And Back in Barcelona

This truly is an amazing city.  With temperatures reaching twenty degrees Celsius the signs were all indicating a “go-ahead” to start the training for my arduous lengthy walk from Le Puy in France to the Atlantic coast through Santiago de Compostela.

My first 10 km walk took place yesterday and I was overwhelmed by the extensive green space that this city has.  There are acres and acres of greenland not unlike the expansive golf courses of Canada.

Green expanse along Barcelona beach

Green expanse along Barcelona beach

Acres of green parklandYesterday my walk took me along the beach.  The weather was so enticing to all that whoever could be outside, was!  There were sun-bathers and even bathers as well as surfers, divers and many playing what I had thought was volleyball until I stopped to watch.  Football on BeachThere is a net and two aside.  A soccer ball is hit back and forth in the same manner as in soccer;  that is, by the use of head, shoulders, knees, feet but NO HANDS.  When the ball does not get across the net then it is a point for the other team.  “The serve” is a kick as in soccer.  I have not seen this played on the beaches of Vancouver but I must confess that I have never taken the time to simply stand, watch and enjoy the game being played.

Today is another gorgeous day so I am heading out and hope to again do at least the 10 km from yesterday or better my score.

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NEXT WHISTLE STOP …

Whistle is not quite accurate as I stayed six nights in Česky Krumlov having travelled by train all day with an early morning departure and arrival at my destination after four in the afternoon.

4 BLOGČesky Krumlov is the best preserved medieval European city that I have visited to date.  The church stands on a high point and was build in 1407.  Parts of the castle date back to the 12th Century and the burghers homes are flawlessly preserved opening on to cobbled streets. Many of the homes had beginnings in the Gothic style and then added a floor in Renaissance style to be topped by Baroque!Burgher Home
Enchanting is not sufficient to describe the city and its surrounding hills.  I could have stayed here with ne’er a desire to depart which is actually what happened to many residents who were from foreign lands but now well settled into this community.  I am definitely coming back here for a longer visit.  But now a convenient shuttle service has delivered me to the Vienna airport for my flight back to Barcelona.

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Anti-Climax ???

I say anti-climax because the previous week had been so very full of entertainment, luxurious pampering and revelry that I could not imagine more and yet …  There is a shortage of adjectives to describe the events and experiences that filled the next fourteen days of my life.  Prague,such a majestic city, gently nudged me into 2016.  Upon my arrival the city was green/grey with not a sign of winter white.  While meandering around the Prague Cathedral Stare MestoPrague IMG_1613Prague Castle and Cathedral on the second day of my five day visit, it started to snow and snow quite heavily.  Now it really did feel like January … by the time that I arrived at my hotel the whole landscape had changed

Prague

Prague

… muffled sounds and muted tones with the street lamps casting a golden hue on everything that they covered.  It has been twenty years since my last visit to Prague but this scene brought back all the magic for my last visit had also been in winter.

After five days of magic I boarded a train for the distant South-East corner of Hungary, a totally different world.  My destination was a village touching the Romanian and Serbian borders and the home of a cousin.  With no internet I spent the next eight days in bliss reminiscing about all that I had experienced over the past month and fortifying myself for the next chapter in my adventure.

On the 18th of January I returned to the Czech Republic, to the the ecclesiastical metropolis and historical capital city of Moravia, Olomouc! Olomouc Panorama

Once again it was a concert conducted by Miran Vaupotic that brought me here.  The city was a very pleasant surprise because I was familiar with Brno which is about a half hour south of here and it is certainly not high on my list of destinations.  Olomouc is regal, full of impressive Baroque buildings and so many churches that I lost count of all the steeples.

The concert was brilliant and you may hear one of the solo performances that the violinist, Angélica Olivo played by visiting this Youtube link Angélica Olivo.  The three of us, Miran Angélica and I, shared laughs, delicious Italian pizza and refreshing Czech beer over a three day period and then we each went our separate ways.   In Olomouc Angélica & Csilla Miran Vaupotic

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Stunning Dresden and more …

When I got off the packed train from Bratislava I was in majestic Dresden, one of the most beautiful cities, if not THE most beautiful, in Europe.  Jochen and I walked around the core of the city and each building was more brilliantly illuminated than the one beside it.

Lights, Lights and More Lights!

Lights, Lights and More Lights!

The focal point of the square

The focal point of the square

The garlands of white lights created a mood of magic.  I noticed that in Europe the decorations for Christmas are all in white … coloured lights are not used, and the result is much more effective, at least for me. There was no snow on the ground and it almost felt like spring, yet the white lights created a sense of snowy winter.

From Dresden we drove eastward to an area very close to the Czech border and I settled into my temporary home: the Gasthaus Wolfbrunn in Hartenstein, Germany.

View from my Bedroom Window

View from my Bedroom Window

When I woke up in the morning and looked out of my window this is the view that welcomed me into a new day.  After two days of being pampered in the Hartenstein/Schneberg area we headed over the pass that was once the highest point in East Germany and crossed into the Czech Republic.  Teplice was our destination where the New Year was to be welcomed by us:  Jochen, Catalina, Leonardo. Miran and me.

Christmas twinkling lights in Teplice

Christmas twinkling lights in Teplice

And now it started to snow, adding to the already existing brilliance of all the sparkling little white lights that decorated the tree and square outside of my hotel room.

The first of January was celebrated with a beautiful afternoon concert that was conducted by friend Miran, from Croatia.  On the second of January a train transported me from Teplice to Prague for yet another “New Year” concert at the State Opera, locally called the Rudolfinum Dvorak Hall. And now I am sitting in my hotel room recalling the fabulous past few days; days full of good food, drink but above all amazing warm camaraderie … a perfect way to usher in a year that has already started off so very beautifully!  WELCOME 2016!!!

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Next …

It is time to bring this missive up to date. I have been away from the keyboard for too long but with good reason, as I have been out and about re-cnnecting with people and places … I left Barcelona on the 15th and flew to Vienna. Then a quick bus ride had me arrive in Bratislava in one hour and friend Majka picked me up and we were comfortably in Devinska, a bedroom suburb, in no time. It was fabulous to reconnect with dear friends and I chilled out for a couple of days spending the week-end in the country.

In Bratislava's Old town Square

In Bratislava’s Old town Square

Lovely courtyard of Gajary country retreat

Lovely courtyard of Gajary country retreat

There was plenty of time to make a couple of visits to the Christmas market and then on the 21st Peter drove me to Senec, 26 kilometers east of Bratislava, the ancestral home of my father’s family.

IMG_1538 IMG_1540The next couple of days were spent cooking, baking and decorating the house: a house that I remember from the days when I visited my grandmother there. Too much good food and drink has expanded my girth significantly. I am not quite certain how I will squeeze myself into my New Year’s Eve festive garments.

On Sunday the 27th I made a quick trip by bus to the Vienna airport to meet with a young man that was once my employee when I had a business in Budapest. He now resides in Toronto and was heading back to Canada after having spent the Christmas holidays with parents in Hungary.

I am presently sitting on a train heading for Prague. It is packed … I have never sat in a six seat compartment with five other people. It has been rather misty and foggy since my arrival in Slovakia so I am hoping for some sunshine in Germany and then the Czech Republic for the New Year’s festivities.

 

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A Day Trip to Tarragona – a UNESCO World Heritage City

On Thursday I decided to refresh my memory of a a charming city with more concentrated Roman ruins than any other city that I have visited outside of Rome.

Tarraconensis

Tarraconensis

The history of Tarragona dates back many centuries.  The imposing ramparts built of enormous Cyclopean blocks of stone indicate that it was founded by peoples from the eastern Mediterranean early in the first millennium BC.  Scipios built Tarragona’s walls in the 3rd Century BC at a time when the Romans had control of the larger part of the peninsula and Tarraconensis grew into a major city and overseas capital.  Although it could never equal Rome, it enjoyed many of the same privileges as the imperial capital and Augustus, Galba and Hadrian did not disdain to live in it.

Tarragona's Roman Theatre

Tarragona’s Roman Theatre

The city had a coliseum, amphitheater, aqueduct, and circus. Today it is one of the Spanish cities with the most Roman remains and is the capital of the province with its name.  The gardened seafront promenade skirts the cliffside and surrounds the old city and the Palace of Augustus.

In 2000, the city of Tarragona was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO because of its wealth of archaeological remains dating back to Roman times as well as many artifacts from the Early Middle Ages..

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COLONIA GÜELL – A visit into an ideal world

Gaudi's Church On Monday a short train ride out of Barcelona, in a north westerly direction, took me to another world:  Colonia Güell.

As the western world evolved into the second phase of the Industrial Revolution the masses were making legitimate demands on improvements to their working conditions. This resulted in social conflicts including violent protests.  In 1890, as a response to these unrests, the Catalan industrialist, Eusebi Güell, established an industrial colony, by moving his textile industry away from the atmosphere of unrest in Barcelona to his Can soler de la Torre property in Santa Coloma de Cervelló.  This was a community fitted out with the most modern technology of the times.  The workers’ houses, alongside the factory, formed an urban centre with cultural and religious facilities.

Factory Manager's Home

Factory Manager’s Home

The Workers' Co-operative

The Workers’ Co-operative

Different leading architects (Berenguer, Rubió and Gaudi) created the Centre Sant  Luis (a cultural centre), the Ateneu Unió (a theatre), the consumers co-operative, the school with the school master’s residence, the secretary’s house, the doctor’s residence and surgery and the parish house as well other outstanding buildings.

In 1908 Gaudi commenced on the construction of the church.  This ambitious project, which included two naves, one upper and one lower, finished off in different towers and ciborium, remained unfinished with only the lower nave completed and popularly called the “crypt” although it is not the resting place of any human remains.  For the first time, however, this building includes practically all of Gaudi’s architectural innovations in one location.

Bell Tower

Bell Tower

Tower and windows

Tower and windows

Altar & Choir Loft

Altar & Choir Loft

Every element had its function in the Colony in a project that was cheap: the production of corduroy and velvet.  The framework, however, was a model of society inspired in the social Christianity of the times and for the first time, the social and economic life of the worker and his family was guaranteed.

The textile industry ground to a halt in 1973 and the factory was closed down at that time. Life in the Colony continues to thrive with many of the prominent buildings having been turned into private residences.  How unfortunate that those who love to see the works of Gaudí do not come here for his church (Crypt) encapsulates The Sagrada Familia in a much more simplistic and absorbable form.  The pillars, the columns, the stained glass windows, just to mention a few features, are all here: a beautiful miniature, reflecting his creative talents.

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A Gift …

Yesterday I had the most amazing day in the company of an acquaintance, a friend to my dear friend, Susan Cloyd, who is sequestered in her Morristown cottage while recovering from hip surgery.  Susan had written to her friend Xavier and mentioned that I was  in Barcelona.  Xavier, very generously, dedicated a whole day to me.  He picked me up and then aimed his car northwards … I did not know where we were going but it was a treat to have a change of scenery, from the urban metropolis of Barcelona to the verdant rolling hills around Girona.

Our first stop was Monells, Principal Square in Monells Arcaded street in Monellsa beautiful medieval town perfectly preserved. Rothenburg, take note.  You have a long way to go …  Unfortunately I was in over-load with information, so please forgive me Xavier if I misquote.  My memory tells me that it was primarily a Jewish community established in the X century (right?) and in the XV century the very Catholic “Reyes” – Ferdinand and Isabella – expelled everything and everyone that had contributed to the wellbeing of their kingdom: the Jews and the Moors.

Fishing Village of Sant Marti

From Monells we drove through more idyllic pastoral country although I did not see any livestock or shepherds.  I was, however, reminded of the rolling hills of the Beaujolais and Tuscany.  Our next stop was the perfect retreat from the hussle and bussle of the modern world – there was a very evident absence of traffic, wifi and other technological intrusions into one’s tranquility.  We were in the ancient fishing village of Sant Marti d’Empuries.  From the perfectly manicured properties, streets and public square this is hardly a fishing village.  It has been transformed into a very chic resort with not a single fisherman, fishing net or skiff in sight.  The coast on the other

From Sant Martin towards Ampurias

From Sant Martin towards Ampurias

hand was a magnificent backdrop to my reverie.  I imagined the arrival of Levant merchants with their exotic cargo to trade with the Iberians fishermen of old.  A lovely restaurant across the street from the Xth Century church

Church of Sant Marti d'Empuries

Church of Sant Marti d’Empuries

provided sustenance for the body but somehow the surrounding also contributed to sustenance for the spirit and soul.  From time to time, during our meal, the bells of the church were a reminder of the passing of time.  After lunch my intrepid guide lead me toward the Greek-Roman ruins of Ampurias.  Unfortunately it was after closing hours but what I saw through a wired fence made me conclude that this was a site to which I would need to return.

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Palau de la Musica

Last evening, Tuesday the first of December, I attended the most beautiful concert at the Palacio de Musica in Barcelona.  It was Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle  performed by the Orfeó Català, a choral ensemble that was established in 1801 and its existence became the raison d’être of the Palau.

Lavish surroundings for artistic expression.

Lavish surroundings for artistic expression.

The Palau was built with private money in order to provide a venue for this choir.  The splendour of this concert hall alone is a stimulant that opens all the senses. From the concert my friends and I went to a Tapas bar for an night cap and as we left the bar and looked back at the Palau, we noted that the façade was illuminated in red to commemorate all the victims of HIV and as we walked along Passeo de Gracia, in search of a taxi, more and more public building had their front completely alight in bright red, acknowledging World AIDS day.

December the First Commemoration of AIDS Day

December the First Commemoration of AIDS Day

World AIDS Day is held on the first of December each year and is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died. World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day, held for the first time in 1988.

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Mi Barrio – My ‘Hood

Barcelona is such an eclectic city.  I thought that I knew it well and perhaps I did when I last lived here.. So has it changed so much or did I not pay as much attention to the various districts as I am doing now?  In any event the daily walks are eliciting tantalizing sensations in so many different senses:  the unique smells, some of which I remember from times past; the sounds and the colours; even the feelings on the skin are all welcomed sensations. There is a boldness that I do not recall from times past.

There was no graffiti then but there was also less colour and it was a little on the worn-out, grey, Franco-era style.  This was not unlike the patina worn by buildings in post communist era immediately before they rose from the ashes to become shining stars in cities like Berlin, Dresden and Prague, to name a few. Now the buildings appear brighter and every spare wall, or so it seems, is plastered in colours.  Graffiti here is a unique form of art, practiced extensively and I watched several young men with cans of spray paint change the existing images on a brick wall along a popular boulevard.

Art Along the path to the Market

Art Along the path to the Market

It was magical how they flailed the arms that held the cans and transformed the old with colourful fresh new art.  I was told that this is done regularly and have been able to confirm that previous works have, indeed, vanished and been replaced by new and equally dramatic ones.  Last Sunday afternoon I headed for Barceloneta and was amazed by the exquisite IMG_1440sandcastles being built with fountains that flowed and turrets that were ablaze with lights.  I took one picture and then returned about four hours later to see the same castle take on a completely different hue.   IMG_1441As we walked towards the Column of Colón, which marks the end of the long boulevard called Las Ramblas I noticed this brilliant sculpture dedicated to the Olympic games. IMG_1443

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