A Travellerspoint blog

March 2017

Oh, the Yin and the Yang of it all...

The road up and the road down are the same thing. (Hippolytus of Rome (170 – 235 AD) No they are not.

Leaving Salamanca we point ourselves toward Portugal. It is ridiculously thrilling to cross a border from one country to another, even if that crossing point is more or less unmarked and barely acknowledged.

Soon enough we begin a steady climb into the Serra da Estrela mountains, the highest in Portugal and home to a national park and the only skiing available in the country. Gradually the roads become narrower and more winding. We are much relieved that we meet no other vehicle and eventually with the altitude at 1500 metres we arrive at Casa Penhas Douradas in Manteigas. It doesn't look especially enticing from outside, a slightly disconnected collection of very red roofed buildings, clearly modern but also very simple architecture. Huts with chutzpah.

We check in and are shown around and given the choice of two rooms. We immediately go back to the car and remonstrate with the sat nav. We explain to it we are clearly in Sweden, what part of take us to Portugal, we ask, did you not understand?

The sat nav says nothing but displays some graphic evidence to support its position. So we happily go back inside and continue to investigate this trendy blonde wood everywhere including the ceilings, walls and furniture boutique hotel, with its mid 20th century chairs and sofas, its collection of ancient skis and ice skates and it's enchanting rugs and tapestries and wall coverings apparently made of felt, of which more later...

It's mid afternoon and we are invited to help ourselves to coffee and cakes whilst the chef arrives to discuss our requirements for dinner. There is bacalhau (or bacalao in Spanish) the salted dry cod that can be disgusting and despite our reservations we take the risk, and are very glad later as it is delicious because it is prepared in house.

At 1500 metres the snow is still very evident, thick but patchy and as we walk down the winding road to a lake, the spring temperatures have started the melt and water tumbles downhill through gullies and water carved courses to the lake below. Across chiaroscuro mountains we can see Spain perhaps 50 miles away. The air is markedly fresh if a little thin and the uphill takes our breath, a small price to feel so free and cuddled by the natural world.

Dinner there always starts with a cocktail and in the lovely sitting room warmed by the wood burner we sip a sweet something adorned with a giant grape. The dinner that follows is our best meal of our trip, the slightly stodgy but yummy pudding the only misstep. We have a good Brexit moan chat with the English fluent chef, and learn a little of the Portuguese point of view.

We have an overnight in another small city on our way to Lisbon, where we will meet with friends who are flying over for the weekend and despite the indulgent pleasures of where we are, we have to set off again but have a rendezvous at a factory back down the mountain in Mantegais.

The 'felt' so evident in the hotel is in fact Burel, an artisanal and ancient product initially made to keep the shepherds warm and dry. This is made from woven wool that is boiled and shrunk and then pounded and compressed so that weave is no longer visible. It is very strong and water resistant. The owners of the hotel also own the factory, 'exhumed' in 2012 to give back to and help the local community and populated with resurrected cadavers of early and mid 20th century looms.

The factory has two lines the burel and traditional wool weaving. Some of the patterns are traditional but many are modern. What's intriguing, particularly for the burel is that the material has attracted the attention of designers world wide. This rather odd, and on the face of it, not very useful fabric, has been adopted in very clever ways - 3 dimensional wall coverings, handbags and wallets, sculptural furniture covering, duffel type coats, even shoes.

We leave Mantegais climbing back up the mountain even higher than our hotel and thrilled at our lovely stay and interesting factory tour. We expect to again go back down the mountain but instead find ourselves on a mountain plain, still elevated at 1200 metres but almost flat and only very slowly flattening over many miles.

We arrive at Castelo Branco, chosen for no reason other than it is halfway to LIsbon and is said to have some interesting museums. And thus we discover that the Roman sage quoted at the start of this account has never been to this 'Aldershot' of Portugal. We drive around and around looking in vain for some reason to get out of the car and instead retreat to our lackluster hotel, eat a boring vegetable stew of once frozen items and give a wink and a nod at the god of tourism who has balanced our previous highs with our current, thankfully brief, descent into dullsville. We high-tail it on our sturdy bronco (Peugot) out of Castello Branco.

Mountain lake at 1500 metres

Mountain lake at 1500 metres


Reversible burel made as wall covering

Reversible burel made as wall covering


Yew table - what a beauty.

Yew table - what a beauty.


Blonde wood everywhere; note the stool fabric

Blonde wood everywhere; note the stool fabric


Quirky interior

Quirky interior

Posted by Jean-and-Tony 17:00 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Super Salamanca Murders Madrid and Zaps Zaragoza

We leave Madrid through surprisingly light Monday morning traffic and are quickly on a pretty drive through low mountains and fertile plains, with higher pine clad snow capped mountains in the distance. It's a two hour drive to Salamanca our next stopover and though we have researched museums and sites we have no expectations.

We are staying in a Parador (a state run hotel chain, usually in ancient buildings) on a hill overlooking the historic centre. But in a break from the usual, it is a modern hotel, though quite stately and clad in corten - deliberately rusted steel - and the rich red tones remind us that wine is waiting for us later. For 10 euros we upgrade our room for a town view. Money well spent we think.

Salamanca is a university city with claims to global significance and the sixth oldest in the world, and dating back to the 11th century. It is particularly known for its language school as the Castilian Spanish spoken in the region is the equivalent of received pronunciation English or Oxford English. It is a stunningly beautiful place, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site . The centre and right up to the more modern parts are all built with a glowing, softly mottled sandstone, sometimes roughly hewn sometimes more polished. Any new buildings, always sensitively designed are sandstone too. It is generally low rise and the monumental buildings soar up from their neighbours, the Cathedral anyway already on the highest ground.

It's a perfect city for walking and our feet are the only complainers as they notch up another five miles. It's a perfect city too for coffee and pastry shops and we are doggedly munching our way through some horrible things, some so bad we have two of them so some other luckless person doesn't have to suffer.

We went to a fabulous museum set in an art nouveau palace, of the small kind (for a palace). It had a very beautiful inner courtyard with an atrium roof of glowing abstract stained glass. There were very good collections of Art Deco glass and ornaments particularly Émile Gallé, a French artist. Plenty of good art nouveau and Deco furniture and paintings and a slightly disturbing and very large collection of dolls, marionettes and clockwork mannequins. One charming and unusual detail is that the town has its own font, a kind of art nouveau style and every building of interest has its name and sometimes other details hand written on it in a rusty colour.

Another city and another cathedral, actually two here as they built a new one right next to the old one. Built of course in sandstone, the style is 'Plateresque' a kind of exotic blend of gothic and Mudéjar. Plateresque means in the manner of the silversmith and the decorative elements do indeed have that aspect. Apparently when the cathedral was being renovated in the 90's one of the stone masons carved an astronaut into a new section, as well as faun eating an ice-cream, though I confess we missed this detail.

The university has buildings all over the city and we walk around oasis cloisters glad that after some very chilly days in Madrid we can bask in some warming sunshine. We take our lunch in a busy pedestrianised street enjoying a veggie paella and thirst quenching cerveza.

After five cities an inevitable list is forming. We don't set out to make a list but as we experience the difference between one place and another our emotional responses begin to coalesce into preferences. Despite being irresistibly drawn to the large and capital cities, twice now we have felt most at home in the smaller more intimate ones where the scale horizontally and vertically is much more welcoming. Salamanca is winning the city competition right now, partly because it is so lovingly restored and maintained, partly because it is so very beautiful to look at, and partly because it has an interesting intimacy. And pastries.

For now though we have done with Spain and on our last night in Salamanca we enjoyed a very fine meal in a local restaurant which knocked the pants off the restaurant in the Parador. Tomorrow we cross into Portugal and are staying in a national park and intend to do very little except hug trees and sit still, ideally in the sunshine. We have walked more than 50 miles in the past few days and need some down time. Scary update... may only be 14 degrees up on the mountains...

Elektra coffee machine

Elektra coffee machine


Wow

Wow


Lovely city centre buildings

Lovely city centre buildings


University cloister

University cloister


Salamanca art nouveau type face

Salamanca art nouveau type face


Street view of the Art Nouveau museum

Street view of the Art Nouveau museum


Interesting house decoration detail

Interesting house decoration detail


Close up of sandstone blocks

Close up of sandstone blocks


One of many lovely plazas

One of many lovely plazas


Keeping your insides clean

Keeping your insides clean


One of Spain's premier squares

One of Spain's premier squares


Handsome sandstone carving on ugly building

Handsome sandstone carving on ugly building

Posted by Jean-and-Tony 17:00 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Mad for Madrid?

We leave Zaragoza on the way to Madrid and are quickly driving through low mountains of extraordinary 'bumpiness' - surely a proper geo-topographic word we think. More up and down than a tart's knickers at a fair as my grandfather would have said, at once both sexist and inappropriate.

Despite the high terrain there is much evidence of cultivation, mostly olive trees and already in flower almond trees. There are no farmhouses to be seen and we wonder who tends these hard to access crops. Soon the green gives way to higher sparse grey rock and we are immediately struck by the flat topped mountains and their similarity to the ranges we saw in Arizona. The doppelgänger geography continues as the rocks become red sandstone and we almost expect to see the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon.

We make a scheduled stop at Guadalajara, simply because of the name and it's a mistake. Tony was thinking, perhaps, of the one in western Mexico. Or Swindon. We take a photograph (with our fingers over the lens) as we assume it's a legal requirement for a tourist and high tail out of there as fast as we can without starting a panic.

As the landscape flattens the traffic slowly swells and the ugly outskirts of Madrid reveal even further American ties as huge billboards sit atop 50 foot masts. We slow to a crawl and join a Friday afternoon reverse exodus and concentrate a great deal as we navigate the wide streets with frantic traffic as we get to the city centre. It has to be said though that the drivers seem very courteous especially towards pedestrians. Nearly every cross road has lights and timed pedestrian lights, however traffic can still turn right but has to give way, and give way they do even on crossings with no lights. Quite curious to see considerate motorists especially compared to France where they will kill you if dare to cross.

Our new apartment is well located but the high standards of our Barcelona pad are not met. It's perfectly fine but the it has a kitchenette suitable for making a hot drink and not much more. There is exactly two of everything and it is all a bit mingy, but not to carp, it's well located and is quite stylish with a very fine roof terrace for the daily G & T.

We are rather tired tourists today as at three in the morning the (presumably Spanish) guests upstairs came home and proceeded to promenade around with their high heels on whilst relocating all the furniture by dragging it across the floor. So we signed up for the hop on and off bus and got a feel for the place without walking. It's a capital city of course with a scale to match so it was a good introduction with the advantage that you can get off at any time. In truth though we made our morning priority a fairly long walk to the artisan coffee shop for our breakfast. And because the other must visit coffee shop was 200 metres away we went straight there and repeated the whole thing.

Madrid is not much like Barcelona, the architecture is grander, bigger and dressed to impress. The plazas are huge and the civic monuments and palaces immense. It did though share with Barcelona a determination to construct considered architecture and the Gran Via is a showcase for early 20th century styles. Built in three sections between 1910 and 1928 it is an architectural time line with styles from Vienna Succession Art Nouveau to Art Deco to a kind of Moorish revival called Neo-Mudéjar. The street is a European Broadway with many theatres and a 24 hour night life... not that we are doing much of that as we have our own nighttime entertainment upstairs.

For every gloat there is yang and after telling you of our 26 degrees a few days ago it is now very cold - 6 degrees. Our receptionist told us that he saw snow 2 days ago only the second time in his life.

We visited an Escher exhibition set in a fantastic and beautiful but curiously small palace. It was like someone wanted a scaled down but perfectly proportioned model. It made a great space for viewing the comprehensive display however and having never seen anything other than reproductions of the work, the skill of the artists woodcuts and engravings was very apparent, one of those city finds that is delight when the queues for the major galleries are around the block.

After a disco free night we are pleased the temperature is higher though the whole of Spain is wreathed in clouds. Because it's Mothering Sunday Tony lets Jean cook him a veggie full English and because we lost an hour with the clock change we are very slobby tourists and a somewhat disgruntled maid has to be turned away until later.

The Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real de Madrid) is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family and the largest palace in Europe with some 3,418 rooms. Really. Fortunately the Japanese have built a Bullet train through it and we get the whole thing done in 90 seconds. Kidding. It is ridiculously sumptuous; if the Spanish like their churches ornate, they like their homages to monarchy even grander.

As we wander around the 25 or so public rooms we are amazed, we are astounded, then gob-smacked and then in a room of pale pink and not much else are relieved to be able to retrieve our eyes from the stalks they have been on. But there is no rest, in no time we are awe struck, mesmerised and discombobulated. In the end though we assume the voice of Harry Enfield as Stravos and say to each other 'It's crazy bonkers, peeps'. God and Mammon. It's hard to know who has the best architecture. Or perhaps the most disturbingly inappropriate and greedy use of resource: one to celebrate the unknowable, the other to celebrate hubris and inequality.

One of things that has not been good in general is that Spain has a very evident tagging and graffiti problem. Whilst the main streets are free of this visual blight, go down any side street and all you see is spray paint. So ugly, so unimaginative and so utterly banal.

We are definitely going Iberian, we are at least 2 - 3 hours later doing everything. We're just in from visiting the modern art museum Reine Sofia and its 8 o'clock gone. For the third night here we are going to cook in and chill. We have realised that our own space is a perfect antidote for the full on commitment of tourism. Yes we risk missing good cuisine, and we imagine there is plenty to be found here, but our legs are tired and besides the strength of G and T that come out of our home bar would likely not be matched out there.

So Madrid, what did we think? Usual city rules apply - we can only sample it in a couple of days but we have a sense of it. Where it's not ostentatiously grand it is conspicuously tatty. There is plenty of culture here, much much more we can shake a stick at. More than we can hit or poke with a stick, which surely is the best way to use a stick. The lesson so far from our European tour is that with so many cities so close together that we need more down time between them or more time in them.

It doesn't feel like an intimate city but we have really only seen the equivalent of Leicester Square and Maybe Knightsbridge. There are many neighbourhoods here we haven't found (apart from when Jean took Tony on the coffee route!) and it is a city of global significance, the third largest in Europe after London and Berlin. So we respect you Madrid, but we don't love you but know that if we knew you better we might.

Pallacio Real from our roof garden

Pallacio Real from our roof garden


Jean Escher ???

Jean Escher ???


Ummmm

Ummmm


Trompe l'oeil shawl dropped building

Trompe l'oeil shawl dropped building


Art Deco building in Gran Via

Art Deco building in Gran Via


Old and new in Gran Via

Old and new in Gran Via


Architecture

Architecture


More architecture...

More architecture...


Architecture

Architecture


Zoological Gardens? No, a railway station

Zoological Gardens? No, a railway station


Turtle pond.... in railway statiom

Turtle pond.... in railway statiom

Posted by Jean-and-Tony 17:00 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Zaragoza - A gem of a city with an historic heart.

Leaving Barcelona we head north into the mountains to visit Monistrol de Montserrat, a Benedictine monastery. Even Berkeley Homes wouldn't put Chinese buy to leave bait up here. We park in the village at the foot of the mountain and take a 'rack' railway ride to the mountain top. The train engages with a cog rail between the wheel tracks and winds it's way up at a far steeper gradient than would be possible for a normal train. A bit scary but fun, though we pass on the funicular which has parallelogram shaped carriages and would have taken us at 45 degrees to the very highest point.

The centerpiece is a fine church with captive choristers compelled to sing 24 hours a day until their testicles drop and a much queued for black Madonna who wears a Mexican hat. Look I only record what we see, so please don't expect explanations. Later in a cosy and modern art museum we see some French impressionist artists, and new to us Spanish painters and a whole room of black Madonna painting each with a grander hat than the last.

A four hour drive across an increasingly flattening plain with scrubby agriculture poking out from grey and stony fields takes us to the predictably unprepossessing outskirts of Zaragoza. In Europe generally there is a consensus that the centers of towns and cities are left pretty much alone and all the scaby shops and new development radiates ever outwards, but never inwards.

After our luxury pad in Barcelona we are going budget for a couple of nights though our tiny underwhelming room has a grand view across the river to a magnificent Basilica. The joy ends there though as they haven't switched the AC on despite the very warm spring weather and we have an eight hour sauna. The good news is that having shed 4 kilos in the night a breakfast entirely made from fat, flour and sugar mysteriously reformed into delicious pastries is wholly justified.

Twitching slightly from our sugar overload we set out to explore with no particular expectations. But Zaragoza is lovely. Full of 18th century squares, wide boulevards (or bulevars I suppose) the historic center is well preserved and easily walkable although an Expo here in 2008 has left a sharp legacy of avant-garde monuments. It is a modern city too with a very posh tram system, many cycle lanes and a deliberate blurring of road and pavement to calm traffic. Possibly a post Expo legacy is that the lighting columns to illuminate the monuments have a fabulous post-industrial look, themselves small design marvels.

Our first stop is the Basilica. For atheists like us it still comes as a surprise how seriously many folk take their beliefs and an endless queue of worshippers pay their respects. But what a place to find God. Cathedrals are definitively designed to impress, to pay homage to the ultimate being. And this church has pulled out all the stops to incorporate all the finest skills of the architect, the stone masons and the wood carvers. One small disappointment is the electric candles, the smell of wax being such a part of Catholic ritual. There are many confession booths scattered about but the confessor kneels outside the box talking in and rather oddly both sides can be used which could easily we imagine give rise to some very bizarre conversations, not to mention secrets accidentally shared. Later in town we see a shop selling religious regalia - fair enough but these all look like Ku Klux Klan outfits. Any clues as to why anyone?

From the sublime to the folded, our next stop is a museum of origami. Apparently since the 1940's this city has been the leading western centre for this oriental art and is responsible by and large for introducing the paper folding experience to the west. As we visited, a class of mostly women were just finishing their folding tutorial and to claps and squeals held up their creations for group approval.

We are a little surprised that the museums take siestas and our plans are curtailed somewhat with a 3 hour close at two o'clock. So we take a leisurely stroll and a leisurely lunch. We accidentally order griddled aubergine with grilled cheese on pineapple on toast with a balsamic drizzle. We are obliged to remonstrate with the chef and explain cheese and pineapple should always be served on a stick and belongs to the haute cuisine of England.

Later we visit a Moorish palace, much 'top-dogged' later by uppity Catholics and leading to a peculiar but not unharmonious collision of rich decorative palates. For the second time today we have each paid a mere Euro to gain entrance to our museums, excellent value. The city has a Roman lineage, reflected both in the street names and the huge dis-interred amphitheater, one of three well preserved sites.

The Roman theme is elsewhere and we take our evening meal (as late as we dare, trying to get used to the Spanish style) in what has to be described as a food court, but is very upmarket and buzzing with an extraordinary array of fabulous foods. A 25 foot Caesar rises from the ground floor through the eateries (almost matching the statue of Marilyn Monroe in Palm Springs) adding a ridiculous elan to the whole thing. It is all very clever and we note people ordering from multiple outlets and sitting anywhere there is space then via an electronic paging device a message tells them when their order is ready to collect.

Tomorrow we go to Madrid via Guadalajara. The last just a day visit and we again will stay in an apartment in Madrid. We are liking Spain immensely. It is both relaxed and buzzy. Everywhere is good (enough) coffee and definitely good pastries. People are friendly and helpful. Today for example on our way to the origami museum and paused to check our whereabouts a young women Sonja stopped to help and insisted on walking with us to our destination. A small act of social connection and kindness of the sort that sticks in the mind and makes travel so satisfying.

Zaragoza

Zaragoza


Zaragoza

Zaragoza


Street sculpture

Street sculpture


Ku Klux Klan religious costumes

Ku Klux Klan religious costumes


Moorish arches in Palacio

Moorish arches in Palacio

Posted by Jean-and-Tony 17:00 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Gaudi but not gaudy

We've had a week in our French house repairing some ravages from hurricane Doris, cutting the grass and catching up with the neighbours. The sale of our French house is going well; the buyer signed the documents and they were sent via courier to the agent about an hour south of us who then sent the documents to us via courier. As we checked the progress we saw that first it went to Bordeaux then to Paris then to Leipzig (Germany for the geography-impaired like me) then back to Nantes and finally to us. 24 hours for a 50 mile journey.

But now we are on our way to Barcelona, with an overnight in Montabaun a fine old city north of Toulouse and home of the classicist painter Ingres. Halfway here we are phoned by Booking.com to say an 'incident' at our booked hotel means we have to stay somewhere else. Hotel du Commerce it turns out. A handsome building built with the local pink bricks with a recent refurb and a trendy reception and public rooms. Sadly the refurbishment extends only to the first floor and our room on the second is a throwback to all that is ghastly about French provincial hotels. The upside is that next door there is a very fine restaurant and in a vaulted basement we have (forgive me fellow Francophiles) that rare thing, cooking that is worth eating. A curious and delicious highlight was tiny pea sized onions that accompanied our fish. Intense and fruity it was not until the plates had long departed we finally figured out what we had eaten.

Up with the lark, well an elderly slightly arthritic lark, we set off. Except we don't. Inexplicably our car won't start and we hope to be grateful that the breakdown insurance has our back. We return to the hotel and they allow us to sit in the handsome lounge whilst we await help. Impressively help comes in about 90 minutes, and this is a Sunday, and with a portable charger it takes all of 2 more minutes to get us on our way. As we drive south we watch delighted as the temperature outside increases by a degree every half hour and by the time we hit the outskirts of Barcelona it's 26 degrees. Even with our relatively large experience of European driving in big cities it is a tad scary and despite a motorcyclist who undertakes us just as we are turning we arrive at our oh so cool apartment.

Despite the noise from the street below we have four sheets of glass making for a quiet oasis. The flat is trés chic or Spanish equivalent, well appointed (a curious and ridiculous phrase no?) and has oodles of space. Giant sliding warehouse style doors separate our super king bed from our living area which has Philipe Stark Ghost chairs and smart black leather furniture. Naturally we have our own gin and tonic with us and we sit on our private roof terrace looking at the apartments opposite, many draped with their Catalan independence flags. We expect Nicola Sturgeon to drop by to learn how it's done.

We are located in the central Eixample district, the Catalan 'X' pronounced as 'sh'. We are within a mile or less of the the best three Gaudi buildings. Tony first made a Gaudi pilgrimage nearly 50 years ago, and it's probably 20 years since Jean threw up in Gaudi's toilet in the Casa Mila (or La Pedrera as the locals call it) after a poisonous ice cream from a street vendor.

Fifty years has not dimmed Tony's enthusiasm, and as we revisit the Sagrada Familia cathedral begun in 1882 and due to be finished in time for the death centenary of the architect in 2026, the extraordinary creative vision shines ever brighter. It is at once familiar and totally surprising. Taking all the familiar iconography of Christian building styles it pushes every aspect to thrilling conclusions. No angle is unconsidered or predictable , no surface without astonishing geometry. It's no wonder Gaudi described himself as a 'geometrist'.

We also revisit the Pedrera a curvaceous apartment block and visit the Casa Battló once a private home. The local name translates as 'house of bones' and it has a skeletal organic quality with its nod to art nouveau, but smashed on absinthe. Apart from the doors there is not a straight line anywhere, just oozing flowing forms endlessly inventive and marvellous.

We are taking advantage of our apartment to cook for ourselves in the evening, reducing the temptation to 'endure' the 3 course set meals and wine. Instead generous g's and t's help us woozily prepare the very fine produce from the large covered market nearby, conveniently situated above a supermarket.

We found an extremely impressive veggie restaurant called Flax and Kale for lunch and had very upmarket ingredients like trinxat made of vegan botifarra negra and chlorella. Frankly I have no idea so don't ask, I just copied and pasted from their menu.

And of course they know how to make coffee here. I know, I know, not the fooking coffee blog again. Seriously, what did you expect? But we'll keep it to under 20,000 words. We had two agenda's and not necessarily in this order: culture and coffee. Barcelona has an emerging artisan coffee movement we are told and we walked miles to be certain they were telling the truth. Today at Onna we had good coffee and great food. Guess what? The food was made by an English lady from Wimbledon! But - it wasn't as good as the previous coffee in an unlikely named coffee shop "Satan's Place" - we rather thought we had fetched up in heaven.

Barcelona is a big sprawling city most of it mid-rise apartment blocks 6 - 9 storeys. Occasionally new blocks seem to have caught the greedy developer disease and soar 13 storeys high. I imagine though, it will be a few millennia before the whole city has been rebuilt in the name of mammon.

The large L'Eixample district (Eixample means extension), is rigorously built on a square grid and mostly constructed in the early to mid 19th century and early 20th as the city outgrew its original boundaries. The architecture is wonderful. Taking formal elements of neoclassical design as a starting point the buildings have an endlessly inventive yet elegant quality, sublimely sprinkled with nature-inspired features employing iron, glass, and florid ceramic motif, all of which are seen in dazzling abundance in the city.

Today L'Eixample boasts the highest concentration of 'moderniste' architecture in the world, a somewhat confusing term, as 'modernism' generally denotes the 20th-century unadorned functional style. It is perhaps better known to us as Art Nouveau although here (Gaudi excepted) it is less florid than the Vienna school. Sometimes a parvenu architect has thought '...um Gaudi, I want a bit of that' and has grafted on some just about credible sinuous facade elements.

Occasionally a clearly modern blocks slip in between their older cousins but the family likeness is always somehow present. Each block of maybe 100 metres has many individual terraced apartments, some a few meters wide, others the width of the block. Even though it is densely urban each block seems to be somewhat self contained. At street level there are many shops and everything you want is close at hand.

The city has that rare thing: a keen sense of its own cultural identity but no shame at all in warmly embracing the wealth of global influences. France pay attention - you have for many years quietly been pre-dating Mr Trump by shunning the rest of the world. If France has a comb over and suspiciously full lips then Spain has extensions and a tattoo in Cantonese calligraphy. If that sentence makes no sense I plead intoxication.

We've walked many miles - in the Old Gothic Quarter as well as the Eixample and been busy and committed tourists, but the city is too large for a mere three day stay to be enough but that's ok. Tomorrow we start to move inland away from coastal Catalan to the towns and cities of the interior.

Casa Battlo

Casa Battlo


Gaudi chimneysat Casa Batllo

Gaudi chimneysat Casa Batllo


The Predrera by Gaudi

The Predrera by Gaudi


Familia Sagrada

Familia Sagrada


Sagrada interior

Sagrada interior

Posted by Jean-and-Tony 17:00 Archived in Spain Comments (0)