Tag Archives: spain

Christmas in Seville: Day 4 – Finally The Cathedral

Yes, we really could have spent a few days longer here. It’s one of those stupid balancing acts that you have to play with the number of vacation days you have and which place best matches that number. With Seville, I think I hadn’t banked on their being so much to see here outside the Lonely Planet item and maybe a few museums. Goes to show just how full of surprises Spain’s fourth largest city is.

Today was the last day, which meant we had the morning and early afternoon to mop up the items from our original itinerary. A late breakfast of tea, orange juice and a toasted roll with Spanish ham and tomato was exactly what was needed to help set us up for the day and so we were off for a final attempt to get into the cathedral.

Since it was the final day with not much on, it really did allow for greater appreciation of the buildings in the old town area. Like with certain areas of London, this section of Seville really pays dividends if you just crane your head up a bit. Some Muslim inspired archwork here, a beautifully decorated turret there. All things we couldn’t see lit up by Christmas lights looked wonderful in the blue skies and warm sun of this December morning.

Despite there being a long queue, the size of Seville Cathedral (the largest cathedral in Europe and one of the largest Christian places of worship in the world) is so cavernous that the masses are quickly diluted once inside. It felt remarkably empty, with the many decorated alcoves being devoid of onlookers or barely populated.

In the end we spent over an hour and a half here because there was just so many different things to see. For one, you have the tomb of Christopher Columbus who – whatever your feelings towards him and his actions in the Americas – is such an important figure in Spanish history. The way that his tomb is placed, held aloft by statues of pallbearers, has his body on the march to the main alter – which is a cool image once you notice it.

Sadly, a lot of the elaborate altarpieces and chapels are behind iron grates – presumably as protection – but there’s so much scope for pictures as long as you are to strategically position yourself or your phone/camera.

It’s also worth noting that, on this day, the sun was shining so brightly in the sky that the stained glass on the eastern side of the cathedral was casting large coloured swatches across the beams and other sections of the interior. Made me think back to the windows of the Sagrada Familia and how this felt like a gothic cathedral version of what Gaudi is trying to achieve.

You can’t come to the cathedral without a trip up La Giralda – the giant tower that started life as a minaret back when a mosque was originally founded on this site. Thankfully the steps are minimal due to 34 ramps and then 17 steps at the end. You end up so high by the end of your climb, which makes the views up here some of the best in Seville.

Being up here was like Montparnasse Tower in Paris, in that I got a chance to see the greatest hits of the different sites I’ve seen over the last few days, in one direction was the brilliantly bizarre Metropol Parasol where we could see individual people roaming along the folds and enjoying the many views. From another side, we could see sections of the Alcazar and it’s gardens as well a glimpse of the Plaza de España. Goes to show now walkable this city is.

We would have spent a bit longer at the top of La Giralda, but the wind suddenly kicked up to the point where people were getting rather wobbly. So, we descended the ramps and finished off our visit to the Cathedral with a walk through the treasury and the vividly red chapter house with its exceptional acoustics. I know I’ve probably missed out a lot of things in here, but it’s just so big that you end up getting a bit lost.

Tickets to the cathedral came with free same day entry to the Iglesias del Divino Salvador. Since we had a little time to kill before we had to be off to the airport, we figured that this would be a good way to spend a little time. Oh good grief, this was a beautiful church whose front facade I forgot to photograph and instead just focused on the, now fairly empty square where we are churros a few days ago.

Inside this church, choral music was playing and all the treasures were shining so brightly it was like they’d been given a fresh coat of polish. I had one of those moments where I felt a bit short of breath and covered in goosebumps, some might have considered that a religious experience – to me it was like sensory overload combined with ASMR.

Every alcove was full with statues and beautifully crafted and shining pieces of metal work. It’s really hard to pinpoint specific ones, but there were some elements – such as a brilliant carving of a lamenting Christ and one of the most beautiful Virgin Mary pieces I’ve ever seen – that are likely to stick with me.

They also had a Nativity up, made of all the usual suspects and some interesting additions like a cat and a family of quails. This guarded one of the two entries to the sacristies that took you behind the main alter and had some interesting treasures such as reliquaries and a vivid red-eyed statue depicting Mary as the Lady of Sorrows.

And that’s it for this brief sojourn to Seville. We went from the church to the airport via our hotel to pick up our luggage. A late lunch was some locally available Burger King items in the departure lounge as we watched our plane getting more and more delayed (in part to the massive thunderstorm that had hit earlier). We didn’t necessarily get the holiday I expected that would be filled with Christmas markets, as the markets are pretty tiny and non-Christmassy compared to what I’ve seen in Munich, Vienna and Riga – but it’s been a lovely long weekend.

As of the moment, I have no idea of any future holiday destinations to come – so I had better get thinking so that I have something to look forward to. I’ve definitely been spoiled in 2019 with trips to Paris, Korea, Hong Kong and now Seville. Cannot help but wonder what might await in 2020.

Christmas in Seville: Day 3 – Palaces and Les Setas

Lots of little things done today, but it all started with a light breakfast of espresso and an ensaïmada from the cafe/bakery around the corner. We realised that lunch would only be a few hours away, so why not go for a regional(ish) pastry that I had never seen before.

To get to our first stop of the day, we had to make our way along the river and back into the Parque de Maria Luisa and finish off the final section that we hadn’t explored in our first afternoon. This particular area is called the Plaza América and, like the Plaza de España, was constructed for the 1929 Ibero-American exhibition. These pavilions have since been converted to other usages. Our destination, the Archaeological museum, having previously been the Renaissance Pavilion.

Regrettably the basement containing the pre-Roman era golden treasures was closed because of ‘technical issues’ (ain’t that just the way) so we made do with the ground floor. Entrance was free because, for now, we’re both EU citizens – you can’t really argue with free entry. Also, the set up of the museum itself was beautiful with many big rooms with well set out treasures.

Two of the rooms really stood out for me. First was Room XIX with the incredibly well preserved statue of Diana set in front of columns. This led directly into the other, and more spectacular Room XX which is a grand rotunda with large statues of Trajan and Hadrian (who were born nearby) and busts of many other Roman emperors. Then there’s the large mosaic in the middle, which just ties the whole room together. Who put this together deserves some sort of raise.

We were done with the archaeological museum earlier than expected, so we popped into the opposite Popular Arts and Traditions museum. Its essentially a museum that has a number of exhibitions to demonstrate how those who worked in different traditional occupations worked. So you have example workshops set up for guitar makers, goldsmiths, pottery decorators etc as well as some example works. Interesting enough for a quick and free (thanks EU membership, I’m going to miss you like crazy) visit to get some more context of the region.

On our way to lunch we, once again, went by the Torre del Oro and actually paid to go up to the top. You get some great, views of the Centro and Santa Cruz area from up there. It really shows off just how big Seville Cathedral is too. I hope we actually get to go in tomorrow, else I’m going to be so disappointed. The tower also had a small exhibition on the naval history of Seville, but we were here for the view so marched past it.

Lunch was originally going to be over the bridge and at Triana Market as so many guides had recommended it. However, it’s Sunday and despite it technicality having opened an hour earlier, nearly everything was basically closed. So, not to be discouraged from at least having one meal in Triana, we found a place and ordered a various bunch of little bocadillos and just shared them. Truly, this is right up my alley and I wished I had the stomach space to have tried more from the menu.

Fuelled up, it was back over the bridge again as we were going to visit the second of the three big things I wanted to see whilst in Seville (the final one being the cathedral). They go by two names: the Metropol Parasol or Les Setas de Sevilla. It’s a giant wooden mushroom-like structure that is stunning to look at and gives similarly great views of the surrounding city from the top.

Considering all the old things that I have seen in Seville, there is such a big contrast when dealing with something so modern. I can see how it might polarise opinion within Seville, but I absolutely love it. It’s bizarre, whimsical, functional and had all the unique hallmarks of what makes a great landmark. Also, it has the superlative of being the largest wooden structure in the world. It’s one of those essential things to see when in Seville.

After a hot chocolate at they top of the wooden mushrooms, we headed off to the first of the two remaining stately homes that we wanted to hit up (the first being Pilate’s House yesterday). Since it was the furthest out, we first went to the Palacio de las Dueñas.

This is one of the private residences owned by the Duke of Alba and is one of those places where you manage to forget that you are in the middle of a major city. The lemon tree garden is especially beautiful to both see and smell as you wander around seeing statues and more citrus trees that you would know what to do with. It’s probably the most zen part of the residence, give the rather ‘eclectic’ art collection on display which includes a painting of rather stressed kittens playing instruments and a vase with demonic looking babies on it.

The Palacio de las Dueñas also contains a beautiful central courtyard, which was clearly modelled on the Maidens Courtyard in the Alcazar. This is not the only part of the residence that has been modelled on the Alcazar, but it’s probably the part that has been able to carry it off to the point that it’s gorgeous in its own right.

Next was the Palacio de la Contessa de Lebrija. This is a smaller residence bought by the Countess of Lebrija in 1901 who took it upon herself to remodel it almost entirely and fill it with her own increasing collection of artwork from around the world. If the tour we got of the first floor is anything to go by, where we saw her sticking plates to Stars of David on the ceiling, she was a bit of an eccentric and probably what I would have been like if I was a single aristocrat in that era.

Two things are particularly notable in this house. The first is the amazing yellow and blue tiles on the staircase. I have seen many an example of a tiled surface over the last few days, but this staircase really is in a league of its own when it comes to audacious colours. The other major things of note are the ancient mosaics that the countess had transported and laid in her residence. She even went as far as to completely remodel the walls of rooms in order to keep this mosaics whole. That is ridiculous money right there.

After this residence we went back to the hotel for a bit of a recharge and then headed out to see a flamenco show at the Teatro Flamenco Triana. My word. I’ve only seen snippets of flamenco when it’s part of scene in film and TV – which does not adequately prepare you for what it’s going to be like in real life. We were in the front row which meant a lot of seeing exactly how fast the feet were moving and a lot of uncomfortable eye contact. The hour flew by in an instant and don’t think I will ever understand just how the feet can move that fast.

Given it was late on a Sunday, a lot of the tapas places in Triana that we wanted to hit up were either full or shut – so we followed TripAdvisor until we ended up at the restaurant next to the hotel. Go figure, it was a brilliant really great place where I had butifarra and egg for a main and then torrijas for dessert.

When I write these posts, I try and think of a thread or a theme that unites a bunch of the activities together. To be honest, I can’t think of one today because of how eclectic the different things have been. Guess it just goes to show the number of different sides to Seville you can see today. Shame that, given it’s a Sunday, the churches were pretty much off limits. That’ll be our final morning/afternoon then. Knowing what I know now, we probably should have stayed here for longer.

Christmas in Seville: Day 2 – The Alcazar

So today is the day that we were going to discover the Real Alcazar aka the reason behind Seville being on my radar as a place that I really had to visit. Now that I am here, I have to say that I am really loving most of what I have seen so far. This may be coloured by the gorgeous Christmas lights, but that’s by the by.

A trip to the Alcazar demands a good breakfast and the one that we had La Cacharreria really helped to set us up. One large toast with Serrano ham, one with old cheese and a mug of vanilla rooibos tea. Truly a delicious breakfast and so reasonably priced, little wonder that this place was completely packed by the time we left.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 94/100Sight: Real Alcázar
Location: Seville, Spain
Position: #235

Filled it was time to venture to the Alcazar, which was even more extraordinary than I had imagined. Given its position on the Lonely Planet list, the mind boggles at how much more extraordinary the Alhambra would be. That’s a trip for another time though, so let’s focus on the Alcazar.

In total we spent about four hours here, it could have easily been longer but limited time and all that. The majority of the time being spent navigating the many rooms of this royal palace. The way that the tour and audioguide is organised is clever because you could easily end up in the most impressive rooms straight away and everything else would slightly pale in comparison.

That isn’t to say that these earlier rooms aren’t beautiful to look at, because they are. The Hunters’ Courtyard featuring the front facade of the main building is a gorgeous piece of architecture unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s just that beyond that door lies the The Maidens’ Courtyard and that’s where suddenly you need to adjust your expectations.

The Maidens’ Courtyard is stunning and, like a lot in the Alcazar, there’s no real way that you are able to get it onto camera. So much of what makes it the landmark it is is the general feeling as you are surrounded by such grand pieces of fusion architecture. It’s hard to imagine what it would have been a foreign dignitary waiting there for an audience with the king, but it probably did the job of intimidating a lot of them.

The other massively impressive room in the Alcazar is the Ambassadors’ Hall, which also has the nickname of the ‘half orange’ room because of the ceiling. The ceiling alone is enough to make this room worthy of note – this massive dome with gold and star features is an absolute stunner. The rest of the room, with its portraits of past Spanish kings, tile-work and gorgeous archways is no slouch either, but it’s everything together that make it noteworthy.

Once we’d finished with the main buildings it was already over two hours in, which meant time for coffee and sweets at the really reasonably priced cafe. I mean, what cafe in a major attraction does a 2 for 1 on their donuts? This one apparently, so we were there with lemon cream custard donuts looking at the gardens and dodging the many peahens who were using the cafe as a thoroughfare.

Not to be outdone, the gardens of the Alcazar are also very beautiful and expansive. To get some of the best views of these, you have to go up the Grotto walkway which gives you a high up view of most of the grounds directly next to the palace. The styles of the gardens vary widely with some taking on Italian, French or even English influence. They all fit well together with meticulously maintained grounds, although the English garden does feel rather sparse in comparison.

As with the rest of Seville, some of the stars of this garden were the various citrus trees. Also, the smell that you get when you have rows of citrus trees intermingled with a number of other species. When in the gardens it’s worth tracking down the hydraulic organ and try to be there for when it’s actually performing. We managed to come across it when it was playing and later saw that this is one of only four in the world, so is worth finding.

Truly I could spend a long time talking about the Alcazar. It’s why I came here to Seville and it’s going to be the way I try to sell this to other people when talking about places to visit.
When we left it was about 2:30, so we really wanted a late lunch. Specifically one of the really gorgeous looking ham sandwiches that we kept seeing on our way to the a
Alcazar. Could we find one when we wanted one? Hell no, it took us 40 minutes to track one down. Pretty damned gorgeous though and this search ended up being a mixed blessing.

Turned out that Seville Cathedral was closing their doors to visitors two hours early today – so it saved us from the aggravation of a visit cut short. Guess we’ll have to cross our fingers for Monday that we’re able to get in before having to leave for the airport.

As a last minute replacement activity we swapped something scheduled for another day by visiting Casa de Pilatos. Where the Alcazar was a peak example of a Spanish royal residence, this is the same but for dukes. This is still technically a residence for the Dukes of Medinaceli, but the current holder currently resides in Madrid. The price for access is about the same as the Alcazar, so feels a little bit steep but it’s a really interesting house to visit.

We probably spent longer than expected here as the audioguide was incredibly verbose. The flip-side of that is that it forced us to look at each room in detail in order to kill time. So, ironically, we got more out of this visit because of the overly long guide. During this visit there are two big highlights and one strange curiosity to be found. First there is the main courtyard, which feels like a more attainable version of the Alcazar’s Maidens’ Courtyard. Just instead of needing millions to copy it, you’d need a few hundred thousand.

The other big highlight is the tiled stairway to the upper level , which we didn’t visit as the accompanying tour doesn’t operate on any sort of schedule in the off season. It was still worth a visit up the stairway because of the beautiful honeycomb domed ceiling and the extensive vibrant tile-work. This brings me to the curiosity, of a portrait of a topless bearded woman with a baby and her husband in the background looking on, as the guide said, with “resigned bitterness”.

We had a bit of an explore of the surrounding Santa Cruz before heading back to the hotel for a rest. En route we found a place with a queue and gigantic churros with chocolate sauce. We shared this box between the three of us as it was massive – God knows how some of these small children were able to have a whole box to themselves. Hot, fluffy and delicious.

By the time we left the hotel again, it was dark and the streets were filled with thousands of people. As the Christmas markets here have been, to be blunt, disappointing we paid a visit to the largest El Corte Ingles I found nearby to check out their Christmas stuff. I was amazed at how much I wanted and left with a new star for the tree and some new tree ornaments. There was a statue of a carol singing elephant that I liked, but we’re drastically running out of room in the flat as it is.

We walked around admiring the lights and visited another Christmas market – which was a bit like the first one we saw yesterday before venturing back to the nativity market near the cathedral where we caught a rather strange procession of bored looking bugle players and some overly zealous drummers. Never did find out who they were, but it was too weird a thing to not document.

Dinner was at a place a few streets away where, after sharing a nice plate of calamari, we all had various cuts of pork grilled medium rare to the point where it was melt in the mouth and utterly delicious. I opted for the presa, mainly because I hadn’t heard of it, and was wowed by the flavour and the tenderness. Definitely something I would want to try again when I am back in Spain.

Then it was a quick hello to the amazing angel lights before heading back to the hotel via a bakery where we bought some cookies for dessert. Tomorrow will be a day where we learn more about the history of Seville by visiting the archaeological museum and by venturing over the bridge into Triana. For now though, it’s late and time to rest after another long day with plenty of walking.

Christmas in Seville: Day 1 – What An Amazing Plaza!

Reading this post months later is going to be especially strange for two reasons. Firstly, it’s the day after the UK’s general election and 57% of the country are miserable. As result of the first, by the time this post goes up, Britain will have likely left the EU and this will be the last holiday I go on as an EU citizen. Don’t know quite how to process all this at the moment, so it’s a good thing that – despite still getting over the flu – I’m here in Seville.

Considering how Riga last year got to lows of -6, the idea of being somewhere in December and it being 16 feels utterly ludicrous. This is what the next few days in Seville will bring, albeit under a carpet of cloud. I somehow managed to get us a great deal on a snazzy hotel near all the main landmarks, so the Hotel Becquer is going to be a brilliant base of operations for this trip.

By the time we were checked in and prepared to get about our way, it was 3 in the afternoon. Given it was just a first day and we didn’t want to put too much pressure on it, especially as I am recovering from the flu, we started out with just two things that were next to each other on the itinerary.

To get to the first on the list, the Plaza de España, we opted to walk along the river and just make our way leisurely there. On the way we went by the beautifully coloured university buildings and the Torre del Oro. We didn’t opt to climb up it for reasons I cannot quite remember (maybe we’ll do that later if we have time) but it was impressive to look at and reminded me a bit of the tower in Belém, just on a smaller scale.

This was a nice gentle welcome to Seville that didn’t prepare me for the beautiful clusterfuck of the Plaza de España. I have never known a place quite like it, it may very well be the most beautiful plaza I have been to. If not the most beautiful, it’s top three. It’s one of places which is like the sky at night – beautiful at first glance, but the more you look at it the more you see. This is how we ended up spending two hours investigating the plaza.

The plaza itself was designed as a centrepiece for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition and is awash with little details that you cannot take in on first blush. First you notice how beautifully grand the main buildings are, then you see the u-shaped canal around the square with people in rowboats, then you notice the bridges and how there’s blue tile being used. Oh more tiles. Even more. Even the guttering is clad in tile.

It’s one of those places that feels like it was designed to be beautiful from every angle, and I think after walking around it for hours we pretty much tried them all for size. One thing I especially loved was that, around the inner circumference, there’s tiled murals for all the Spanish provinces done in different styles and still with the tiled side towers originally used as bookcases. I was pretty shocked at how many Spanish provinces I’d heard of.

Now, I was fully prepared for that to be the end of the unexpected beauty – then there was the surrounding Maria Luisa park. Walking in, it felt like a regular park. That’s when you notice a building within the trees and it turns out to be a small pavilion or a columned area surrounding azure blue tiled water features. The way this park is laid out is like a breadcrumb trail of beautiful areas, once you find the first one you are led on to the next one.

I don’t know if it was because of where we began, but the ante of beauty within the park kept being upped until we got to an area where behind us was a lovely tiled frog fountain and in front of us was a pavilion on a hill with a waterfall, more tiled pools and masses of manicured orange trees. I think we could have spent longer in the park, but we’re due back here eventually for one of the museums – so the rest of the explore will wait until then.

Now, the reason we came to Seville was because it came recommended as a city that does Christmas well. As such we made the walk out to Nervión Plaza to one of the two markets deemed as essential (the third market opened a week later than the previous year, so we’re missing it). There is no way this is essential, it’s pretty bleak and that’s pretty much all I am going to say on the subject.

To try and salvage things, we opted to head to the other of the essential markets near the cathedral. We’re planning to do it again tomorrow anyway, but I think we just wanted the Christmas win. The moment we entered the Santa Cruz area, things felt like they were getting there – then we came face to face with the giant that is Seville Cathedral being lit up at night. More on the cathedral tomorrow as that’s when we plan to go in, but it is a stunner when lit up at night. So too are the surroundings, like the orange trees all decked out with lights.

We had a cursory look at the nativity scene themed marked, but we’re back here tomorrow and we hadn’t eaten for 10 hours, so things were getting a bit desperate. Thankfully we found a nice tapas place nearby and proceeded to order eight plates including pork loin in whiskey sauce, goat cheese rolls and tope shark. It was gorgeous and we rounded it off with the official drink of this holiday: Colacao. I know that to Spaniards that probably sounds a bit basic, but this hot chocolate is gorgeous and we’ve already bought some to bring back to the UK.

By the time we were done with dinner the stalls were closed up, so we went further in to have a look at the Christmas lights. Well, this might be the best Christmas lights ice seen up in a city. The giant bell lights and the walk through Christmas tree were nice enough, but then the angels.

These giant light angels are hard to photograph to get a decent scale, but they’re massive and just so beautiful to look at. I don’t even know what the surrounding buildings are or even where I was particularly when I saw them, but I hope I find them again tomorrow when we aren’t rushing to find a supermarket that isn’t closed and also sells toothpaste. This city may not have the markets, but it sure has the lights.

Tomorrow is going to be the big Seville day where we visit the Alcazar (the city’s entry in the Lonely Planet list) and get to properly know Seville Cathedral and the rounding areas. I hope I find a nice Christmas decoration and a gorgeous lunch sandwich too.

The Great EU Quest: Spain – Figueres

For our final day in Spain we ventured out of the city of Barcelona towards the town of Figueres some 70+ miles away. We booked tickets on the highspeed train so the journey only took 55 minutes each way (regular trains take 2.5 hours, so this was a no brainer).

Breakfast was a feast after we confused the server at the train station’s sandwich kiosk… being the English person I am I felt that I would rather pay the extra 4€ than make a fuss at there being an extra sandwich. The sandwich I asked for (which was Spanish omelette) was perfect for breakfast and has inspired me to make my own when I am back in the UK.

So, why did we go to Figueres in the first place? Well…

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 69/100Sight: Teatre-Museu Dalí
Location: Figueres, Spain
Position: #361

 

It’s the home of the Dalí Theatre and Museum. The final Lonely Planet check of this trip and something of genuine interest. I remember back when there was the Dalí Experience in London and have since enjoyed seeing anything of his that I come across. Even his sketches and lesser known pieces are inherently interesting because of the surreal nature of things.

So it’s little wonder that this museum was incredibly interesting. The only issue was the abundance of tour groups. Mostly school groups. It just meant that, at times, it was hard to navigate around the narrow corridors of the museum or get a good view of all the artworks.

Still, that didn’t overly detract from the unique experience that having so much Dalí in one place affords. I mean where else can you have an entire room with furniture set up to show the face of Mae West if you see it from the right angle?

How about corridors filled with paintings of rocks that look like naked women, gilded money skeletons and busts crowned with bread? It’s a truly unique experience that I would recommend – just make sure to seek out Galatea of the Spheres. It’s a great painting that few people were paying attention to… which is a shame.

So, what do you do after all that? Well, we decided to go on a bit of trek to the Sant Ferran Castle. The museum of antique typewriters wasn’t quite tempting enough.

For a reasonable price (and some collateral) you can get access to the castle with its free audio guide. The audio guide is a brick where you need to press play and pause (because it is one continuous track) and actually speaks to you out loud rather than through earphones. Honestly, it all felt rather comical as images of groups of tourists with different guides all playing at the same time immediately sprang to mind. What an awful cacophony that must be.

I say must be because we were the only tourists there at the time. Other than people who actually worked at the castle we were on our own. This castle is massive and is, at least according to the guide, the biggest fortress of its kind in Europe.

Vast and empty. So it felt like we were playing a sandbox version of Uncharted with the audio guide acting as director’s commentary. We clambered up the parapets, observed the plains from high vantage points – which reminds me:

List item: Visit a Spanish plain to see if it rains there
Status: Completed

 

I think what we had was a pretty unique experience that others who come to the fortress in the summer time wouldn’t have. I mean, this is a site that was only in the triple figures for Facebook check-ins. I would find it hard to recommend this enough should you fine yourself in the Figueres area. The free audio guide alone (the interesting information, not the comical size) would be enough. The ability to explore in isolation is a bonus.

We still had a few hours left until our return train to Barcelona, so we figured it was time for lunch. It’s the first time I have ever had someone make fideua for me… And I have to say that I prefer the one I make more. Not just because of the fiddly shelling of prawns, but because I put chorizo in mine. It may not be as authentic as the one we had… but sometimes authenticity needs to give way if something tastes better.

Our final moments in Figueres were spent in the jewels section of the Dalí museum. Originally we were going to give this a miss because it didn’t sound as interesting, but boy were we wrong. I never realised just how much he did in the way of jewellery design.

So many of the pieces were exceptional. Some of them were able to move, including a beating heart of rubies within a golden casing. My favourites are the two pictured above: an elephant with a giant crystal on its back and a lapis eye that can be used to tell time. Truly this man was an amazing talent. I always felt this, but now I definitely know it.

An hour or so later and we were back in Barcelona. We took the metro to the Arc de Triomphe area of the city, just because it can be nice too see what remnants are left over from World Fairs. I mean, sure, this is no Eiffel Tower but this promenade has its own calming charms.

From here we, finally, managed to gain admittance to the Santa Maria del Mar. We tried a few days earlier, but it was during the 2-3 hour where you needed to pay and we didn’t see the point. So glad that we were able to get in for free as it was mighty impressive on the inside.

It was never going to beat the Sagrada Familia, but looking at the columns and ceiling work it feels like Gaudí might have got at least some inspiration from here. Even if it was the number and thinness of the columns used to support the structure. On the who it felt very pure and uncluttered… something I know Gaudí would have appreciated.

So here I am now. We polished off a dinner of paella and chocolate covered churros and now it it time to pack for the flight tomorrow afternoon. Thanks to EU customs I have 6 food list items that will be coming home with me and will likely become their own blog post incredibly soon.

I wish that we didn’t have to leave here so soon, but that’s the issue with not spending a full week somewhere. Somehow I doubt it will take another 27 years before I am back in Spain. Already the precursors of itineraries are springing up in my head – so maybe I’ll be visiting Grenada, Madrid or Seville at some point in the near future. I hope so.

The Great EU Quest: Spain – Gaudí and Barcelona

So here we are with the first of two full days in Barcelona, or should I say Gaudíville considering how much of his handiwork I will end up seeing and just how in love this city appears to be with its native son.

The first stop of the day was the Casa Battló (although I really do prefer the nickname ‘house of bones’ considering the balconies look like jawbones and vertebrae. I’ve been inside a lot of residences when in vacation, but I don’t think that I have seen or will ever see anything like this ever again. It is extraordinary, with plenty of kudos going to go the people who now run this as the augmented reality audio tour helped bring this sublime house to life.

It’s hard to adequately describe this building. Many people have tried, but I guess the best way would be that this house feels alive. The flying turtles of the guide might have helped with that… but so much of this house was utterly astonishing. Not only is this house a masterpiece on an artistic level, but it was made to be incredibly liveable with innovative and practical solutions for light and temperature regulation.

The chimneys and flourishes on the roof were another thing altogether, but I think I have spent long enough on Casa Battló – after all this isn’t the only Gaudí build that we saw today.

So off we went on our first trip on the Barcelona Metro to visit Park Güell… where we had no idea of the steep walk that was awaiting us. Whilst I would have made it up the hill without the use of escalators, I was very appreciative of their existence.

I was also appreciative of some of the views of Barcelona that we managed to get from the top of this mountain. I know that I saw the Sagrada Familia from the airplane as it started in its descent, but it still shocks me just how much this basilica in construction dominates the Barcelona landscape. I just cannot wait until we pay it a visit tomorrow.

Park Güell is one of those things I might not have gone straight for if it wasn’t for Yuri!!! On Ice. Sad but true. There was a pretty sweet scene in the show with Yurio and the Kazakh skater, which made me want to check out the Monument Park section. It wasn’t exactly the most representative of the crowds that gather there, but hoards of tourists would have spoilt the mood.

Speaking of hoards, it really was a good thing I booked the tickets to the Monument Zone in advance. By the time we got there the only tickets left were for the final window some 5-6 hours later. After the problems we had getting into the Anne Frank Huis I think I have well and truly learned my lesson about pre-booking certain attractions.

Some of the stuff that Gaudí planned and executed for this park are worthy of many a roll of film. A lot of photos were taken of the iconic staircases and the open theatre sections. I, however, heavily fell for some of the rockwork in the free section of the park. It’s extraordinary to see how he was able to use the contours of the mountain to then advantage of his work. It just feels like the mountain has chosen to sprout this terrace with its walkways, vaulted ceilings and twisted columns. Just amazing.

Sadly it was time to say goodbye to Gaudí, at least for the moment, and go for lunch. Nothing major, just some really nice sandwiches from a cafe en route to the metro station. The botifarra blanca sandwich was my favourite of the two – sadly it isn’t the botifarra dolca from the food list, but I know of a butcher that sells this and is next open on our final day in Spain… so watch this space I guess.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 66/100Sight: Museu Picasso
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Position: #371

Our last main site of the day was the Museu Picasso. Finally, a Lonely Planet thing to be ticked off! Now, considering this is on the list and Casa Battló is not, I was very disappointed.

I think the problem is that in order to have a museum dedicated to a particular artist you really need to have some of the major masterpieces. Especially if you are going to rate it among the top 500 world sites to be visited. I mean, sure the Van Gogh museum didn’t have all of them, but there were so many in that museum to make it an extremely worthwhile visit.

However, there is nothing here that I recognised. Also, which was rather telling, this museum appeared to be missing works from 10-20 years of Picasso’s life. This was the time where he painted things like Guernica, The Weeping Woman or (my favourite) Three Musicians. It was interesting to see just how talented he was as a painter from an incredibly young age… but much like some of the works on display, this museum feels a bit unfinished.

We did a bit of wandering until ultimately heading back to the hotel. Seeing how it was both Sunday and Father’s Day a lot of things were closed. Not the Ham Museum though. As tempting as it was our feet were aching and some pre-dinner chilling was needed.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

Food item: Cadi Butter

Hooray! I can tick off a food list item. It was one of those I was really hoping to find as well. You cannot get this in the UK and this now leaves me with just one butter to find. Sadly it’s Russian butter and whilst I would love to try that… I know I won’t be exactly welcome.

Cadi butter is pale and highly spreadable. Compared to other butters I have tried the flavour fairly muted. It’s nowhere near as creamy and doesn’t have as intense a flavour profile as I am used to. It’s really nice on a Tuc biscuit as the butter is unsalted and the salt on the Tuc gives it that extra punch. So yes, this needs salt.

Dinner ended up being just off La Rambla (a proper shifty will be done tomorrow) because literally no restaurant on that street scores higher than 2.5-3/5 on Trip Advisor. I mean I know tourist traps are a thing, but this is ridiculous.

Still, we were directed to a restaurant where we had our first authentic paella.

Food item: Fasolia Gigandes

Two in one day. Phew. You can’t see the beans from the picture. But they were most certainly there buried among some of the best tasting paella I’ve ever had. Apparently this restaurant is known for having good paella, so who am I to disagree. According to the menu this was a Valencian paella, which means I probably just ate my first rabbit meat.

So yes, some hazelnut gelato later and I am sat in the hotel typing up the day. I am really looking forward to what I will be seeing tomorrow morning. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some half decent pictures!

Progress: 631/751

The Great EU Quest: Spain – Arrival

There are times where it feels like you are not meant to reach your destination – this trip to Barcelona is just such an example.

Let’s just start off with a quick number crunch on the EU list:

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 15/28

I know that I am going to get to a point where I am still trying to complete the EU list after the UK has made its awkward departure, but for now I think I will just end up saying any country that has ever been part of the EU. That’ll cover me should another country make a similar decision or, for whatever reason, the EU ceases to exist.

Country: Spain
Year first visited: 2017

Anyway, back to more pleasant topics – the fact that we almost missed the plane thanks to train troubles. Oh yes, in order to get to Stansted Airport from South East London you only have two main options: train/tube or car. When you don’t drive that means a £50-60 trip in an Uber, so public transport it is.

Now imagine you get to the only station in London that goes to Stansted (aka Liverpool Street, try the cheese shop if you have time), here has been an issue with the line (that Google Maps is unaware of) and you have to make a 2-3 hour detour via Cambridge. Needless to say we just ran and ran once we got to the airport and just about made it. Not exactly the best way to start a holiday, but at least we managed to get to Barcelona!

I know it has only been 4-5 hours since landing, but I have already begun to fall for this city in a major way. It was amazing to see some of the snow capped mountains on the way in, as well as the towering presence of the Sagrada Familia during the plane’s descent.

As of the moment we haven’t explored too far, but we have had a good nose around the area near the hotel (where we managed to get a free room upgrade – which came with a balcony view and a free bottle of cava).

One of the places that we came across was Catalunya Square. We re-visited this square later in the evening because of the promise of dancing water fountains. We weren’t disappointed. They were very cute.

Of course the big question of the evening ended up being: “what will we have for dinner”. I think that during this visit to Barcelona there are two main dinners we want to have – paella and tapas/pintxos.

From the pictures you can see that we ended up going for tapas. A lot of them were things I have had before back in Britain, but being in the home of tapas everything did taste better. Especially the anchovies. They were ruddy gorgeous.

Being spring I also managed to get some calçots (which were deep-fried) and romesco sauce. I do love these giant spring onions very much and would highly recommend them once spring rolls around again.

A bit of a walk later and it was back to the hotel so hub could drain the cava as I write up the day. I have a feeling that I won’t be ticking off many food items during this holiday, but hey ho there’s so much to see anyway so any additional foods will be a bonus.

Around The World in 100 Films – Start Point

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 22/100

Time for me to open up the second of my three film bucket list items with a rather arbitrary goal of seeing films from 100 different nations. Unlike the Oscar list item this is something that can be permanently crossed off unless I suddenly get the urge to add another batch of countries to keep this going.

Now, I have decided to count countries as long as I watched the film after I put this onto my bucket list which was (yes I made a note) on August 5th 2013. This means that some countries (e.g. Finland, South Africa, China and Israel) are not on the list yet despite me having seen them in the past. I figured using this cut off point would serve as a way to make this more challenging whilst also keeping Burkina Faso (still stoked about that one).

Whilst I was preparing this list I saw there were 21 countries on the list and instantly envisioned doing a really cool triangle number diagram as you can see below:WorldCinemaTriangleNotice the problem? Well in making that list I had forgotten that I saw a Polish film at the end of January which means poor Hungary (my most recent nation) has to lay on the outskirts since I decided to do this in order of seeing them. My inner math-geek is not impressed with this. It was later pointed out to me that a film I thought was Australian was from New Zealand, now my inner flag-geek is unhappy too.

Still 22 countries down, 78 to go. Not a bad place to start with, although there are not many of the big film nations left which will make this interesting.

Any film suggestions for yet unwatched countries will be VERY much appreciated. Bear in mind re-watches are not allowed here so films like Tsotsi, Drifting Clouds and Waltz With Bashir will not count.

  1. Germany – Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)
  2. U.S.A. – Robocop
  3. Netherlands – De Vierde Man(The Fourth Man)
  4. Czech Republic – Kolja (Kolya)
  5. Italy – La Strada
  6. Burkina Faso – Sarraounia
  7. Argentina – El Secreto De Sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes)
  8. Japan – Zatoichi Monogatari (The Story of Zatoichi)
  9. Brazil  – Cidade De Deus (City of God)
  10. Denmark – Melancholia
  11. United Kingdom – Blowup
  12. Norway – Flåklypa Grand Prix (Pinchcliffe Grand Prix)
  13. France – La règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game)
  14. New Zealand – The Piano
  15. Poland – Popiól i diament (Ashes and Diamonds)
  16. Spain – El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive)
  17. Sweden – Viskningar och Rop (Cries and Whispers)
  18. Belgium – Ernest & Célestine
  19. Greece – Kynodontas (Dogtooth)
  20. Canada – The Sweet Hereafter
  21. Algeria – Z
  22. Hungary – A torinói ló(The Turin Horse)