Thursday, September 5, 2013

Lights. Camera. Spain.


I spent two weeks in Spain visiting the major cities and the smaller historic charming towns many with a Moorish influence in architecture. I took over 1300 pictures! In Andalucia (the south of Spain) there were orange trees everywhere on city streets with blooming fruit. Driving through the countryside I saw lots of olive groves and sunflower fields. There were Zara stores everywhere! I drank lots of sangria and ate lots of tapas. In the north of Spain you could pay €1.5 for a glass of wine and one tapa, quite a steal! In Granada when you bought a glass of wine you got your tapa free! Rumor has it that King Alfonso in the 13th Century made it a law that bars had to serve food with alcohol due to a problem he had. lol You can ready about my time in Ibiza here.

The most famous site in Spain that has the most visitors per year is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Alhambra in Granada.
It's a huge complex that was first built in 889 as an Islamic palace for the Emir then in 1333 was converted into a Royal Palace for the Sultan. After the Reconquista, Roman Emperor Charles V added on to the Palace. It has Islamic architecture in the Moorish style with filigree walls, geometrical patterns, painted tiles, and lots of fountains and reflecting pools (for washing before prayer).  One such courtyard has twelve lions made out of white marble and each hour one lion would produce water from its mouth which you have to admit is an ingenious hydraulic system and engineering feat for that time! The Islamic gardens had beautiful blooming rose bushes and orange trees. In town there were lots of Moroccan shops and tea houses reminding me of a bazaar in Marrakesh. Granada used to have 30 mosques in the 13th century, but now churches are built over them.
You might remember this dress from this post.

Cordoba was the center of culture in the Middle Ages. It was capital of Islamic Spain and by the 10th century was not only the largest city in Europe, but greatest in terms of infrastructure. It had paved narrow cobblestone streets (before Paris did), indoor plumbing, gardens and libraries. Thanks to influences from Baghdad, in Cordoba medicine, mathematics (algebra was an arab creation and hence we use Arab numbers instead of Roman numerals) astronomy, botany were far more advanced than in the rest of Europe. Jews, Muslims and Christians all lived harmoniously together (until the 14th century when the Jews were expelled) and public baths were a popular site.  I went to a Hammam in Cordoba which is a beautifully renovated Arab bath house. It had 3 baths, one really hot, one lukewarm and one ice cold followed by a sauna/steam room which I could barely breathe in. Talking is not allowed and the lights are dim so everyone looks flattering in their swimsuit. lol I enjoyed an aromatherapy massage with sweet tea. The whole experience was relaxing and I left feeling refreshed.


Cordoba also has the unique Mosque-Cathedral, a medieval Islamic Mosque built in 787 that was converted into a Cathedral in the 16th century. It has some 800 beautiful pillars inside with double arches made of granite, jasper and marble create a jazzling impressive effect that I was just awestruck by. It's really interesting to see a Catholic Chapel inside a Mosque, however Muslims are banned by the Catholic church from praying there and have been arrested for doing so. 

In Barcelona I was really impressed by the architecture of artist Gaudi who has a very eclectic style! His works include the Sagrada Família which is the largest Cathedral in Barcelona, construction began in 1882 and can you believe it's still not finished! I visited Spain 20 years ago and thought for sure it would be finished when I went this time, but nope! His Casa Milà, an apartment building, was a very controversial design at the time (built in 1910) for its bold forms, curved walls, and decoration of windows and balconies. It was also innovative in that it was the first building in Barcelona to have underground parking.  The rooftop is amazing as the chimneys are works of art. 

The goal with his Casa Batlló was to have no straight lines! My favorite site was Park Guell which is a garden complex on top of a hill. It was inspired by an English park, hence it got the English spelling of park. It was super crowded around the long bench that is curved like a sea serpent with beautiful mosaic titles. I also took a bike ride along the beach (saw a few nudists). They have bike lanes and a shared bike service so residents can pick up bikes at various places around the city to do a quick commute to work on. Then I hit up the nightlife which by the way did you know, no one gets to the club before 1am, yes it's empty before then.

Seville reminded me of Paris in the way the wide river circled the city. It's a beautiful city filled with palm trees and the only city in Spain that has weekly bull fighting. It's a controversial pass time in Spain that still has protests in front of bull rings. The state of Catalonia banned bullfighting last year and it was banned from public television for awhile.  


Pamplona is where the famous running of the bulls happens for a week long annual festival every July. Pretty crazy if you ask me! It's a very dangerous activity, this year 50 people ended up in the hospital and over the years 15 people have died. They say if the bull gets close to you better to lay down and be trampled over than have his horns go into your torso because that goring will kill you. The horn can easily pierce your skin! The Spaniards frown on women doing it (women used to be banned), but still some foreign women do participate however they are spit on by the Spainards. Also if you try to climb the barriers to get out, the crowd will push you back  in. If you commit to doing it, you have to run the full 2 minutes until the end. A company has brought this opportunity to 10 cities in America. What I think would be fun is their Tomato Royale based on the Spanish festival La Tomatina.

Did you know the Guggenheim Museum had a branch in Spain?  Built in 1997 next to the river in Bilbao it houses modern and contemporary art. In front of the museum is a gigantic puppy made of flowers. The museum transformed the city as visitors to Spain now have a reason to go to Bilbao and stimulate the local ecomomy. Mariah Carey filmed her music video "sweetheart" inside the museum, the whole first minute of the video is at the museum. 



The Alcazar in Segovia was such a spectacular site to see! It reminded me of a fairy tale castle. There was also an impressive aqueduct that transported water to the city.


I watched a Flamenco show which consists of a singer, a guitarist, a dancer, and people clapping in the background. It takes a lot of soul to dance flamenco as you could see the serious artistic expression on their face with them feeling the music. The women wore beautiful dresses but surprisingly didn't use castanets (shell hand instruments) that I saw being sold everywhere.

 
Gibraltar is a British overseas territory at the southern most tip of Spain. It's essentially a rock island

complete with it's own airport, whose runway is the shortest in the world and everyone walks right across it to enter the country, no security issues here. I was concerned what would happen if a plane landed, would I get a warning or would I just have to duck and run? lol Apparently they do close the street when planes land. Many online gaming operators are located in Gibraltar for tax breaks. There's some 200 wild monkeys here and right now a group is doing a research project on them so I saw a few of them with neckbands on that had a videocamera on it, kind of funny to see. After my monkey incident in Panama, I didn't get too close. However I had one monkey push me out of the way and another cheeky monkey grabbed the back of my dress as if he was going for my bra. Except for the babies, the monkeys don't make eye  contact with you. They have beautiful green eyes but always looked away to not show aggression. 

I googled this aerial picture to show you just how small the island of Gilbraltar is, there's a one way road through the rock, and you can drive all through the island in about one hour. And that's their airport's runway in front that everyone walks across. In the distance you can see Africa. All the ships in the water are docked waiting to be refueled as they pass through  the Strait of Gilbraltar.

   

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