For the history buff, head to Granada

Anyone interested in the history of Spain – or just history in general – should see Granada at least once. Of course, this is the location of the renowned Alhambra, which draws thousands of visitors annually. While most websites advise you to book your tickets to view the Alhambra well in advance, I took a chance and wandered up the steep streets to wait in line for an hour and a half one morning. I lucked out and got a ticket for one of the afternoon entrances. Some of the grounds are free to enter, but if you want to go through the palace gardens, the various towers, and the three palaces, these require a ticket. There are essentially two tickets, one for the gardens and grounds, and the other for the three palaces. My advice is to get the two-day ticket, which would allow one visit to the grounds, and save the second day for the palaces. I did not do this, and by the end I was completely exhausted and not really taking in what I was seeing. There is so much! But you should allow yourself enough time to really enjoy and appreciate the place. The combination of Moorish and Christian architectures is brilliant, and then add to that the gorgeous vistas across the Sierra Nevada mountains, and well, photos don’t do it justice, but here are just a few to give you an idea.

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Natural light filters down into the baths, which were designed to access water running down from the mountains.

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The water staircase was built to make use of the natural water flowing down from the mountains to cool the inner rooms and provide fresh water for the baths.

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The famous lions fountain was reinstalled this year, after having been closed off for restoration. 

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Originally built as a palace and fortress by the Moorish kings, the Alhambra looks out over the Albayzín barrio just below the imposing walls.

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I waited a long time to get this photo of a walkway into the courtyard of the women’s chambers when there weren’t other tourists wandering through. There are 6,000 people going through this UNESCO heritage site per day, making it a bit daunting to get any image that captures the possible serenity of this place.

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One of my favourite photos captures the Alhambra as it dominates the landscape above the city in the late afternoon. The quality of the light turns the fortress from pale gold to a deep red as the sun moves toward setting.

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My other favourite view of the Alhambra is this night shot taken from below on the street that runs along the Darro River. 

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Granada itself is a small city, easily manoeuvred on foot. I spent many days walking through the Albayzín, the old Moorish neighbourhood that winds up into the hills that lead to the foot of the Alhambra. The old, windy cobbled streets initially take you back to a time that predates any sense of modernity – and evokes that Romanticized view that tourism capitalizes upon.

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If you’re observant, though, you can see the traces of the contemporary world insisting upon the idyllic urban landscape. Like the rest of Spain, the Andalusia region where Granada is located continues to feel the tensions of the economic crisis. Much of the Albayzín is falling into disrepair, as the buildings are so very old. The cost of restoring and maintaining them has become prohibitive, and many have been abandoned by their previous owners, and the municipality has condemned them as inhabitable. At the same time, there is a lack of adequate housing, especially for those at lower income levels. This image captures the sentiment of many in this barrio.

The translation of the graffiti is “homes without people, people without homes”.

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In fact, it was not at all difficult to find abandoned homes fallen into decay, with the doors bolted and/or chained, but the broken windows sadly testifying to the current state of things. 

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That Spain has much to do to persevere in the current economic situation is no secret. I just hope that its people will be able to maintain the resolve they keep having to demonstrate.

With its Moorish past constantly imposing itself through the culture and the architecture, Granada’s Catholicism remains equally important to the region. At the end of my visit I stumbled upon this demonstration of dance during the beginning of the festival of Corpus Cristi.

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There is so much more to Granada that just the Alhambra, although that is certainly worth a visit. The caves in the Sacramonte hills, the Monastery of San Jeronimo, and the Cathedral are equally delightful if you’re at all interested in things historical. And like other parts of Spain that I’ve visited, the people were lovely and helpful, especially as I struggled to speak Spanish in a marginally comprehensible way. 

Each time I find something more about Spain to love. The south has an entirely different flavour from Madrid or Barcelona, and next time I hope to visit the north. Bilbao seems to be calling.:)

 

My love affair with Spain

Leaving Barcelona is always a difficult farewell for me. I can’t explain in any coherent way why this would be so; it just is. So when I moved on to spend time in Madrid, I wasn’t particularly excited about it. I know, that just sounds foolish. Madrid has much to offer a traveler, especially one interested in history and art. Some of the most interesting galleries in the world are in Madrid, including the Prado, the Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen. Having been to the city in the past, I had visited these museums and really enjoyed them. And while I did spend some time at them again, I was more interested this go around in walking through the city, getting to know it less as a tourist and more as a traveler. Yes, there is a difference. It’s a subtle difference, but it exists. For me, the tourist (at his or her worst) is that person running madly from one monument to the next, snapping pictures to prove they’ve been there. The traveler, on the other hand, wanders through the neighbourhoods, stopping at local cafés, talking to people in shops, and generally soaking up the feeling of the place. Some days I would be both – sometimes at the same time.

Madrid I approached as someone I’d been acquainted with, but didn’t know well, and to be honest, wasn’t sure I wanted to know better. In the end, I spent time in two different neighbourhoods, met wonderful people, reconnected with some I’d met previously, and most importantly stopped looking at the city as not Barcelona. During my first week, I stayed in a very non-touristy neighbourhood very close to Parque del Buen Retiro. I was also very ill with bronchitis that week, which left me with very little energy, and frankly feeling quite isolated and sorry for myself. It’s very strange to be ill in a place where you don’t know many people, and you’re struggling to speak the language. I’m sure I provided a great deal of comic relief to the pharmacist I visited while seeking something to curb the horrible, sleep-depriving cough. What saved my time in Madrid from being tainted with the association of being sick and alone there was my proximity to Retiro. Even if I had no energy to go sight-seeing, I was close enough to the park to walk there most days with my e-reader, find a spot, and just sit and absorb the space. I watched people walking, running, talking with each other, and just generally allowed myself to be there. The weather was co-operative, and I now have lovely memories of healing in the park, in Madrid. 

El Retiro, as it is locally known, sits on 350 acres in the southeastern part of the city, close to the Prado, and at its northern edge, the Puerta de Alcalá. Since it was first established during the reign of Isabella I (1474 – 1504) as gardens belonging to the monarchy, the park has seen numerous architectural and botanical additions. The site of a secondary palace, used for the recreation of the monarchs, most of the palace buildings were destroyed during the Peninsular War (1804 – 1814) with the First French Empire. After being opened to the public in 1767, the park became municipal property in 1868 following the overthrow of Queen Isabella II. One of my favourite places is the Palacio Cristal, built in 1887 and designed by architect Ricardo Velázquez Bosco as an exhibition hall that was clearly influenced by the Crystal Palace in London.

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It now routinely hosts art exhibitions open to the public.

Also attesting to the history and leisure of the Spanish aristocracy that is now enjoyed by the public is the Estanque del Retiro, or Retiro Pond, dominated by the statue of King Alfonso XII who ruled from 1874 – 1885 after he retook the throne lost by his mother, Queen Isabella II in a military coup. I find the juxtaposition of the muscular columns supporting the militaristic presence of the King on horseback and the boaters out on the tranquil pond to be particularly ironic and amusing.

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While there are numerous cafés, statues referring to Spain’s historical past as a conquering nation – including many broad avenues named after its colonial holdings in South America – my favourite thing to do was simply wander down the quieter paths and contemplate the wonder of being in such a place as this. 

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Having been restored by this wonderful park, I was ready to move on to the first of my two one-week stints as a volunteer in an English language immersion program for Spaniards. First stop: Torrecaballeros, near Segovia.

For anyone with some time to spare and the desire to have more fun than you thought possible in a legal sense, you should consider volunteering with a program like this. I first volunteered with Vaughan Systems, based in Madrid, last year. They run week-long immersion programs at 4 different locations outside Madrid. Volunteers have their meals and accommodations paid for in exchange for a rigorous week of intensive conversation in English for 10 hours a day with Spaniards looking to improve their abilities. This is a serious business, but I have never had so much fun. I have met amazing people every time i’ve done this, and now have wonderful friends, both Spanish and English-speaking all over the world. If you’re interested in checking this company out, you can find them at http://volunteers.grupovaughan.com. Each immersion course is run by a team of one co-ordinator and one Master of Ceremonies. There are one-to-one conversations, improvised scenarios for telephone conversations, conference calls, group activities, and presentations by the Spaniards that they always find terrifying at the beginning. I’ve seen a number of these presentations now on a variety of subjects – everything from tourism talks about a home-town to wine appreciation to how to cook a perfect fried egg. Some presentations are delivered better than others, but they are all done with heart and soul, and as a volunteer you want to cheer them on. The bravery it takes to put yourself out there in a language that is not your mother tongue is staggering. I always come away from these weeks with a few more good friends, and a host of stories to cheer me up when I’m feeling down. My experience at El Rancho in Torrecaballeros was no different. 

We were incredibly lucky in this group to have three Spaniards who are professional jazz musicians! So the entertainment on our first night was fantastic.

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El Rancho, the 4-star hotel where we spent the week, is about an hour south of Madrid. The meals and accommodations were really wonderful. i can’t imagine what other guests at the hotel must’ve thought as they watched groups of Spaniards and Anglos wander about the grounds in animated conversation or singing at the top of our lungs around the piano on our last night together. The hotel owner has an appreciation for art, and the place is filled with paintings and other pieces of a wide range of styles. If he likes it, he buys it and displays it in the hotel. This is how I found my future self. It’s uncanny really.

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Given that it was late April, most of us – Spaniards included – were hoping for mild weather verging on warm. We were sadly disappointed. Until the last day it was generally chilly and overcast. Except for the day when we woke up to this – when it was downright cold.

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Fortunately, this did not last. By the last day, when all the Spaniards had successfully completed their presentations – some of them bringing us to tears – and having their certificates in hand, the sun came out as we prepared to share a last meal together.

The goodbyes are always difficult, but I am still in touch with some of those i met on a course last year, and there are those from this group who I know will remain with me a long time.

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So with a very full heart, I boarded the bus that would take us back to Madrid, where I spent another week before setting off for Valdelavilla in Soria with another group of Spaniards and Anglos. 

After such intensity, the sudden and complete silence of being on my own was a bit daunting. For the first couple of days I really didn’t know what to do. The landscape was alien, and the lack of constant social interaction required some adjustment. Fortunately, I have a friend there that I met at Valdelavilla last year who is now in Spain teaching English. I reconnected with Paroma and she introduced me to her friend Ben. These are the same two who I joined in Barcelona the night we went to the Magic Fountain and experienced the worst meal I’ve ever had! We teamed up again, and i have to say that it was through Ben’s eyes that Madrid began to take on its own personality. His passion for Spain, and his interest in the history of Madrid are infectious. You can’t help but become interested in the city. On one occasion we got together to visit the Caixa Forum – a bank-sponsored art centre very close to Retiro. The exhibitions there are always free, and one of the ways you will always find it is the vertical garden that was designed and built on the side of the apartment building to the side of the open courtyard leading to the hall.

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This time I stayed in the heart of the city, just behind the Plaza Mayor. Very different from my other location near Retiro, this is a part of the city that never sleeps. There is a constant vibrant hum of life here. The Plaza is filled with cafés and tourists at all hours. It is a central meeting spot with a long and diverse history. Construction of the Plaza began in 1617, but it has been remodelled numerous times, especially after a series of fires in 1790. Its name has also changed at different times to reflect the social and political climate. It has variously been known as Plaza del Arrabal, but was rechristened Plaza de la Constitución to mark the 1812 Constitution, but shortly thereafter was renamed Plaza Real. Throughout the nineteenth century the name changed several times, finally becoming Plaza de la República in 1873. All these changes reflect the various monarchical shifts that occurred in this turbulent century. The name Plaza Mayor, which it has retained to date, was finally bestowed following the Spanish Civil War in the twentieth century. It has been the site of markets, bullfights, soccer games and public executions. 

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The bronze statue of King Phillip III was created in 1616, but not moved to the centre of the Plaza until 1848.

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Not far from Plaza Mayor is the Puerta del Sol, or Gate of the Sun. This was one of the gates into the city in the fifteenth century. Now it is a meeting place for tourists and locals. It is also the point at which all Spanish roads begin, leading it to be marked  as Km 0.

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It is also marked by a statue of a bear under a madroño tree. Historically there used to be bears living in the area. Now, of course, these are long gone, but the symbol of the bear and tree remain as the heraldic motif of the municipal flag. 

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Like Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol is a central meeting place for people, and many political demonstrations take place there, as do celebrations of festivals – of which there are many in Spain. I was fortunate to be in Madrid at the beginning of the celebrations for the week of San Isidro, the patron saint of the city. On the friday afternoon there was a parade of the giants through the streets, culminating at Puerta del Sol. The giants all reference various historical figures in Spanish history, including the Moors and the Catholic Monarchs who drove them out. 

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Accompanied by musicians, these giant puppets dance as they parade toward the square.

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By the time I was leaving Madrid for the second time to head back to Valdelavilla, I had a new respect for the city. Its history, its sense of struggle that continues particularly now as the economic crisis shows few signs of abating anytime soon, and in the face of that its people, who despite everything will come out to join in whatever celebrations are taking place to support their arts and culture. And there are puppets! How can you not love that?

So my love affair with Spain continues. I keep finding more things to love about this country and its culture – fraught and anxious, defiant and proud, and certainly not perfect, but always making me feel welcome.

 

saying farewell to the enchantress

One of the things about traveling that is both exhilarating and frustrating is the lack of time (or discipline) to keep up writing about the experiences. We always write after the fact, and when you’re having a busy and great time, it’s easy to let things slide. So, apologies for the delay. I’m now in Madrid, which is an experience worth having on its own, but I have to say that my heart is truly in Barcelona. One of the best things I did before leaving that magical place was take a 3-hour walking tour of the Spanish Civil War, as it played out there. If you have a chance to do this with Brit ex-pat Nick Lloyd, do not hesitate. Nick knows his subject, is deeply passionate about it, having lived in the city for the past 25 years, and he is currently finishing his own book on the subject. If you happen to be fortunate to be heading to Barça, you can find his tour at this website: http://iberianature.com/barcelona/history-of-barcelona/spanish-civil-war-tour-in-barcelona/

Starting in reverse order, here is a photo of Nick at the end of our tour outside the café where we finished up. 

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This café is filled with memorabilia of the period. The tour started at Plaça Catalunya and took us through many of the narrow streets in the Gothic quarter of the old city, where many of the working class attempted to resist Franco’s regime as it began to take over following the self-imposed exile of King Alfonso XIII. Conditions among the working class had not improved as they had for the upper-middle classes at the end of the 19th century, and low wages, crowded housing, and continuous public health issues continued to make life short and difficult for those living in the old city. Despite the fact that Spain is a heavily Catholic country, the working class of Barcelona found little support for their plight among the clergy, partly because they identified as Catalan and not Spanish. As the centre of government, Madrid was seen by many as the enemy of the people, and the Catholic Church as a minion of the state. Much violence occurred on both sides. In some cases the clergy were given arms to control the population that turned more often to the Anarcho-Syndicalist trade union, the CNT (Confederación Nacional de Trabajo), and supported revolution. The working class fought back, and for example, in 1936 at the height of anti-clerical sentiment, the working class set fire to the interior of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, destroying much of the Baroque art that had been housed there. You can still see the marks of black soot in the stone ceiling today. This image from a prior visit shows some of the damage.

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Eventually, as we know from history, Franco’s forces crushed the rebellion and the city fell. Continuous pressure from Francoist forces, such as the bombing of Plaça de Sant Filip Neri in 1938, which was one of the worst atrocities sanctioned by Franco, took the lives of 42 civilians – mostly children attending the church school – no doubt depleted the resources and resistance of the people. There is now a plaque that commemorates this particular event, and close by a message written on the stone wall in English.

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In early 1939 the city fell to the Francoist forces, and the entirety of Spain, Castilian and Catalan alike, were controlled by the fascist regime until the death of Franco in 1975. The sentiments of socialism and anarchism remain strong in Catalunya, as this painted wall that faces into Parc Güell – where many tourists from all over the world explore the magnificence of Gaudí’s design. I found this particularly poignant now that the country is facing such harsh conditions in the current economic crisis, which shows no signs of diminishing any time soon.

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I made many sojourns to the park during my second two weeks in the city when I stayed in the Gràcia neighbourhood, about a 10 minute walk from this beautiful park. Next to being down at the sea, this is my favourite place. It is by turns restful and contemplative, and full of life with buskers and musicians performing. I returned numerous times during my two weeks in the neighbourhood to hear this man play spanish guitar.

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Rafi plays in the park regularly. On my last day, I spoke with him in my very halting mix of Catalan and Spanish and he in an equally broken mix of Catalan and English, but we managed to communicate just fine. He gave me a copy of his CD, which will always remind me of the afternoons sitting peacefully listening. His version of Besame Mucho is so expressive, it almost made me weep.

These are the moments that for me will always draw me back to Barcelona. The best is when they are shared with the people I meet. My host, Paulo is one of the most genuine human beings I have had the good fortune to encounter. I now count him among the friends I’ve made. He took me up to Montjuïc on his motorbike before I left the city to enjoy the view and share some paella. In turn I introduced him to my favourite coffee from Cafés Magnifico, near Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral.

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While I was staying at his place, I also met these two characters, Kathrin and her daughter Meret, from Liechtenstein. They shared tips on things they discovered and I returned the favour. Eventually we teamed up and shared some really fun days at the beach and in the park.

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Every time I leave Barcelona I feel a little sad, but I always know I will be back. The enchantress has a way with her. 

More Barcelona

While there is an endless supply of things to do and see in Barcelona, one of my favourites is exploring the architecture of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries in this city. In Robert Hughes incredibly detailed history, Barcelona, he points out that the architecture and design of the city, and its expansion, clearly reflect the class tensions that would finally erupt violently as Franco’s regime began to take control. Like many European cities at the end of the nineteenth century, Barcelona experienced a rapid growth in population as industrialization promised work for many leaving the countryside for waged labour in the cities. Because of the Roman wall that contained the old city, expansion to accommodate the growing population would be a problem. Eventually the municipal government agreed to demolish the wall – portions of which can still be found near the port – in order to construct more living space. The civil engineer chosen to design the new neighbourhood of Eixample, Ildefons Cerdà, envisioned a place of wide-open spaces unlike the cramped, dark, and often plague-ridden areas of the old city. A progressive thinker, he wanted wide avenues, public gardens, and hygienic conditions affordable for the workers. He was a lone voice. The growing bourgeois class saw the new neighbourhood as theirs alone, a place of beauty far removed from the squalor of the old city. The end result is a fragmented city that meets incongruously at Plaça Cataluñya. Below the plaça as you walk down La Rambla is the old city, divided on the left by the neighbourhood of Gotico and on the right, Raval. But above this, as you stroll along Passeig de Gràcia, you will find the largest concentration of Modernist architecture, particularly reflected in the Art Nouveau movement, anywhere in Europe according to Hughes. Modernisme, as the Catalan architects like Gaudí, Puig, and Domènech i Montaner envisioned it, combined the aesthetics and opulence of nature with the ideologies of Catalan identity, particularly in its difference and separation from Spanish nationalism. While the most famous project remains the still unfinished Sagrada Familia, designed by Gaudí, it is Domènech’s Palau de la Música de Catalana that made me catch my breath. Built between 1905 and 1908, the building combines the decorative arts and the architectural design intended to bring in as much natural light as possible in a space crowded by other buildings and narrow streets. 

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Even the interior staircase supports use coloured glass to attract more light.

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The crown in the auditorium is the stained-glass skylight.

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The stage pays homage to eighteen muses, all from different countries and mythologies, each playing a different instrument, particular to her national origin.

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As part of the Catalanist project envisioned by the architect, music of all kinds is performed here. And Catalan pride is woven into the very fabric of the structure, as witnessed in the stained-glass windows of the Catalan flag. Following the victory of the Franco regime, the building was not destroyed or altered, like many others were, but the windows promoting Catalan nationalism were covered until after Franco’s death in 1975.

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The guided tours are well worth doing. They are offered in multiple languages in the mornings. Late afternoons are reserved for rehearsals of choirs and concerts that continue to provide entertainments in the auditorium that still demonstrates some of the best acoustics anywhere. I attended an evening of Spanish guitar by Manuel Gonzalez a few nights later, and was not disappointed. This beautiful hall represents the vision intended by Domènech and his contemporaries, of a place for the bourgeois to celebrate the arts, and be continually reminded of the Catalan spirit. 

But what of the working class, and their role in Catalanism? That will be for my next post. 

Until then, I wish a peaceful day for all of us.

Barcelona, the enchantress

I arrived in Barcelona on March 25th, after cutting short my stay in Stockholm by two weeks. I’m sure Stockholm is lovely in summer, and it is certainly rich in history and interesting architecture, but I couldn’t take any more of the biting winds, the snow, and the grim people constantly rushing to find the warmth of shops. I could’ve stayed in Canada for that! So, on to Barcelona, the city that stole my heart the first time around. She has not disappointed this time either. This time I spent my first two weeks in the Raval neighbourhood, known for its large communities of immigrants, especially those from Indonesia, Pakistan and Eastern Europe. Close to La Rambla, this old part of the city was once the underbelly near the port, known for its high crime rates. There are still the pickpockets (in every neighbourhood in a city this large), but the area has changed a great deal, particularly as the economy relies increasingly more on tourism. I found wonderful food and amazing people. Like my host, Monica, whose non-stop energy is infectious. She made sure I knew my way around, introduced me to some great tapas places, and was just great fun.

During the two weeks i stayed there, I reacquainted myself with one of my favourite galleries, La Virreina, on La Rambla. This place always has incredible photo exhibitions, and once again I was left breathless. 

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This retrospective of works by Alberto García Alix explores self-portraiture in ways that are haunting, but not sentimental and never self-indulgent. I am still ruminating on this work. I love when art – which is always free to the public in this gallery – pushes me to question my assumptions. At the same gallery, in the studio space was an exhibition by photo-journalist, Guillermo Cervera, Bye-Bye Kabul. I had to return to see it another day because I was so overwhelmed by Alix’s work. I’m glad I waited; the two of them alone are incredibly powerful, and together would leave one’s psyche in tatters. Completely worth seeing. Intelligent and thoughtful responses to the very difficult worlds we all inhabit at times.

From there, in need of something a bit more whimsical, I went with friends to see the Magic Fountains near Plaza Espanya. I had resisted this on previous trips, as it is such a blatantly tourist venue. I know, I know. However, I will now say that a trip to Barcelona should include this amazingly fun experience. The show lasts for two hours, and I was completely mesmerized by the beauty and the sense of fun. It’s still early in the season, but there were at least a couple of thousand people there, all completely immersed (pardon the pun) in the display of light, sound and water. It truly is magical! Image

You really need to get there early to find a better vantage point than we managed. This photo doesn’t really give the perspective, but as the evening darkened and more people arrived, the party atmosphere intensified, and the lights were truly spectacular. And it’s free! 

On the absurdist side of things, following our trip to the Magic Fountain, my friends Paroma and Ben and I decided to get a quick and cheap bite to eat, so we set out on Avenida Paral.lel looking for pizza. As it was looking like rain, which eventually did arrive, we sought a place with some shelter so we could sit outside. One should always be aware of one’s surroundings. We ended up at a place called La Crepe, which turned out to be run by an Asian family. The hideously bad red wine was served ice cold, and the pizza was barely edible. However, what made it a great experience was the presentation of the food. The individual pizzas came on wooden trays, with the strangest cutting tool i’ve ever seen. It looked like a medieval weapon of war. Really. Here’s the proof. 

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I am still laughing about this particular experience. There were, of course, many other wonderful days and nights to follow. And soon, I will post about some of those. For now, I leave you with one of the many photos from Parc Güell, one of my favourite contemplative spots.

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Until next time…

UK fun times!

Ok, ok, I know; I’ve neglected this blog for a while. It happens when lots is going on! After leaving BA, I headed to the beautiful city of London, where I met the ever fabulous Erika Norrie. (Thanks Chris). Of course, London was much colder than Buenos Aires, but made much warmer by the welcome bestowed by Erika and her two flatmates, Pao and Tucho. 

How can you not love these two?

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I did some of the typical tourist stuff while in London – how can you not, with so much to see? My favourite was doing the tour of the Globe Theatre. It is truly an incredible project. I want to go back when the season is on and actually see a production. 

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…and it looks like I’ll get my chance! I’m heading back to London to stay with Erika and her furry side-kicks again in June. I’ve picked this particular time because the talented Erika, producer of Cabaret Roulette will be opening a new show then. So any of you in London should check out this very interesting company’s work, which can be found at their website, and of course, on Facebook. Lots to look forward to yet.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In addition to meeting new friends, I had a chance to see old friends as well. No, Ross Mullan, I’m not calling you old! It was great to connect in his city for a change.

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I’m hoping when I go back in June to see the talented Mr. Mullan on stage. 

Because I was indulging my inner tourist I took these two shots as dusk was falling in Trafalgar Square. I like the juxtaposition of Big Ben and Canada House. And I really like the light here.

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Before leaving the UK, I had the great good fortune to meet up with friends Sue and Ray near Liverpool. I met Sue and Ray in Spain last year and they were every bit as much fun on the home turf as they were when we volunteered as Anglos at a retreat for Spaniards looking to improve their English. Sue took me on a lovely day trip up to Lake Windermere in the Lake District. I understand exactly where Wordsworth got his inspiration now.

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Although it was a chilly day, and even had snow squalls, we kept warm during a lovely tramp around the lake.

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Not to be outdone, Ray spent time giving me the tour of Liverpool, including the very interesting Titanic Exhibition.

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…and the Glam Exhibition at the Tate Liverpool. It was wonderful, but a little disconcerting to see my adolescence on display in a museum.

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We also spent a day in Chester, wandering the historic city and walking the Roman wall. The sun shone, it didn’t snow that day, and was really fun. 

 

This wonderful visit wound up with a trip to the seaside that culminated in, what else?, fish and chips! Before heading to the fish shop we stopped at Crosby Beach to see the sculptural installation of Antony Gormley. It’s an incredible work, made up of multiple casts of the artist’s body, weighted and installed at various points across a 2-mile stretch of the beach. All face the sea. As the tides move, the works take on the patina left by the elements in the sea. It’s quite startling and beautiful. IMG_1808
Thanks again you two. It was a lovely time discovering new things for me. I am looking forward to seeing you both in Spain soon! xx

Adios, BA!

It’s with very mixed feelings that I leave Buenos Aires tonight. My time here has produced so many experiences that I’m still processing (can’t quite turn off the academic brain). I have met amazing people from all over the world, and now have a whole new set of contacts. When I come back to BA I will immediately get in touch with the folks at TEGOBA. They were so warm and wonderful. And I will really miss my flatmates, Belinda and her sister Camila. I want updates from you, girls! And my host, Javier, has been so very helpful and considerate – especially when I was robbed and had no cash! He loaned me money to see me through for the last few days here. I was dumbfounded by his generosity. And now that I’ve been scammed and robbed, I feel like I’m truly a seasoned traveller:). The police were even very kind, although there is little expectation of ever seeing my ID again, but since there was no violence, replacing ID cards is just an annoyance. 

Undeterred after that incident, I decided to continue my explorations of BA, which did not disappoint. The best thing was the tango lesson I took with Laura and her partner Sergio. I cannot imagine two people more genuinely warm, and their knowledge of dance – not to mention their infinite patience with a beginner – turned a day of anger and frustration following the robbery, into a day I will remember with great fondness. I will miss them both. But I will come back here and study tango! This is my new mission. 

So, here are some final shots of my last days here. Enjoy.

My last night at the milonga. I’m going to have my membership to my tribe revoked…I’m not so secretly in love with the bass player.

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Laura and Sergio explain the finer points of tango. 

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I really like this ‘accidental’ photo Nicola took!

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The following night when my new-found friends and I returned to the milonga for my final trip there, I actually was up dancing! And not just during the pre-evening dance lesson. My partner was a lovely young French boy who has come to BA specifically to study tango. We agree that Laura and Sergio are the best teachers anywhere. Tomas was very patient with my attempts to dance, and we had a lovely time. Perhaps we will meet again when I come back to study tango…

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Well, off to London tonight to have more adventures and connect with friends. Does anybody know of a good tango bar in London?

Hasta luego! besos.