To Leave Things Unvisited

November 16, 2015

“The wisest thing is to leave unvisited in every country some place that one wants very much to see.”
— William Somerset Maugham, The Land of the Blessed Virgin: Sketches and Impressions in Andalusia

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I don’t know whether I will ever return to Spain, so I cherish the two plus weeks I spent there this October.  I say this not because I have exhausted my interest in Spain, but because life is so short.  There are so many places and activities competing for my limited time and savings.

We never did drink from the supposedly magical fountain, Font de Canaletes, on the Ramblas — a single drink is supposed to guarantee that you will fall in love with Barcelona and return again.  So perhaps we stacked the cards against us!

Still, I did leave unvisited some places that I would very much like to return to, if time and money permit.  Here are my top two:

  •  In Toledo I regret that we did not have enough time on our single day trip to see much beyond the magnificent cathedral.  What I would most like to see would be El Greco paintings hanging in those locations where he painted them.  Here is a list.
  • In Barcelona, I would love to make a day trip to Colonia Guell to see more of Gaudi’s imaginative architecture and art.

Now that my travels have ended and I have completed my recap in these blog posts, I am ready to stop looking back and start looking ahead.  Where will my future travels take me?  Will I change how I travel in my retirement?  While I doubt I will give up completely the idea of traveling as vacation — a fun break from my regular routines — I am thinking  more along these lines:

  • Retreats:  to deepen my skills (watercolor painting, photography, sketching, writing, journaling, etc.) — among other like-minded souls
  • Action adventures:  hiking or walking trips, for example, or pilgrimages
  • Sojourns:  renting an apartment for three or four weeks in a single destination, like Seville or Manhattan, living like the locals and making day trips from there
  • Work assignments:  perhaps someday someone will actually pay me to take photographs and write and blog about a place

How do you fashion your travels?  Any suggestions?

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Glassed-in balcony, Barcelona

Glassed-in balcony, Barcelona

Given that historical buildings in Seattle are likely to be less than two hundred years old, it is not surprising that I was drawn to the charms of medieval and vintage Spain —  its narrow labyrinthine streets in the old quarters of its cities, the faded Moorish influences, the wrought-iron balconies . . .  But I was also very impressed with some of Spain’s avant-garde glimpses of fashion and architecture.

Fashion, shop window in Granada

Fashion, shop window in Granada

I was totally captivated by this metal spiral staircase that we saw inside La Caixa Forum in Madrid:

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And their bathrooms were pretty wonderful, too!

Apple-green restroom, La Caixa Forum, Madrid

Apple-green restroom, La Caixa Forum, Madrid

The Metropole Parasol at Plaza de Encarnacion in Seville is a fanciful urban installation with an elevated viewing platform.  I loved the lightness of its balsa-wood-like structure, its curviness, and imaginative shape.

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And in Barcelona, we spotted the Agbar Tower, that gherkin-shaped building designed by Jean Nouvel, as we were crossing a street.

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All of these wonderful expressions of modern style and design tell me that Spain is not living in the past, but is striding exuberantly into the future.

 

 

 

” . . . the Sagrada Familia is Barcelona as much as Sacre-Coeur is Paris and the Empire State Building is New York City.”
— Mary Ellen Jordan Haight and James J. Haight, Walks in Picasso’c Barcelona

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia

” . . . Antoni Gaudi’s phantasmagoric prayer in stone.”
— from Frommer’s Easy Guide to Barcelona and Madrid

The highlight of my time in Barcelona was seeing Gaudi’s great basilica, La Sagrada Familia.  I have been fortunate in my travels to have seen some of those special spiritual places designed by great artists:  the Matisse chapel in Vence, Mark Rothko’s chapel in Houston, Louise Nevelson’s Chapel of the Good Shepherd in St. Peter’s Church in New York City, and on this trip Goya’s Real Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida.  Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece is another of these unique marriages of art and spirituality.

When you travel in Europe, there seems to be a cathedral in every city or large town, and for me, these cathedral visits lose their appeal after a while.  They start blurring together.  The gold-plated trimmings, Biblical paintings and statues, and displays of wealth and power seem at odds with the way I see the universe.  They do not inspire awe so much as repel.  But Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia is not like that.  Its interior is awe-inspiring and your spirit seems to soar.  It feels uplifting and humble at the same time.  The space is clean and uncluttered compared to those Gothic cathedrals.  The lights, softly colored, evoke a spiritual space.  If you travel to Barcelona to do nothing but visit La Sagrada Familia, it would be worth it.

Exterior, La Sagrada Familia

Exterior, La Sagrada Familia

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The Nativity facade

The Nativity façade

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The angular sculptures on the Passion facade

The angular sculptures on the Passion façade

“The entire front was a kind of garden rising vertically from the pavement.  Vines climbed upward to provide niches in which statues of Biblical figures stood as if resting in some countryside grape arbor.  What in a traditional façade would have been a pillar, here became a tree in whose spreading branches perched stone birds.  On either side of the main entrance, at eye level, families of realistic chickens scratched, beautifully carved, and wherever human figures appeared, animal life appeared also, for it was obvious that Gaudi had loved nature; his definition of religion encompassed all that lived.”
— James Michner, Iberia

” . . . the spires were built in such a way that they resembled pretzel sticks studded with salt crystals, except that at the upper end they narrowed down to points of rock candy, brilliantly colored.  The spire was decorated with ceramic bits set in plaster and color was reflected everywhere. . . . and since many of the ceramic pieces were finished in gold, the spire seemed to be a finger of the sun.”
— James Michner, Iberia

Interior, La Sagrada Familia

Interior, La Sagrada Familia

“The dominant aspect of the whole concept for the cathedral was the emphasis on verticality, the linking of heaven to earth.”
— Mary Ellen Jordan Haight and James J. Haight, Walks in Picasso’s Barcelona

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“The straight line is the work of Man, but the curve is the work of God.”
— Antoni Gaudi

 

“Today, for most people, the Ramblas is Barcelona.”
—  Robert Hughes, Barcelona the Great Enchantress

The Ramblas, Barcelona

The Ramblas, Barcelona

“The humanity of the Rambla!  It’s an inscrutably human street!  So many stories come and go every day from these cafes, shops, and stairways!  The air is saturated with their human feet.”
— Josep Pla, The Gray Notebook, translated by Peter Bush

“The Ramblas is and always will be one of the great, seedy, absorbing theaters of Spain, or for that matter of Europe.”
—  Robert Hughes, Barcelona the Great Enchantress

Mercat de la Boqueria

Mercat de la Boqueria

My favorite part of strolling the Ramblas was our little detour into the grand food market, Mercat de la Boqueria, which reminded me of Seattle’s Pike Place Market and the one on Granville Island in Vancouver, B.C.  An overwhelming panorama of vibrant colors, prepared dishes, and raw food.

“[The Boqueria] is the hub and heart of both Barcelona’s gastronomy and its everyday eating.  Its site was originally occupied by the sixteenth-century convent of Sant Josep and the fourteenth-century one of Santa Maria.  Hang me for a gluttonous atheist if you will, but compared to the increase of human happiness afforded by this great market, the loss of a couple of convents is nothing. . . .

For any serious lover of food — which most Catalans aggressively are — there is no other place in the world quite like the Boqueria, that vast covered space crammed with stalls that display just about everything short of human flesh that could conceivably be eaten, from skinned rabbits (their moist eyes still peering reproachfully at the hardhearted shopper) to soft brown hills of newly shot but unplucked partridges, neatly tied fagots of expensive but irresistible angullos or jamon Serrano. . . . If there were a grocery, butcher, and fishmonger attached to the Garden of Eden, in which one could sample what terrestrial food tasted like before the fall of man, it would be something like the Boqueria.”
—  Robert Hughes, Barcelona the Great Enchantress

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Travels in Spain: Barcelona

November 12, 2015

“To travel across Spain and finally to reach Barcelona is like drinking a respectable red wine and finishing up with a bottle of champagne.”
— James Michner, Iberia

“It was a magnificent day; the skies were electric blue, and a crystal breeze carried the cool scent of autumn and the sea.  I will always prefer Barcelona in October.  It is when the spirit of the city seems to stroll most proudly through the streets.”
— Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind

View of Barcelona from the terrace at Parque Guell

View of Barcelona from the terrace at Parque Guell

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“The city is a sorceress . . . It gets under your skin and steals your soul without you knowing it.”
— Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind

Carol and I spent the final days of our Spain trip in Barcelona.  We traveled via bullet train from Seville to Barcelona, a 5-1/2 hour journey, remarkably smooth considering we were speeding along at up to 300 km/hour (over 180 mph)!  We passed lots more orange and olive trees on the journey.

So many motor scooters in Barcelona

So many motor scooters in Barcelona

Building with balconies, Barcelona

Building with balconies, Barcelona

Some of these balconies were glassed in.

Some of these balconies were glassed in.

Once in Barcelona, we resumed our habits of walking and eating tapas.  We noticed the prevalence of motor scooters as a popular mode of transportation here.  The citizens seemed industrious; there was construction going on, deliveries to the many shops and bars, lots of hustle and bustle.

Like all Spanish cities, the buildings sported lovely balconies.

“Ornate balconies, sometimes entirely boxed in with glass, hung like family jewels on the faces of the old buildings.”
— Miranda Franca, Don Quixote’s Delusions: Travels in Castilian Spain

Barcelona's Gothic Quarter

Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter

Barcelona’s old town, the Gothic Quarter, had its share of narrow streets.  But the city’s architecture also reflected the influence of Moderniste architects and designers, like Gaudi.

La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's bascilica

La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s bascilica

Casa Batllo, designed by Gaudi

Casa Batllo, designed by Gaudi

Reflection in scooter mirror

Reflection in scooter mirror

Lovely Moderniste lamp post, Barcelona

Lovely Moderniste lamp post, Barcelona

The terrace of Parque Guell

The terrace of Parque Guell

Parque Guell, terrace overlooking the city

Parque Guell, terrace overlooking the city

Parrot in Parque Guell

Parrot in Parque Guell

We were back being independent travelers in Spain.  Which meant that we were entirely dependent on maps.  Maybe we were tired, but we seemed to get lost repeatedly.  It didn’t help that the street signs pointed in directions at odds with the map!  Aah.  The joys of travel . . .

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Al Andalus itinerary for Day 6 of the tour

Al Andalus itinerary for Day 6 of the tour

We spent our final day of the Al Andalus tour in Cordoba before one last lunch on board while we returned to Seville, where we started our Andalusian interlude.

Cordoba long the banks of the Guadalquivir River

Cordoba long the banks of the Guadalquivir River

“The [Guadalquivir] river flowed tortuously through the fertile plain, broad and shallow, and in it the blue sky and white houses of the city were brightly mirrored.  In the distance, like a vapour of amethyst, rose the mountains, while at my feet, in mid-stream, there were two mills which might have been untouched since Moorish days.”
— William Somerset Maugham, The Land of the Blessed Virgin: Sketches and Impressions in Andalusia

” . . . Cordova offers immediately the full sensation of Andalusia.  It is absolutely a Moorish city, white and taciturn, so that you are astonished to meet people in European dress rather than Arabs, in shuffling yellow slippers.”
— William Somerset Maugham, The Land of the Blessed Virgin: Sketches and Impressions in Andalusia

View of Cordoba's Mezquita from the old Roam Bridge across the Guadalquivir River

View of Cordoba’s Mezquita from the old Roman Bridge across the Guadalquivir River

“The bridge that the Moors built over the Guadalquivir straggles across the water with easy arches.  Somewhat dilapidated and very beautiful, it has not the strenuous look of such things in England, and the mere sigh of it fills you with comfort.  The clustered houses, with an added softness from the light burning mellow on their roofs and on their white walls, increase the happy-impression that the world is not necessarily hurried and toilful.  And the town, separated from the river by no formal embankment, lounges at the water’s edge like a giant, prone on the grass and lazy, stretching his limbs after the mid-day sleep.”
— William Somerset Maugham, The Land of the Blessed Virgin: Sketches and Impressions in Andalusia

Our multi-lingual guide, Maria, in Cordoba

Our multi-lingual guide, Maria, in Cordoba

Old Jewish quarter

Old Jewish quarter

The Jewish quarter was characterized by patios and private courtyards, for which Cordoba is famous.

The Jewish quarter was characterized by patios and private courtyards, for which Cordoba is famous.

We began our guided tour of Cordoba in the old Jewish quarter.  After the reconquest of Spain by the Catholic kings, the Jews of Cordoba had to convert or leave.  Most went into exile, and our guide said that even today there is no Jewish community in Cordoba.

Cordoba's Mezquita, formerly a mosque, now converted into a cathedral

Cordoba’s Mezquita, formerly a mosque, now converted into a cathedral

Exterior, the Mezuita

Exterior, the Mezquita

The highlight of our Cordoba tour was the Great Mosque, the Mezquita.  It was rather imposing, but stark, from the outside.  But inside was a marvel.

Interior, Cordoba's Mezquita

Interior, Cordoba’s Mezquita

“Of all the buildings in the Islamic world this is to me the most fantastic. . . . It reminded me of an immense forest full of zebras.  The striped red and white arches stretch away in innumerable vistas, and whichever way you look you see the same view.  It is like a trick with mirrors, yet the feeling it roused in me was one of delight. . . . There is something primitive about the arrangement, yet the effect is, oddly enough, sophisticated.”
— H. V. Morton, A Stranger in Spain

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“I know of nothing that can give a more poignant emotion than the interior of the mosque at Cordova. . . . The mosque of Cordova is oriental and barbaric too; but I had never seen nor imagined anything in the least resembling it; there were no disillusionment possible, as too often in Italy, for the accounts I had read prepared me not at all for that overwhelming impression.  It was weird and strange, I felt myself transported suddenly to another world.”
— William Somerset Maugham, The Land of the Blessed Virgin: Sketches and Impressions in Andalusia

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“I then entered the mosque by an unprepossessing door and decided to look with unprejudiced eye at this so-called miracle; and as I stood in the darkness and began slowly to adjust to the shadows, I found myself in an architectural fairy tale, surrounded by so many pillars and arches that I could not believe they were real.  I suppose that from where I stood I was seeing something like four hundred separate marble columns, each handsomely polished and with its own capital of Corinthian foliage.  The arches that rose above these columns formed a maze which attracted the eye this way and that, for they were striped with alternate bands of yellow and red, and they were extra impressive in that in certain parts of the mosque they were double, that is, from the top of a capital one arch was slung across to the facing capital, and then three feet above that a second arch was thrown across in the same plane, producing a wild confusion of line and weight.

My first impression was of this wilderness of columns and arches; my second impression was expressed in an involuntary cry ‘It’s so big!’  I think no words could prepare one for the magnitude of this immense building.  Its columns stretch away to darkness in all directions, so vast are the distances, and the fact that light enters at unexpected places adds to the bewilderment.  Also, those vibrating bands of yellow and red increase the confusion, so that one cannot focus on a specific spot in the distance, for his eye is constantly drawn to another.  The men who built this mosque, over the remains of a Visigoth church, had a vision of permanence and magnitude that still stuns the imagination.”
— James Michner, Iberia

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“The mosque was dimly lit, the air heavy with incense; and I saw this forest of pillars, extending every way, as far as the eye could reach.  It was mysterious and awe-inspiring as those enchanted forests of one’s childhood in which huge trees grew in serried masses and where in cavernous darkness goblins and giants of the fairy-tales, wild beasts and monstrous shapes, lay in wait for the terrified traveller who had lost his way.”
— William Somerset Maugham, The Land of the Blessed Virgin: Sketches and Impressions in Andalusia

Mihrab, Mezquita

Mihrab, Mezquita

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“At length I came to the Mihrab, which is the Holy of Holies, the most exquisite as well as the most sacred part of the mosque.  It is approached by a vestibule of which the roof is a miracle of grace, with mosaics that glow like precious stones, ultramarine, scarlet, emerald, and gold.  The arch between the chambers is ornamented with four pillars of coloured marble, and again with mosaic, the gold letters of an Arabic inscription forming on the deep sapphire of the background in a decorative pattern.  The Mihrab itself, which contained the famous Koran of Othman, has seven sides of white marble, and the roof is a huge shell cut from a single block.”
— William Somerset Maugham, The Land of the Blessed Virgin: Sketches and Impressions in Andalusia

Cathedral inside the mosque

Cathedral inside the mosque

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Reflections of stained glass on the floor

Reflections of stained glass on the floor

“Here, lost in this wilderness of columns, hid a full-sized Catholic cathedral, one of colossal ugliness.”
— James Michner, Iberia

“Nothing could be more emblematic of Andalusia, perhaps even of Spain, than to see this Christian jewel in its unlikely Moslem setting.”
— H. V. Morton, A Stranger in Spain

The awesome beauty of Cordoba’s Great Mosque and cathedral left me speechless.  I cannot think of a more impressive way to end our Al Andalus train tour.

 

 

 

 

 

Al Andalus itinerary for Day 5

Al Andalus itinerary for Day 5

In the early morning of Day 5 our train made its journey to the station at Linares-Baeza where we parked for the day.  We were definitely in olive country.  Rows upon rows of olive trees stretched to the distant horizon outside the train windows.

View of the landscape around Granada, from the train window

View of the landscape around Granada, from the train window

Olive trees as far as the eye could see

Olive trees as far as the eye could see

An accident blocked the road to the Olive Oil Museum in Baeza, so we had a change in itinerary and started the day with a walking tour of the town.  Our guide, Andrei (he was Italian and loved to talk with his hands), was very enthusiastic about sharing the history of this area of Spain, where he is now a resident.

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Baeza was a center of learning and the location of an antique university.  Today the new International University of Andalucía is located there.

Antique University

Antique University

 

Botanical print on the walls of the Antique University

Botanical print on the walls of the Antique University

This was a day for small towns.  After we left Baeza, we took the bus to Ubeda, where we went on another walking tour.

The town of Baeza

The town of Baeza

Scenery around Ubeda, from the bus window

Scenery around Ubeda, from the bus window

Landscape with olive trees, near Ubeda

Landscape with olive trees, near Ubeda

Finally, after another delicious lunch at the National Parador of Ubeda, we were able to drive to the Olive Oil Museum for a tour and olive oil tasting.  Our guide said that this area of Spain has 65 million olive trees, of which half have been planted in the past 50 years.  There is now very much a mono-crop agricultural economy here.  And 95-percent of the trees in the Baeza area are of the Picual variety which make the best olive oil.

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When we did the olive oil tasting, I discovered that the oil of the Picual olives leaves a very bitter aftertaste.  But it is high in nutrients and good for cooking.

We learned that virgin oil is derived by simple pressing or squeezing (no refining).  Extra virgin oil has only positive attributes.  The color of the oil doesn’t reflect on its quality.  If green, it just means the olives were picked earlier in their growth cycle so they retain more chlorophyll. Olive oil never gets better with age.  Two years is the maximum expiration date.  Olives for eating need to sit 40 days in salt brine.

Olive oil tasting at the Olive Oil Museum of Baeza

Olive oil tasting at the Olive Oil Museum of Baeza

The first cat I saw in Spain (at the Olive Oil Museum)

The first cat I saw in Spain (at the Olive Oil Museum)