Friday, June 27, 2014

Two Fairs

Two fairs in two weeks. There is never to be a dull moment in Figueres.  First there was the Senior Citizen Fair, and the following weekend the Bicycle Fair.

I wasn’t particularly moved by the senior citizen fair.  There were probably reasons for my bad attitude.  In any case, the activities didn’t appeal and there were no food stands.  It wasn’t particularly colorful and it was full of old people.  There was supposed to be some kind of classic car show or parade, but although it was included in the printed program, try as I might I couldn’t find it.  Now that would have been something to enjoy, better old cars than old people.   In spite of them hiding the classic cars, I did manage to get some shots of two classics – one a Pontiac and the other a custom-build -- that were parked at the bottom of La Rambla.  I guess someone forgot to hide those.

The bicycle fair was sweet.  It was there to promote the use of bicycles, to accept donations of unused bicycles that will receive whatever attention is required and then be given to people who need them.  There were stationary bicycles hooked up to blenders that made smoothies while you pedaled, bicycles designed for people with a variety of disabilities, and obstacle courses for all ages and abilities.

Donated bicycles

Foc de Drac (Dragon Fire)

He's in the tree


Saturday, June 21, 2014

To Go or Not To Go

I was supposed to be going to Avignon and indeed, I was headed that way.  But at Portbou, the last station in Spain, the train didn’t continue on as it was supposed to.  There was a railway workers’ strike in France.  I wish someone had informed me of that before I boarded the train in Figueres and saved me a trip going nowhere.

So, sitting there at Portbou’s 19th century iron-framed train station, I had an hour and a half to consider what I was going to do.  This was to be my birthday celebration.  I could go home, grab the car keys and drive to Avignon – a trip of several hours.  Or, I could hang around locally and take myself out to lunch to a couple of restaurants that I’ve been meaning to try.  There is one only minutes from Figueres that has some Michelin stars….

Would I do what so many on Facebook recommend and keep on trying and fighting to achieve my goal?  Or would I relax and accept what fate was telling me, not fight it, and enjoy a new plan?  In the end, driving that far didn’t feel like what I wanted to do, so there was no visit to Avignon this June; no day trip to Aix-en-Provence to see the Cezanne studio, no lunch at the Guinguette on the Rhone.

Instead there was a fabulous lunch at a beautiful restaurant that I had walked by many times but never entered.  Elegant, excellent food, and a splendid view out the huge picture glass window onto the rear garden and city park beyond.  What a find!  And the next day a very good lunch at a new and elegant cerveseria/tapas bar that included one of my favorites -- tiny squid, battered and fried.  Since I don’t like beer I had an excellent local white wine.  It wasn’t what I had planned, but it too was good.  Sometimes you need a nudge to discover what’s on your doorstep.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Ancient Shipyards of Barcelona

I recently went to revisit the Drassanes, one of my favorite buildings in Barcelona.  So today I’ll be cheating a little.  That is to say, instead of writing my own, I’m presenting to you what Robert Hughes has to say about the Drassanes of Barcelona.  He is a great lover of Barcelona and probably doesn’t mind my promoting his favorite city (and his excellent book).

“…The most vivid memories of any of the past métiers of Barcelona are those of the sea, its maritime essence; and they are preserved in the Drassanes, the ancient shipyards of the city that now house the Maritime Museum – a place as remarkable for its building as for its contents.  The site, at the bottom of the Ramblas, gives a clear idea of how far Barcelona has filled in its own waterfront in the last half millennium.  When they were built in the fourteenth century, the slipways that ran the finished galleys into the harbor stood right on the water; today the Drassanes are landlocked, standing a couple of hundred yards back from the water’s edge.

This is the most complete shipyard, and perhaps the most stirring ancient industrial space of any kind, that has survived from the Middle Ages: a masterpiece of civil engineering.  The Barcelona shipyards were started in the thirteenth century by Pere II (the Great), and finished (at least in their essential outlines) by an architect named Arnau Ferré, working for Pere II’s son Pere III (the Ceremonious), around 1378.  In their time they were known as the new shipyards, since they replaced the older and smaller ones the Arabs had built on roughly the same site.  To build a large ship you need a large covered space, and that is what the Drassanes afforded: a set of long parallel bays made of brick, their tiled roofs carried o great diaphragm arches….  In these rigorously plain and imposing spaces, the biggest vessels in the Mediterranean were built.  A facsimile of one of them, the capitana, or flagship, in which Don Juan of Austria led the Christians to victory over the Turks at Lepanto in 1571, occupies one entire bay, its high deck almost scraping the roof, a sleek baroque war machine encrusted with gilt and red lacquer, 195 feet long, displacing 237 tons, with fifty-eight oars as thick as telegraph poles, each worked by ten slaves.”  (From Barcelona by Robert Hughes and available here!)

Friday, June 6, 2014

On The Road: Sant Pere de Rodes

Braver now, my excursions go further afield.  The latest outing was to the Monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes on the Costa Brava.  This remarkable compound, built mostly in the 10th and 11th centuries, sits 520 meters above the sea on Mount Verdera where it has an impressive, uninterrupted view of the coastline.   How they managed to build it, I can’t imagine.  But having done so, the Benedictine monks abandoned it 1798 to move inland where there were fewer French troops and bandits to disturb the monastic peace.

Having been plundered many times over and falling into ruin, it was declared a monument  of national historic and artistic interest in 1930 and since then, sporadic work has been done on it until finally, between 1989 and 1999 an important restoration project was carried out.

Today you can visit most of the buildings, enjoy the views, and have lunch in a lovely restaurant within the compound.  I can’t attest to the food as I didn’t eat there, but I can say that the view from the restaurant is heavenly.  The monastery sits in the Parc Natural de Cap de Creus with hiking trails fanning out in every direction.  The day I visited, there were several groups seated here and there enjoying a picnic lunch in the surrounding grounds.

Only two fragments remain of the
marble reliefs that once adorned the
entry to the church

The church

11th century lower cloister

Now a restaurant

Looking up into one of the towers

Hiking paths here, there, and everywhere