Countdown to 2026 and the completion of La Sagrada Familia

The basilica of the Sagrada Familia was one of the first places I visited in Spain way back in 1969. It was and still is, a ‘must see’ on any excursion to Barcelona. It’s easily the most unusual church you’ll  ever see and, despite the fact that it’s STILL unfinished, whether you love it or hate it, it’s an unforgettable sight.
Rumour has it that it’s due for completion in 2026 to coincide with the centenary of Gaudí’s death – a more realistic estimation, according to some, is 2028.
Most people know at least two facts about Antoni Gaudí, the catalán architect  – 1) that the Sagrada Familia is his magnum opus and 2) that he was killed by a tram. He was, of course, responsible for many other great constructions, most of them in  Barcelona – like the Casa Batlló in the beautiful thoroughfare of El Paseo de Gracia, or Parc Güell, inspired, as are all his works, by his love of natural forms.
León boasts two of his creations – the Casa Botines and the Palacio Episcopal de Astorga and in Comillas, Cantabria, stands El Capricho. a summer house of oriental design, commissioned by Máximo Díaz de Quijano and just as wacky and beautiful as all Gaudí’s other designs.
At the time of Gaudí’s death the construction of the Sagrada Familia had really only just got underway. His plans were complicated, inspired and ambitious, but it seems his disciples were more than willing to continue his work, although controversy has always surrounded their interpretation of his designs. Vociferous critics claim that what we now see deviates greatly  from his  ideas and, as the original plans seem to have been lost or destroyed, it’s difficult to know if that’s right.
Personally, I prefer the original  art nouveau, free, organic  style, with its naturalistic forms to the stark and angular style of, say, the Passion Façade.
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If you’re lucky enough to find yourself staring up at this magnificent building take a few minutes to study it – the more you look the more you see:  figures, animals, plants all interwoven to create a masterpiece of such incredible detail and workmanship.
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Some of the colours used in the interior are more gaudy than Gaudí  – but whatever you think of it you won’t forget it!
In 2010 the nave of the church, which had been open to the elements,  was covered and a magnificent organ installed. This allowed it’s consecration by Pope Benedict XV1 at a ceremony on November 7th, attended by thousands. Religious ceremonies could now be conducted. Ignoring the ever present cranes and scaffolding,  the most striking thing about the church are the many spires – they dominate the skyline and from inside afford an unrivalled view across the city.  Gaudí wanted 18 spires – 12 to represent the Apostles, 1 for the Virgin Mary, 4 for the Evangelists and the tallest for Jesus Christ.  The spires are also bell towers and Gaudí had done some very specific studies of the acoustics to get the sound of the bells just right – he thought of everything, didn’t he?
He didn’t think of the AVE, though. Around 2009, much to the consternation of those responsible for the Sagrada Familia, it was revealed that the engineers developing the expansion of the AVE network (Spain’s high speed train) planned to construct an underground tunnel  at the Barcelona end of the line between Madrid and Barcelona, very close to the Sagrada Familia, or even right underneath it! Now, wouldn’t that be ironic? After spending more than a century trying to finish the building, that it should be undermined – quite literally –  by a machine not unlike the one that had finished poor old Gaudí off all those years ago! ! Would the Sagrada Familia disappear in a cloud of dust – reduced to a pile of rubble by the AVE as it  whistled by at 350 kilometres an hour on it’s way to France!!
Let’s hope that doesn’t happen! To see how the church will eventually look go to :


Exciting news!! I’ve just discovered that the Vuelta a España Cycle Race 2015 will be passing through Riaza this year! Where? I hear you cry! Well, Riaza just happens to be a small town up the road from where my husband was born – nestling in the foothills of a snow capped sierra in Segovia, on that inhospitable central ‘meseta’ of the Iberian Peninsula. ‘Meseta’ was a word I first heard in geography lessons at school. It means ‘plateau’ I remember my teacher explaining. Little did I know that 10 years later I would find myself gazing out across that very plateau from the  window of my in-laws’ house in a tiny village about 15 miles from RIAZA!  – The snow capped sierra was the Guadarrama mountains, which separate  Segovia from Madrid.
I have always liked cycling and my first bike was bought for me in 1963 as a reward for passing my 11 plus (damn! now you know how old I am!)  Anyway, that was a good 17 years before our (well, I say ‘our’ but, apparently, he is Belgian-British)renowned Tour de France winner, Bradley Wiggins, was even born, so I wasn’t under the spell of the so called ‘Wiggo factor’ which  swept the U.K. after his triumph in the Tour in 2012 and spurred every man and his dog – to coin a phrase! funny mental image! –   to take up cycling, but maybe my love of  cycle racing has been revived  by the Wiggo factor.  Over the years I’ve followed the fortunes of Spanish racers Miguel Indurain, who won the Tour de France FIVE times in a row in the 1990s and Pedro Delgado, whose successful career started slightly earlier.  Occasionally my husband would accompany me on a bike ride, although he wasn’t that keen and, if truth be told, he was a danger to himself and others when on a bike. He disliked the uphill slogs, but gloried in the downhill and used to speed like a demon, shouting  ‘Allá va……….. Bahamontes………………..!!!!!!!!!!!’.
Bahamontes? Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of him! Only one of Spain’s greatest road racers, born in 1928 (so I AM going back a bit!  – that would make him 87  this year, but I think he’s still around.) He was known in his hey day as ‘el Aguila  (the Eagle) de Toledo’ and won the Tour de France in 1959, was 2nd in the Vuelta in 1957, and won stages in both races as well as the coveted title of King of the Mountain on numerous occasions – apparently, he wasn’t very good on the descent, but was master of the uphill climb – the opposite of my husband!
Anyway, back to the present.  The last ‘etapa’ of this year’s Vuelta a España will finish in the capital,  Madrid,   on September 13 and I aim to be there  – to soak up the atmosphere, revisit old haunts and  capture a few shots for posterity.



'I did it my way' – OR 'It's a right-handed world'


I’ve often wondered – being left handed myself – why the majority of people should be right handed; after all, we all have two hands – why should 90% of people use their right rather than their left? Should be 50/50 surely?
I went to school in the sixties so, luckily, I just missed being part of a generation that was made to feel inferior – or worse! if they were left handed. My only experience of being made to do anything right handed at school was when we learnt to knit. Obviously, my mother could knit but it was my primary school teacher, Miss Harris, who said she would have to show me ‘her way’ as apparently I was managing to add another stitch onto every row doing it ‘my way’ – that cravat I was knitting had a distinctly uneven look to it – teddy would not be pleased!!
Lots of everyday implements seemed to contrive to make life difficult  – scissors, craft knives, pencil sharpeners, can openers, but ask any left hander and they’ll say ‘especially scissors’ – and you don’t realise why (and neither do the adults around you) until much later in life – you just think you’re a bit useless (‘cack-handed’ was an expression that cropped up regularly – I’ve just looked it up in a Spanish-English dictionary and it translates as slow, clumsy, uncoordinated etc etc).
Growing up I’d say scissors and can openers caused me the most grief, later followed by corkscrews – do you know how frustrating it is to have a nice bottle of wine sitting there – and not be able to open it?  When a left hander tries to use a conventional corkscrew it travels up not down! Thank God for screw tops!
These days there is a proliferation of retailers and online sites offering anything a left hander could need – and sites that  claim their products are ‘ambidexterous’ – suitable for everyone but this is SO  not true!! I suspect a lot of them are designed by right handers.
When I got married to a Spaniard I discovered there was still a lot of real prejudice against lefties in Spain. My in-laws, the same as a lot of older people in the U.K., thought  we were the devil’s spawn – I didn’t really have a leg to stand on as far as my father-in-law was concerned – English, non-Catholic and oh! no! LEFT HANDED as well!!  He used to go beserk if he ever caught me trying to teach my children to write or draw with my pen in my left hand (where else would it be!) In fact, one of his own children – if left to her own devices, would be left-handed, but that was unthinkable so she was forced to write right-handed – and the consequence? she hates writing or reading or anything to do with studying at all! It’s interesting that the Spanish for left is ‘siniestro’  (Latin ‘sinistra’)  – which also means ‘sinister’, ‘evil’ and the Spanish for right is ‘diestro’ – which also means ‘skilful’ or ‘expert’!!
What started me on this rant? Well, this morning I was mopping the kitchen floor and to squeeze the excess water out I pressed the mop head into the bucket and turned it  – but it is SCREWED onto the handle and yes – you’ve guessed it – anything  with a thread is  also designed the wrong way for me! The mop head unscrewed and fell off! You see, it’s these little things that bug you!
There are comical sides to being a leftie. Years ago when I was learning to ride a horse (animals which by the way will have a left or right sided bias according to how they were lying in the womb), our instructor set up some jumps for us. Obviously, a jumping course, as with any other circuit,  could  be clockwise or anticlockwise – and my natural instinct would be to go anticlockwise – i.e. turn and jump the first jump on the left so off i went  but that wasn’t the way I was supposed to go that day!  – I didn’t really enjoy jumping –  riding, yes – but jumping? Not keen!  Anyway, the instructor looked on aghast as I proceeded to jump everything ‘backwards’ as she saw it and when I eventually hit the deck – inevitable, really – she loomed over me and screeched ‘I CAN’T BELIEVE  you just did that!! There is normally a pole on the ground just in front of the horse to help him judge the distance, you see, and if you jump from the other side – well, he can’t see it! It wasn’t funny at the time but everyone I told the story to later thought it was!

And those people who say – ‘Why don’t you just do it right-handed?’ …………. are really …..  quite annoying!