Tag Archives: Travel

Semana Santa in Andalucía

Let’s cast our minds all the way back to April and Semana Santa (Holy Week). You may already be familiar with the famous processions that are held in Spain during Holy Week, from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. In Andalucía, they typically feature huge, heavy floats supported by lots of strong men and a lot of people wearing pointy hoods reminiscent of a certain American clan.

Semana Santa
To witness these processions first-hand (the tradition doesn’t really exist as far north as Oviedo) I used my lovely ten days of holidays from school to travel to Málaga, Granada and Córdoba in Andalucía.

An excruciatingly long overnight bus trip (including a stopover in the early hours of the morning in Madrid bus station) and I made it to Málaga. The weather was warm, the sun was shining and I was exhausted. Málaga turned out to be a great spot to relax for the first few days of my holidays. I did a little touristy sight-seeing, a lot of old, tiny street wandering (I could never, ever find my hostel), sat in the sun at the beach, spotted a few processions and joined the crowds to watch, and then ate ice cream. It was so good to see the sun for the first time in months. Sadly, most of the rest of my trip to Andalucía was shrouded in cloud and drizzle as the good weather didn’t hold out.

After a few nights, I hopped on another bus to Granada. Granada turned out to be the absolute highlight of my trip, not just because of the Alhambra (which needs a whole post of its own), but because the whole city is utterly gorgeous. I had a fabulous time there, in spite of a very, very early start one morning to buy tickets to the Alhambra (book in advance! Especially if you are visiting at one of the peak holiday times!) and a subsequent cold from sitting around in the cold and wet at 7 am. I spotted a few more processions, had my palm force-read by a gypsy, went on an excellent walking tour of the city and bought handmade dulces from a convent.
A sneak peek photo from the Alhambra for you.

My last stop, and sadly only for one night, was Córdoba. I visited the famous Mezquita cathedral-turned-mosque-turned-cathedral and the magnificent gardens of the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, the castle/fortress of the Christian Monarchs, ie King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella who reconquered Spain from the Moors in the late 15th century.

The trip back to Oviedo was another long, overnight bus ride. I arrived home at 6 am on Saturday morning and spent the rest of the Easter weekend sleeping off my cold. I couldn’t say it was a relaxing Easter break but, in light of the things I saw and did, totally worth it. It was a bit of a different Easter, but certainly refreshing to see barely any Easter eggs (unlike the way they seem to pop up in supermarkets in Australia the day after Christmas) but to see a religious focus instead, albeit a very Catholic one with all those floats of the Virgin Mary.

If you fancy it there are photos from Málaga and Córdoba over on Flickr.

TTFN.

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[Catching Up] Madrid: Day One

I finally made the trip to Spain’s capital back in early April when I made plans to meet a friend visiting from Australia for the weekend. I took the train from Oviedo on Thursday evening, and it turned out to be a very comfortable, pleasant journey of approximately 6 hours. I got to read, stretch out my legs in the tons of leg-room and watch first the mountains of Asturias and then the plains of Castilla y León pass by. My point here: trains are awesome! (My cross-country bus trips in Semana Santa really proved this too).

The next morning we started out with few fixed plans, just a generally idea of walking in a vague direction and seeing a few of the sights. We started out at the Plaza Mayor, which was lovely in the early morning without so many tourists and touts (except for Minnie Mouse who seemed to think we were famous because she kept wanting to have a photo with us…) We also headed out to the Palacio Real and climbed up the dome of the Catedral Almudena next to it for a lovely view over the city. All of this seemingly organised sightseeing was interspersed with copious amounts of aimless wandering but it was nice getting to see the city, something you miss out on if you just take the metro from your hostel to your chosen tourist attraction.

Plaza Mayor


View of the Palacio Real from the Catedral de la Almudena

After a yummy lunch involving delicious tortilla española and a good dose of caffeine, we spent a large part of the afternoon exploring the collection of the Museo del Prado. Madrid has three world-renowned museums, all located within the so-called ‘Golden Triangle’, a little corner of Madrid. The Prado is the most famous and houses European art spanning the 12th to 19th centuries. Famous Spanish artists such as Velázquez, Goya and El Greco have lots of paintings on display, as do Ruebens and Bosch. There are also a few paintings by my favourite Spanish artist Sorolla (but I got to see many, many more at the dedicated Museo de Sorolla later that weekend). The Prado is very big, not anything like the Louvre, but it would take you a long time to see everything properly.

An early evening siesta later and we headed out for more tasty tapas and Spanish wine. We had an early night though to get ready for our early train out to Segovia the next morning!

TTFN.

PS: No surprises, Mum picked all of the right royals from the last post. They were (in no particular order): Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh, Catherine and William the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Camilla Duchess of Cornwall, Charles Prince of Wales and Prince Henry who is more commonly known as Prince Harry!

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[Catching Up] Carnaval Take Two: Down comes the rain.

Nearly four days of almost total bed rest later I’m ready to start filling you all in on the last six weeks worth of adventures. Let’s go back to where I left off, Carnaval.

As you may remember, in Asturias there are two weekends for Carnaval, the last weekend before Lent and the real Carnaval, and the following weekend when Oviedo throws its own party.

By the second weekend of Carnaval I have to admit I just wasn’t feeling the motivation; the all-night dancing and freezing cold dawn Navia wanderings had taken their toll and I wasn’t feeling very well. So rather than hit up Carnaval with the other twentysomethings and repeat the partying and dress ups, I decided to enjoy the family-friendly version of Carnaval.

So I meandered down to the centre of Oviedo early in the evening to check out the parade of groups wearing fabulous, bright costumes. The parade finished at the Plaza de Alfonso II, otherwise called the Plaza de la Catedral, where there was a big stage set up for the costume competition, complete with D-grade local celebrities to judge (there was a female judge dressed up as a dominatrix I’m pretty sure, she was even prancing round with a riding crop… It was all kinds of weird). As the parade wound up the Plaza filled right up with people and the competition got under way. My personal favourite was the Oreo biscuits complete with box (typical of the sweet-tooth, right?).

However I didn’t ever find out if they won the group section as during that section the heavens opened. And properly opened. I have never seen such a large crowd dissipate so quickly! People were sheltering in doorways or under balconies from the heavy rain and rising puddles or braving it and getting drenched (that was me, I forgot my umbrella. Stupid, stupid thing to do; in Asturias you never ever leave the house without your umbrella!). Halfway home the thunder and lightning started and I experienced my first, albeit brief, Spanish thunderstorm.

All in all it was a fun evening, the effort that goes into the costumes is remarkable and the monetary value of the prizes likewise!

The Mythology Society even had a dragon


The Oreos


The Plaza de la Catedral starting to fill up

TTFN.

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For my sister.

Las niñas en el mar by Joaquín Sorolla.

One of the best things I did in Madrid last weekend was visit the Museo de Sorolla. This painting struck a particular chord and so here it is for all of you to enjoy.

TTFN.

(source)

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Barcelona: Day Three

Ok, so here we go with the highlights from my last day in Barcelona!

Day three started with saying goodbye and bon voyage to my new friends who were flying back to their university in Versailles (I was very jealous at the time and wished I were flying back to Paris instead of Oviedo..). I wandered aimlessly out of the hostel with two rough ideas of how to spend my day: I wanted to go to the beach area and I wanted to go up the hill to Montjuïc. I still hadn’t decided which to do first as I left the hostel but when I reached the metro stop for the Montjuïc funicular I finally made my decision and kept on strolling down to the beach. It turned out to be quite a walk but the weather was okay and when I finally did make it I bumped into my room-mates! We passed some time very pleasantly enjoying the view of the sea and a few snatches of beautiful warm sunshine before the thunderclouds started to roll overhead (they kept rolling and it turned into a beautiful afternoon). I imagine that the beach would be great in summer, it is a nice long sandy stretch and Barcelona does get quite hot in summer I’m told.

La barceloneta - The beach in Barcelona


Pebbles on the beach


Around the middle of the day we said goodbye again and I made my way up to Montjuïc. Montjuïc is home to an old castle, a bunch of museums and gardens and the 1992 Barcelona Olympics venues. It’s only a short funicular ride up the hill (for the price of a regular metro ticket) and you don’t really realise how far and how high it is until you get up there. I didn’t stop at any of the museums although there are quite a few with both art and ethnographic exhibits. Instead I wandered around some beautiful open garden spaces and looked out at the great view over the city. I also tried to visit the old castle right at the top of the hill but I think that, in spite of the signs pointing you in the direction of the castle from the funicular stop, it is only accessible by the cable car or by driving. I made it as far as some car parks up the pretty steep hill and then the trail sort of disappeared. So I left it at that!

Barcelona is big


Looking down from a garden to the museum of Catalan Art


Spring is coming!!

It was an early night back at the hostel that evening and I had the whole dorm to myself! This was super helpful when I got up at 4.30am before my 7.20am flight, as it meant I could switch all the lights on and be as noisy as I liked! I made it back out to the airport easily enough, with no delays, and consequently had arrived at my terminal and passed through security before the gate number for my flight had even been released. Once back in Asturias I caught the bus back to Oviedo, walked home to dump my backpack (where I also discovered a lovely parcel from home had arrived for me) before making it to school for an 11.25am start. It was an extremely long day!

As always, more photos to come on Flickr, especially some yummy photos I took at the Mercat La Boquería over the three days I visited. Stay tuned for a new Wordy Wednesday post tomorrow!

TTFN.

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Barcelona: Day Two.

On my second day in Barcelona, Saturday, I took myself on a little self-guided walking tour of L’Eixample to see as much Modernisme architecture as I could handle. Quite aside from the most famous buildings of this movement there are lots of other gorgeous, and arguably more subtle, examples of it spread throughout L’Eixample where locals pass them by without a second glance. In particular I fell in love with a still-operating pharmacy decked out in the full Art Nouveau style.
I continued my little tour by visiting, among other buildings, the garishly decorated Palau de la Música Catalana and the neo-Gothic castle-style Casa Terrados, more commonly known as La Casa de los Punxes, the House of Spikes. It has three different front doors, one for each of the family’s daughters (and to think my sister and I had to share!) and was apparently described as ‘a crime against the nation’ when it was first built. I am inclined to agree. (I will pop some photos of it on Flickr if you want to see it.)

The detail on the balcony at the Palau de Música Catalana

Then I slowly made my way back to Passeig de Gràcia to see the famous Casa Milà or La Pedrera and La Manzana de la Discordia (side note: I was so confused when I first heard that name as the only meaning for ‘manzana’ that I previously knew was ‘apple’ and ‘Apple of Discord’ didn’t seem to make much sense. I then learned that ‘manzana’ also means ‘block’ and the world made sense again.) Casa Milà is an apartment block designed by Gaudí with a wavy façade and some very intricate wrought iron balconies.

La Pedrera

It still houses one floor set up as a genuine 1920s Art Nouveau-Art Deco Spanish apartment. After a steep entrance fee and a few sets of steep stairs (I wasn’t going to wait for the lift like everyone else when there was a perfectly serviceable set of stairs. I underestimated how many flights up the apartment was.) I made it up to the apartment and really enjoyed the period furniture and décor and light and airy apartment. It had some great views over Passeig de Gràcia too. I think I could happily live there if anyone is offering. Then it was further onwards and upwards to the roof, which is spectacular. Bizarre but spectacular.The roof is all uneven with mini-flights of stairs or ramps leading you constantly up and down and it is covered by huge chimneys in strange block shapes. The view over Barcelona is great, as from just about everywhere you can see the Sagrada Familia sticking out because it is so huge.

On the rooftop

Back on street-level it was finally time for La Manzana de la Discordia. Well, discord is right! There is nothing harmonious about the three Modernista buildings almost next to each other. Gaudí’s Casa Batlló has great, vibrant colours and shapes; next to it is the right-angled, Moor-ish Casa Amatller by Josep Puig i Cadafalch; on the corner is the ornate, delicate Casa Lleó Morera by Lluis Doménech.


By this point I was pretty much Modernisme-d out. While I do like the Modernisme-Art Nouveau style I really feel I am an Art Deco girl at heart. I spent the rest of the day eating fruit from La Boquería and people watching again, this time in the Plaça Reial. Later, back at the hostel, I struck up a conversation with some of my lovely roomies and ended up with a great bunch of people to head out with for dinner and drinks. It was some very welcome English-speaking company! Still, it was relatively early to bed before my last day in Barcelona. How many things there were still left to do in the city!!

TTFN.

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Barcelona: Day One.

Roughly six weeks after arriving in Spain it was time for my first big, long weekend trip! I was extremely excited all Thursday at school and was counting down the seconds in my private classes that afternoon until I was free! My plane was delayed leaving Oviedo so I was a little later arriving in Barcelona than I expected and didn’t make it to my hostel until about 1am. The Metro had stopped running at midnight so after getting off the airport train shanks’ pony became my mode of transportation. A half hour walk in the rain later, I was glad I had packed lightly and well and truly ready for bed.

The next morning I had two motivations to be up early. Primarily because I was only in Barcelona for three days and had to make the most of each day, secondly because the free breakfast was only served till 10am! So, fed and watered, I was on the road by 9.30am. I started at La Rambla, probably the most famous street in all of Spain. I am at a complete loss to explain why, but there it is. I still can’t explain why a street should be a constantly busy tourist attraction just because it is a constantly busy tourist attraction, seems rather circular to me, but that appears to be the main reason. There are tourists wandering around, being hustled by people trying to sell them junk, food stands, Starbucks, Burger King and McDonald’s, and more tourists.

La Rambla


I located the Mercat La Boquería, which is what I was searching for, and made plans to come back at lunchtime. The market ended up being one of my favourite things about the city.

After my disappointment about La Rambla, I jumped on the Metro and headed to the most famous landmark in the whole city: Antoní Gaudí’s Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família. I remain undecided about whether I liked it or not.

The Nativity Façade

It certainly is the most unique church I have ever seen but I can’t quite work out if I liked it or not. I spent a good while snapping photos of the outside but I still felt considerably underwhelmed by it. That combined with the long queue and expensive ticket price to get in made me decide against checking out the inside. (I slightly regret this now, as I hear it is much more stunning inside, but at least I know one thing I’ll have to do when I go back to Barcelona one day!) One thing that is really striking about La Sagrada Familia is its size. It is really huge, and with all the cranes and scaffolding it looks even larger. No wonder it still isn’t finished, even though they have downsized it from Gaudí’s original designs!

The Passion Façade

The entire southern façade of the church is still covered with scaffolding but will apparently be the most stunning of them all and show Jesus’ ascension into Heaven.

(One interesting thing that really irked me while I was in Barcelona was the number of postcards of the Sagrada Familia where the cranes and scaffolding have been digitally erased. That’s not real! Nor is it a souvenir of what I have actually seen!)

I decided to stick with the Gaudí theme and caught the Metro and then climbed up an incredibly, vertigo-inducingly steep hill (fortunately there are escalators to help you along!) to reach Parc Güell. I loved it. It is a beautiful open space, something that is always welcome in a city the size of Barcelona, and it is dotted with some amazing buildings. But the mosaics! Oh, they are just beautiful, all around the edges of the terrace. I took almost as many photos of the tiles as I did of the rest of the park put together.

The edges of the terrace area

The views from there were also quite stunning so space to check out the views and the tiles was certainly at a premium!

I wandered around the park for a good few hours, enjoying the marvellous sunshine and almost warm weather. There are a lot of paths you can follow and lots of good hill-walking to be had if you’re looking for exercise while in Barcelona. It appeared to be a popular spot for a particular group of masochists of that kind known as joggers.

Looking over the main entrance to the park from the terrace

I spent my late afternoon (after I succumbed to hunger and dragged myself away from Parc Güell) and evening grabbing some fruit salad for lunch from La Boquería and eating it and enjoying some serious people-watching on La Rambla. I also stocked up on some provisions, cooked dinner and enjoyed the free internet at the hostel that night before turning in early.

Loads more photos will be up on my photostream too, including a bunch of photos of those gorgeous tiles!! And some more interesting ones for everyone else not quite as enamoured with Gaudí mosaics as I!

TTFN.

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