Category Archives: Travel

Barcelona

The people of Barcelona are in turmoil in more ways than one.  Leaving aside the independence issue which remains unresolved, the permanent residents of the city have had enough of the huge numbers of visitors. The city is awash with foreign workers and tourists. You can’t blame people for wanting to experience this unique city – wacky buildings, art galleries, nightlife – it even boasts a beach, although there are much better ones along the Costa Brava – a stone’s throw away by train. But there is a limit.

June, July and August are murder! You can hardly walk along the pavements, there are that many people. Best to leave it till earlier or later in the year when the temperature is kinder and the bars and shops are not brimming to capacity.

A lot of people think Barcelona is quite a dangerous city – muggings and attacks are common, although you have to question the common sense of some tourists! Bars, clubs, restaurants and taxi drivers have no qualms about over charging you but  I suspect this is true of any large city anywhere in the world.  We tourists are like lambs to the slaughter!

All that said, I go there a lot and have never had a problem. I also go to other parts of Spain, but no other Spanish city has its architecture, and atmosphere  – it’s a real culture vulture’s paradise.  Also, its balmy sub tropical climate means it never gets really cold, unlike the Pyrenees or Madrid, and when you want some ‘me time’  there are parks like  Montjuic, beaches close by and some lovely gardens – we visited the Marimurtra Jardín Botánico in Blanes last Spring – probably a tad early in the season, but still worth the trip and just a short train ride along the coast.

 

Of course, the city’s architecture draws many people to Barcelona – along almost every street you will see beautiful balconies and façades or wobbly reflections of the buildings opposite.  You can see why artists (and there are hordes of street artists along Las Ramblas, vying for your custom)  find inspiration here – the light is magical.

Music is also an important part of the experience: – there is the incredible Modernist concert venue – el Palau de la Música – the building itself is a work of art and whatever time of day you go past there are people photographing it, but inside is where the real magic happens! There are street musicians plying their trade in lots of the squares around town, even classical musicians and opera singers.  The Opera House just off the main Rambla is also worth a visit for the building alone; Spaniards are known for their tardiness but the opera is one thing that starts on time!! Also on the main Rambla is the famous Boquería food market.

Visit one of myriad art galleries, celebrating the works of well known artists such as Picasso, Joan Miró and the wackiest catalán of them all, Salvador Dalí, although a better place to see his work is in the town of his birth, Figueres – just up the coast.

There are many temporary exhibitions to enjoy too.

    

I’ll leave you with a picture of the interior of a recently refurbished restaurant – guess what their speciality is!

Maybe Freddy Mercury said it best. In this duet he is performing with fabulous world renowned soprano, Montserrat Caballé, who was born in Barcelona and died only recently, on October 6, 2018,  at the age of 85.

 

'When it's Spring again, I'll bring again tulips from Amsterdam.'

When it’s Spring again I’ll bring again
Tulips from Amsterdam
With a heart that’s true I’ll give to you
Tulips from Amsterdam
I can’t wait until the day you fill
These eager arms of mine
Like the windmill keeps on turning
That’s how my heart keeps on yearning
For the day I know we can
Share these tulips from Amsterdam
Ah……  Max Bygraves knew the way to a woman’s heart!
Tulips…….they herald the spring time  like no other flower – with their beautiful forms and colours, unmistakeable bowl shaped petals and bright primary colours.
These days growers have developed so many varieties the choice is dizzying, and even the ‘not very horticulturally minded’ recognise a tulip! It has become a favourite in English gardens, parks and floral displays up and down the land. Of course, tulips are synonymous with Holland and horticulture there is big business:
A few wikifacts:

  • Holland has a 44% share of the worldwide trade in floricultural products, making it the dominant global supplier of flowers and flower products. Some 77% of all flower bulbs traded worldwide come from the Netherlands, the majority of which are tulips. 40% of the trade in 2015 was cut flowers and flower buds.
  • The sector is the number 1 exporter to the world for live trees, plants, bulbs, roots and cut flowers.
  • The sector is the number 3 exporter in nutritional horticulture products.
  • Of the approximately 1,800 new plant varieties that enter the European market each year, 65% originate in the Netherlands. In addition, Dutch breeders account for more than 35% of all applications for community plant variety rights.
  • The Dutch are one of the world’s largest exporter of seeds: the exports of seeds amounted to € 3.1 billion in 2014.
  • In 2014 the Netherlands was the world’s second largest exporter (in value) of fresh vegetables. The Netherlands exported vegetables with a market value of € 7 billion.


       


The Keukenhof gardens in the Netherlands are a paradise for tulip  lovers – as their website boasts: ‘Keukenhof, the best day out among the flowers! There are more than 7 million bulbs in bloom this spring, with a total of 800 varieties of tulips. A unique and unforgettable experience!
Besides the spacious 32 hectares of flowers you can enjoy the spectacular flower shows, surprising inspirational gardens, unique artwork and wonderful events. Do not miss the Tulpomania exhibition in the Juliana Pavilion.’
At Keukenhof they recognise the importance of engaging with the next generation. Their website states:
‘Keukenhof is also one big party for children. They will have a blast with the treasure hunt, petting farm, maze and the playground.’
Who can resist? Don’t forget your camera!




Istria – or Slovenia and Croatia to you and me.

I’ve just returned from a trip to the Istrian Peninsula – and learnt a lot!  The Peninsula looks like a triangular pennant suspended in the Adriatic just below Trieste.  A horizontal strip of land at the top of the triangle now forms part of Slovenia and the rest belongs to Croatia. Our visit included some of the towns along the West coast of Istria from  Portorož down to Pula, with its stunning amphitheatre,  at the southern tip of the triangle.
istriamap
So first  stop – Portorož (Port of Roses) This turned out to be an attractive strip of  hotels stretching in a ribbon along the seafront – no ‘beach’ as such, more pebbles and ladders straight down into the water – would bathers disappear without trace?  Well, no, the water only seemed to be waist deep in most places so perfectly safe, if a bit chilly!
Portorož has been established as a health spa since the late 19th century and boasts some fine architecture – one example of this is the Palace Hotel, built around 1912 in what was known then as the Austrian Riviera. It was extensively renovated around 2008 but retains its magnificent facade and is testimony to the popularity of the area as a health resort back in the day.  There is a real Art Deco vibe about the place and lots of magnificent black and white photographs on the hotel walls illustrate the grandeur of a bygone era, which inspired me to take some sepia photos on my walk along the sea front towards Piran.





Every hotel in Istria has a Wellness Centre, indeed Slovenians and Croatians place a lot of emphasis on healthy living. On our tour I struck lucky every time – my room was right next door to the Wellness Centre! This meant that, unlike other guests who had to make their way along endless hotel corridors and into and out of lifts dressed in their fluffy white hotel robes to get to these facilities, I only had to pop out of my room and round the corner and there it all was – the plunge pool, the sun terrace, the jacuzzi, the  salt water swimming pool and all the wondrous treatments on offer – like mud baths, Thai massage with myriad combinations of lovely infused oils, facials – etc!!
As a linguist I was also interested in trying to pick up some phrases in Slovenian and Croatian – and was encouraged by the fact that all the road signs were in Slovenian or Croatian first and then Italian, and sometimes German too.  As I speak Spanish, the hop over to Italian is not so far – but the next hop over to Slovenian proved more of a chasm – didn’t get much of a toe hold, although the girl welcoming us in to dinner tried to teach me a few things – ‘dobro jutro’ (good morning) ‘dobra večer’ (good evening) ‘volim te’ (I love you !! – that should come in handy!) ‘hvala ti’ (thank you)  ‘molim’ (please) ‘račun molim’ (the bill please) and on the hotel television I even caught an episode of Gardeners’ World with Monty Don dubbed in Croatian.  Even so, progress was slow!!
Back to being a tourist.
Piran is a small town at the top of the Istrian Peninsula. Its links with Italy through the salt trade are evident. On the walk into the town we came across some curious buildings which turned out to be disused salt warehouses, now being used as exhibition spaces and the like.  
Views out to sea from the city walls were beautiful and the town itself is very picturesque.

 
 
 
 
 


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We were taken on a trip to the salt pans and a museum where we learnt how the salt panners lived and worked.
           
         


Our next trip was to Groznjan, which is inland. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t very good but we could still appreciate the beauty of the countryside and sample some delicious truffles and mistletoe brandy – not sure about the brandy! We also learned that Istria has several symbols – one is the goat, one is the dolphin and ……the other will come to me in a second!
 



The climate as you go further south turns more Mediterranean, with lots of vineyards and olive trees and for the first week of our holiday the weather was pleasantly warm – around 25º. But things changed dramatically en route to our second destination of Poreč – in fact, there was a terrific storm and when we got to the hotel they were busy mopping up – leaks had sprung everywhere – outside the main entrance a little man in waterproofs was standing knee deep in water, pumping out and inside they were juggling guests whose rooms had water running down the walls – mops and buckets everywhere!
Built along the lines of a giant Butlins holiday camp – I don’t think these hotels will stand the test of time – more ‘Lego’ in construction – definitely the cheap and cheerful end of the market.  This conglomeration was built around several lagoons just outside the town of Poreč, which, once the hordes of weekend visitors had died down, felt much more welcoming. As luck would have it, the storm (which was bad enough to make the national television news) had abated by the next day and we were able to see a  medieval fair which they had postponed – so ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ as they say.

Pula, in the far south of the peninsula, boasts a magnificent amphitheatre, with the usual gruesome history of gladiators and blood and gore. Nowadays, the arena is used as an open air concert venue, attracting the greats of the musical world such as Andrea Bocelli, Norah Jones, Tom Jones and José Carreras.  Personally, I found the Roman artifacts in the museum below the arena every bit as interesting as the arena itself.
We barely had time to see Pula and even in late September, towards the end of the holiday season it was very busy. The Venetian influence is evident in its buildings and I loved the little alley ways down to the water’s edge which seemed to drop straight into the sea. Definitely a place to go back to.