A Travellerspoint blog


Dabbling in Dali

The lovely Figueres.

Wed 18 September: We were looking forward to Figueres, home of Salvador Dali, and one of the only two Servas stays we managed to organise while on the road this trip, the other being Ana in Gijon.

Briefly about Servas: It’s an international mutual-hospitality organisation, kind-of couch-surfing for grown-ups. Founded in Europe in the wake of WW2, there’s an emphasis on peace-building through increased inter-cultural knowledge and fellowship. For most people, it involves registering as a host, and then using the directory of host families in a country you’re visiting to seek accommodation while travelling. Only two rules: (a) no money changes hands and (b) you can’t stay one night (that would undermine the ‘getting-to-know-you bit). You can stay longer if invited and it suits and the norm is to leave a small souvenir gift from NZ with the hosts. Worked wonderfully for us in France four years ago and we’ve also stayed with host families in the States and Canada. Our trip this time was bookended with pre-arranged Servas stays in Prague and Barcelona with people who had stayed with us. That’s just the best! We have about 4 or 5 international guests each year. We’d thoroughly recommend it – Phil is now the Lower North Island Coordinator for Servas NZ! Think about signing up; talk to Phil or go to the net (: NZ page here.

Figueres is not far from the border with France, a couple of hours north of Barcelona. We learned, though, that whether we were back in Spain or not depended very much on who you spoke to. For most people, we were not! We were in Catalonia, the land of the Catalans. The Spanish were unwelcome invaders and the parallels with the English occupation of Ireland pre 1921 felt very real to us. That all really came into focus when we got to Barcelona though, so we’ll save it for the next post.

We arrived at Miquel’s place in Figueres by 1pm, as requested, to a great welcome and lunch and to allow Miquel to settle us in before he headed to his work as a teacher. He did the 2pm to 8pm shift with adult students at the local high school, using the facilities after the day-students had left. Apparently not uncommon.

From the outside, Miquel’s looked like it would be an apartment; it was in fact a large terraced house with huge basement, and very large garden, brimming with fruit trees, and some vegetables struggling in the dry, dusty heat. We knew from the Servas directory that Miquel was Vegan but discovered it was for him a religious commitment; a part of his following of an Indian Guru, Sathya Sai Baba! He was a lovely man, even if we shared neither his food or faith commitments.

After finding a park a few blocks away; nothing doing on the street, we wandered the few blocks up into town, and the Dali ‘Theatre’ – a gallery actually establish by the artist in his lifetime. Just as extraordinary and bizarrely wonderful as we’d expected. Unfortunate though, that some of his best known (to us anyway) pieces (Last Supper, Christ of St John of the Cross) were of course in overseas galleries. But there was plenty to get the juices flowing:

The outside and the entrance:


The what-we-thought-of as-Dali Dali:

The WTF Dali:

Some interesting different stuff, probably a period with a name :)

This an interesting double-take large painting. Is this an old bloke's portrait or a young woman's bod??? :)


Best of the rest!


..and Dali's extraordinary take on the Sistine Chapel ceiling :)


Anyway, reeling a little from all that, we wandered home via a supermarket and, though Miquel wasn't home, we decided to respect the kaupapa and cook ourselves a tomato pasta dinner, sans dead animal :)

Thursday 19 September:

Miquel generously offered to show us something of his Figueres. We headed east to the coast, through 'Roses' to the lighthouse at 'Far de cap de Creus'. Some terrific views.


Then back through Cadaques, whose main claim to fame is the house that Dali lived in. He developed and expanded it up the hill, for we Wellingtonians, it brought to mind Sir Ian Athfield's Ngaio sprawl! Athfield wins, though:)


...and back to the very pretty Roses for a hastily herded walking tour (we had booked lunch - Vegan of course - back in Figueres).


Then a haircut for Phil - given the lack of language connection, I'm not sure whether it was me or the barber who was the more nervous, while MC took off for a wander (of course!) and found another church she thought was simply beautiful, and restful enough for Phil to go see and enjoy as well. She was right! Just lovely. The usual skewered Saint Sebastian offset by a rather gorgeous painting of the Emmaus scene from Luke's gospel.


Miquel was to be back early for his equivalent of a house group meeting so we planned to head out for dinner to give him some space. A short break at home though, to bake probably the 4th or 5th loaf of sourdough of the trip then we headed out. Randomly found a great little tapas restaurant with, oh joy, a great little range of bottled craft beers! Then a brief wander around Figueres by night, and home to discover Miquel's amazement at Phil's bread baking. He explained he'd forgotten to tell us his oven didn't work and was staggered to discover it had worked for us. There's a lesson in there somewhere. Not knowing we couldn't do something, we just did it. Miquel became one of at least three people we left committed to baking sourdough in our wake :)


Next morning, continuing south to Barcelona via a delayed birthday celebration on the Costa Brava! Watch this space.

Posted by philandmc 18:00 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Negotiating the North

Santiago de Compostella, Asturia, Cantabria, Basque Country

Next day – Monday 9 September – we awoke on a different planet. Temperatures had dropped 10 degrees, from the high 20s to 18!! And it was wet as! This was to be our climate for the next 4 or 5 days and the cool snap seemed to have affected the whole region.

Our next target was Gijon on the Spanish north coast but we planned a brief stop in Santiago de Compostela. Most obvious sign of our shift from Portugal to Spain was an increase in the Motorway speed limit from 120 to 130kph!!


We had heard of many people who had walked the camino to Santiago de Compostela, and had both enjoyed film ‘The Way’ so thought we should check it out. A place of pilgrimage over many centuries; it also provided a good spot for a lunch break on a 5 hour car trip. Apparently, a local hermit followed a star, sometime in the 9th century to discover the remains of St James (Santiago), instantly receiving both regal and papal favour, and generating a place of pilgrimage third only to Jerusalem and Rome. In the early years, apparently a well conducted Santiagran pilgrimage could in a Holy Year generate remission for a lifetime’s sin! Quite where Jesus came into this is a bit murky. No wonder there was a reformation!

As we walked up the hill into the central square in front of the church, we came across many tired walkers arriving, collapsing in the square on the cobblestones. Others greeting and congratulating fellow sojourners who had also completed the walk. There was a great air of achievement, joy, satisfaction and camaraderie. We visited the church, but with much renovation going on, it was difficult to get a real sense of it as a sacred space rather than a building site.


Then onto Gijon (pronounced with that ‘hoick’ more common to Afrikaans that we found utterly undoable) where we were very warmly greeted by our Servas host Ana Garcia and her 20 year old daughter, Pilar. They lived in an apartment building on 12th floor. Parking in cities and towns can be a challenge. Ana came with us and helped us find a free park close by and gather up our bags. Ana welcomed us with a delicious vegetarian dinner during which time we learned about Gijon and Asturia and as Pilar was studying languages and classics, gained some deeper insights into Asturian culture and language. The apartment was small, but the welcome huge.

Portugal had seemed relatively homogeneous; the concept of Portugal had originally developed in the north of the country while the Moors (Muslims) were occupying the South. They were driven out in the 12th century by the ‘King of Portugal’ and the newly identifiable country gradually expanded south, as far as we know with relatively few objections. Interesting to read somewhere that anti-Muslim prejudice is far less strong in Portugal because of the deep and often positive impact the moors had on that country.

Travelling across the north coast of Spain, on the other hand, one becomes very aware of the strong regional traditions and previously independent nations that are now absorbed as regions of a unified Spain (and France). How much this usurpation is accepted by the locals seems to vary tremendously. In Catalonia, as we’ll see in a subsequent post, it continues to be determinedly resisted. But before we got there, we travelled through Asturia, Cantabria, and Basque country. Asturia was the only part of Spain never to have been occupied by the Moors.

Tuesday 10 September: Ana was working as a physical education teacher in a local high school , so we headed out with her suggestions for a self-guided walk around Gijon. While out , suddenly there was torrential rain. Fortunately we were prepared with an umbrella, which helped and it was a bit of a foggy grey day around the waterfront and historical area. So we did some shopping; bought shoes!


That evening we went out with Ana for a traditional Asturian meal, yet again meat and fish heavy but utterly delicious. Two great memories; one food one drink.


Asturia is renowned for its cider, a slightly different animal to the one we know, less carbonated and rather cloudy but mostly known for the rather incredible pouring method. 95% of production is locally drunk. In specialist “ciderias” – we were in one – your bottle of cider is put to one side by the waiter, who periodically returns to fill the (shared) table glasses, rather flamboyantly and from a great height! This is supposed to refresh and enliven the drink and one is expected to skull it down immediately, while the fizz has been activated by the pouring technique. MC struggled to keep obliging and became rebellious, being a hobbit and not wishing to become drunk, to the chagrin of the staff. Phil and Ana on the other hand….

Here's a bit of video..

The memorable food was “Cachopo”, which Lonely Planet describes as “a local speciality, breaded veal stuffed with ham, cheese and vegetables.” So we had to sample that, alongside a delicious vegan salad and fresh fish , chosen before being cooked. The Asturians clearly believe in very generous portions of everything. We had to ask for a doggie bag to take some home.


Wednesday 11 September: A touring day; we began our sojourn east to Barcelona. First stop was Vilavisciosa, a very pretty spot where the river came down to the sea. We enjoyed a walk and some lovely views.


Then on to Tadoniz, a pretty fishing village at the base of a windy hill road.


Some pretty views on the way to our next stop, 'Praya de Gulpiyuri ', which turned out to be a beach in the middle of a paddock!!


Finally for the day, on to Suances, with a couple of abortive attempts to visit a not-open-to-visitors-as-it-was-supposed-to-be cider factory, and some caves that had only one ticket avalable for the remotely-plausible tour time. Suances was a pretty little beach spot where we'd booked a couple of nights in a lovely aprtment: 'Apartamento sol y mar'. Some issues getting in because the owner knew no English and our Spanish was non-existent. But we had a lovely couple of days and made use of the kitchen. Spag Bol one night, then out came the cataplana for a sausauge/seafood delight the second. And the fantastic 3 Euro supermarket wines kept coming!! And for about the fourth time on the trip, the touing sourdough bug was put to work and we made some bread! The weather was starting to improve so we braved a rather windy beach; even Phil had a dip in, honestly, what seemed like near-freezing water. Phil was knackered so otherwise a quiet day!

However, MC went walking on a round trip up the hill to the township and stunning views and a walk back down the hillside past grazing horses and farmland back down to sea level. She also enjoyed a long walk around the coastline on a long promenade walkway and thoroughly enjoyed the crepes both savoury and sweeet.


Friday 13 September: After a restful couple of days, and with the weather finally improving, we continued East. The plan had been to stop in San Sebastian, an apparently gorgeous place and tourist mecca in the heart of Basque country. That didn't happen (see next post) but on the way to our next stop that turned out to be in France (!!), we enyoed a couple of stops. First was the delightful little medieval village of Santilla del Mar; Lonely Planet says "They say Santillana is the town of the three lies: not holy (santi), flat (llana) or by the sea (del mar). This medieval jewel is in such a perfect state of preservation, with its bright cobbled streets, flower-filled balconies and huddle of tanned stone and brick buildings – it’s a film set, surely? Well, no. People still live here, passing their grand precious houses down from generation to generation. In summer, the streets get busy with curious visitors." It was lovely:




and we rather enjoyed an unexpectedly interesting and absorbing diocesan museum with religious art and other antiquities, mostly dating back centuries but with some interesting contemporary stuff:

Our second stop was Santander, another lovely, if larger and more modern city. We managed to park between the tourist attraction of Magdalena (Palace and Peninsular) with park and castle, and the beach, where we enjoyed a swim and sunbathe, and lunch, in the improving conditions. Water not yet wonderfully warm, but starting to get there!!




Next - St Jean de Luz and a wee disaster!

Posted by philandmc 14:20 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

We interrupt this transmission.....

The Incredible Sagrada Familia

Most of you will have heard of the Sagrada Familia in Catalonia's capital Barcelona. If you have, you've either been, or it's on your bucket list. We're way behind on our trip blogging, because we've been doing too much tripping but last Monday we got to go and we just have to share this.


Hands down the highlight of our trip, and there have been a few. The Sagrada Familia (Holy Family in Catalan) is a church that has been under construction since 1882! The masterpiece of modernist architect Antoni Gaudi, it is due finally for completion in 2026, the one-hundreth anniversary of Gaudi's death. There are plenty of other fantastic examples of Gaudi's work in Barcelona (we'll save those for our Barcelona post) but the SF is out on its own.

For some odd reason, they call this in Catalan a 'temple' and use this word when translated into English there. We kept finding this jarring; there are no Christian 'temples' we know of. It's not a cathedral, 'cos Barcelona already has one of those. On the other hand, "Church' just doesn't do it justice.


We were absolutely awestruck. Phil was in tears. Such a healing and spiritual experience after some of the historic monstrosities we've encountered.

The SF is to have three facades; two of which are complete (the Nativity Facade and the Passion Facade; the former the only thing Gaudi lived to see (almost) completed). The third is to be the Glory facade, highlighting Christ's Resurrection and Kingship, the latter ones completed according to instructions an designs left by Gaudi. A key difference is that all artwork, sculptures etc sit on the outside of the SF, leaving the inside for something really special.

Here's the Nativity Facade.


Gaudi started with this facade work because he knew it would be attractive, and he needed to foster financial support (the place was initially funded entirely through donations). He knew the planned starkness of the passion facade would be off-putting if that's where he was to start. "Dedicated to the Passion of Jesus it is intended to reflect the suffering of Christ in his crucifixion. That is why he conceived a more austere and simplified façade, without ornamentation, highlighting the nakedness of the stone, resembling a skeleton reduced to the simple lines of its bones". Here it, as completed by another sculptor, Josep Subirachs. Many will recognise scenes from the Gospel passion narratives.





Peter's denial:


The betrayal by Judas:

Others more obvious:



But the breath-taking, gob-smacking, overwhelming, jaw-dropping, utterly incredibe experience is the interior. "There are no straight lines in nature" said Gaudi who designed the inside to reflect nature, pillars spreading randomly and interwining like a forest canopy. Utterly, absolutely fantastic. You have to go!



We were sad to leave; in fact we got kicked out prematurely because they were closing for some special function. So we missed our trip up one of the towers, but even that could not extinguish the overwhelming nature of the experience. The fourth-last picture, the rather naked facade, is where the Glory facade is going.

A fantastic sacred place in which it is impossible not to worship. We'll be back someday!


Posted by philandmc 08:00 Archived in Spain Tagged sagrada familia Comments (0)

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