Archive | December, 2013

What’s That Coming Over the Hill?

29 Dec

It’s a Dalek!

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To be more precise it is, in fact, the DaLICK. It’s this year’s straw sculpture made by Snugburys Ice Cream and towers over the A51 Nantwich to Chester road. I’ve driven past it a few times but yesterday it seemed to loom out of the rapidly fading sunset and I just had to stop to take a picture even though it involved wading through a rather muddy field to get the best picture (my suede boots will never be the same again).

It really is very impressive. Not only is it a work of art in its own right but, as I discovered, it will suddenly light up and move its weapon towards you while chillingly advising you of your immanent extermination. The ice cream’s not half bad either. 

 

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Barcelona Pictures

22 Dec

Some pictures from our recent trip to Barcelona:

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We visited two churches in Barcelona. This was taken in the Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona (not Gaudi’s Basilica of the Sagrada Familia) and shows the crypt of Santa Eulalia.

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The rather corny name of the Magic Fountain is nevertheless a pretty spectacular synchronised performance of water, music and lights. It’s also free!

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Above the sound and light display is a cascade of beautifully lit waterfalls leading up to the National Palace.

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On our final day we crammed in a visit to the church of Santa Maria del Mar (on which the novel Cathedral of the Sea is based) along with a walk around the old city before chancing upon the Triumphal Arch and the Ciutadella Park, a green oasis in a busy city near to the port. 

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Of cause, the evenings weren’t for sightseeing! 

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Barcelona – Güell Park

17 Dec

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The number one, must-see sight in Barcelona is always the Sagrada Familia, the still unfinished cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudi. So we didn’t go there. Having toured the building site about 7 years ago, oohed and ahhed at the exterior but then been disappointed with the interior, we thought we’d give it a miss this time around. Apparently it has come on a lot since then. Ah well, perhaps next time.

Our first choice was also a Gaudi creation. The Güell Park was originally intended to be a luxury housing development but only two houses were ever built, neither actually designed by Gaudi although he did end up using his life savings and buying one. Always impractical – triangular lots and no transport connections – the development failed and the park was eventually handed over to the city. It is now a beautiful green space in a bustling modern city with incredible views but its main attraction is the roadway built to connect the development, designed by Gaudi himself.

The impact of the roadway was reduced by structures jutting out from the hillside or running on viaducts with arcades formed under these structures. The design is obviously inspired by the natural surroundings with columns like tree trunks supporting branching vaulting under the roadway. The way the sun catches the columns at this time of year, flooding the darkness of the underpasses with light is reminiscent of walking through both a forest and a cathedral cloister.

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At the top of the park is a terrace with a serpentine bench covered in amazing mosaics. Like the houses, built by Francesc Berenguer, it has the feel of Gaudi but was in fact designed by Josep Maria Jujol, neither of whom seems to get the credit they deserve. The view from this terrace is over the roof tops of Barcelona in the valley below, on the day of our visit unfortunately shrouded in mist. My attempts to capture it in photographs were pretty pathetic.

Outside the park itself is a hill topped by three crosses. Naturally we had to walk up this hill. In fact getting to the park at all involves a lot of uphill walking, so steep in fact that the streets have escalators. If you don’t want to pay to go inside the main section of the park, this is the place for the views. Pick a clear day. 

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Barcelona Christmas Market

15 Dec

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We couldn’t resist the lure of Barcelona when Bill and Lois said they were planning on going and somehow managed to gatecrash their plans. The particular attraction at this time of year was a Christmas market – for me, anyway, Neil not being quite so keen on anything suggestive of shopping.

Officially it’s the Fira de Santa Llúcia, not a Christmas market of the popular Germanic style but one dedicated to the nativity scenes and Christmas traditions of Catalonia. These are pretty weird, it has to be said but, hey, we tell our kids that a fat man in a red suit will come down the chimney.

 In Catalonia they’re expected to believe in the Caga Tio, the sh**ing log. At one time this was literally a log in the fireplace that gave heat and light. Nowadays it sh**s presents. With a smiling face and  wearing a traditional hat, it is kept in the kitchen or dining room where the children have to look after it in the days leading up to Christmas, feeding it and covering it in a blanket at night. Come Christmas Eve for some reason the children then turn on it and beat it before rushing into another room to pray. This gives the adults the opportunity to slip some presents under Caga Tio’s blanket and hey presto!

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But it doesn’t stop there. What I didn’t mention in the previous post is that each nativity scene has a “caganer”. You may be able to guess what this figure is doing. Oh yes, along with the wise men and baby Jesus, hidden somewhere in the scene will be a figure, again wearing the traditional Catalán hat, squatting with his trousers round his ankles, defecating. Why? Some say it is a symbol of fertilizing the ground, others that it represents that we are all equal (everybody does it). The latter idea seems to have taken off in recent years with the caganer often depicted as someone famous: a pop star, a politician or maybe a striker for Barcelona. Most of the world leaders are for sale (not Cameron for some reason – draw your own conclusions) as well as religious leaders and members of the British royal family. I can see the attraction. 

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Navidad

10 Dec

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The build up to Christmas in Spain does not seem to involve the frenetic consumerism we have come to expect in the UK. Although it is still a time for presents and decorating the house, somehow it just doesn’t seem to go so completely overboard. The streets of the old town are decorated with tasteful lights that don’t go on until December and it is only now that we see the odd inflatable Santa on an apartment balcony.

Even the supermarkets are very different. While we are used to seeing piles of turkeys, shelves full of mince pies and Christmas Puddings, aisles of wrapping paper and crackers for the table, the only place these make an appearance here in Jávea is in the very British Iceland. The most obvious difference, however, is the hams. Cured pigs legs hang in profusion, dominating the delicatessen aisle, the not entirely pleasant smell overwhelming. There are a few decorations mainly in the form of small tin boxes, shaped as one or other of the Three Kings or maybe a snowman and filled with a handful of sweets. Instead of heaps of family sized tins of chocolates there are a few varieties of truffles or the popular turrón, a sort of nougat made with honey and almonds.

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My favourite part of the Spanish Christmas is the Nativity Scene. There is no tradition of a decorated tree in the home and instead these tableaux are the centre piece. It’s not just the figures of Mary and Joseph by the crib and maybe shepherds and kings. Whole villages are depicted with figures added each year. The church in the old town has a large one on display outside and the art gallery in the port area has a beautiful example in the window. The real beauty of these is in the detail and you have to look for it. The Kings arrival maybe behind an archway, a woman resting on a wall is behind a tree, a small child urinates in the corner while another plays with kittens in the square. This, of course, means you have to spend some time gazing at the pieces and each time you look something different is spotted. Delightful. 

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Guests

3 Dec

Naturally the weather was never going to co-operate with having friends to stay. They arrived to a cool but sunny day, allowing them to shake off their working worries along with the winter coats and visibly relax under out eyes. Of course the alcohol helped. The cloudier but mostly dry following day meant a walk to Cap Prim and an amazing tapas meal in the old town was much appreciated by all.

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Sunday was a very different. Overnight the breeze had become a howling gale, whipping the sea into a frenzy of surf and spray and driving the sleety rain horizontally. With winter woollies and coats back in situ we took the car up to the lighthouse at Cabo San Anton and the old windmills that sit like jagged teeth overlooking the bay of Jávea. The view is always amazing and with a frothy, white sea and glowering, black clouds it was pretty spectacular. The wind was whipping hair and reddening noses making lingering a bit uncomfortable, however, so nobody needed much encouragement to head back to the apartment with its under-floor heating.

The lure of a leisurely lunch at the front was enough to get us out again and was worth it just to be at close quarters to this crashing sea as it spewed spray over the promenade. I have to say our guests had more stamina than us. As we returned for a siesta they stayed out for a walk along the breakwater and a good soaking. Well, it takes all sorts.