure we would never be allowed to set fireworks off so close to buildings and people back home.  Here you can see the devils holding up their firework pitchforks and what it looked like as they were lit.Image-1

The participants and many of the people who are watching the parade dress up, and some of the costumes were quite ornate. Notice the flame thrower device in the bottom right picture!Image-1

In one open area we watch a Fire Eater, I was quite sure he was going to set himself or someone else on fire!  Image-1

The parade wound through the streets and we ran alongside, but I decided against participating this time.  The fireworks were bigger, hotter, and a bit intimidating. During the children’s Correfoc I got a cinder on the inside of my glasses and it actually burnt a small hole into my lens!  I shudder to think what would have happened if it had gone in my eye.  I am sure it would have burnt and scarred the surface of the cornea.  I learned my lesson, no more fire running without safety glasses.FullSizeRender

The monsters make their appearance for the adult parade and they are quite impressive, throwing fireworks all over as they spin and twirl through the streets.Image-1

The air is thick with smoke and at times it is even hard to breathe!FullSizeRender

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There are some very acrobatic devils and they run and climb fences and other structures along the route all the better to shower their fire onto the crowd.  Image-1

I want to follow the parade right to the end but it has been going for over two hours and I reluctantly agree that we can go home.  I am exhausted from all the excitement and following two parades for over three hours!  This video of the Correfoc is like the one that we saw in September at the Mercé and it gives an idea of the noise and excitement these parades generate.  If you want to see more, just Google Correfoc, Barcelona and there are lots of videos.

 

Pamplona, the El Camino de Santiago, San Sebastian Beach, and Guernica

We walk four kilometers of the  El Camino de Santiago ( a pilgrimage walk) on Thursday in Pamplona. I thought I would like to do a long walk like this, but after talking to some of the people on the walk I have changed my mind.  Much of the walk is on city streets or along the shoulders of roads, and the shelters are communal rooms with bunk beds very close to one another so lots of snoring and night-time noises.  Not for me, thank you.imageThis is the Bridge of La Magdalena, a medieval bridge that millions of pilgrims have used to cross the River Arga on the way to Pamplona through the ‘Gateway of France’ which still has a working drawbridge.                   image

The drawbridge is now only used once a year on January 5th, when three Wise Men on camels enter the Old City of Pamplona.image

We follow the route of The Running of the Bulls, which takes place during the summer, all the way to the bullring.  It is easy to imagine how crazy, chaotic and dangerous this event is. The streets are very narrow and there is nowhere to hide from the many very angry, very large stampeding bulls!
imageThere is an eleven meter long sculpture called ‘Monument to the Bull Run’ by a Spanish Sculptor that faces the bullring.  It is quite impressive and gives some idea of what this event might look like.image

We rest for a while in the Plaza Del Castillo, with a view of the colorful buildings of Pamplona before getting something to eat and heading back to our hotel. We take a local bus that takes us almost to the door of our hotel.  Nice, I am tired today.imageWednesday morning we drive to the beach at San Sebastian, which is one of the popular resorts in Northern Spain.  It is not for us.  We prefer the more natural beaches, with fewer apartments and hotels.  It is cloudy when we arrive but it warms up and the sun comes out.  We have been very lucky with the weather, and had our first rain last night along with a very loud thunderstorm.

image  I stick my fingers in the Atlantic Ocean which we have now seen from Florida, South Africa and Spain.imageWe are off to Guernica, a small town that was bombed by Germany in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. It was the world’s first saturation bombing raid and the destruction this bombing caused inspired Pablo Picasso’s famous painting, Guernica.  We first visit Guernica’s Parliament building, which has an enormous modern stained glass ceiling covering what used to be a courtyard.  It depicts the Oak of Guernica. Basque leaders met in democratic assembly under this tree for centuries.  There is a 300 year old petrified oak tree in the garden outside here which is symbolic of the ancient roots of the Basque people.imageWe find the tiled life sized mural of Guernica, the original paining is now in Madrid.imageThere are several large sculptures in the Peace Park adjacent to the Parliament building and the oak tree, including this one by Henry Moore.image  We had our first tapas in Guernica, an easy economical way to sample a variety of local foods.imagePerhaps the nicest part of the day was arriving at our Airbnb apartment in Gama.  Our host Gemma met us nearby and we followed her to the loveliest little apartment. We have stayed at several Airbnb accomodations and this is the nicest one yet.  We decide to extend our stay here to five nights.  It is relaxing to stay put for a while and this is such a nice place to do that.  Here are photos of our home for the next five days.image image image

The Mercé Correfoc or “Fire Run”

The highlight of our day Sunday was the Mercé Correfoc, or Fire Run that started at 8:30 with an explosion of fireworks right on the street between the buildings.  We heard people talking about tying up your hair and covering your head and face with a scarf.  We soon found out why.image

The ‘devils’ start to run down the street, accompanied by groups of very loud drummers, and the fire breathing beasts!  These devils carry sticks which have firworks on them that twirl around, spraying fireworks everywhere!   They actually aim them at the crowd on purpose and run by us, at times just beyond arm’s distance!  
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Now we know why we need to cover up.  I had my sarong with me so we used it to cover our heads when the devils run by.  It is total madness!!  There is no way anyone should be doing this and yet here we are, along with thousands of others, caught up in the excitement of it all.
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 It was hard to get pictures, I took a lot but most of them were too blurry and out of focus. When the devils run too close to us we just covered up, and hoped to not catch fire!  We did see one person start smouldering until someone noticed and put out the fire that was starting on their head covering!imageWe stayed until 10:30 and I reluctantly agreed to leave even though there was no sign of the fun ending.  We needed to get home and finish packing as we leave our little Barcelona apartment tomorrow and head for the Monastery at Montserrat. I am playing catch up on these posts as we have not had internet since Sunday, and it was too late to post anything Sunday night when we finished packing.

Dragons and Beasts!

This building was a bullring, but bullfighting was banned in Catalonia in 2011 so now it is used for concerts and other events.  We walked by it on the way to a flea market this afternoon.image We found the flea market and it is huge, two stories and  probably hundreds of stalls.  We decide we will need to come back when we return to Barcelona and have more time to spend looking around.imageWe make our way to Parc de La Ciutadella, to check out the Mercé 2015 Festival activities. There are a lot more people here today than a couple of days ago.  I loved the balloons and the people watching.image

There were some antique rides that were very interesting. Notice the toilet seat…imageAnd the lady in white, she was pushing a lever that made the ride move. image

There were some very good dancers on stage, I think from the ballet company, not sure as all the announcements were in Spanish…there were crowds of people everywhere.image

Next stop was Placa Jaume where the Parade of the Fire Breathing Dragons and Beasts was supposed to start. We had to turn around and approach the square from a different street because the one we were on was completely jammed with people. I have never been in such a crowd before, and I didn’t like it at all. We could barely move, but managed to turn around and make our way to the other side of the square. We were very lucky as this was where the dragons and beasts came into the square. There were people eveywhere, even up all the side streets, but we were in a good spot up against the railing so we didn’t feel as squished as earlier. Here are a couple photos of the crowd.imageimageSoon the Dragons and Beasts emerged, with great fanfare and to the accompaniment of very loud very enthusiastic drumming. Each beast had it’s own group of supporters, who were making a great deal of noise.

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The pictures are a bit blurry because it was so dark and these dragons and beasts moved quite quickly and it was hard to find a spot that didn’t have a camera held up in it! The energy generated in this square was amazing, and very exciting. I loved it. After all the dragons and beasts left, we headed back to Barceloneta Beach to watch the fireworks by Buenos Aires. The show was a bit shorter than last night’s but it was much more spectacular. There were even Happy Face fireworks, but I never managed to get a picture of them. There were also a lot more people out and about watching the fireworks and on all the streets. We head back to our apartment, get home about 11:00, we are both tired as we did a lot of walking today,  but it was a good day.

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Giants and Dragons

There are so many incredible buildings in Barcelona that I have to force myself not to take too many pictures of them, but I am warning you, there will be a few…  imageWe happened across an exhibition of motorbikes as we were walking, so stopped to have a look.image

I stop for a little rest on one of the many fantastical bench/street lights along our route.image

One more building…image

Bob checking out one of the many book stands that line over three city blocks.  Lots of very old books, magazines, and papers of all kinds.image

This reminded us of when our oldest daughter was four and chased the pigeons in Venice.image

We watched the parade of the city’s Giants.  It was so much fun and they looked so animated, twirling and dancing in the street.image

Of course I loved the dragon!image

More giants…image

After the parade we headed back to the Barcelona Cathedral to watch a competion of three choirs, from the Ukraine, Slovania and Lithuania.  Here is the Slovanian Choir.  It was lovely to sit in such a beautiful Cthedral listening to beautiful voices.image

After the choirs competition we catch the Metro for Barceloneta Beach to watch a fireworks competition.  Tonight it  was the Balearic Islands.  We sat on the beach and this is a bit of what we saw.  This is all part of the  Mercé 2015 Festival.
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Finally, a sneak peak at a life drawing class….image