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Entries about architecture

The Final Leg of España

Days 87 and 88 Seville, Antequerra and Ronda

sunny 45 °C

Seville

We left La Linea early and headed north towards Seville to see the Royal Palace, Real Alcazar.

The journey took about 2 hours by car but we stopped off for a typical Spanish road side breakfast. The place was lively with people coming and going. We both fitted in, order our ham, cheese sandwiches and coffee in Spanish and started to watch the Olympics with a couple of Australians winning their heats in swimming. The waiter joined in as we cheered. It is a great community atmosphere that is wonderful and genuinely lovely social interaction to start the morning. The waiters are the heart of the place and the customers are like family.

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Real Alcazar is still an operational palace for the royal family. It is unique as from its initial existence in XI century AD its been a capital for numerous tribes and different religions over the centuries. The buildings and associated gardens are a combination of Christian, Jewish and Islam cultures.

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The Royal Bedroom

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Inside the building with all its open areas and tiled walls and floor makes a great place to get away from the out side heat. We spend the first hour (no photos allowed) in the upper palace which is still the functioning area for the King of Spain. It was simply decorated and lovely to walk through and steeped with history of past royal families. We continued our walk around including the gardens. The architecture, with ceramics being the defining theme for everything - the colour of the floor and wall tiles, the way the sun comes into areas and the ability to look into 4 rooms at one time make the whole walk quite surreal. It's a place you have to walk around very slowly to make sure you see all the detail.

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The Queen's private swimming baths.

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We get a great feeling from Seville. Its a wonderful city with beautiful parks where the shade is cool and great boulevards. Lots of history and very green with all its parks, and it is cool to see Australian gum trees which have been exported to Spain (as well as other countries).

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We enjoyed exploring this city, taking a long lunch between 3 and 5 as its simply too hot. Yes, that really says 45 degrees at 5:30pm!

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I'm not sure if it was the heat but we had fun exploring this town.

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Antequerra and Ronda

Our final day with the car and staying in Caserbemeja is a road trip to Antequerra. Antequerra is only 20 km's north and 10 times bigger than Caserbemeja and also contains an old part of the town with a old church and castle, an Alcazar, on top of the hill. We managed to manoeuvre the car up a bunch of narrow windy streets and did a quick photo stop. Initially we wanted to spend our time here but never really found accommodation that ticked off the specification like Casabermeja.

Still it was nice to see and maybe I would have spent all my time playing golf if we had stayed here.

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Next stop a further 1 1/2 hours away is the ancient town of Ronda. We walked into town and through a park and came to a spot overlooking the valley. Ronda is famous for a bridge that spans a gorge in the heart of the town and the numerous building that precariously have been built on the edge of the gorge.

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With various literature luminaries spending time here.
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Hemmingway famously wrote about bull fights and there is a bull fighting museum which Jen and I avoided.

The trail to the bridge is lovely to walk along with its outlook and 10 minutes later we arrive at the bridge. Scattered on both sides of the bridge and both sides of the river are numerous restaurants that seem to be hanging on the edge.

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The drive back was a big loop to the coastline through the Andalusian mountain range. Coming down from the range I now understand why they call the coastline Costa Del Golf. Tucked away in the valleys are carved out lush green golf courses and resorts. Again I fought off temptation and drove past all of them. Jen just smiled as I caught a glimpse of each one.

Back home and our Spain travels are now complete. It's gather our things, pack our bags, final dinner in town, adios to the locals and switch back to travel mode. We are now entering our final 3 weeks of travel, leaving Europe for now and looking forward to our next adventure.

Posted by tszeitli 13:29 Archived in Spain Tagged architecture alcazar scenery hot graffiti islam roman_ruins ceramics christianity muslin sevillia Comments (2)

Bienvenidos a Barcelona: Gaudi, Picasso and Ramblin' On

Days 69 to 72 Barcelona

sunny 38 °C

Jen and I have always wanted to visit España, especially to have a chance to hablar Espanol, even though its been a while since our lessons.

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Renowned for its architecture, unique Catalán culture and cuisine, Barcelona's sights are so immense it has two different circuits on the HopOnHopOff bus. Today was see as much as possible and get our bearings.

Past the Torre Agbar, Barcelona's Water Board tower.
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And most famous of Gaudi's work, La Sagrada Familia, we then continue along to the foothills of Tibidado and its architecturally significant Hospital of the Holy Cross (incidentally where Gaudi expired),
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and then back into the town near Plaza de Catalunya.
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Barcelona is a celebration of Gaudi, and his distinctive style is everywhere - Casa Batllo and various aspects of the cityscape. We see his influence in numerous buildings in the city streets.
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He was a visionary. Although he would have been wise to keep an eye out for trams on 7 June 1926 in order to avoid his untimely demise. Nevertheless, his design lives on forever in Barcelona and his loyal disciples have diligently continued to work tirelessly on his greatest masterpiece for over 100 years.

We swapped across to the orange line west, down through the Arco de Triunfo de Barcelona,
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down past the el Bonn, World Trade Centre and up Montjuïc hill to the Olympic stadium.

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Another Olympic Stadium ticked off but then the heavens opened (which has been incredibly rare for our whole trip) and we're marooned for 40 minutes. First bit of serious rain since we were in Moscow wandering through Red Square in mid June.

Back on the bus and continued to the Place de Espanya, FC Barcelona stadium - Camp Nou, where Messi, Neymar and team mates are demi-gods.
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down Avinguda Diagonal and back to nearby Place de Catalunya. We then walked the path of the Orange bus via the Arc de Triomphe and ended up at the Beach. It did seem strange that earlier in the day we saw people with surfboards walking through the streets, now we realise why, not realising there was a surf beach.
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Then as the old buildings changed to boats and marinas we see the beach and surf at Patja del Bogatell. Again, we appreciate how unbelievably lucky we are in Oz for the beaches we enjoy.

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Thousands of people along a 10km stretch of beach. Not a spare piece of sand - and not sand like we enjoy, more akin to the underlay we buy by the cubic metre from landscaping suppliers for paving the back patio - in addition to being littered with rubbish and cigarette butts (both in the water and on the sand).

We walked along the beach road back onto the Green bus and made our way back to our apartment. We realised how enormous Barcelona is and the volume of tourists that visit. Out apartment host warned us that Barcelona is not the real Spain but has developed more into a tourist attraction. We are immediately struck by the "Tourist Version" of everything - especially Tapas for Tourists: jamon, queso, patatas bravas, albondigas and tortilla - en mas together with the usual tourist menu of hamburgers and pizza, after a few rounds of tapas, the lack of variety is a little tiresome.

The city itself is very well laid out with wide avenues, diagonals to enable quick cross city journeys, and loads of bicycle tracks. It has four distinct areas; the Gothic Quarter; the normal shops, churches, old Spanish buildings and apartment areas; the hill with the 1992 Olympics and palace area; and then the beaches. Each area is so different, full of tourists and loses its Spanish feel. Think of a bit of Melbourne for its old style, Sydney for its beaches, the Rocks and the marinas and Adelaide for all its churches all wrapped into one with swarms of tourists in 35+ heat.

The next day, Jen woke up with the dreaded stomach bug (damn, Tourist Tapas!). We had tickets for 9am to go into the unfinished La Sagrada Familia.

A little bit of history first.

Gaudi devoted himself to this church right up until his death in 1926 his altercation with a tram. When he died they had only built a small portion of the church but the building project continued. It started in 1882 and the forecast for completion is 2026, commemorating 100 years since his death.
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The building was designed with 6 towers with the main one at over 173 m tall is still to be built. From an engineering perspective it would be a nightmare of a construction site and would have been difficult to comprehend how this church would be built without modern construction techniques.

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The church is nothing like any other church you will see and its ideas around the structures was based on numerous types of environmental concepts. The use of natural light and the lead light is what hits you the most. Jen & I have become a bit jaded with the almost grotesqueness of some churches we visited - gold, gilt, dark, and heavy.

Gaudi's vision is for a celebration of life and nature. The way the light comes into the building and changes colours throughout the day is spectacular and unique.
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The internal columns are variously porphyry, granite and sandstone and the shaped to represent trees reaching up to the heavens. The natural light gives life to the trees and creates a feeling of being in a magical forest. We could sit there for hours as the sun moves and continuously casts different shadows and colours on the walls and columns - Blues and Greens in the morning as the sun beams in from the east and Yellows, Reds and Oranges as the day progresses, with the sun radiating from the West.

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Whilst unfinished, the magnificence and magic is already becoming evident. The stained glass at the very top tier isn't yet coloured, but gives a hint of what is to come.

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The outside is heavily Gothic and quite weird with fruit on top of steeples made of glass so they sparkle like gems, sections telling stories, pigeons, turtles, rough cut stone, curves everywhere and somehow how it all makes sense.

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The light and colour is quite hypnotic, and we could have stayed there all day and not taken it all in.

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We also walked up one of the towers to get a spectacular view of Barcelona. You get a better appreciation of how unfinished it is and how difficult it will be to finish this magnificent piece of architecture that was designed over 100 years ago.

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Back inside we took a little more time to soak up the place.

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The next day, we walked the Gothic Quarter which has retained its charm, en route to the Picasso museum.

Picasso was born in Malaga but as an early teenager he moved to Barcelona to master his trade. This museum took us through a journey of this life in art. His early years as an 11 year old art prodigy in the late 1800's to around 1915, starting with traditional styles and his development through the Blue and Cubism periods and then pushing boundaries and his style changed dramatically to what we all come to recognise as Picasso. What hit me was how Picasso saw the world, especially faces differently, as if his eyes refracted the image differently, breaking it down into its essential components. He was able to paint simply and efficiently. One piece, "Portrait of Sabanes with ruff hat and feather" of his long time friend and personal assistant Jamie Sabanes, who requested Picasso to paint him as a 16th century aristocrat.

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His friend quoted on the painting as saying, in relation to the warped likeness, "it exactly captures all my distinctive features as efficiently as possible". I think this describes Picasso's work perfectly. He only includes in a work, those features that are absolutely essential to capture the true nature of the subject - features and emotion. Picasso, in summing up his own work, "it took me 4 years to paint like Raphael and a lifetime to paint like a child". He was prolific with the volume of pieces, as well as experimenting with different media including ceramics and stencils. The last part of the museum was a body of work by Picasso and his detailed interpretation of another painting called
Las Meninas.

A painting of the Royal Spanish family first painted by Diego Velázquez, the leading artist of the Spanish Golden Age, in 1656.
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Picasso had been fascinated by the piece hanging in the Prado in Madrid since a young man. Having been a successful and prolific artist most of his life, despite the lean times in France in his twenties, Picasso was able to indulge his desires devoting an entire series of 58 paintings during 1957, performing a comprehensive analysis, reinterpreting and recreating several times.
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The little princess was singled out many times as well as the dog, who was reduced to a childlike version. Poor Perro!

After lunch, we then spent the rest of the day walking through the Gothic Quarter where it is possible, down the alleys and lanes, to get a feel for the Real Barcelona.
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Then along the waterfront and along Las Ramblas, keeping an eye out for pick pockets with the sea of humanity.

Our assessment of Barcelona is that its a little too touristy for us - we can appreciate the history and vibrancy of this city but in only a short visit, its difficult to distance from the tourism overload.
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Next its on to Madrid. Our original plan was to catch the train, but after some frustrating research, I found that the 3 hour train cost nearly as much as a 1 hour flight. So we flew.

We set off early.

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I had to do a fair bit of research for this day and it involved hiking with our bags, airport bus, a massive Barcelona airport, an even bigger Madrid airport, subway to Plaza del Sol with 3 changes and finally our apartment. I was very impressed as my scheduling, all went beautifully smooth! We got to our apartment at 12.30 pm, great location, only to be advised check in not until 4 pm. This was no appreciated especially when the temperature was 38 deg c.

After chilling in a cafe for 4 hours, we got into our apartment, directly above the bustle of Madrid and hit the streets for dinner. We are instantly struck by a totally different vibe than Barcelona. Just 50 m from our apartment was full of little restaurants and bars with proper traditional Spanish food and plenty of locals. It is much easier to relax in a place when surrounded by locals, rather than tourists. This was the Spanish Experience we were after! We drank sangria and devoured delicious tostadas followed with grande calamares. We closed the night with a stroll around the Plaza del Sol along with hundreds of other locals and street entertainers. The place was full of life, and we knew we would enjoy the next three days.

Madrid is also a few degrees hotter than Barcelona so now we are hitting a laconic heat of 38 deg c and at night time it does not get lower than 30, even still close to 35 at 11pm. But we don't mind, there is such great energy in this place.

Hasta luego Barrrrr-the-llooona.....Hola Ma-drrrrid.

Posted by tszeitli 01:14 Archived in Spain Tagged beaches art architecture barcelona culture train olympics gothic gaudi aeroplane tourists hot tapas sangria hoponhopoff Comments (3)

Sparkling St Petersburg

Day 23 The Cultural Heart of Russia

overcast 10 °C

With two days to explore, our first day is a quick general seeing day as tomorrow is set aside for the Hermitage, the winter palace for the Russian Royal Family.

The quickest way to get to know a city when you only have a couple of days is a Hop On Hop Off bus. Today is also a stark change of climate. 9 degrees, windy and its COLD!
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Once on board and rugged up, we quickly realised how impressive this city is, so many historical buildings and the amazing history. Moscow is the political capital but St Petersburg is the historical capital. This city was in the recent past called Leningrad during the USSR days, Petrograd, in honour of Peter the Great, and was also the old capital. There is a massive sense of patriotism in St Peterburg amongst its citizens. They describe Hitler's siege lasting 872 days from 8 September 1941 to 27 January 1944 as "the most terrifying blockade in the history of mankind", telling of the determination and endurance of the residents of St Petersburg to protect the town and save it from destruction by the Nazis.

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Peter the Great established the city on 27 May 1703 on the banks of the Neva River and, whist he was still to set up schools and universities, he invited intellectuals, architects and artists from London, Paris, Germany and elsewhere in Europe to come to create the city. We could see how so much of the city is reminiscent of Paris, London, Venice and other beautiful European cities.
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Many of the buildings remind us of Paris, but it is also distinctly Russian. Peter the Great had a vision for the city and this city planning is clear as we travelled around.
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Peter the Great Statue installed in 1782 in what was then called "Peter's Square", now called Decembrists Square

All the buildings are about the same height as it was decreed in the 18th century that no building shall be higher than the winter palace, the Hermitage. There are also numerous bridges over Venetian like canals.
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The bridges weren't an original feature of the city as Peter the Great, a sailor, wanted people to traverse the city by boat, which the people hated. So as soon as Peter the Great moved on, bridges were installed.

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Bridges are highly decorated and the most dramatic one is Anichkov bridge with four bronze cast horses. It took a while for all four horses to be installed. Each time pairs were cast, they were gifted to to Berlin as a gift to the King of Prussia, and the next set sent to Naples. The first pair modelled on stallions but the other two are modelled on mares. It is said that the "nether regions" (if viewed from below resemble Napoleon's face and/or the lover of one of the sculptor's wife).
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Dvortsovaya (Palace) Square features the Hermitage on one side, The Admiralty, General Staff Building, Triumphal Arch featuring Roman Goddess of Victory, Nike, commemorating the Russian victory over Napoleonic France in the Patriotic War of 1812 and the Alexander Column in the centre.

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The New Hermitage, just around the corner from Palace Square, features the most impressive Atlantes, each 5 metres high carved out of grey granite that took 3 years to carve, and another three to polish.

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We visited the church of The Church on the Spilled Blood, it's history is quite unique. Alternatively named the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood to symbolise both the Crucifixion of Christ but also is the site where Alexander II was mortally wounded in an assassination attempt in 1881.
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In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution in 1917, the church was ransacked and looted, badly damaging its interior. The Soviet government closed the church in the early 1930s. During the Second World War when many people were starving due to the Siege of Leningrad by Nazi German military forces, the church was used as a temporary morgue for those who died in combat and from starvation and illness. The church suffered significant damage. After the war, it was used as a warehouse for vegetables, leading to the sardonic name of Saviour on Potatoes.

We wandered Nevsky Prospect, the main street adorned with Neoclassical Buildings, including the Singer Building, the sewing machine company and, in its day, the Globe atop symbolised the spread of the company's products around the world.
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Buildings are beautifully decorated and often with a sense of whimsy.
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St Petersburg also boasted a Bazaar modelled on Istanbul's Grand Bazaar. Its architecture is similar and now houses a series of shops and eateries.

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A full day on the tourist trail, thoroughly exhausted, eyes as wide as they can be, a great day. Dinner was one of those experience where you just wing it. A staircase leading down that looked a bit dodgy, and down a dark set of stairs that surprisingly opened up to a traditional Azerbaijani restaurant full of locals. Nobody could speak English but the menu was in a form of English, and with some pointing and gesturing (which had to be repeated a couple of times as the kitchen sent word back that some things we'd ordered were unavailable) we managed to fill our table with delicious local food. We left feeling very satisfied with our efforts, and we think our waiter was too, and relieved to see us depart. Nightcap of Vodka from Siberia!
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Posted by tszeitli 08:25 Archived in Russia Tagged architecture history vodka cold peter_the_great hoponhopoff neoclassics Comments (4)

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