Darlene Foster's Blog

Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category

In a recent post, I wrote about a day trip to the Monastery of Montserrat high up in the mountains outside of Barcelona. As well as the impressive Basilica which houses a famous Black Madonna, there is a wonderful art museum on site. It is not very big but holds some impressive pieces of art and artefacts. It was worth an hour of my time.

From the website –

Most of the works of art that are housed in the Montserrat Museum have been donated to the monastery by private citizens. The Monks at the Monastery see it as their duty to display the artworks for those visiting Montserrat as a promotion of culture. This ideology originates from a previous monk at Montserrat called Father Bonaventura Ubach. He collected archaeological, ethnological and zoological artefacts during travels to the Middle East and brought them back to the Monastery.

I would like to share a few of my favourites.

At the entrance, a Guadi inspired sculpture of St George, the patron saint of Catalonia

Old Fisherman, painted by Pablo Picasso in 1895 when he was just 14 years old.

Unhappy Nelly, by Edgar Degas, 1885

Madeleine by Ramon Casas, 1892

The Tapestry Merchant by Maria Fortuny, 1870. I love the detail in this painting.

Café des Incoherents, Montmartre by Santiago Rusiñol

Le Givre, temps gris (Frost, Grey Weather) by Claude Monet 1877

Here is a short and very amateur video of the room of Black Madonna paintings and sculptures in the museum.

An then, as I left the museum, I noticed someone had left their clothes neatly folded in an alcove outside. There could be a story there. (and you wonder where I get my ideas!)

I stopped to purchase a jar of honey made on site by the monks and was thankful for a very special day in Montserrat.

During our stay in Tarragona, we took a bus to the mountain monastery of Montserrat, a place I have been wanting to visit for some time. The bus wound its way up into the Montserrat mountains in what seemed like hours. Why would anyone want to build a monastery all the way up here?  Our guide, a pleasant and well informed young man named Victor, explained it to us in three languages, English, French and Spanish.

The Montserrat mountains through the bus window.

Legend has it that shepherds discovered a Black Madonna in 880 AD when they heard music and saw a light coming from a cave high in the mountains. The statue, the oldest Black Madonna in Europe, is only 60 cm tall but when the bishop from the nearest town came to have it removed and taken to his cathedral, it proved impossible to move. So pilgrims began coming to the cave to see it. Eventually an abbey was built around the cave.

Once we reached our destination, the view from the top was incredible.

The sanctuary is built against the mountain to include the Madonna in her cave.

 

The Bascilica of Montserrat

Montserrat is home to the Sanctuary of Our Lady and a Benedictine monastery and has, for almost 1000 years, served pilgrims and visitors to the mountain. The building has been destroyed a few times over the years, including during the Napoleonic wars, when many of the monks were killed. It was also damaged in the Spanish civil war (1936 – 1939). The building standing now was completed in 1949. Many pilgrms come to venerate the patron saint of Catalonia daily in La Santa Cava at the back of the cathedral. Montserrat has been modernised to continue attending to the needs of pilgrims one thousand years after it was originally founded.

Sculptures of monks killed by Napoleonic soldiers. Sad times.

 

Inside the chapel

Pilgrims and visitors lineup to ascend the stairs and view the Virgin.

The Virgin’s Chapel from inside the Basilica

The Black Madonna

Visitors are not allowed to take pictures while paying homage to the Black Madonna. But Victor explained that from inside the basilica, from the floor of the chapel, I could take pictures. Later by enlarging and cropping, I was able to get a fairly good picture. It is amazing to see and left me awestruck.

Saints in the courtyard of the Basilica surrounded by amazing views.
A funicular takes visitors even higher up into the mountains
It was wonderful to wander around the grounds and take in the peaceful scenery.

Montserrat means Saw Mountain, as the range looks like the serrated edge of a saw and is the name of the Mountains and the sanctuary. It is a perfect place for walkers with many hiking trails available. A place to enjoy nature and contemplate life. There is also a fabulous art museum onsite which I will tell you about in another post.

I purchased a jar of honey made by the monks. I left feeling refreshed and at peace, satisfied I could tick off another place on that long list.

I love everything Gaudi and was delighted to learn that his birthplace was very near where we were staying on our recent holiday in the province of Tarragona. So, of course, we made a visit. Reus is another charming Spanish town with its own flavour. It is known as an important producer of wines and spirits, texiles and the birthplace of architect Antoni Gaudí.

Plaza del Mercadal

We found the old town square, which is the best place to start when visiting these towns as everything stems from there. There are always plenty of cute coffee shops with outdoor terraces, great for people watching and grabbing a snack. 

An interesting building around the square is Casa Navas, a house built in 1901 in the Catalan Art Noveau style designed by a contemporary of Antoni Gaudi, for the textile dealer, Joaquim Navas. Surprisingly, there are no buildings designed by Gaudi in Reus.

Casa Navas

In the town hall stands a bust of their most famous resident born in 1852, the son of a coppersmith. He left Reus at age 16 when he moved to Barcelona to study and begin his amazing career.

The bust of Gaudi in the town hall.

A modern building houses the Gaudi Centre Reus dedicated to the life and work of the brilliant architect. The excellent interactive displays on three floors include examples of his inovative structures and details of where he got his ideas, many of them from nature. I noticed a number of school children being taken through while I visited. They appeared to be enjoying the centre. 

Inside the Gaudi Centre


A replica of part of Park Güell in Barcelona


The San Pedro church where Gaudi was baptised and confirmed.

I wandered down the side streets, imagining I was treading where Gaudi once walked as a young boy, his imagination already running wild. Looking down I noticed the paving stones are Gaudi inspired.

And then I came across this intriguing statue on the side of a building. Fortunately there was an explanation on a plaque.

The figure is called the Jew of Arrabal. In the mid-eighteenth century, the owner of this building erected a satirical statue pointing an accusing finger to the home of a neighbour he had had a legal dispute with. It became a popular sculpture in the city over the years. The original, from 1768, was badly damaged and has been recreated using the same colours.

These are the gems you find when you venture down the side streets of these wonderful Spanish towns. I’m sure Gaudi had passed by the statue many times.

Note – I didn’t take many pictures of this visit as my camera’s battery died just as we arrived. The pictures shown were taken with my cell phone and aren’t very good. But I hope you get the idea.

I love history and can never get enough of it. Visiting sights and structures from long ago makes it all seem so much more real to me. On a recent visit to Tarragona in Catalonia, Spain, much to my delight, I was immersed in it.

The entire city of Tarragona was deemed a World Heritage Site in 2000. And I can see why. Roman ruins are everywhere and appear naturally amongst more modern apartment blocks, restaurants, coffee shops and commercial buildings. It is fitting as, after all, they were there first.

Amphitheatres always intrigue me and the one in Tarragona, built in the time of Augustus, is quite intact and overlooks the Mediterranean sea. Imagine watching a play there. It is still used for reenactments of gladiator fights, plays and even weddings.

Imagine having lunch with a view of the sea and the amphitheatre!

Not far from the amphitheatre are the remains of the Roman Circus built in the first century which was used for horse and chariot races. It doesn’t take much to imagine the excitement of such an event.

A museum inside the Roman Circus held interesting artefacts

The old indoor market, Mercat Central, still sells fresh fish, meat, fruits and vegetables and was worth a visit. I bought some lovely tea to bring home.

Coming across the Forum, the remains of a Roman street and basilica, in a residential area, was incredible. It was as if timelines had blurred together. And I had the place almost to myself!

This would have been part of someone’s home two thousand years ago. I touched the walls and my Roman heart sang.
The base of a sculpture

Tarragona is famous for its Concurs de Castells where people called Castellers in matching outfits and sashes, compete for building the tallest human pyramid. This exciting and well-attended event is held every other October at Plaza de Toros, the former bull ring. (Bullfighting is outlawed in Catalonia.) I found posters for the event and in the middle of the Rambla Nova, the city’s main business street, is a bronze sculpture commemorating the .

A poster for Concurs de Castells. Look at all the people cheering them on.
Hubby contemplating climbing the tower of people.

Tarragona has wonderful buildings, fountains and statues everywhere and much to see is in walking distance.

Mosaic on the sidewalk outside the theatre

As if all this wasn’t amazing enough, we drove 4 kilometres outside the city on a quest to find a two-thousand-year-old Roman Aqueduct. We drove past the entrance three times but eventually found the parking lot. A short hike through the forest and there it stood as it has for centuries. I truly felt time stand still.

The Romans built things to last!

I touched the stones that centuries of folks before me have, and all that history ran down my arm and into my heart. I was so happy.

This is my submission to Stevie Turner’s Short Story Competition for June. Why not submit one yourself. I’m sure you have some short stories kicking around that you could dust off, polish and try your luck. You can enter here 

This one is non fiction. Let me know what you think.

If the Shoe Fits

by Darlene Foster

It is no secret that my love of shoes is almost equal to my love of travel. A few years ago, when my husband and I visited his parents in Spain for the first time, I was as fascinated by the enticing scenery as I was with the amazing selection of shoes. I purchased a pair of shoes within days of our arrival and, as we were traveling light and on a tight budget, had promised myself that one gorgeous pair of Spanish leather shoes would do.

Later on in the holiday, we rented a car and took a leisurely drive along the Costa Blanca north of Alicante. The cloudless blue sky held only the sun which glittered off the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean sea. Any worries we may have had, disappeared. We came upon the charming fishing village of Altea. White washed houses climbed up the hill. A bright blue domed cathedral sat in the centre overlooking the sea. Postcard perfect. We decided it would be a great place to stop for lunch. As we strolled along the esplanade trying to decide among the appealing restaurants, my husband suggested we stop in at one of the many shoe stores as he was looking for a new pair of sandals.

I had made up my mind not to buy any more shoes but thought it wouldn’t hurt to look. I should have known better. The moment I walked in the door, my eyes descended upon the most exquisite little pair of red, patent leather, needle-point shoes I had ever seen. Those ‘Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz’ shoes were calling my name.

Of course, I had to try them on and of course, they were a perfect fit. At least the left shoe fit. I had slipped on a cobblestone street a few days earlier and sprained my right foot. It was still quite swollen so I didn’t even attempt to try on the right shoe. To make matters worse (or better depending on how you looked at it) the shoes were reasonably priced. I forgot my resolve and convinced myself I couldn’t live without them. The sales clerk quickly put them in a bag and took my Euros. It was two o’clock and she was eager to close the store for siesta time.

We found a great restaurant overlooking the sea and had an enjoyable meal. I was so happy you would have thought I had won the lottery. My husband laughed as I kept looking in the bag to make sure my new babies were OK. I held the package on my lap for safekeeping as we wound our way along the coast back to my in-laws place, two hours away. As soon as we arrived, I ran into the house to show off my newly acquired treasures.

When I pulled them from the bag, my father-in-law noticed the stickers on the bottom and casually said, “Did you realize that one shoe is size 36 and the other is size 37?”

“What! You must be joking!” I looked at the stickers. He was not kidding.

I was horrified. My legs became weak and I felt sick. There was no way I could wear a pair of shoes two different sizes. And we were going back to Canada in a couple of days.

I broke the sad news to my husband who shrugged and simply said, “Don’t worry, we’ll go back tomorrow and exchange it. After all, they now have another pair just like it that they won’t be able to sell.”

What a sweetheart. I remembered then why I married him. He was a man who understood the importance of a fabulous pair of shoes to a girl.

We got up early the next morning, took the much faster, toll highway back to Altea where the store clerk gladly exchanged the size 37 shoe for the correct one. There was no time for sight seeing, as our rental car had to be back by noon. No matter, I had my adorable red shoes, both the same size. I wear them often, and invariably get a compliment.

Then I have to tell my story.

I promise this will be the last post about the fabulous Lorca Easter Parade. It’s just that the pictures didn’t entirely depict the excitement so I thought I would share a few of the videos I took. Performing horses and chariots need to be shown in action. So here are a few short videos to make you feel like you were there. Try watching in full screen if you can.

Trick riding, impressive!

Chariots in action, so exciting.

Fabulous performing horses and marching band.

Women displaying their horse handling skills.

I do hope you enjoyed these videos. Thanks for all the great comments on this event.

Easter week, Semana Santa, provides the most impressive and emotional fiestas here in Spain. Processions and parades around the country mix historic, biblical, artistic, cultural and social themes. Members of the different brotherhoods, dressed in their characteristic robes, parade through the streets while dozens of costaleros on foot carry ornate religious icons called pasos. This is a spectacular sight whether you are religious or not. No where do they do this better than in the town of Lorca where in 2007 their Holy Week was declared a Festival of International Tourist Interest. Its origin dates back centuries ago. I was lucky to have witnessed this event last week and wrote about what we saw before the parade started in the previous post.

As promised, here are some pictures of the actual event.

I was especially in awe of the horse-drawn chariots and performing horses. At times I felt like I was watching a scene from the movie Ben Hur.

The magnificent robes depict biblical and historical scenes

The lavish floats were incredible and kept me spellbound as they passed by.

I found the religious icons and penitents very moving

Nazarenos or penitents

Costaleros,wearing the colours of their brotherhood, carrying ornate religious icons

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane

All ages take part in these events

The youngest parade participant representing the White Brotherhood, Paso Blanca

A number of brotherhoods participated in the parade, the two largest being Paso Blanca (White Brotherhood) and Paso Azul (Blue Brotherhood). There is much friendly competition between these two fraternities trying to out do each other with costumes, floats and icons each year.  Onlookers are encouraged to cheer for a group creating fun audience participation. We sat on the Paso Blanca side where we all waved white handerchiefs and yelled, “Viva Blanca”, cheering as the white group passed by. The drums and marching bands added to the excitement. You couldn’t help get caught up in the atmosphere.

A truly impressive and unique experience.


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