Saturday, September 24, 2016

the glory of Sevilla

Today our ship docked in the port city of Cadiz, and we took the bus to visit Sevilla.  What a beautiful, romantic city this is.  I just wish we'd had more time than a half a day.  This city is definitely worth a longer visit, as there's so much to see and take in.

We began in an unusual way (but maybe not so unusual for an architect!).  We started with a visit to a recent addition to the city, called the Metropol Parasol.  This fascinating and huge mushroom-like structure covers an entire plaza, and even extends across the street to engage another block.  

On the ground floor, there's a public market with fruits and veg, fresh fish, meat, cheese and more.  Like the historic markets we saw in Barcelona, but in a modern setting.  Above that is a big plaza, and above that the Parasol.  You can even get up onto the roof, where there's a cafe and viewing platform, but we couldn't figure out how to get up there.

The neighborhood is great, and we had a lovely breakfast overlooking the plaza.

From there, we walked through the narrow shopping streets of Santa Cruz, the historic Jewish quarter.  Sadly, the thriving Jewish community of Sevilla was lost during the inquisition in the early 16th century, when the Jews had to leave, convert, or be killed, along with the Moors.  It's now a bustling network of very narrow streets lined with beautiful buildings and shops, that lead from this plaza to the center of town.

The central square was filled with horse drawn carriages, and if we'd had more time, it would have been great to tour the city this way, but that will have to wait until another visit.

Our next stop was the cathedral, which is the third largest in the world.  It really was quite enormous, and very, very crowded.  This is another site where I'd recommend buying tickets in advance over the internet, because it took about a half hour in line to get inside.  But it was well worth it.

Even the moon made a showing, but left because the line was too long!

The interior is breathtaking.  The space is incredibly tall, and, while most of the structure is very simple, the center area is crowned with beautiful late Gothic vaulting.

We were lucky to see the light come streaming in too.

The altarpiece is the largest gold structure i've ever seen.  the opulence of those days was incredible, thanks to the plundering of the American continent.

I love climbing up towers to see the views.  This one was great.  It was built way before the rest of the cathedral, as the minaret of the mosque that originally stood at this site.  The cloister of the church is also a part of the original mosque, with a great system for running water into fountains through the whole space.

The views from the tower were great, and it was an interesting one, in that you accessed the top via 35 ramps rather than a spiral stair.  I got there just in time for the bells to ring, and that was quite an eye (and ear!) opener.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Life at Sea - Part 1

We are now onboard the Oceania Serena for a cruise around the Iberian peninsula, and to the Spanish and Portugeuse islands, and the coast of Morocco.  What an exotic adventure.  This is what we decided to spend my Wheel of Fortune winnings on, so thanks Pat and Vanna!

We left from Barcelona (and it was great not to have to go to another airport quite yet), and headed south along the coast, arriving the next morning in the city of Cartegena.

I have to admit to knowing nothing at all about Cartegena before this cruise, other than that there's a city of the same name on the coast of Columbia.  It was a pleasant surprise - very interesting and welcoming, and spotlessly clean, at least in the areas I visited.  This is the City Hall on the main square.  This plaza and the shopping streets leading off from it are all paved in marble blocks.

The archeological museum was a real treat.  It was an historic building, remodeled and added onto by the architect Rafael Moneo.  The path leads under the next street, and into a second building, then up through the crypt of a romanesque church and into an old Roman amphitheater.

Parts of the theater are original, and other areas have been restored.  It actually extends into the church that was built around 1000 years later, and the adjacent market area sits between newer apartment buildings.

The next day we moored in Malaga, but Amy and I opted for the tour of Granada, so we can see the Alhambra, which I remember studying in my freshman art history class!  It was a fantastic outing, and the Alhambra is amazing.   This is a view out from the castle to the old town center, with white houses leading up to the old church.

The Alhambra itself is a moorish palace, built by Islamic leaders who crossed into Spain from North Africa in the 8th century, and ruled andalusia and many other regions of the country until eventually defeated by Isabella and Ferdinnd, known here as the Catholic monarchs, in 1492.  Granada was actually the last stronghold of the moors.  I have to admit that i'm now reading a book called the Queen's Vow, by Christopher Gortner, which Amy just finished, and it tells the story of Isabella of Castille from her point of view.  Great book, and so fun to read it while visiting the sites 
described in it.

Moorish architecture is absolutely mind blowing, and this building is one of the finest examples.  The intricate plaster work and tile is just incredible.  Also, the creative use of naturally flowing water to cool all of the indoor and outdoor spaces.  The building has been under renovation for a long time, so some areas are still covered in scaffolding, but others are now fully restored and amazing.

This is the ceiling of the audience chamber, which is where Christopher Columbus made his appeal to the King and Queen for funding for his trip to reach India by sailing to the west instead of the east.  And we all know why happened then!

An example of the incredible detail of the building.

The Sultan, whose family traced back to Damascus, Syria, had quite a lifestyle.  He had 4 wives, and the one who delivered the first son became the official Sultana.  However, this building is where the concubines lived, because 4 women just wasn't enough for him.  We heard quite a tale of one Sultan's jealousy.  He came down here one day and found the Sultana in the act with one of the courtiers.  He wasn't sure who the guy was, but he was one of 36 brothers in his family.   He called them all to the palace for a formal dinner, and proceeded to have them all executed, since he wasn't sure which one was the culprit.  The sultana spent the rest of her life in a tower prison along the palace walls.  Ouch.

The fountains are just incredible.  This one is in the Generalife gardens, which are next to the summer palace, pictured below, which is next to the main palace.

Not a bad place to come and relax and meditate when you need to get away from all the wives!  After the conquest, this became the palace of choice for the Catholic monarchs, and there are later additions from the 16th century from King Carlos, who was a grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella.

Parting Shots from Barcelona

After a great 12 days in our amazing apartment, it was time to leave Barcelona.  Thought I'd close out this section of the blog with some parting images of our neighborhood, a striking contrast, and one last project by Gaudi, which we had the good fortune to visit on our last day in town.

Another modernista masterpiece, that was just a couple blocks from our apartment.  This one had a strange tour, kind of a disney ride through the story of King George and the dragon, followed by a walk around the roof with exhibits in each of the turrets.

Part of the fun of walking around the Eixemple neighborhood is the richness of the details in the different houses and apartment blocks.  This was from a wrought iron gate.

The Palau de Musica was so great that we all went back for another visit, this time to hear a fantastic classical guitar performance by a guy named David Russell, born in Scotland but raised and trained in Spain.  He was wonderful, and the space was just as magical at night.

More details from around the neighborhood.

And now for something completely different . . . 

Mies van de Rohe (mr. less is more) designed the German pavilion for the 1929 World's Fair.  The rest of the buildings are an amazing collection, and this one stands out in stark contrast.  It was fully reconstructed round 10 years ago, and really is quite a modern masterpiece.

On our final day, we went to the Park Guell by Gaudi, located in the northern part of the city.  A word of advice for future visitors to Barcelona - get your tickets for this (and the Sagrada Familia) online and in advance.  We had tried to go the day before, and found that the first available tickets were for 3 hours after we arrived, so we bought tix for the next day and went back, now able to avoid the lines.  It's very crowded, but it's a big park, and well worth seeing.

Amy and Pudd, who visited Barcelona together 37 years ago, still looking young as ever, and ready to enjoy the sites of the park.

No idea who these people are, but i loved how they looked in the window, and her expression is priceless.

The craftsmanship around the park is incredible, especially the tile mosaics, which are all over the place.  These are on the ceiling in the main enclosed area, which was intended to be a public market.  The park was built to be a housing development, but the changes in the political and economic conditions of Barcelona led to only a couple of homes actually being built.  it was eventually turned over to the city as a park.  You have to pay to see the important historic elements (which are a Unesco world heritage site), but the park extends way beyond this with many more fantastic things to experience.

The weird stone colonnades throughout the site are fascinating.  It was a great visit for our last day, followed by a fantastic final dinner at a classic seafood restaurant in the Gracia neighborhood.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Field Trip!

One of the best things about our apartment in Barcelona is that our landlord, Jepis, offered to take us on a couple of field trips, and we took him up on the offer.  He's been a great host and tour guide.
Last Tuesday we went on our first outing to Montserrat.

When Amy came over to meet Pudd in Barcelona 37 years ago, one of her best memories was of going up to Montserrat.  This is a mountain located west of Barceona, that looks like a sawtooth.  There's an old monastery built onto the side of the mountain, and it's a pilgrimage site for many worshippers, because of its black Madonna, which dates back many hundreds of years.

We took the tram up to the monastery.

Here they are again, 37 years later.

Sadly, the historic buildings were destroyed during one of the wars, so they had to be rebuilt around 100 years ago (i'm not good with dates, but that's a good guess)

We got to hear the boys choir sing a short mass while we were there.  It was beautiful.

Then we took the funicular up to the top of the ridge.

Of course, i had to go on another hike once i got up there, and here i am at the crest of the ridge.  It was stunning in all directions.

On the way back, we stopped at the Codorniu Winery for a tour and tasting.  Just can't stay away I guess!  The winery dates back to the 1400's, and the same family still owns it.  However, they've been in the business of making Cava, which is Spanish sparkling wine, for about the last 130 years.  The same family owns the beautiful Artesa winery in Napa.

The building was another stunning example of modernista architecture, by Josef Puig y Montefuic

The tour was like an E ticket ride at Disneyland, including two different motorized train rides.  The first was outside, and the second was through their underground caves, which go on for miles, literally.

Our host and guide, Pep, was the best.  He's been working there for 45 years, and also serves as their in house handyman and electrician.  I learned a few new tricks for my own tours at Cline!  Great fun, and delicious Cava too.

La Sagrada Familia

I don't think anything could have prepared me for my visit to La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's most famous and important work.  I wasn't ready for the scale, the inspiration, and well, just the weirdness of it all.  As we walked there from our apartment, i happened across this graffiti to make me aware of the journey.

The two main facades couldn't be more different.  The first, the facade of the nativity, was built while Gaudi was still alive.  This church has been under construction now for more than 100 years, and it's expected to be completed in 10 more years.  All of the work stopped for the Spanish Civil War, and it was years before it was continued.  For all that time, all that stood was this first facade, and part of another wall, plus an adjacent school for the children of the workers.

The opposite facade, the facade of the passion, was built much more recently.  Honestly, i found the newer sculptures to be quite stylized and ugly, but that's just me.  It was meant to show the pain of the passion and crucifixion, but i don't know.  What's amazing is that these 8 towers are the shortest ones that will be in the final building.  There are going to be 4 more at the main entry facade (which is scheduled as the final phase of construction), 4 more surrounding the central main tower, which will be dedicated to Jesus, and another one flanking that dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Nothing could have prepared me for the interior.  In fact, I don't know if i've ever even seen photos of it before experiencing it myself on this trip.  It felt like being in a Star Wars building.  The height of the space was overwhelming.  I got a stiff neck from staring up so high.  The detailing is just strange, with drippy leaf like forms at the top of the tree like columns.  The ceiling, which was able to see through my once again helpful zoom lens, is all tiled in gold, and there is stained glass everywhere.  The colors are stunning, and the space just silences you and makes you sit in wonder.

I couldn't help but keep craning my neck to look up in wonder at all the forms, color, and light that crowned this amazing space.  Truly inspiring.  It doesn't matter if you're Catholic or not, i don't know how anyone wouldn't be moved by this experience.

The colors from the windows are amazing, and the tape you listen to while walking through explains Gaudi's theory of light and color within the building.  This next photo shows the beautiful light within the curving apse at the end of the building.

The museum under the church is not to be missed either.  It was so exciting to see today's architects working with the latest technologies to do 3D printed models of the parts of the building yet to be constructed.  There were also the original Gaudi models, and new plaster casts of some of the upcoming areas, which promise to be every bit as grand, exciting, and weird as what's already there.  The main entry in particular is going to be really strange, with lots of oddly shaped cones over the main doors (which are already in place) wrapped in clouds filled with text.

 I also loved seeing this rendering of what's still to come!  We'll have to come back in 10 years, along with the millions of other admirers, to see the final project.