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The more you look, the more you see

Days 97, 98, 99 Fes

sunny 33 °C

The night we arrived in Fes was a whirl wind. Mohammed first dropped us at the bus station so we could pop in and buy our tickets for the remaining portions of our trip and then transported us to the the edge of the Medina.

We bid goodbye with heartfelt thanks and were immediately handed over to the custody our Riad host, also Mohammed, who met us at the car and guided us to our accommodation. Instantly, we are struck with how different Fes Medina is to Marrakesh.

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We walk a mere 150 m of narrow lanes 2 m wide, through a crowded lane of shops 4 m wide and finally down a darker lane to Riad Taryana. Once inside its like stepping through a portal to an alternate reality. We take a moment to absorb the beautiful mosaic tiled courtyard, with three floors and with internal facing balconies. It's so quiet and we hear absolutely no noise of the bustling turmoil outside on the streets of the Medina.

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Mohammed gave us the 10 minute briefing of all things Fes plus making arrangements for a one day walking tour with a guide from the Fes Tourist Board assuring us, because its endorsed by the Tourist Board, there's absolutely no obligation to buy anything...yeah right!

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The next day, after a delicious breakfast, our guide, Fouad takes us for a walk around the Medina. We booked the 3 hour option (rather than the whole day) but very quickly realised 3 hours was an illusion and we weren't getting home until the end of the day.

The Medina is built on a hill and we are staying near the top at the famous Blue Gate.

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Unlike Marrakesh, most of the restaurants are centred at the top of the Medina, near the Blue Gate. But, like Marrakesh, the spruckers are equally skilled at "encouraging" us to dine with them. One fellow feigned huge dishonour when we declined to dine with him, instead having tea at another restaurant, so we were "obliged" to dine with him on our final night.

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It's a couple of kms to get to the other end. As it is Friday so a significant amount of shops are closed and it is easier for us to walk around. Some of the laneways are only shoulder width and we wander the quiet streets chatting with Fouad.

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Whilst there are many wonderful things about Morocco, it is a developing nation, where poverty and social welfare are constant challenges. People with disabilities or those unable to work, are forced to beg, relying on Alms from good Muslims, as pensions or government help is minimal. What is most heartbreaking, especially for Jen, are the street cats. We know that they love cats and dogs, but unfortunately lack of desexing means there are way too many kittens and cats on the street. We regularly see dishes of water and food scraps left out, they are all too thin and likely need worming. Jen struggles to resist trying to feed them all as it only exacerbates the issue. We hope that, with time and development, the people will have enough for their own necessities and pet care should follow.

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Fouad gives us a quick history lesson of Morocco and in particular its French history.

In the 19th Century the region fell under the control of the Ottoman Empire. As the world became more mobile, the Ottomans struggled to manage the area from Istanbul. Pirates roamed the coastline and with various European states holding small regions, English in Tangier, Spanish elsewhere and the French wanting a bit too, based on the strategic location of the Mediterranean but the Berber and Bedouin tribes still independent. After a number of conflicts with France (based on French occupation of Algeria), Spain and Germany, the Treaty of Fes was signed in 1912 making Morocco a Protectorate of France. Dissent grew until World War II with nationalist movement gaining momentum. They believed an Allied victory would pave the way for Moroccan Independence. In January 1944, the Istiqlal (Independence) Party released a manifesto demanding full independence, national reunification, and a democratic constitution. Unfortunately, the French refused to accept the manifesto and continued colonial rule. Nearly 9 years later, in December 1952, riots brought a watershed to tensions between Morocco and France. France exiled the Sultan to Madagascar and outlawed the political party. Active opposition to French control escalated and the French were forced to negotiate their exit from Morocco. So, whilst full independence wasn't achieved until 1956, the Manifeste De L'Independence, is still celebrated.

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We walk to Al Quaraouiyino University, approximately a 1000 years old and the oldest continually operating University, the first to award educational degrees in the world. It was a university for the education of theology and philosophy (which in centuries past captured all doctrines of medicine, mathematics, astronomy etc). But now it is exclusively for the studies of Islamic religion. It is listed as a UNESCO site and currently being extensively restored. It also sits beside the main river to flow through the Medina.

The river retreated underground a long time ago, and is heavily polluted. As we learn throughout Morocco, there is considerable investment in infrastructure and improvements. The river has been reinstated above ground and the next step is to address the pollution to restore the glory of the river.

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We take a walk through Bou Inania Medersa one of the oldest theological colleges in all of Morocco.

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Like Ben Yousseff in Marrakesh, there is a quiet calmness and a respectful solitude to this place.

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Next stop nestled in amongst the riads and shops is the leather tannery. This place is where the raw hides of sheep, cow, camel and goat come to be cleaned, washed, coloured and dried and then ready to be made into everything leather. The conditions for the workers are pretty bad as most of the process is manual and they have to step inside vats of tanning chemicals and colours to soak the leather with their feet. Today the smell is tolerable but they still give us some fresh mint leaves to mask the smell.

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We are taken down from the roof top into 2 floors of leather goods ranging from jackets, bags, shoes, sandals, slippers, belts, all in numerous styles and colours. They do look beautiful but leather products are something we don't need to buy. We thank the guide there and we get away from the assistants very polite but still a sell job. Looking at an entire wall of every type of leather jacket imaginable, the guide assures us that if we can't find one we like, one can be custom made in three hours! As we have travelled now for about 8 days we have heard all the typical ways the locals try and entice you to buy something. It's very subtle and always starts off "Moroccans want to talk and just chat, please come in and have a mint tea...if you don't like then you don't buy....I will not pressure you!", "oh you are Australian, we love Australians". Its quite an art form.

We walk near the largest mosque in Fes, Kairouine, which holds about 22,000 people and has 14 exits. We take a peak inside the the beautiful archways, white and tiled walls, and rugs. The mosques are a haven for people to sit, wash and get out of the heat. As its Friday, 1 pm prayers are the main session of the week with the mosque filling almost to capacity.

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After, we get caught at an exit as hundreds leave after prayers and its like being in a Beijing subway human traffic jam. The lanes have specific sections that they make and sell local products, e.g. Copper, timber furniture.

This is Place Seffarine, named for its coppersmith shops, now closed following Friday prayers, for the rest of the day.

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Fountains are a lifeblood of the towns. The water is not safe for tourists but locals are accustomed to the mineral content. Many shops host a container of water out front for any local to pause and quench their thirst.

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This place was a historic trading post and hostel where caravans could dock, tether their camels and refresh.

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After managing to successfully evade buying leather goods earlier, we thought we had sussed out Moroccan shop keepers, but our next stop was the artisan co-op rug palace. The owner first takes us upstairs for a 360 degree view of the city, pointing out landmarks.

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He draws our attention to the University and its tower which was used by philosophy students centuries ago to gaze to the heavens to try to figure out the world, much like Galileo did and diligently carry out their studies in the rooms below the green roofs.

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We knew he was softening us up, but it was nice to talk to him about the history of Fes and also current issues - his sadness at the pain in the world wrongly committed in the name of Islam, experiencing the world through satellite dishes and modern day issues.

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Once back downstairs, the mint tea magically appears, we are invited to sit for a moment, and very quickly beautiful rugs are laid out, layer upon layer in front of us, we're happily caught in the Web. He is working on Jen and the "women always picks the colour" and " it's something for life", "she is a beautiful woman" "the woman is the head of the home, you can't be successful in the world if you don't have a happy home" . Quickly the carpets are being flung in front of us and Jen and I know we are in trouble. Fortunately the night before we agreed that we will buy a rug to complete our collection of rugs at home so we select two carpets and enter the game of bargaining. Fortunately these rugs are better quality than the ones in the Merzouga Coop.

The negotiations are fairly quick and we have our carpet rolled up, and money exchanged (including an escort to the ATM), and everyone is happy. The carpet we bought will go perfectly with the other Persian rugs we have at home and it's a great memory for us of our time in Morocco.

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Lunch is down a small laneway that we would have never found ourselves and we enter a beautiful Riad style courtyard made into a restaurant. The decor is stunning, the tiles vibrant and food delicious, and plentiful - this was just one entree (we shared).
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And every meal is followed with Moroccan Whiskey (Mint Tea) which is perfect.

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We agreed with our guide to grab a petit taxi and go to sites outside the Medina. First stop is on top of the hill, with ancient Kasbah ruins, adjacent to the Medina to get a full view of the vastness of the Medina. We get an appreciation of how packed in are the buildings and how far the old city wall goes.

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We drive to the Royal Palace and wander through the the main street of the Jewish quarter. Contrasting Moroccan Islamic architecture, the buildings here have the balcony on the outside. No Jewish people live here anymore, having moved to a new region of Fes. Unlike the Middle East and other parts of North Africa, Muslims, Jews and Christians are able to live in harmony and without conflict.

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One thing the Moroccans we meet are very quick to emphasise on how tolerant they are of other religions especially Jewish and Christianity. They want us to know the ISIS Muslims and the ones in Nice and Paris are not real Muslims, they are just crazy people. From what we have seen to date and heard we believe this is the case. Jen and I think it is definitely not extremist and the current King Mohammed VI has made significant changes to the rights of women, education, dress codes, empowering women to positions in parliament and professional life. He is well educated and enlightened about the future - subsidising solar panel farms and investment in irrigation and water reticulation, and has even forced the closure of the manufacture of plastic bags to address rubbish.

It's back into the taxi and we take a ride up the hill to the co-op ceramic and tile factory. This place was amazing. It is where they make all the Moroccan style plates, bowls, cups, tiles, fountains, table etc.

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First stop is the pottery wheel and Jen is asked to have a go. She jumps at the chance especially as a 6 ft young good looking Moroccan with strong hands was about to give her a lesson on how to use the wheel. I instantly think of Unchanged Melody, Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in Ghost and roll my eyes. Jen is just grinning.....what!

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We are taken to the kilns and learn the interesting fact the ovens are actually fuelled by burning olive pits and hay and get to required 1200 degrees C.

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It's onto the painter who has numerous pieces in front of him. Everything is painted by hand with precision accuracy. We learn about the dyes and that this purple dye turns blue when fired.

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The painter grabs Jen's hand and paints a henna style design and her name in Arabic. This guy probably does this to very pretty girl that comes by but it still has Jen grinning from ear to ear with her signature smile.

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The assistant shows us where the workers chip all the tiles into pieces for all the mosaics for walls, fountains, tables and ponds.
These guys spend all day with a small pick and chip the tiles to various shapes and sizes, beside a guy assembling a mosaic fountain - all done in reverse and then grouted.

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Its now into the show rooms and see all the various products and the fountains capture our eyes. The colours are so vibrant and we think how good would that look mounted some how on the wall next to our pool at home. Quickly reality kicks back, there is no hope we get in our backpack. The assistant assures us they can deliver!

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We resist but take plenty of photos of the styles and make mental note of the idea for when we redo the tiles at home. We have to buy something - two little bowls carefully wrapped hopefully make it home in one piece.

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On our way back, at this fountain in the roundabout, amongst peak hour traffic, this darling fellow was gleefully splashing about enjoying the cool water in the heat.

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Well that was the a full day of great sites, loads of facts and something very unique. Jen and I loved the whole day, our guide Fouad was fantastic and we have fallen in love with Fes.

Unfortunately we've succumbed to gastro so we don't venture too far. We wandered nearby streets and look for some small souvenirs for home. My mate Mike has requested a Fes from Fes. We stroll down one of the two main lanes that have the general stuff you can buy but the thing that surprises us is that virtually nobody wears the fes and its hard to find a shop that even sells them. We find the things to buy and go have lunch to develop a shopping strategy. As most of you know I am the introvert and Jen is the extrovert but somehow I got to be the designated negotiator, even though Jen does this stuff for a living, go figure! We go back out for dinner and shopping and successfully mange to bargain on one set of gifts. However, we were up against a seasoned pro - a 12 year old boy and I knew I needed all my years of bargaining experience to say I got a good deal but he was highly accomplished and tried all his best tricks. I used the old method of leaving the shop as the price was too high. After about 30 minutes we beat him down from approximately $90 to a more realistic $28. Success!

We have finished with Fes and loved every minute of it. It is a fun place, few tourists, very traditional and again super friendly. Next morning we do some final photo shots from the roof of our Riad. Time to say goodbye.

The next day is a travel day by bus from Fes to Chefchaouen, a four hours trip. The trip was uneventful other than it was 45 minutes late leaving Fes and got later as we went due in part to a comfort stop right beside an open air BBQ. Tried as we could, we were bewildered as to how it worked. You buy a portion of mince or cuts of meat at the butcher, pay by weight, then hand it to the BBQ guys you press it into wire racks and cook it over hot coals, then proceeding to turn and shuffle through the cooking process, along with at least a dozen other racks, without tags or labels and then shoving them in loaves of bread and handing over to the owner. How on earth do they keep track of who's meat is whose. Minimal delays were encountered at the next comfort stop, again for reasons unknown, the bus driver refused to allow a grandmother board and ignoring her as she proceeded to follow the bus banging on the side as he eased out of the chaotic car park. We don't speak Arabic but it didn't take much to understand the abuse she was hurling at him.

As we come in the hot and windy bus station we realised the town is perched uphill and the Medina is straight up from the bus station and we need to walk up a road at 20% gradient.

Our Riad is above the square and we settle into our three days in Chefchaouen.

Posted by tszeitli 10:18 Archived in Morocco Tagged food culture history shopping friendly fes negotiations gastro Comments (1)

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)

When did Renaissance Art become a Contact Sport?

Day 24 Hermitage and St Isaac's Cathedral

sunny 18 °C

Our plan for today was to visit the Hermitage, the winter palace and home of the Russian Tsars between 1763 and 1917.

We catch an early morning trolley bus to Nevsky Prospekt, where we get the feeling the locals are staring at us. We do look very smug with ourselves having figured out the public transport as well as looking like tourists! The Palace is now a museum of art work and all the rooms have been renovated back to their original glory. Very little of the furnishings from the 18th Century remains courtesy of age as well as a significant fire in 1837. Catherine II ordered construction and enhancement of the five buildings that make up the architectural ensemble of the State Hermitage Museum. She was quite the collector and seemed to have a penchant for collecting valuables - diamonds and artworks. She seemed to collect a lot of very generous gifts from a guy named Orlov - the Orlov Diamond about the size of a golf ball, the Orlov Dinner Service consisting of over 3000 silver and gold plated pieces and a magnificent horsedrawn carriage we saw in the Kremlin. Count Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov (1734–1783) was the favourite of Empress Catherine the Great of Russia who presumably fathered her son. He led the coup which overthrew Catherine's husband Peter III, and installed Catherine as Empress. It is understood, for some years, he was virtually co-ruler with her but his repeated infidelities and the enmity of Catherine's other advisers led to his fall from power.

Like the Kremlin, tickets and queueing is required. The weather is kinder today and brilliant blue sky illuminates the magnificent building.
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Once inside we checked our bags and cameras in the cloak room allowing us to experience the wonders of this place. We enter first to the Main Staircase and our mouths drop open and jaws hit the floor. It is MAGNIFICENT! Gold, marble, granite and art painted on the ceiling which is so perfect it looks dimensional.
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We are then attacked! Hoards of mostly Chinese, Korean and Indian tourists armed with selfie sticks surge into the serene and majestic spaces turning the artworks and architecture into a sport, seeing how many photos they can take - mainly selfies with duckface poses or taking photos without even looking or registering which Renaissance Master they are actually photographing. Jen nearly loses an eye when a tour leader directs her flag at a rare 15th century da Vinci, 16th century Caravaggio or 17th century Rubens while leading her flock of lemmings around the venue. They are loud, dressed in garish Russian Cossack and Soviet souvenir hats, yell at each other and generally swarm the place. Tom nearly drowned as a mob flooded the door as they eagerly moved on to the next room.

Despite humanity en mass, the architecture and opulence is mind-blowing.

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The, fairly self evidently named "Gold Room"
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The "Malachite Room", named because of the huge malachite pillars featured in its design. In the 1830s to 1840s, when the room was designed, Russia had discovered a large resource of malachite in its mines and was able to extract solid pieces for the columns. Despite the fire and ravages of time, this room is supposed to be as true to its original design.
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The St George Hall (Great Throne Room) dating to 1795. Whilst the floor as been replaced, the timber inlay is true to its original design, being the Russian Heraldic design, which is also mirrored in the detail on the ceiling.
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Boudoir of Alexandra Feodrovna, Empress during 1850s. This was her private drawing room, just off her bedroom, private bathroom. There is a door in the back right corner that leads to the Nursery.
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The "Golden Drawing Room"
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Peter the Great Hall, this is the smaller, less formal, throne room. The gilded silver throne was made in England and the painting behind the throne features Peter I with the goddess Minerva, Roman Goddess of Wisdom, whispering in his ear. The silver thread embroidered red velvet has been restored or replaced. There is an interesting section showing the process they went through to replicate and repair the furnishings in recent times. As they did, they discovered pins and old needles left behind by artists from centuries ago.
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Medieval German Armour
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We spent about 3 hours meandering through 15th to 18th century art by all the Masters. About three quarters of the way through we are just about overdosed on Renaissance art work. The architecture for each room is what amazed Jen and I and the explanations as to what each room was used for or symbolised was amazing. The size, the painted walls, the ceilings were spectacular. The photos speak for themselves. The enthusiasm of our fellow tourists began to wane - the look on the poor Indian Dad's face, moments after he'd sat down on the bench seat next to us, as a wave of respite settled over him, when, moments later, his tour leader excitedly announced that there was "another two magnificent pieces" in the next room that they "absolutely must see!"

The Hermitage is massive and, as they don't allow water bottles or food, its difficult to see it all in one visit. Once out of the Renaissance Art rooms (which are by far the majority), we wandered the décor areas depicting formal and informal chambers of the Tsars which was fascinating (and by now, most of the competitors had burned out and gone onto their next adventure, so it was much quieter by now).

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It was now late in the afternoon and a short walk to the St Isaac's Cathedral. Peter the Great was a "great" fan of Isaac Newton and arranged meetings with Mr Newton in London as a young Tsar. It is understood by this time, Newton had locked himself in the Tower of London and was in the process of losing his mind. Peter was fascinated and much of his decision making as leader was influenced by the intellectual. He established the Neptune Club about the same time as the mysterious Order of the Masonic Lodge. There were many parallels with this two secretive organisations.

Not surprisingly Peter the Great dedicated his main Cathedral to his respected intellectual mentor, nominating St Isaac for the main Russian Cathedral.
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The Cathedral is now a museum as well as a place of worship. Fourth largest in the World, behind St Peter's in Rome, St Paul's in London and Santa maria dei Fiori in Florence. Its exterior is supported by has 112 solid red granite columns, each carved out of a single piece, 17 m tall surrounding the cathedral, each weighing 114 tons.
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Inside the Cathedral are huge ceilings, massive art works and mosaics, domes and gold gilding everywhere you looked. As it was late, the cathedral closed the entrance and we could sit and enjoy the space as it gradually emptied. With nobody around, a quiet calmness came over the whole area and we had the Cathedral almost to ourselves.
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Our Russian visit draws to an end. We finished packing with some shots of vodka. We were very impressed and surprised with what we had seen. We highly recommend a trip to Russia: amazing sites, people warm and friendly, easy to travel around and a cultural smorgasbord. Helsinki here we come!

Posted by tszeitli 23:12 Archived in Russia Tagged hermitage culture public_transport cathedral russia renaissance_art selfie_sticks Comments (3)

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