Monday, February 25, 2013

Spain: Navarre: Pamplona

This city is famous for its San Fermin festival, or the running of the bulls.  It starts at the city hall and ends at the bullring.  Other than that, there is not much to see, it is like any other Spanish city.  In fact, if you are there during the weekday, it is more like a leisurely stroll of the tourists. 

Spain: Castile and Leon: Burgos and Segovia

Burgos has two sites worth noting: the Arco de Santa Maria, which is the medieval entrance into the city, and the Gothic cathedral.  Segovia has the Alcazar, which started as a Moorish fortress to a Catholic palace, and the Roman aqueduct.  Both cities can be missed, as you see alcazars and churches in other cities, and you can go to Italy to see all the aqueducts you want.  This only proves that yes, indeed, Spain was also part of the Roman Empire during the Pax Romana. 

Spain: Castile-La Mancha: Toledo

Toledo used to be the capitol of Spain until the 16th century.  The Gothic Cathedral is the most beautiful cathedral I have seen in all of Europe.  My favorite part is the El Transparente, which is literally a skylight cut above the main altar.  It  creates light where there would be none, illuminating the magnificent Baroque artwork in an otherwise Gothic architecture.  There are two synagogues you can visit as well: Santa Maria la Blanca and El Transito.  Both have Mudejar design and are now Catholic churches since the Jews were expelled from Spain during the Reconquista.  I must warn you that this is an exceptionally hilly city.  Hopefully the escalators that take you to the top from the parking lot are working!  Take your time and expect to get lost in this medieval maze of streets.  A must see though, for it has such marvelous structures and historical sites. 

Santa Maria La Blanca

El Transito

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Spain: Basque Country: Bilbao and San Sebastian

Bilbao is the capitol of this area and houses the Guggenheim museum.  The building is designed by Frank Gehry, who also designed the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, MN.  I am not a huge fan of modern art, but if you have an educated and informed tour guide, they can make the art come alive.  It displays the new age of art, using natural materials, structures, and technology.  The Puppy by Jeff Koons is my favorite, made all the more attractive with the spring flowers.

San Sebastian is on the Bay of Biscay and is a quaint beach city where you can wile away the hours just watching the tides go in and out.  A nice relaxing stop between tourist sites. 

Spain: Aragon: Zaragoza

This city has the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pilar, which venerates Mary as the Mother of the Hispanic Peoples.  The miniature wooden version of Mary is on a pillar of jasper.  Here you can buy a ribbon with her symbol on it to wear as you travel for protection.  I bought a pink one and wore it ever after on this trip.  A man in the airport home saw it and asked if I was there, for he was from there!  Small world!

Spain: Valencia: Valencia

Valencia is the third largest city in Spain, after Madrid and Barcelona.  It is not one you hear about much but it is a surprising and pleasant combination of medieval and modern. 


City of Arts and Sciences

Spain: Gibralter

Gibraltar is actually a British Oversees Territory, and has a Royal Navy base.  It is a fun English break from the hugeness of Spain.  The main town square, Casement Square, has a plethora of English shops and eateries.  Try to venture forth from this area to find less touristy shops and pub fare.  There is no VAT tax, so you can save a lot of euros on highly taxed items such as cigarettes and liquor.  The highlight of visiting the Rock are the Barbary macaques.  Depending on your tour guide, you may be able to get a macaque to sit on your shoulder.  Some of the tour guides are familiar with them and give them a treat to get them to jump on you.  Just be ready for a huge lump to jump on you!  The government feeds them well so they stay in their colony and not venture to the city.  Otherwise, it is recommended that you hold tight to your parcels for they are quite good at stealing!

Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim mosque
Europa Point


The Mezquita in Cordoba is a former mosque with a tiny cathedral inside its massive walls.  It has 856 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite.  These pictures also cannot fully portray the massiveness of its structure or its simple beauty.  These Moorish sites are a welcome, calm respite from the busyness and decoration of the many Catholic churches. 



Minaret/Bell Tower

Granada: Alhambra and Generalife

The Alhambra was the last Moorish fortress standing until the fall of the Moors in 1492.  It was then taken over by Catholic royalty.  It is an amazing site, so beautiful in its decoration, so peaceful in its simple use of natural elements such as water, air, plant, and earth.  It helps to have a good tour guide to help you maneuver through the many mazes of this complex.  Mere words cannot adequately describe this place, so just admire these simple pictorial representations of this magnificent site.

Court of the Myrtles
Court of the Myrtles
Golden Room
Golden Room
Court of the Lions
Partal and Gardens

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Seville #3

The Plaza de Espana was built in 1929 for the Iberian-American Exposition.  In Maria Luisa Park, it reflects the Moorish style of the region.  It is a fun place to people-watch, stroll, and relax. 

Seville #2

The Alcazar is a Moorish fortress turned Catholic palace.  The Courtyard of the Maidens is the most familiar area of the complex, even used as a setting for the King of Jerusalem in "The Kingdom of Heaven" film.  Fascinating movie by the way.  The Gardens are a beautiful, peaceful oasis away from the hot sun and crowded streets. 


Spain: Andalusia: Seville #1

The Cathedral of St. Mary was built after the mosque was torn down after the Reconquista.  The Giralda, the bell tower, was the minaret.  Inside the bell tower are ramps instead of steps for the Muezzin to ride a horse instead of climbing all those stairs.  Columbus is buried inside the church. 

Spain: Barcelona: Park Guell

Another famous Gaudi place is the park, which he designed to be a gated community for the wealthy.  They did not want to live so far from the city, so it became a park.  And what a grand and glorious park it is!

Dragon Fountain
Gaudi House

Gate Houses

100 Columns Market/Terrace

Spain: Barcelona: Sagrada Familia

Barcelona is the home of Modernisme and Antoni Gaudi.  The Sagrada Familia was started in 1883 and is still a work in progress!  Although Gaudi died in 1926, he left instructions for future architects.  The Nativity Facade is on the east side, while the Passion Facade is on the west.  The third facade will be the Glory Facade. 
Passion Facade

Nativity Facade