Different day, different island, same island group…Las Canarias. Same gorgeousness that all islands seem to share, along with a laid-back lifestyle, lots of docks, marinas, water sports, and beaches, of course. We were last in the Canary Islands eight years ago, and not much has changed (although we have!). Last time, we rented a car and drove to Gran Canaria’s famous sand dunes and Maspalomas Beach. Today, we stayed near our ship and downtown Las Palmas. This city was founded in 1478, and soon thereafter, hosted a yet-unknown Christopher Columbus, who anchored here and spent some time on the island in 1492. Some 100 years later, in 1595, Sir Francis Drake tried to plunder the town. Even though the islands are an autonomous community of Spain, the Canary Islands are closer to Africa (62 miles) than to Spain (1,000 miles).
The photos are all from a leisurely walk around the city near the port. Not surprisingly in Las Palmas, most photos contain palm trees! In the fourth photo, we really liked the variety of palm tree you see that has a smooth brown trunk, then stops and changes to a smooth green trunk, then sprouts into palm fronds. The palm trees across the street in the photo are a more familiar variety. There are a lot of tall ships in the photos, including the complicated rigging of the Alexander von Humboldt II, which is particularly dizzying considering that each line has its own name, or designation! There are many inter-island tall ship voyages, as well as many that begin in the Canary Islands and end in various African and Mediterranean ports.
We were particularly amused by all that the shop in the final photo had to offer. It is a tiny venue but had a little of everything you might want in the way of souvenirs…a one-stop shop for tourists. The sign on front notes that “TODAY, we have the best prices in Gran Canaria…” We think it has probably said that for many years!
Chicken?!!?? Why are you starting your post with chicken?, you may ask. Well, this tasty chicken isn’t ordinary chicken..it wasn’t grilled on just your usual, mundane, old charcoal or propane grill….it was cooked from deep below the ground, by the fire and heat from a volcano! Wow! We must admit, it tasted like plain old good juicy chicken that you get when it is cooked on any grill. But the novelty was too good to pass up. We now have the essence of a volcano inside of us!
Lanzarote is our first stop in the Canary Islands, not named after little yellow birds, but named from the Latin Canariae Insulae, Island of the Dogs. It was named by the Mauretanian King Juba II, as he claimed there were vast numbers of large dogs here. Called the “Island of Eternal Spring,” Lanzarote itself is a volcanic island. From 1730-1736, a series of volcanic eruptions occurred on the island and produced 32 new volcanoes over a distance of 11 miles. Lava covered a quarter of the surface of Lanzarote. This led to deforestation and drought, forcing many of the residents to flee in the ensuing years.
So, the restaurant with the volcano-cooked chicken is in Timanfaya National Park. Walking through the park is forbidden; when you arrive, you board a bus that drives through the strange and weird “moonscape,” as it is called. Accordingly, all of the photos you see were taken through the window of a bus, so some are a little blurred. The landscape certainly looks other-worldly, and at times it is hard to remember that you are not on a sci-fi movie set. It certainly was a surreal experience, as it was so stark and barren. In fact, the terrain is considered so similar to the surfaces of the moon and Mars that it has been used for astronaut training and the testing of interplanetary rovers.
In the second photo, the man walking away from the hole with a bucket had just poured water onto the hot stones and earth underground to produce the steam column that you can see…quite a serious amount.
After these photos is the official logo of Timanfaya, El Diablo, the Fire Devil, as the park is located in the Fire Mountains. It was designed by the most famous Lanzarote artist, Cesar Manrique, and it is everywhere, as you can imagine. You can buy not only t-shirts with the devil and his quindent (also called a pentadent and a fivedent, but it is not a trident!), but also earrings, keychains, charms, necklaces, towels…exploitation in the highest. We also visited Manrique’s house, which is a work of art in itself. There are cave-like staircases, open atriums with full-grown trees in the middle of the house, built-in benches and sofas, natural stone walls, and lots of desert landscaping. These photos all follow El Diablo.
After that are a few photos of the downtown (Arrecife) and the coastal view. The photos end with Charlie, who seems to be appear everywhere, featured in statues and posters in many of the cities we visit. We had no idea that a screen idol of the 1920s and 30s still generated so much interest!
So, here is more of Barcelona’s too-muchness. Yesterday we published Part 1 of the fabulous city of Barcelona, featuring the imaginative work of Barcelona’s most famous architect, Antoni Gaudi. Part 2 will start with La Rambla, move on to the Bari Goti (the Gothic Quarter) Cathedral, the Palau de la Musica (Palace of Music), and finally, architecture, sights, storefronts, and sculptures from walking the city streets…or alleys…or teeny tiny walkways. Barcelona has it all!
If you ever research what to do in Barcelona, the famous pedestrian walkway, La Rambla (or Las Ramblas) will likely be mentioned near or at the top of the list. It stretches down the middle of two one-way streets that in turn are adjacent to sidewalks filled with theaters, shops, and food venues. Originally a sewage-filled stream, from 1440 on the stream was diverted and La Rambla turned into a street, quickly becoming the center of Barcelona’s life and culture. It has been used for festivals, parades, markets, large gatherings, and sporting events. In the middle walkway are street performers, cafes, artists, vendors of every stripe, kiosks, and thousands of other pedestrians enjoying the Spanish weather, ambience, food, and drink. When you arrive at the end, the Mediterranean, there is an open plaza with the 1888 Mirador de Colom, a Corinthian column topped with a statue of Christopher Columbus, as well as enormous municipal buildings adorned by statues and lions. The Spanish poet, Federico Garcia Lorca, saidthat La Rambla was “the only street in the world which I wish would never end.” And in one of those quirky things about life, when you walk back the other way on La Rambla, you see and notice totally different things than when walking the first direction! The first seven photos are typical of La Rambla and its terminus at the Columbus column.
Next up: the magnificent Gothic Quarter Cathedral, sitting since the 14th century in a pretty square, with its interior huge columns and vaults, along with gorgeous stained glass windows. The feeling inside is very majestic, and with the soaring vaults, their intention of “lifting your mind to the heavens” works very well! We included a photo of the cloister geese, which you can hear – loudly! – before you ever see them. They were all adult, all fat and huge…we couldn’t see any goslings. The best part of the Gothic Quarter for us was turning off GPS and just wandering aimlessly down any old alley, enjoying the shop windows, architecture (new buildings across the street from medieval ones), stopping for coffee at the charming Black Remedy Cafe, photographing all the silly, quirky, and beautiful things we saw. That part of the Gothic Quarter is below, in the Hodgepodge section.
The Palau de la Musica Catalana is magnificent. The photos didn’t come out so well because it was nighttime and the lighting inside was bright and glaring. And when the wonderful Spanish classical guitar concert started, it was, of course, too dark! But these photos give you an idea of the opulence of the inside of this glorious building, constructed between 1905 and 1908 for the Orfeo Catala, a Catalan choral society. The second photo of this set shows a stained glass lamp with their name inscribed.
And after the concert hall comes arguably one of the best parts of any of our blogs: the hodgepodge. There are residential buildings, flower-adorned retail stores, shop windows, fountains, narrow alleyways (many from the Gothic Quarter), an unusual Sombreria (!) that denotes “we’re not in the US any more, Toto,” a tiled well, a pretty etched glass awning, frescoes and paintings on building facades, and, at the end, a retail model we just liked.
One thing we wanted to note is that if you look at the photo following that with the Christmas train above the first story, you will see a typical Barcelona intersection, and it is unique in all the world. Normally, a block ends with buildings in a 90-degree angle…a sharp turn of the corner. Most intersections in Barcelona slice across the 90-degree angle, and the buildings face out into the intersection rather than facing one street or the other, creating an octagon at each corner. It gives a sense of grace and calmness, especially since there are so many trees and so much decoration on the buildings. In 20th century buildings, Gaudi’s influence is everywhere, as you can see undulating balconies and lines in windows and skylines. If you ever visit, keep looking up, as that is where the gasp-inducing treasures lie, not in the many Rolex, KFC, and Zara stores. It is so enjoyable to walk anywhere here that it is a wonder that the taxis make any money at all!
La Sagrad Familia. Casa Batllo. Park Guell. Palace Guell. Casa Mila. What do they have in common? Their architect was Antoni Gaudi. Then there is La Rambla, the Gothic Quarter, the Palau de Musica, the unique city architecture. Una problema for us: Barcelona has the characteristic of too-muchness. Therefore, Part 1 will deal with Gaudi’s fabulosities, and Part 2 will be the rest of the story. But that isn’t to say we have seen it all! By no means. Even though we have been here 4-5 times, there are still many sights unseen. We do what we can, but will have to come back for an extended stay to see the other places on our list, as this is one of our favorite cities in the world. It is very walkable, very livable, with great architecture, and tree-lined streets everywhere.
So, undoubtedly the most famous icon in Barcelona is La Catedral De La Sagrada Familia…Holy Family Cathedral. Construction began in 1882, 137 years ago, and is tentatively scheduled for completion in 2026. We spied workers on the top spires, and we had heard stories of people whose families have spent their lives, generation after generation, laboring on La Sagrada Familia. It is stunning. It is quite startling to turn a corner and suddenly see this massive…presence…in front of you. It is not symmetrical, and it is very whimsical. I don’t recall ever seeing statues, baskets of fruit, trees with doves, vari-colored ceramic caps on spires, words and phrases (repetitions of Sanctus, an arch with “Jesus, King of the Jews” in Latin), shrines, and all sorts of other decorative elements. It feels very futuristic, although conceived in the 19th century! All of Gaudi’s work feels ahead of its time.
After the cathedral comes Casa Batllo, designed by Gaudi in 1904. As you can see, the facade is wild…wavy and colorful. The interior uses lots of ceramics, lots of colored glass, lots of textured and glass walls. The roof chimneys are fun! They are meant to look like art pieces, not something functional, although they are, which in turn makes them feel very modern. Following Casa Batllo are three photos of Parc Guell, It is a public park and was built from 1900 to 1914. It is not like any park we have ever seen!
Also named after the industrial tycoon, Eusebi Guell, next up is Palau Guell, the Guell Palace. It was built between 1886 and 1888, and is situated on a narrow street. You can see the cavernous inner atrium in the first photo, looking up to the starry ceiling, followed by Gaudi’s signature artwork chimneys on the roof.
Last up is Casa Mila, built between 1906 and 1912. It has a wavy stone facade and wrought iron balconies, and was constructed to be an apartment building. We asked if there were still residents, and were told, “yes, one woman lives here.” Outside of the tourist areas, the rest is office space. There are two photos looking up to the sky from the lower courtyard, and then a shot of one of the beautiful lobbies leading into the courtyard.
The rooftop is spectacular, expansive, and as you can see, very very busy. There are warrior chimneys (28 of them!), vents, domes, and water tanks. It is amazing that Gaudi paid so much attention to these mundane service elements. After the rooftop is the attic, with its glorious arches that invite you to come in and look around for a while. Finishing today’s Gaudi gems is a bedroom in Casa Mila, complete with a gorgeous original bed and a glimpse out the window, onto the balcony with its wrought iron railing, ands views all the way to the Mediterranean.
On the way to Barcelona, we took a detour to see one of the most unique religious sites..and locations…in the world, 4,000 feet above the valley floor. Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey is a Benedictine monastery nestled high in the “serrated mountains,” a translation of the word Montserrat. Founded in the 11th century, the monastery was rebuilt in the 19th and 20th centuries and still functions today as a monastery, with about 70 monks. It is quite a drive up the mountain, circling around the serrated mountains, which have been called God’s fingers, reaching to the sky. There were busloads full of tourists there, and parking was at a premium.
We were lucky enough to be there for the daily free boys’ choir concert. The Montserrat Boys’ Choir, one of the oldest in Europe, is called the Escolania. The concert begins at 1:00 pm, so we went to to the basilica at 12:30 to take a few photos and get a seat. We walked in to find the crowd in the first photo…all that was available at that time was standing room in the very back of the church. We have provided a few photos of the basilica and its facade and courtyard, including a “see-through” sculpture there! At the very end of this post is a short video of the choir singing part of The Lord’s Prayer in Gregorian Chant. Their voices are heavenly, as you can imagine.
Following the photos of the basilica are some of the great serrated mountains and some of the valley and landscape below. We had a 180-degree view from the top, and being a sunny, gorgeous day, it was all magnificent.
Caesaraugusta….Zaragoza….can you see how the first, original city name corrupted into the second, present, one? It was established by Augustus of Rome between 25 and 11 BC. It lies within the area (formerly Kingdom) known as Aragon, made famous by the very Catholic first wife of Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England for 24 years until Henry replaced her with Anne Boleyn and started a new branch of Christianity.
Anyway, we stopped here for two days, as Zaragoza is exactly midway between the two largest Spanish cities of Madrid and Barcelona. We had no idea about the history of this city. Like many other Spanish cities, it had Roman beginnings, eventually was conquered by the Muslims, which is evident in the architecture you will see in the photos, and then again reclaimed by Spain. The first 11 photos are of the magnificent Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, a gargantuan building that dominates the skyline as you enter the city, and also can be seen from most vantage points in the Old Town. Its architectural style is Baroque, and it was built over a 200-year span, between 1681 and 1872. Legend has it that the first chapel dedicated to Mary on this site was in 40 AD by the apostle James. Both its exterior and interior seem to be larger and more ornate than any other church we have seen on our travels. It is over the top to the extreme, we feel.
Aljaferia Palace, a fortress built in the 11th-12th centuries, is in the Mudejar style, that cross between Moorish and Christian elements. It looks so much like buildings in all of the other cities we visited in Spain….the arches, the decorative gingerbread plasterwork, the exterior towers, the interior courtyard with orange trees, the overly ornate ceilings. It is breathtaking. The last shot of the palace is a set of four of the ceilings that we put together in one photo.
Look at the next set of photos that starts with three dresses. Hard to believe, but the dresses, and the images in the next nine photos following them….are made of paper. The photos were taken in the Origami Museum, celebrating the art of paper-folding. We were just delighted by everything we saw here, and are showing you a small fraction of the paper creations that made our jaws drop. It is a very playful exhibition, as you can see…faces, insects, intricate designs, all recognizable. We don’t even have to explain each one, as they are so well done. Can you imagine portraying “The Kiss,” as shown in the photo following the dresses, simply by folding paper? It’s crazy.
After that are photos around town…various buildings, gates, a street scene of the pedestrian walkway in Old Town with the Basilica in the background, the Mudejar Tower (on a Catholic Church!), fountains, and a pair of statues decorating the front of the old trading hall. The last two photos were taken in the Goya Museum. Photos weren’t allowed in the galleries (which display the largest collection of Goya engravings in the world), so these are from the lobby, and the building itself is very pretty…Moorish, in fact, with a nice skylight.
Happy All Saints Day to all of you saints, struggling to be the best you can be. We were out last night, Halloween, and had read that the day is not celebrated as much in Europe as it is in the US, and that was certainly borne out. We saw no costumed adults walking around, just one store clerk with a painted skull face. And, in 2-3 hours of walking, we saw a total of eight costumed children, all princesses and animals, none scary. It was very different from the frenzy we usually experience!
Madrid has too much to see in just five days. Period. We hit the wall yesterday and had to give up on several “must-sees.” We will just have to see them next time. It is a large, very interesting world capital, and there are many sites to visit in each area. So, here is what we saw in a few days.
First up is El Retiro Park, truly one of the great urban parks in the world. The first five photos are the outside and inside of the stunning 1887 Crystal Palace, where a small area was devoted to a modern art exhibition. It sits in the park as though it was meant to be there, all snuggled in next to a lake and fountain. Next are photos of the various gardens, fountains, and the Estanque Grande, the large lake in the park that draws people like a giant magnet, where you can rent boats and enjoy that view of the monument to Alfonso XII. So, quick: in the photo with the peacocks, how many peacocks can you count? If you see all nine, you have a sharp eye!
The second building you see, also in the park, dates from 1883 and is the Velazquez Palace. The gorgeous tile of a winged woman is matched on the opposite side, with just a few variations. The building is used as an exposition hall, this time with some modern art, and you can see a sample after the statue guarding the entrance.
The church is San Jeronimo el Real, up a staircase adjacent to the Prado Art Museum. We had visited the Prado on prior trips, and discovered that entry is free every evening from 6:00 pm to closing, so we went the other day. We spent an entire hour standing in front of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights triptych. We had a print on our wall for many years, but it was at too small a resolution to notice all the details. So, we stood and pointed and exclaimed, as we saw so much we either had forgotten from the last times at the museum, or never noticed. It was an enjoyable evening. We also saw some neat paintings by Goya, Rubens, and El Greco.
There are some scenes from around the city, including the home of Miguel de Cervantes, which was on a small alley. We were walking to dinner and found a crowd taking photos of a small building, and it was here that he lived and died. Accordingly, the entire street had shops and restaurants named after Cervantes and Don Quixote. Following that is a photo of one of the buildings in Plaza Mayor and a charming arched portal leading out. Just outside this plaza is the Mercado San Miguel (St. Michael’s Market), dating from 1916 with a beautiful glass and ironwork structure. It is not a veggie and fruit market, but one serving tapas, ham, cheese, and drinks, as you can see in the following photo. After that is the Basilica San Miguel, but the church was not open to visitors.
The last photos, taken last night, are of the Plaza del Sol. Last time we were in Madrid, it was the site of a nurses’ protest demonstration. It seems to draw many more people than the other plazas we walked through (and there are a LOT!). The next-to-last photo is of some “interesting” clothing models. And the last photo is simply inexplicable. The top says, “Babies and Children,” implying it is a shop for little ones, but the model isn’t exactly wearing children’s clothing!