Park Güell

Tuesday, December 8

Bob went out this morning to get a few groceries and all the local shops were closed!  He finally found somewhere to buy food for our last few meals in Barcelona. We discover that today is Immaculate Conception Day, a Spanish National Holiday, and almost all the shops are closed. I had planned on shopping for a few last minute souvenirs and some sketchbooks that I really liked. No luck, so we catch the metro to Park Güell, where we spend our last day in Spain.

Our walk from the metro to the park is all uphill! Luckily there are escalators for the very steepest part of the climb.  I liked the imagery of the two nuns walking in front of all the graffiti, and the ‘tree’ is actually a drain pipe with some sculptural concrete additions. I’m glad we don’t have to park here.Image-1

Park Güell is one of the most impressive public parks in the world.  It was designed by Antonio Gaudi for Eusebi Güell and construction on a garden city started in 1900. There were to be sixty single family homes built but the project wasn’t successful and only two homes were actually completed.  One of these, Gaudi’s residence, is now a museum and the other, Güell’s residence, is now a public school. The park became the property of the city of Barcelona in 1923 after Güell died and in 1984 it was declared a UESCO World Heritage Site.

We bought our tickets in advance as there are ‘only’ 400 people admitted to the Monumental Zone of the park every half hour.  While we waited, we got some refreshments from a little shop that was built right into the rock cliff face.  We entered at the Teatre Grec, or Nature Square, which is partly dug into the mountain and partly held up by the Hypostyle Room. There is a long undulating bench in the shape of a sea serpent which surrounds three sides of this square. The back of the bench forms a balustrade and the entire bench is covered in mosaics made with coloured ceramic shards most of which came from demolition projects and discarded objects.FullSizeRender

I read that Gaudi had a workman drop his pants and sit on soft plaster so that he could figure out the correct shape of the bench seat so that it would be comfortable!”

There are great views from the square, both of the main entrance with its two whimsical buildings, and of Barcelona, all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. The house on the left was the porter’s residence and the building on the right is now the gift shop.FullSizeRender

The Hypostyle Room is under the square and it is a covered space that could be used for gatherings and markets. All the columns lean a bit this way or that, none of them are perpendicular to the ground.  The columns hold up the square and rainwater collected on the square is filtered down through the columns into a cistern underneath the floor. It is quite amazing.  Notice the dog’s head decoration.Image-1

At the main entrance there is the monumental flight of steps, flanked by two convex walls decorated with more mosaics, that leads up the Hypostyle Room.FullSizeRender

These are some of the many different, colourful mosaic tiles on these stairway walls. Image-1

There are sculptures and three fountains on this flight of stairs but this one is the most famous. This brightly coloured salamander, or dragon, depending on what we read is a favourite of the people of Barcelona and most visitors. Everyone wants to touch it and take their picture beside, or even sitting on the salamander. There is a guard assigned specifically to prevent people from touching the salamander to prevent further damage.  Thousands and thousands of touches eventually wear away the tiles and can cause breakage. It is an impossible job as nearly everyone attempts to make some sort of contact with this creature!FullSizeRender

We head towards Portico of the Washerwoman, which starts near the main entrance, with a spiral ramp and columns in the shape of a spiral curve that ends at a rough caryatid known as the Washerwoman because she carries a basket of washing. Image-1This ramp takes us back to the Nature Square and we spend some more time here, enjoying the sunshine and the views, along with a bit of people watching. FullSizeRender

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On the other side of the square there is another walkway called Planters Viaduct, which we follow and end up in an interesting area with more strange leaning columns and stone chairs. This is such an incredible place!   I can only guess at the hours and hours it took to create all this and wonder at Gaudi’s incredible vision and imagination.FullSizeRender

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There are so many fascinating details everywhere.  It really is a visual feast and almost too much to absorb in one visit. I would have loved to draw some of this but there just isn’t enough time to see everything and draw too.  Image-1On the way back to the square we meet this rather strange fellow.FullSizeRender

I rather reluctantly say goodbye to this wonderful place. Just outside the park gates I see a building, which appears to be unoccupied, and announce that it would make a perfect studio for me!  Oh well, I can dream, can’t I?FullSizeRender

I love these zebras we see on the walk back to the metro.
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It is a good thing that we got most of our cleaning and packing finished last night as we had some unexpected excitement tonight.  The stairway in our apartment has one of those elevator chairs that run on a rail for handicapped people.  Tonight a woman was on her way down the stairs on the chair and it stopped working.  She was getting very upset and, even with Bob’s help, her husband was not able to get her out of the chair and down the stairs. Finally we suggested calling the fire department and soon they arrived. Six of these strong firefighters finally managed to get this poor lady out of her chair and safely down the stairs.  It was quite the procedure, and it meant that for almost two hours no one could go up or down the stairwell .Image 2016-05-22 at 12.09 PM

Finally, to bed, all packed and ready for the long flight home.

Peñiscola, Spain

Sunday, November 29th, 2015.

Our holiday is drawing to a close.  We will be in Barcelona tonight so that we can return our rental car tomorrow.  Our last nine days in Spain will be spent exploring Barcelona and visiting the sights.

As we left Valencia we were stopped by the police to allow this protest march to cross the road. We later discovered that police had evicted staff from a public broadcasting television station after it was closed by the government due to austerity measures. Check here for a short video and more information.

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On the drive to Peñiscola.FullSizeRender

There is a castle in Peñiscola, about three hours south of Barcelona, that we want to visit because the Game of Thrones Season Six had some scenes that were shot there. I found a good picture of the castle at www.spain  Somehow I missed getting a picture of the castle that shows where it is located on top of the hill in Peñiscola.r_castillo_peniscola_t1200389.jpg_369272544

We find a place to park, which isn’t always an easy task, and head towards the castle, which is near the port.FullSizeRender_2

Soon we are trudging up steep hills, past narrow streets, looking for the way to the castle, which doesn’t seem to be marked anywhere.FullSizeRender_5

We pass this interesting building which is covered with sea shells.FullSizeRender_3

Quite by luck we find the right road up to the castle and we soon are standing on one of the castle courtyards. The Peñiscola Castle was built between 1294 and 1307 by the Knights Templar. This last great fortress was to become their last refuge as they were evicted and arrested in 1307 by James II of Aragon. In 1411 Pope Benedict XIII converted the castle into his papal seat and lived there until his death in 1423.  Remember all this took place years before Colombus even set sail for North America in 1492! FullSizeRender_2

We explore this interesting castle, wondering what areas might have been used for the filming for the Game of Thrones.  The castle was never finely finished as the Knights Templar were never able to completely finish its construction.FullSizeRender FullSizeRender_5

Can you spot Bob?FullSizeRender_2

Looking down the same step narrow steps.FullSizeRender_4

We think this doorway must be a good candidate for the inclusion in the TV show.

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I love how the old stone steps are worn from all the feet that have climbed up and down them over the centuries.
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FullSizeRender_2 FullSizeRender_5These stairs lead to the dungeon. As we walk down them I imagine the terror so many people must have felt as they were dragged down these very steps.FullSizeRender_4

There was an exhibit in the dungeon about the Knights Templar that was interesting. In one of the photos below you can see a grate in the dungeon floor.  Beside it is a photo of the cell with restraints that was under that grate,  It was a weird feeling looking down into that cell, and at the table and other torture instruments in that room. I wonder if there are ghosts that linger here?Image-1After the dungeon we climb up to the top of the castle for some great views of the town and surrounding countryside. Looking down on the town shows just how close together the houses are, they really are one on top of the other as they climb the hill towards the castle. You can also see the high rise apartment buildings that are being built along the ocean front.FullSizeRender_4FullSizeRender_2 FullSizeRender_3 FullSizeRender_3

This doorway is on the outside of the castle walls.FullSizeRender_4

Around the corner and down the hill from the above photo, there is a garden area with a refuge for raptors that are wounded, sick, or born in captivity.  They are rehabilitated and once well enough they are returned to the wild.IMG_2589

Can you spot the two girls climbing the walls?FullSizeRender_2

On our way back to the car we pass what must be the biggest paella pan ever.  They were using what looked like a small shovel to mix and serve the food.FullSizeRenderWe need to reach Barcelona by 6:00 to meet our Airbnb host and we are still three hours away. About 150 km. from Barcelona the odometer on our rental car turns 6,000 kilometres!

It takes us a while to find our apartment.  It is located down a narrow side road that looked like an alley so we didn’t think we were in the right place. The only place we could find to park the car so I could go out and look for the apartment is in a handicap parking spot. There really are no parking spots anywhere around here.  Just as I was getting concerned that we wouldn’t find the apartment I hear someone call my name.  Our host has just arrived and she sees me looking rather lost and confused standing on the sidewalk.  Turns out that little alley is indeed where the apartment is located.

We put the car in the garage, which isn’t an easy job, the street is very narrow and the garage is barely big enough for the car, and we get settled in our last apartment of the trip. Later in the evening we go for a little walk and discover a fair only a few blocks from our apartment. This little girl was so intent on catching her ducks to win a prize.FullSizeRender_5

On the Road to Valencia

Thursday November 26, 2015

Bob is loading the car and we will soon be on our way to Valencia.  This is the view from our balcony.  As you can see, we were right on the edge of Los Alcázeres, just fields beside us, so it was a nice quiet location.FullSizeRender_3FullSizeRender_5

Before long we are passing lots of salt pans, which are large shallow ponds of sea water. The water evaporates and leaves behind the sea salt, which is then harvested and piled into these enormous piles of sea salt.  Seems strange to think that the salt we eat is produced in this fashion. I had visions of workers out raking up sea salt from the salt pans, not bulldozers and big machinery.  A bit naive on my part I think.Image-1We stop to stretch our legs and have lunch near this beach.  It is certainly not as pretty as other beaches we have visited.FullSizeRender_2The view in the opposite direction.  This is an area full of condos and apartments and partially constructed buildings. FullSizeRender

We stopped for another break a bit further on… FullSizeRender

and found these strange hairy balls, hundreds of them all over the beach!  Some of them were several inches in diameter.  Does anyone know what they are? FullSizeRender_4

We detoured into what we thought was a little town called Alcoi, thinking we could go for a walk in a park area near the town, but we got a bit lost in what turned out to be a rather large city. We also discovered that the park didn’t have any easily accessible areas for walking, so we were soon back on the road. Next stop was the town of Xativa where we visited the ruins of a once grand castle with 30 towers.  FullSizeRender_3FullSizeRender_2

It was getting late in the day and we only had just over a half hour before closing so we saw as much of the castle as we could before the sun set and the castle closed. This was one of the water features in the garden area of the castle. FullSizeRenderThe view from the castle was quite spectacular.FullSizeRender_5

There are lots of market gardens visible in this photo.FullSizeRender_3

We still see lots of graffiti along the highways but we also see these murals. Too bad I can only glimpse them flying by in the car.FullSizeRender_2

There are numerous orange orchards and the trees are absolutely loaded with oranges, so many that they are falling on the ground. Sorry for the blurry image, this is another photo taken from the car.  I never did find a place to pull over and get a good picture of an orange orchard.  Too bad…FullSizeRender_4

Thanks to our trusty iPad and its GPS we find our next Airbnb apartment in Valencia and we were pleasantly surprised to find that our host had very kindly stocked it with all sorts of groceries! It also has lots of artwork as our host’s husband is Nico Munuera, a Spanish artist.Image-1

Los Alcázares

 

Wednesday November 25

Guess whose birthday it is today? DSC01421 - Version 2

We had a lovely leisurely day walking along the beach.  There aren’t many people here this time of the year so we had the beach pretty much to ourselves.DSC01433 - Version 2We did see a rather interesting sculpture on the beach but had no idea what it was supposed to represent.DSC01431After a long walk, we stopped at the far end of the beach for tea and tapas on the patio of an old hotel overlooking the ocean. Perhaps we could get used to this!DSC01428

On the way home we checked out local restaurants for a birthday dinner, but when we went back in the evening we discovered that the restaurants were closed for the season. We had checked out the menus posted outside but hadn’t noticed the closed signs on the doors so we headed back to our apartment for a home cooked birthday dinner. I had some pastries and candles for Bob’s birthday dessert but forgot all about matches…so he had to pretend to blow out his candles and make a wish.

One final birthday gift, the prettiest sunset we have seen yet on this trip.DSC01436

Cartagena, Spain

Wednesday, November 24, 2015

Cartagena was founded in 223 B.C. and was conquered by the Romans in 209 B.C.  It is just a half hour south of where we are staying.

The Ayuntamiento, or Town Hall of Cartagena is a beautiful marble building on the main street.DSC01301

The Naval Museum nearby was free and an interesting place to visit.  Both of us were impressed with the scale model ships, especially this huge one of an 18th century ship from the Royal Armada.
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This huge anchor was just begging to have its picture taken.DSC01395

The Zulo Sculpture by Victor Ochao is a very powerful memorial to victims of terrorism.  It is over 16 feet tall and weighs over two tons.  Very impressive.DSC01393We sat and had lunch on this bench overlooking the harbour before we continued exploring the city…DSC01411

but not before I took a moment for this photo. FullSizeRender

Part of the afternoon was spent exploring the Museum of the Roman Theatre of Cartagena.  The museum’s entrance is in a building near the Town Hall and is connected by a tunnel to this Roman theatre built in the 1st Century by Emperor Augustus.

Click here to see a video and virtual reality tour of the Theatre and Museum, as well as more information about the archaeological excavation of the theatre.FullSizeRender_2An aerial view shows where the theatre is located in relation to the theatre and gives a good indication of just how large it is.  The tunnel went from the building at the bottom of the picture, under the ruins of the Old Cathedral of Santa María la Vieja  into the theatre.FullSizeRender_4This photo showed what the theatre looked like before excavations were started in 1988.  The arched doorway of the Old Cathedral is visible in the before and after excavation photos. A lot of buildings were built over the seating area of the theatre and all of these were removed as excavations continued.FullSizeRender

FullSizeRender_4FullSizeRender_2There are a lot of buildings near the theatre that are under re-construction. It seems that the old façades are being kept but we aren’t sure what will be built behind them.Image-1

Conception Castle is a 12th Century fortress on top of the highest of the five hills in Cartagena. This fortress has been a Roman Temple, a Muslim Citadel , a medieval castle and during the Civil War it held the sirens that warned the city’s population of bombings. We climbed the hill to the Castle and were rewarded with amazing panoramic views of Cartagena,DSC01376 the port…FullSizeRender_3

and the old bull fighting arena. We had parked our car way down there!FullSizeRender_3A young man from the Philippines asked us to take his photo and then he took this one for us, as well as several more of us for himself as a ‘souvenir’. I thought I took lots of pictures but he sure had me beat!  FullSizeRender_5

One of the exhibits inside the fortress were several dioramas with these little animated computer generated figures that walked and interacted with each other.  I found them quite fascinating.FullSizeRender_2

On our way back to the car we pass this building which incorporated a very old building and a very new building.FullSizeRender_2  We saw some interesting graffiti, FullSizeRenderthis statue of of Cristóbal Colón, which is Spanish for Christopher Columbus,FullSizeRender_4and a rather clever sign for a coffee shop.FullSizeRender_3

Troglodytes!

Sunday, November 22

This was our Airbnb apartment near the village of Alhendin, about 20 minutes outside of Granada. It was very nice and quiet but it is time to hit the road again. We need to be in Los Alcázeres, a small coastal town in southeastern Spain by evening.Image 2015-12-12 at 11.18 PM

The drive is interesting as the scenery changes often.  These are photos shot through the car window so they aren’t the best, but they give a pretty good idea of the countryside. This is on the outskirts of Granada.  I find it so strange to see apartment buildings and then countryside right beside them.  There are no suburbs around here, it is city and then it is country, nothing in-between.DSC01195We are surprised to see snow on the mountaintops.DSC01200

Before long there are fewer trees and the land is much more arid looking.DSC01199It is hard to tell from the photo, but this area is much like Drumheller, Alberta, with fields suddenly giving way to steep, dry ravines. DSC01206

Soon we are seeing weathered and eroded hills that have what look like caves or tunnel openings.DSC01207

A quick bit of internet research revealed that many people in this area live in caves.  We stop in a little town named Purullena, and visit the Museo Cueva Immaculada.  This was quite the experience.  As we entered the museum we realized that we were walking through a family home.  There were footsteps painted on the floor and we were told  to follow the footsteps and then we were left to explore their house! We passed what looked like the grandparents having something to eat with their grandchildren in the dining room.  It was rather bizarre.Image 2015-12-12 at 11.48 PM

Curtains separate the rooms so that air can circulate, and there are also chimneys for air circulation. We climbed a flight of stairs to an area of their home that was set up as a museum, with old farm implements, photographs, kitchen utensils, and a whole lot of other assorted items.  Here are some pictures of the cave houses in Purullena, and another little village we drove to nearby.DSC01242The temperature in these homes stays between 17º and 21º C year round. The ceilings are dome-shaped so that the caves will not collapse and to distribute the weight of the hills above to the thick outer side of the walls. DSC01233Thirty years ago everyone in the town lived in caves, and today about 1,100 of the towns population of 2,700 still live in caves.  The soil here is called arcilla, which is a special type of clay that is compact but still very soft so it is easy to dig.  It is also an impermeable soil which stops the rain from entering the cave.DSC01221The cave homes are dug out of the mountains and there are no other construction materials used. The homes are painted with white chalk which breathes so the air can circulate, and this prevents humidity from building up in the caves.DSC01230We saw this ‘troglodyte’ busily hanging up her laundry before she went back into her cave home. These cave dwellers call themselves Troglodytes, which is from two Greek words meaning hole, and dying to get into  If you want to read a bit more about these unique houses check out http://www.spain-holiday.com/blog/cave-settlements-in-andalucia.php DSC01240

We were quite surprised to discover that the public washrooms were also the family bathrooms, complete with the family laundry, showers, kids toys and other personal items! These were located just outside the cave home, sort of like modern outhouses.  We thought it must be difficult to put plumbing inside the caves.

As we continued on our way to Los Alcázeres we passed lots of huge market gardens, many of which had these tunnel hothouses, field after field of them. It was quite the sight.  DSC01254

Mijas and Granada

Tuesday, November 17

We leave for Granada today which is a good thing as our balcony is positively swarming with workmen this morning. Too bad all this painting is going on as it made it difficult to fully enjoy our apartment, which was really quite nice otherwise. We met some people in Seville who told us about a pretty white village named Mijas so we stop for a visit on our way to Granada.imageOne of the first things we see as we set out to explore Mijas are a lot of donkeys tied up along the main street. These are the donkey taxis that were first started in the 1960s by a local resident who used the donkeys to transport goods.  Early tourists wanted to take pictures with the donkeys and asked to have rides and the tips they offered were more than his day’s wages…and so began the donkey taxis.  I thought that they didn’t look very well cared for and that they were not very healthy and wasn’t interested in making them give me a ride.image image  So, here is the donkey ride I chose.imageWe found a lovely stone bench overlooking the valley and had our picnic lunch here.  imageThere is a very old tiny church which we visit and we want to buy a few things at their little shop but the store didn’t have change for 20€ so we said we would come back later, but when we return they are closed, so we are out of  luck.

mijas-villas.com has this description of the church:”Hidden away in a corner of the village, overlooking the wonderful valley leading to the coast, is the hermitage of the ‘Virgen de la Peña’. Built into a rocky outcrop by Mercedarian monks in 1520. Inside is the image of the ‘Virgen de la Peña’, the patron Saint of the village. According to the legend, she appeared on this spot on the 2nd of June 1586 to two young shepherds that had been led there by a pigeon. Subsequently an image of the Virgin was found concealed in a recess in the tower where it had been hidden for 500 years. In 1656 work started on the sanctuary cave, which is nowadays always decorated with flowers and pictures as offerings.”imageWe then walked around the edge of the town along some of the old original stone walls which offered more great views of the valley below.imageWe enjoyed the gardens along the way which were very well maintained and had more flowering plants than we have seen elsewhere as well as many water features.  It was very pleasant and relaxing.imageWe stopped to watch these rock climbers but they take a long time getting ready to climb so we have to move on. imageWe climbed a little tower on our walk through the town and it gave a nice opportunity to see the roof tops and how tightly packed together the houses are.imageI often see older people sitting on doorsteps or walking along the streets and wish I could take their pictures but I don’t want to be rude or intrusive.  I was able to take this fellow’s photo after we walked by. image

What is not to love about a street as pretty as this?imageCars manage to drive along the narrowest streets and we find them parked in some of the strangest places.  This car had travelled up the street in the second picture.  You may be able to see that the street became much narrower further on. We have no idea how it managed to navigate past the flower pots on this very narrow road or how it is going to turn around to get out of there.  We climbed steps to get to this road!imageAll to soon it is time for us to hit the road.  We need to be in Granada by 6:00 to meet our host for our next apartment.  The scenery changes soon after we leave Mijas, it is drier and we start to see olive trees.imageWe have seen graffiti everywhere we have been in Spain and Portugal.  These tags are all along the highway walls.imageSoon we are driving through mile after mile of olive groves.  We can’t believe how many fields of olive trees there are, stretching as far as the eye can see in all directions. I snap these photos as we drive by so they aren’t wonderful but they do give at leat some idea of all the trees we see on the way to Granada.image

I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to write a comment or ‘like’ a post on this blog. WordPress just sent me a notice that my blog has more than 100 likes and that “my stats are booming and I am getting lots of traffic”  I’m not sure exactly how important that is but I think when people like a post or comment it makes it easier for others to find the blog on search engines.  I am still relatively new to blogging and need to do a bit more research into all this.

I started the blog so friends and family could follow my travels and as a place to show some of my art and I have been rather astounded to find that my blog has had 7,223 views by people in 50 countries since I started it for my trip to Paris in 2014.  So, if you do enjoy a post please feel free to offer a comment or press that like button.  I am behind on responding to comments but I do read them all and I am always thrilled that someone takes the time to comment on what they have read.

We are in Portugal!

Tuesday, October 20

Today we drive to Lisbon. We leave Mérida and cross the border into Portugal near Elvas. We park our car on the edge of the town and walk into the old walled part of the town to find a place to buy Portuguese SIM cards for our phone and iPad.  It isn’t that easy!  The people at the Information office tell us that the Post Office sells them, so we go there and purchase two cards.  We manage to get the first one working after calling the UZO company for help, but we are told it will take 12 hours or more to hook up our iPad internet! It appears that this isn’t the best SIM card for us, but it will get us to Lisbon until we can get a better one there.

Back on the road and I notice a town high on a hill as I am taking pictures out the car window.  I do this to help pass the time on the drive, and sometimes I actually get a decent picture or two.image

I remember my Mom telling me about a town with white houses high on a hill so I check the map and this town is Estremoz. I am pretty sure this is the town my Mom and Dad visited when they were in Portugal years ago, so we take a detour and head for Estremoz.imageAfter having lunch, we walk around and check out a few of the shops and Bob buys himself a souvenir, a big wooden spoon for making his salsa and spaghetti sauce. Orange trees are used for boulevard trees here and some of the other ciities we have been in but so far we haven’t found any that are good to eat.imageThis is one of the many interesting old buildings near the central plaza of Estremoz.
imageWe leave Estremoz by driving on a narrow one way road under some old buildings, and this is the way to the main road! Once again I think how happy I am to have the iPad GPS.  No way I could find my way around without it.image

We pass lots of cork trees but there is no place to stop so I don’t get any pictures, but I take this photo of some coniferous trees lining the road and get a weird effect happening.  No idea what caused it but I kind of like it. image

The houses we are passing have changed, they are now painted white or pastel colours instead of the brick or stone we have seen up till now.image  The clouds start to build and soon it is raining.imageWe arrive in Caxias, which is a town just outside of Lisbon and check into our apartment for the next week.  We have been very lucky with our Airbnb bookings and this apartment seems just as nice as our other bookings. It was less than a five hour drive but it seems like it has been a long day and it was nice to walk into such a nice place.imageimage