Wordless Wednesday: Backpacking through Spain

Some snap shots of my month backpacking through Spain in 2005.

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

The Alhambra is Granada’s cultural treasure

The Alhambra is Granada’s love letter to Moorish culture, a place where fountains trickle, leaves rustle, and ancient spirits seem to mysteriously linger.

It is part palace, part fort, part World Heritage site, part lesson in medieval architecture, enchanted a never-ending line of expectant visitors. Years ago I was one of these expectant visitors and I was not disappointed

The Alhambra has quite a colourful history as it was renovated by a Moorish in the 11th century, converted into a royal palace in the 1333 by a Sultan. Used as a mosque, which was replaced by a church in 1492, and eventually in 1527, the palace of Charles V was built within the complex. 

Then the complex fell into disrepair, inhabited by vagrants, and even being used as soldiers’ barracks during Napoleonic times. Alhambra was then rediscovered in the 19th century by European scholars and travellers.

The Palace is strategically located on a hill and the walk up to the palace is worth it. Just make sure you are there early morning, because as it is an essential pilgrimage for most tourists it gets quite crowded. In summer up to 6000 people walk through daily, making it difficult to inspect and enjoy the details of the palace. The walkway is through the woods so it is canopied by trees, the shade really welcome during the summer. Along the way you get fabulous views of the old city and the mountains beyond.

Most of the buildings on the Alhambra were whitewashed, but today, after years of being baked in the sun, they appear reddish. 

The central palace complex is the pinnacle of the Alhambra’s design. The entrance through the 14th-century Mexuar was perhaps an antechamber for those awaiting audiences with the emir, but two centuries later, it was converted to a chapel, with a prayer room at the far end.

From the Mexuar, you pass into the Patio del Cuarto Dorado. It appears to be a forecourt to the main palace but also leads to the Court of the Myrtles the centre of a palace built in the mid 14th century as Emir Yusuf I’s private residence.

Rooms (likely used for lounging and sleeping) look onto the rectangular pool edged in myrtles, and traces of cobalt blue paint cling to the muqarnas (honeycomb vaulting). Originally, all the walls were lavishly coloured, the effect would have resembled flocked wallpaper.

Wondering through the palace we walked through the Courtyard of the Lions, which got its name from the centrepiece, a fountain that channelled water through the mouths of 12 marble lions.

Some rooms had narrow staircase leading to the top terrace, other were lit by star-shaped skylights. The courtyards were graceful, one with the trunk of a 700-year-old cypress tree, suggesting delicate shade once graced the patio.

There were so many different halls and rooms, buildings and courtyards to explore, it was a bit overwhelming. I think that I will time my next visit for a quieter time of the year.

Gaudí’s Casa Batlló

Casa Batlló is a renowned building located in the center of Barcelona and is one of Antoni Gaudí’s masterpieces

Gaudí’s Casa Batlló
Like everything Gaudí designed, it is only identifiable as Modernisme or Art Nouveau in the broadest sense.

Published as part of Wodrless Wednesday

Gaudi’s impressive Park Guell

Park Güell, located in Barcelona and designed by famous architect Antonio Gaudi, is one of the most impressive public parks in the world. It is one of the most important sights in Barcelona and one of Gaudi’s masterpieces. It was an extremely hot day in Barcelona when my friend and I got to explore this park. We only had a couple of days in Barcelona so couldn’t spend as much time as I wanted here.

Gaudi planned and directed the construction of the park from 1900 to 1914 but, like a lot of his projects, he never finished it. The park became city property in 1923 although never fully completed, and still remains one of Gaudi’s most colourful and playful works.

Past the entrance I found Gaudí’s multicoloured mosaic salamander, popularly known as “el drac” (the dragon). I had to resist the urge to actually climb onto this salamander, and settle for just touching it.

It was amazing to see how he had shaped nature into colonnades, archways and covered galleries with well-camouflaged artificial structures. It’s a playground for the mind with columns that simulate palm-tree trunks and arches that grow out of the ground, and surfaces covered in quilts of ceramic tiles. I agree that this park is one of his masterpieces, being a colourful, quiet and calm place that brought peace and inspiration by just being there.

It’s surrounded by a long bench in the form of a sea serpent, the back of which forms a balustrade, its entire surface encrusted with ceramic shards of all colours, some randomly arranged, some in patterns.

The Laundry Room Portico, so named for the Laundress sculpted into one of the arched columns. This arcade, along with others around the park, provide covered footpaths and support the roads above. These covered footpaths were quite a blessing on a hot day like this.

The park is like something out of a fairy tale!

Taste of Madrid

Published as part of Wordless Wednesday

My Art Hero, Dalí’s Theatre-Museum

Since I became aware of Dali and his surrealist paintings he has been my art hero. I have been to every Dali exhibition I could attend so I jumped at the chance of getting to see his theatre-museum in Spain. We took the train from Barcelona up North, to a town called Figueres. The building is quite easy to spot as it is painted a bright red with huge eggs on top of the wall and turrets. This was back in 2005 so things might have changed a bit since I was there.

The Dalí Theatre-Museum, which he and his wife opened in 1974 evokes the life and work of Salvador Dalí. It felt surreal being able to walk around in a building designed by the famous artist himself, knowing that he spent hours and days here, creating and displaying his art. It is described as “the world’s largest Surrealist object”. The heart of the museum is the town’s theatre that Dalí knew as a child. This is where Dali held his first exhibition at the age of 14 and it is only a few blocks away from where he was born in Figueres, Spain.

Dalí Theatre-Museum
Mw at my Art Hero’s own museum!!

The Dalí Theatre-Museum includes some of the painter’s greatest masterpieces and includes over 2,100 works from every moment and in every medium of his artistic activity. Around every corner there is a new piece of art, even the building and entrances are pieces of art work. In addition to Dalí paintings from all decades of his career, there are Dalí sculptures, 3-dimensional pieces and other curiosities from Dalí’s imagination. A big attraction is the 3-dimensional  living-room installation with custom made furniturethat looks like the face of Mae West when viewed from a certain spot. I usually don’t take photos inside museums or art galleries but made an exception and took just a couple of photos here. I got a very grainy shot of most of the face.

 A glass dome crowns the stage of the old theatre, and Dalí is buried in a crypt below the stage floor. The space formerly occupied by the audience has been transformed into a courtyard open to the sky, with nude figurines standing in the old balcony windows.

A Dalí installation inside a full-sized automobile, inspired by rainy taxi (1938), is parked near the centre of the space. My photo definitely does not do this piece of art justice.

I could have spent days exploring the museum and reading about his life, but unfortunately we only had an afternoon to spend here before we had to return to Barcelona. This visit was a real experience, a journey into the unique, captivating world of Salvador Dalí. One I will always treasure and definitely hope to repeat someday.

I want my museum to be a single block, a labyrinth, a great surrealist object. It will be [a] totally theatrical museum. The people who come to see it will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream.

— Salvador Dalí

Think twice before running with the Bulls

My friend and I backpacked through Spain for a month in 2005 and we started our Spanish adventure by attending the running of the bulls in Pamplona. The bullrun is part of the festival of San Fermines, a festival that runs between July 6 and 14th each year. The first ‘race’ is held on July 7th, and then each morning thereafter. Bull running is on the bucket list of many people, but the thought of actually running never even crossed my mind, I was only there to watch and to enjoy the Saint Fermines festivities with my friend.

The bull running kicks off at 8 o’clock in the morning and barely lasts for a few minutes. The tradition is more than 423 years old and I couldn’t wait to see it for myself. This race takes place through the narrow streets of Pamplona and may be the most dangerous thing to do in Spain.

Seeing it on TV and seeing it live are two different things. Right before the run the bulls are often confined to small dark enclosures before being forced out into the menacing crowd on the street, frequently through the use of electric shock prods. As the bulls try to get their bearings the runners immediately begin hitting them with rolled-up newspapers to get them going. These bulls are panicking and literally running for their lives among the hundreds of runners. The bulls often lose their footing, slamming into walls, sometimes breaking bones and otherwise injuring themselves, or into people in their desperate attempt to flee from their attackers. The runners were also trampling each other, falling over each other to get away from the panicking bulls.

It is estimated that 56% of the runners are foreigners, a lot who travelled to Spain especially for this event. Participants must be over 18, physically fit and not be under the influence of alcohol to participate in the run. We actually knew a couple of guys who ran that first morning and I am sure that some of them were still under the influence from the previous night as why else would they have done something this crazy!!

Huge oxen were also released with the bulls. These served the purpose of guiding the bulls to run in the correct direction towards the bullring. We saw as some of the bulls got turned around and some even ran into the fences set up to guide them towards the bullring. Men and even some young children run in front of the bulls, provoking them and then trying to outrun them into the bullring. This cruel race originated when the bulls were originally transported to the bullrings to get sold. Men would try to speed up the process by running in front of the bulls to provoke them, a process which turned into a competition.

Running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain
The bulls enter the arena

All the runners hopefully make it into the bullring and that is then where they all have some very cruel fun with the bulls. The bulls are led into the bullring and then teased by hundreds of people who would then trample each other to get out of the way of these angry bulls. Everyone was wearing white pants and shirts, accessorized with a red bandana around the neck or waist. One legend says the look is meant to honor San Fermin, as the white symbolizes sainthood and the red the fact that he was martyred. Others say they are dressed like the butchers who originated the tradition. But did you know bulls are colour blind? Bulls are easily provoked and follow movements fast. They follow the speed of the runners, not the red colour of their uniform.

Running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain
People teasing the bull and then trying to get out of the terrified animals way

This race is sometimes fatal. Since 1924, when officials started keeping record, 15 people have died. Every year, around 200-300 are injured in the race. Most people get injured when they fall down or fall into a barrier meant to keep the bulls on the course. We saw some of these injuries as people got trampled or thrown by the bulls.

The whole scene was quite disturbing so we left before the end as I was afraid that they would actually kill these bulls. It was here that I got a disliking for this event. And after watching a real bullfight, I have turned completely against this “sport”.

Is the running of the bulls still on your bucket list?

Friday Facts: Sagrada Família

Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is like a blast from the past as it was in 2005 that I had a quick glimpse of this amazing building.

Did you know….

The La Sagrada Família will take longer to complete than the Egyptian pyramids. It started in 1882 and is expected to be completed in 2026. The Great Pyramid, by comparison, only took 20 years. But like the Pyramids this Cathedral also doubles as a buriel place.  Antoni Gaudi, the chief designer, is buried in the crypt below the church.

Gaudí disliked straight lines and angles because they don’t often appear naturally. Instead, he based his design on the swirling curves of nature. If you’re a keen observer, you’ll find trees, water flows, flowers, sunlight, etc. everywhere in the interior.

Sagrada Família
Rene and me on one of the walkways of Sagrada Família

It is the most visited tourist attraction in Spain with 2-3 million tourists a year! It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984.


The Blood sport Bullfighting should be banned.

Bullfighting in Spain is deeply controversial. It is called a “fine art” by its supporters and a “blood sport” by its critics.

Years ago, during the famous bullrun, I had the opportunity to watch a live bullfight in Pamplona, Spain. I have always associated Spain with bullfights so it came as no surprise that I would want to watch a bullfight while being in Spain. I thought that I knew what happened during a bullfight, but seeing it live opened my eyes. After watching this gruesome ‘sport’ up close I will never recommend it or even condone it again.

So that you can decide for yourself whether you want to see one when you are in Spain I will tell you a bit about what happens during a bullfight. 

The bullfight started with a parade in the ring where everybody involved in the bullfight presented themselves to the public. It looked like they were getting ready for a show. Moments later a door opened and the first bull entered and the spectacle started for real. It was cruel and I had to force myself to watch and not to leave.

The bullfighter entered on horseback, armed with barbed sticks. He then proceeded to tease the bull and stuck these small barbed sticks into the charging bull’s back. By the time the bullfighter had finished with this ‘ritual’, blood was dripping down the bulls back and you could see that he was in pain.

Next the bullfighter armed himself with a lance which he stuck into the flank of the bull. Only after the bull had been tired out and stuck full of holes did the bullfighter get off his horse and take up his muleta. A muleta is the red cloth that he used to coax the bull.

The bullfight ended quite bloody when the bullfighter used his sword to kill the bull. Personally I thing there is nothing noble or sportsman like about this.

Here are the Arguments For Bullfighting.

  • Bullfighting is an art form that should be seen as an equivalent to dance, or music.
  • It is a traditional in many areas and in places like Spain, it is living history. Bullfighting has existed for much of human history, and within Spain it dates back at least 1,000 years.
  • Bullfighters are skilful and behind all the pomp and ritual, the bull is actually being killed in a very efficient manner.
  • The bull is usually eaten after a fight, so its death is not in vain.
  • Far more bulls are killed to be eaten by abattoirs than die in the bullring.
  • In some places bullfighting is perceived as being an integral part of the regional culture.

Here are some Arguments Against Bullfighting

  • The practice is barbaric. Essentially, bullfighting is ritually slaughtering an animal purely for fun.
  • Tradition and recognition does not make it art. Other once-traditional animal sports, from the fierce lion-tiger battles of Ancient Rome to medieval bear-baiting and cockfighting, are now deem wrong,so why is bullfighting any different.
  • As there is no competitive element, bullfighting cannot strictly be called a sport, but it is seen as an art form by its fans.
  • It is not just the bulls who suffer, horses are also injured and suffer death (not to mention the bullfighters themselves, who can be maimed or killed as well).
  • The death of the bull is extended and painful, making it unnecessarily cruel. The argument that the bullfighter kills the bull efficiently is clearly questionable, if anything, the customs of the spectacle demand that the animal’s death is drawn out, rather than quick.
  • People who are for bullfighting play down the amount of bulls killed, but figures gathered by animal rights groups suggest that 2,500 bulls are killed in Portugal each year and in Spain the figure is closer to 30,000.
  • Bullfighting inflicts unspeakable suffering on the animals, from the confusion and panic created by the crowd noise to the physical abuse the bull will sustain throughout the spectacle. The death might be quick, but the fight is barbaric.

Compassionate people understand that this cruel and bloody spectacle is needless and unjustifiable violence, and opposition to bullfighting is growing both within Spain and around the world. And each year there has been a decline in the number of bullfights.

What do you think?

Are you for or against bullfighting?