Paris and Beyond

Our Personal Tour de France & Other Exciting Adventures!

Ezcaray

74142366-0EF9-474D-86FC-3936032558DBAs well-planned as they may be, every vacation has its surprises and sometimes the unplanned turns out to be the best. This was certainly true of our experience in Ezcaray, a visit brought about when we fell in love with the gorgeous mohair and wool blankets in our San Sebastián apartment. Early on the last day of our week there, I decided to ask our host where we might be able to purchase them thinking there was probably someplace nearby. He explained that these blankets could only be found in high-end stores at rather exorbitant prices none of which were in San Sebastián. He advised us to make a trip directly to the factory where we could acquire them for a mere fraction of the cost. Furthermore, he informed us that it was a beautiful drive and worth making even though it was located two hours south (back in the direction from which we had to come to arrive in San Sebastián). We looked at each other and said, “Well, what the heck? We’ve got the whole day.”

So off we went back through the truly breathtaking Basque Country to the tiny village of Ezcaray (pop. 2,000) that owes its fame to the amazing mantas (blankets) produced by the aptly named company of Mantas Ezcaray in business since 1930. Arriving at siesta time as we Americans often do, the factory was closed and were were “forced” to check out one of two stellar hotel and restaurant establishments in town, Palacio Azcárate. The small, intimate bar had an inviting tapas menu with some unique selections only costing 2-3€ each — prices and quality you often hear people talk about but never seem to find. We tried a few and they were delicious.

AA684B94-FCE3-422E-BF9A-B38BA4B2923A

4E21B407-FE11-4005-A43A-B02788E6478EEventually, it was time to head over to the factory. The entrance was adorned with a bench upon which several woven products were arranged enticing the visitor to continue inside even in the heat of summer. Our first encounter was an array of looms used in the weaving process. Then we moved on to the showroom where an extremely knowledgeable and helpful assistant was waiting to show us their wares. She brought out blanket after blanket laying them all out and explaining their various qualities. There were so many designs and colors to choose from that we were like the proverbial “kid in a candy shop”. Purchasing one or two is what I originally had in mind, but Norman had other ideas. As he pointed out, we were never going to be there again. So after much hemming and hawing trying to decide which ones we liked best… we ended up buying FIVE! We chose three large ones for our two beds (so we can alternate??) and two smaller “sofa-sized” ones for each of us to use when we cozy up in front of the TV during the winter. All tolled they added up to less than the cost of a single blanket in a retail store. What a deal!

62CEDF81-6133-434A-96A5-53AD8D1474E6

Our assistant busied herself folding our beautiful new treasures into two gigantic plastic bags specifically created for their products. While she was doing that, we pondered how on earth we were going to get them home. Our San Sebastián host offered to ship them to us, but that would have meant leaving them behind with him and we weren’t sure how that would all work out. In the end, we decided to carry them along on our journey and figure it out later.

018486EF-5B13-4C9C-8219-886164F103B8These have to be the biggest souvenirs ever, but fortunately, they don’t weigh much. That’s one of the beauties of these blankets. They are 73% mohair and 27% wool making them lusciously light and able to keep you warm or cool depending on the season. Just recently we purchased a large, lightweight, inexpensive suitcase which accommodated all five blankets perfectly. The cost of the suitcase plus the airline’s extra baggage charge will be totally worth it in order to enjoy them in our home for years to come. I know we will experience many comfortable nights and so many good memories every time we use them.

9B5A1F25-AD87-4906-8F79-4A1339C0AD50

Mantas Ezcaray… Ready to Roll!

Vamos a la Playa… Again!

82BFBD14-FCF2-4426-86A4-23A16245F65BWith the major sight-seeing events behind us, it was time to begin Vacation, Part 2, also known as “The Vacation from the Vacation”. In order to do that, we had to go to our favorite place in Spain and my first small introduction to the country in 2012, San Sebastián… or, as the Basques call it Donostia. What more fitting beginning to a true vacation than a week at the beach, one of the most beautiful I’ve ever experienced. We returned to San Sebastián for three days in 2015 and really found out what La Concha Bay had to offer so we knew we needed to spend more time here.

62E801A2-9439-4121-86F8-99E46649BB80

E5987D8D-0067-4940-BD87-C46AD4A6B6B8

With no agenda whatsoever, we settled in to our sprawling (by Spanish standards) three bedroom, two bath art-filled luxury apartment just a few blocks from Ondarreta Beach. After shopping at our favorite grocery store, Super Amara (somewhat akin to Whole Foods), we were all set to relax… and relax we did. First, however, we had to download some user manuals so we could figure out how to work the TV, the stove, the oven, and a couple of other appliances – more challenges than we had in previous locations for some reason. It took two of us to decipher the magic to manipulating the remote control to login to Netflix, but once we succeeded, we were happy campers… watching the full three hour plus version of Spartacus we realized neither of us had ever seen. Believe it or not, these are our favorite vacation moments.

77B49A2B-2322-4312-B130-F7EDD0E8FB71

We took advantage of the first full day with 85 degree weather to make our way to the beach, rent a cabana, and chill out for the afternoon. Soaking up the sun, wiggling our toes in the sand, and wading in the cool Atlantic waters of the bay were the only physical activities we attempted. Norman started rereading The Basque History of the World then took a long nap while I finally finished Winter in Madrid. 

Returning from the beach quite rejuvenated from our journey to the Basque Country the previous day, we were able to kick back and enjoy the fruits of our Super Amara shopping spree by preparing a Langostino Salad dinner accompanied by an incredibly inexpensive but super delicious bottle of Spanish wine. It was a perfect first day of the rest of our vacation.

A2243CD5-95D1-4899-B0E4-9982D4D51F69

Madrid: Paseo del Arte

¡Ay, Madrid! Capital of Spain and object of my academic desires in 1973. ¡¡Por fin!! (Finally!!)

We exchanged our Córdoba casita for a top floor apartment in Madrid’s upscale Salamanca neighborhood, the family home of our host, Rosa. Unfortunately, she was not able to greet us in person as she spends part of the year in Florida and had not arrived in Spain for the season yet. My disappointment stems from the fact that since I first made the reservation last August, Rosa and I have become friends – pen pals of sorts – regularly exchanging e-mails and learning about each other’s lives. I was excited to have a Spanish friend again, especially one who knew my country as well as her own and had been looking forward to meeting her.

The major focus of our stay in Madrid was to tour several art museums – a paseo del arte (art walk) which was the name of the triple museum pass I purchased in advance. Most famous are those located within the “Golden Triangle of Art” – all within easy walking distance of each other though we could have done with some slightly cooler temperatures. When it’s in the 90’s and climbing, an art museum is a great place to be. You can be guaranteed of air conditioning for the artwork if not for you.

On the first day, we started off at the Thyssen Bornemisza, the newest museum which opened in 1992. This museum houses an immense and varied private collection that was once the second largest in the world. There were so many works of art here that we really appreciated, it was impossible to choose which one we wanted to take home — a game I always play. However, unlike the following two museums, there was no prohibition to photography here so we were able to come away with some nice “souvenirs”.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After a break in the museum café for a bite to eat, we felt like we were on a roll so we bravely headed over to El Prado, the Spanish national art museum which is primarily dedicated to Spanish art from the 12th to 20th century. The collection is overwhelmingly vast with notables being the works of Goya, El Greco, and Velásquez. While the Thyssen provided endless variety expressing a multitude of emotions, for me the Prado exuded a certain sameness from room to room with a repetition of religious and political themes in dark colors evoking even darker feelings. The one salvation was the opportunity to see Velásquez’s most famous painting, “Las Meninas”. Displayed in its own special space, one of the particular attractions of this very large work is the clever way in which the artist painted it. We see Velásquez standing behind a canvas looking out at us as he paints the portrait of the king’s daughter attended by her handmaids (las meninas) and an assortment of other characters. In addition, we see the reflection in a mirror of her parents as they look on at the proceedings. This painting has been thoroughly critiqued and analyzed over the years so there are many interpretations as is always the case with great art. In the end, it is whatever the viewer chooses to see.

0776DE20-30DF-4310-80FC-345453868217

Las Meninas by Diego Velásquez

Day Two, time for more art… but first a stop at the oldest and possibly best pastry shop in all of Madrid, La Mallorquina, conveniently situated near our metro exit in the Puerta del Sol location of kilometer zero, literally the center of Spain. What a selection! The secret here is to feast your eyes on the delectable offerings downstairs and then head upstairs to order with table service and a great view of the plaza.

Once we were plied with enough caffeine and sugar, we were ready to take on the Museo Reina Sofía which houses an impressive collection of 20th century modern art. While this genre is not usually my preference, surprisingly I found a number of works to my liking here. The central motive for this visit was to view one of the most important pieces of art in this collection, Picasso’s “Guernica” — the painter’s graphic portrayal of the horrific massacre of an entire Basque village by the Germans (with the support of Spanish General Franco) during the Spanish Civil War. We arrived early to avoid the crowds and I was able to spend some time quietly contemplating this historically and politically significant work. Informed by the reading I have been doing about this period in Spanish history, it was a very moving experience for me.

3E848203-E0A5-4C51-9EDA-AD0C553C2BA7

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

Norman has been an avid jazz fan and musician all his life and has introduced me to the jazz world over the many years we have been together. When we travel, we always look out for ways to connect to the jazz community. This time we hit the jackpot discovering that one of our most favorite musicians, Paquita d’Rivera, would be playing at a small local venue during our stay. So on a warm Monday evening in Madrid we set out for Club Clamores for a 10:30 PM concert. It was a very intimate club hidden away downstairs in a fairly residential neighborhood. We have seen Paquito on a couple of other occasions that were excellent but this was by far the best concert ever. Perhaps it was because Paquito, Cuban by birth, was playing to a truly Latin audience and was more at ease in his element. This was definitely the highlight of our stay especially for Norman.

Last but never least in this city and only because we ran out of days and needed just one more little dose of art, we decided to make a short trip to a museum that Rosa recommended to us… the Museo Sorolla. This museum was originally the artist’s home — one of the few lucky ones who had enough money for a very comfortable life and was able to spend all of his time painting. This is a small, very relaxing place to enjoy some interesting works of art with impressionist leanings.

8F06C185-17E4-4E77-B222-BA1EE9FF736B

Patio of the Museo Sorolla

Happily, I was able to locate another Corte Inglés not far away so we could have lunch. Of course, I did have an ulterior motive. This time I wanted to do some shopping. I just happened to notice a display of some beautiful scarves (one of my favorite accessories) through the cafeteria window. So, of course, I had to check them out. Luckily, it is the season of rebajas (sales) and they turned out to be rather affordable. Even better, I discovered the scarves were all done by Galician designer Roberto Verino making them true Spanish souvenirs. Art in fashion – a piece I could really take home and a perfect way to end our Paseo del Arte in Madrid.

32A65042-220C-43B8-8983-501D3AC95A0F

 

La Mancha!

Leaving Andalucía and heading north we entered the region of Castilla-La Mancha where we decided to take a very brief side trip on our way to Madrid. This is the land of Don Quijote, a nobleman who imagined he was a knight and his sidekick, Sancho Panza, a farmer who served as his squire. These characters from the 17th century novel Don Quijote de La Mancha written by Miguel de Cervantes carry out an array of crazy knightly adventures including one of the most famous that involves windmills. When Quijote encounters the windmills, he is convinced they are evil giants and tries to fight them albeit rather unsuccessfully as he is thrown off his horse and injured. As part of my Spanish literature studies in college, I was assigned this book and made a valiant effort to get through all 863 pages. Don Quijote has had a great influence on literature and language inspiring other novels like The Three Musketeers, the word quixotic (extremely idealistic; unrealistic and impractical), and the idiom tilting at windmills (fighting imaginary enemies). Even if you haven’t read the book, you are probably familiar with the story due to the fame and recognition garnered by the 1965 musical The Man of La Mancha and its uber-popular theme song, “The Impossible Dream”. As we drove through this area, it appeared we had been transported to Quijote’s La Mancha…

ED612B3D-8CB8-4EE4-8D2B-80B5B7C33496

The capital of La Mancha is Toledo, home of El Greco and one of the most well-preserved medieval towns. In fact, the entire town was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 1986. We exited the motorway, easily found a place to park in this heavily touristed town, and took a quick walk up a very steep hill and through the narrow cobblestone streets to check out a few of the sights.

E22A42B5-492F-4E33-B625-E68A7A387234

Toledo’s Tagus, longest river in Spain

45D6DB3A-3D66-48EF-9950-52297AB71BC6

View of the outskirts from the top

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Finally, we stopped in for lunch at La Malguerida where we enjoyed some traditional local dishes including a very tasty gazpacho and a delicious pork and pea stew called carcamusas with a side of potato chips which seem to be Spain’s current favorite snack.

After returning to our car where we were greeted with a parking ticket on the windshield (Oops! Parking for residents only – no wonder it was so easy – but where was that sign??), it was time to complete the day’s journey to Madrid. Wow, that was an expensive stop but definitely worth it!

Andalucía Pt. 2

Next stop in Andalucía… Córdoba. While the previous city of Granada had a population of about 230,000 people fitted into a mere 34 square miles, the city of Córdoba spreads out over 484 square miles with 325,000 residents. If you do some quick math, you realize that there’s a great difference in population density in these two places. This along with the fact that the land is relatively flat in Córdoba creates a much more open and spacious feeling.

In Granada, sitting on the patio of our modern hilltop apartment in the ancient Albycín neighborhood, we certainly enjoyed the view and appreciated the unique beauty of the area.

However, Córdoba was a completely different experience. We had our own private two-story, three bedroom casita with surrounding gardens and pool situated behind gates on the property of some incredibly generous and gracious hosts. Every afternoon, we spent hours by that pool. It was such a delight and a bit of a welcome relief from the congestion of Granada. We found it quite easy to get around on the local bus and very comfortable to be out and about exploring.

And what did we discover? The other iconic Andalusian landmark commonly referred to as “La Mezquita” (mosque), another curious example of the melding of religious and cultural influences that has occurred over centuries of Spanish history and one of the best examples of Moorish architecture. Currently serving as a Catholic Cathedral, the Great Mosque was built on top of a small catholic basilica in 784, eventually reconverted into a Catholic Church during the Spanish Reconquista in 1236 and finally given a Renaissance remodel in the 16th century. The result is an intriguing structure with architectural features of its various predecessors still present. With each new iteration of this monument, little effort was made to tear down the old so a jumble of different architectural features on are still in place. The most notable feature is the seemingly never-ending multitude of stone columns joined by distinctive red and white arches providing the classic photo op.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ancient monuments are not the only draw to Córdoba. On our second full day, we set out on the bus to explore some of the modern downtown area. We encountered beautiful parks and plazas as well as wide, inviting avenues. It was here we had our first “Corte Inglés” experience… something I had been wanting to do for a long time. I learned about El Corte Inglés when I first became friends with The Spaniards. It is Spain’s only remaining department store chain, the largest in Europe, and third worldwide. It’s comparable in quality and price to Nordstrom in the US with the requisite, very affordable cafeteria generally on the top floor and often with a great view… allowing you to rest up and keep shopping, of course! With easy-access restrooms and air conditioned comfort, it’s the perfect place to take a break when you are tooling around the city, especially when it’s so hot. We headed directly to the cafeteria and yearning for something different, chose the traditional Spanish Ensalada Rusa, a non-traditional Ensalada Mexicana, and a couple of beers all for about $23.

Though our tour of the city was short and the weather quite hot, we found that Córdoba was definitely a city we would enjoy visiting again.

Andalucía Pt. 1

Ever since the early 70’s when I studied Spanish history in college, I have wanted to visit two iconic Spanish landmarks, Granada’s Alhambra and Córdoba’s Mezquita-Cathedral. Both of these monuments can be found in the region of Andalucía, largest in area and second largest in population of the 17 Spanish autonomous communities. Stretching from Alpine slopes to the Mediterranean Sea, it offers a wide-range of geographical landscapes. Andalucía has the distinction of being Europe’s southernmost point and possessing one of the warmest climates. Currently, we are enjoying very hot but dry weather reminiscent of the many years spent living in the Coachella Valley near Palm Springs, California… thankfully, minus the sand. We are certainly getting our dose of vitamin D. Fortunately, we’ve had a lot of practice staying cool and comfortable in this kind of weather.

52F7A10B-BA51-439F-B8AD-7DAE57AF8770

Eight centuries of Moorish influence on the Iberian Peninsula is most notable in Andalucía and that’s what makes it so attractive to me. The unique architecture with such attention to detail, design, and especially patterns are quite intriguing.

3223EDE2-4D6B-4F96-96E9-4B40DC8FB72B

View of Granada from the Alhambra

We began with the Alhambra which spans a vast property on top of a hill in Granada. Like many monuments in this region, it has gone through several architectural transformations over the centuries leaving behind remnants of each. It served as the palace of the Muslim rulers until the Christian Monarchs took over in the 13th century. Later it housed the royal court of the Reyes Católicos (Catholic Monarchs), Fernando and Isabela who received Columbus here and set him off on his legendary exploration of the Americas from an Andalusian port in 1492. Charles V, King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, attempted to make his home here in the early 16th century by constructing a separate renaissance palace but never completed the project.

There is so much to see that it’s impossible to take it all in at once. We focused on the three Nasrid palaces which belonged to the last Muslim rulers.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I have always been fascinated by patterns and symmetry. When I taught elementary school, I used M.C. Escher’s tessellations in my math instruction. My students and I were captivated by them. It was interesting to learn that Escher’s visit to the Alhambra in 1922 inspired his work in this field. There is a certain mathematical classification of two-dimensional repetitive patterns based on symmetry referred to as “wallpaper groups”. Remarkably, evidence of all the 17 possible arrangements exists in the Alhambra tiles. Much of our knowledge in math and science can be attributed to ancient Islamic scholars.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you are familiar with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, you might be interested to know that author Washington Irving wrote a collection of essays, verbal sketches, and stories titled Tales of the Alhambra. Irving lived in the Alhambra palace while writing the book and was instrumental in introducing the site to Western audiences.

E5078239-23D2-425E-B7FF-0E7EF91C2FED

Paella al estilo Pérez

What would a trip to Valencia be without paella? This has become such an iconic dish in the region. Its incredible popularity with tourists has simultaneously driven the price up and the quality down. We decided not to take our chances. Since Norman has prepared paella many times and quite enjoys doing so, we took advantage of the huge array of very inexpensive fresh fish easily found at the local supermarket and shopped for the ingredients instead.

The recipe Norman uses was given to me by one of my Spanish professors in college so it is certifiably authentic, but he modifies it somewhat making it even more robust in flavor and variety. This particular iteration including sea bass, mussels, clams, and shrimp turned out to be one of the best paellas he has ever made. Valencia claims to have produced the original paella recipe which is made with chicken, rabbit, and sometimes duck. This seems a bit ironic since Valencia sits right on the coast with an abundance of seafood which is what we prefer in our paella.

596D74A7-068C-4E13-8FAF-6AD7FD34FE2D

764191E6-42BC-4634-957E-7B2013F007CB

As you may know, the key ingredient in paella is saffron which gives it its characteristic golden color and distinctive flavor. Saffron comes from a particular crocus flower that has bright red stigmata and styles in the center referred to as threads which are collected and dried.

 

26423334-483B-4CD9-A845-80A71ACA31E8Saffron has long been the world’s most expensive spice by weight. It’s important to get the real deal as there are many imitations and products of lesser quality. Saffron is produced in India and Iran, but the very best comes from the La Mancha region in Spain which we were excited to find for half the price of our usual source, Trader Joe’s. We’re hoping to purchase a larger amount to take home.

 

4ECD0F83-2102-40E9-AC2F-D9DD5C2EB344

 

Paella is rice-based dish and can be made with many types. Norman has used regular short grain rice and Arborio rice (the kind used to make risotto) with much success. However, the traditional rice used in paella is a special short grain rice primarily cultivated in eastern Spain called Bomba. It’s rather difficult to find in the US, pretty expensive, and not always fresh. Of course, we had no trouble finding it here for about a third of the price. We’ll have to try to fit some of that in our suitcase too.

 

Paella is one of those dishes that tastes even better the second day as the seasonings and flavors have time to meld. We divided the leftover rice into two bowls and put them in the fridge. Then Norman steamed some extra clams and mussels along with more green beans, peas, and red peppers serving up “mini” individual paellas the following day.

EFA34A02-75E8-4FB7-BCA4-576B4145B6F2

As they say in Spain when a meal is served, “Buen Provecho”

The Two Faces of Valencia

During our short stay in Valencia we experienced the glory of the “old” and the innovation of the “new”. In this post, we will share some of that with you.

The Old…

Like most Spanish cities large and small, Valencia has an historic “old town” area located in its city center. With a metro stop right outside the door of our apartment near the beach, we took an easy 30-minute ride into town to visit Valencia’s Ciutat Vella (old city). Here the streets are narrow, plazas are many, and massive buildings display an array of architecture from Roman to Modernist. The first stop was the Plaza del Ayunatmiento where you are surrounded by some impressive structures dedicated to the business of government that include city hall and the central post office.

Next we came to the Plaza de la Reina originally conceived in 1878 as a plaza Mayor, or central plaza for the city of Valencia. In fact, it is kilometer zero for all streets in Valencia as well as the starting point of reference for numbering all buildings. Located here are the offices and shops of many of Valencia’s most well-known companies. It is also the site of the first traffic light in Valencia which was installed in 1930.

9547FFF4-B89B-4532-B203-9D6C0F62D978

Finally, we arrived at the Plaza de la Virgen, site of Valencia’s renown gothic cathedral. The majority of the buildings surrounding this plaza are of religious significance.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Not far away, our last stop of the day adding to our list of public market visits — the overwhelmingly large Mercat Central with its intriguing Art Nouveau design.

62660201-CE96-4B1C-BB29-5D851715972E

FE37C81B-3611-49A0-9A2F-F9B88957A765

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The New…

CF0E13BD-5C82-41F8-AC28-B83BB0B8D222La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (The City of Arts and Sciences) is a futuristic complex of buildings constructed on the former Turia riverbed between 1991 and 2006. The goal was to create an attraction that would draw tourists to Valencia year round. The complex includes a science museum, a planetarium, an aquarium, an opera house, and several other modernistic architectural structures spread over a vast area making it impossible to cover in just one day. So we chose our favorite and headed to the Oceanogràfic, the largest marine park in Europe. 

It was so refreshing to be surrounded by new and modern architecture and even more so to have such an up close and personal experience with many different species such as the beluga whales, sharks, and especially the dolphins. 

D1534F94-3AD1-42B7-8057-1A9E3B95DFA2

 

Barcelona & Gaudí

Our stay in Barcelona has been highlighted by the amazing work of Antoni Gaudí, one of the most well-known Cataláns in Spanish history. His name is practically synonymous with Barcelona and the major draw for most tourists. Gaudí was an architect from Barcelona who gained recognition for his fantastical organic designs inspired by nature. He was a major contributor to the Modernisme movement that was active around the turn of the 20th century. The focus of this trend which manifested itself in both art and literature was to revitalize Catalán culture and identity.

Gaudí developed his own particularly unique style characterized by patterned brick or stone surfaces, bright ceramic tile mosaics, and floral or reptilian metalwork. He created seven properties in and around the city which have been awarded UNESCO World Heritage distinction. We were fortunate to be within walking distance of several of them in our neighborhood of Eixample. One night at dusk, we walked one block to the main thoroughfare, Passeig de Gràcia, and enjoyed a leisurely stroll revealing this marvelous form of architecture just as the buildings were lighting up for the evening. This grand avenue, replete with all the big name designer stores, is regarded as the most expensive in Spain perhaps equivalent to the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Gaudí had a great influence on many other architects so there are multiple “gaudi-esque” examples along this route.

One of the more famous Gaudí buildings is Casa Batlló named after the prominent textile industrialist who owned the home and commissioned Gaudí to renovate it. It’s located on what is referred to as the “Block of Discord”, a row of houses designed by various Modernisme architects. Purchased by the Bernat family in the 1990’s, the house has been open to the public since 1995. Aside from from offering daily tours, the house can be rented as an event space. Gaudí designed the house spontaneously and never explained his work. There are many theories about the meanings behind all the symbols encompassed in this work, but, in the end, it’s really up to each individual’s personal interpretation. Take a virtual tour here.

A6C849E5-4E25-42A6-A021-AF012C3A60A9A2DEDD62-9449-46F7-82AB-E1D051084F7A

Casa Milà, more commonly known as La Pedrera (the stone quarry) due to its unconventional rough-hewn appearance, is another of Gaudí’s creative architectural enterprises and quite a controversial one at that. It suffered ongoing legal battles and constant financial troubles. Commissioned by a wealthy couple who wanted to become part of the Passeig de Gràcias scene, the plan was to create a main floor home with apartments to rent on the floors above. Ironically, the budget was exceeded by such great proportions that they had to mortgage the property in order to pay Gaudí. After many years of use by the Milà family including an array of notable tenants who lived in the apartments, it fell into disrepair. Eventually, it was restored and opened to the public in 1996. Today, La Pedrera hosts a variety of shops on the ground floor, three remaining residential apartments, and daily public tours.

F920FCAD-F788-412C-8B5E-F7FD184BAD03BAD4B94E-48A2-4ADC-8D33-F494B8BF110B

The most recognizable Gaudí architectural icon, of course, is La Sagrada Familia. The first cornerstone for this Roman Catholic church was laid in 1866. Gaudí became its primary architect in 1883 and spent the next 43 years until his death in 1926 imposing his unique style on its design. Still unfinished, construction continues to this day with the goal of completion to mark the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death on June 12, 2026. We shall see!

BC8D187F-7D0A-4682-AC20-75F8BB853912E6D45D02-24A0-40FD-AAE3-A558D43DD16C422B47EB-1B19-485B-8975-F01C4377EB68

We have really enjoyed our city center apartment and the Gaudí sites in Barcelona. Tomorrow… off to our luxury penthouse on the beach in València!

What’s Up with Catalonia?

 

40251DFB-BD57-49F5-8ED1-98188E0A6CABFirst stop… Barcelona. From the point of view of many citizens in Barcelona, we are not really beginning our vacation in Spain, but in Catalonia. If you’ve followed international news at all in recent years or even recent days, you know that the Catalonians have been embroiled in a heated battle with the central Spanish government to gain their independence. It is a complicated topic to be sure and despite all I have read, I am not certain which side I would be on if I had to choose. I think you have to be a Catalonian to really understand the motivations and justification for the movement which, both economic and cultural, are deeply rooted in history.

Following the death of long-time dictator, Francisco Franco, in 1975, a democracy was established in Spain. Unlike many democracies, Spain is not a federal country organized under one overriding body of government as we have in the United States. It is composed of seventeen autonomous communities, each one with its own parliament and some degree of legislative power. Historically, the concept of autonomy or self-rule has existed in the lands now known as Spain for hundreds of years so it is well-ingrained into its people. This autonomy gives each region great leeway to govern itself as it sees fit making unification on any particular issue for the entire country almost impossible. There are several fiercely independent groups the most notable of which are the Galicians, the Basques, and the Catalonians. They have all fought for complete separation from Spain at various times throughout the years with initiatives for such independence similar to those attempted in Scotland and Quebec.

780C2FCE-017C-4972-A4C7-F139D6D4052BThe most recent referendum for Catalonian independence occurred in October 2017. The referendum passed but was flatly denied by the central Spanish government in Madrid who framed it as a coup and charged many of its leaders with rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds. Some of those leaders fled the country to avoid arrest. Others remained behind and have been jailed for two years. Just this past week, a trial for 12 of the defendants finally ended and they are awaiting sentencing. This is no rag-tag group. They are highly-educated politicians, professors, economists — experts in Catalonian independence and what it means for its people. In a closing statement Jordi Sánchez, one of the most prominent Catalonian leaders, told the court, “Catalonians are not sheep.” He reminded the judges that two million people came out to vote and they were not manipulated or coerced. Sánchez concluded by saying, “You have the job of not worsening the political situation. I would not like to be in your shoes.” The fate of the accused will not be decided until November. It will be very interesting to see how this situation plays out for the Catalonian people.

Why should we care about Catalonian independence? I spent my entire career as a bilingual teacher promoting multicultural and multilingual education; endeavoring to improve the appreciation and understanding of others. I believe it’s extremely important for people to maintain their cultural and linguistic heritage which is what a majority of Catalonians seem to want for themselves. They have been denied this right for years. Once any group of people loses their unique, individual heritage, they lose their true identity. It is gone for good — extinct like so many species on this earth and the world is certainly no better for it.

Whenever we travel, we make every effort to communicate in the language of the country we are visiting even if only with a few words. So I’ve added some basic Catalán words to our vocabulary. Here they are with their Spanish equivalents for an interesting comparison.

11B4D96F-0E29-4C2F-A151-C2B3E8164C01
Hello – HolaHola

Good morning – Buenos días – Bon dia

Please – Por favorSi us plau

Pardon – PerdónPerdó

Thank you – GraciasGracies

Goodbye – AdiósAdéu

 

While Catalán may appear to be a mix of Spanish and French, it’s really not based in either one. In spelling, it is closer to Spanish making it somewhat visually recognizable to the fluent Spanish-speaker. However, with regard to grammar and pronunciation, it is more similar to French. With our skills in both of those languages, it is still quite a challenge for us to decipher but seems less intimidating than other languages. I’m hoping that keeping all these linguistic, cultural, and political aspects in mind as we visit this region over the next week will make our experience all the more rewarding.

B67A0F16-0115-4DE6-9201-84315FB809FC

Post Navigation