Category Archives: Spain’s Towns and Cities

I finally made it to Barcelona!

I realise I’ve only recently bombarded you with pictures from a trip to Lyon and now I’m about to whack you over the head with another rash of snaps, this time of beautiful Barcelona. But before anyone’s staightjacketed inner globetrotter gets their knickers in a funk, I would like to assure you that your travel envy is (sadly!) misplaced: I’ve not left Toledo so far this year. Until those two trips, that is, both of which happened in the very same week. Madness! Lyon was a last-minute jaunt with a good friend who’s about to leave the country, and the reason I went to  Barcelona was to meet up with a dear friend from London. This was, in fact, my first ever visit to Catalonia.

And, if it makes you feel any better, I came back with a stonking cold and a severe case of conjunctivitis. My eyes swelled up so bad, I had to turn off Skype for two days – I was just too afraid my mum would see me in this state!

Barcelona Harbour

Barcelona flower

Barcelona Bubbles

Here are my only two OK-ish pics from inside Sagrada Familia:

Sagrada Familia Windows

Sagrada familia organ

Organ pipes, in case anyone’s wondering

La Sagrada Familia in the distance - surrounded by construction machinery. It's due for completion in 2026. or 2028.

La Sagrada Familia in the distance – surrounded by construction machinery. It’s due for completion in 2026. Or 2028. Or whenever.

A bit more Gaudi, this time from Parque Güell:

Park Güell fence

 

Barcelona harbour:

We took a ride up to Montjuïc in the cable car, an installation that can only be described as an ill-conceived disaster.

It was not a busy day. The queue of people in front of us was deceptively short. Nevertheless, we had to wait nearly an hour to be herded into the lift. There is only one single little lift that accommodates ten people. The outside waiting area is bereft of shade, and even though it wasn’t a particularly hot day, we got sweaty and uncomfortable, not to mention a tad cranky. How does this work in the summer at 30+ degrees C, 85% humidity, with lines three or four times as long?! People must be collapsing like dominoes. Is there a fleet of ambulances ready and waiting to cart them off?

Once you get to the top of the tower, there is yet more waiting before they let you get onto the cable car. You might think that the wait would be a prime opportunity to take some great pics, since the platform is encased in glass. But no. The window panes are filthy, every inch covered in greasy finger prints, toddler snot and soft drink splatters. I don’t think they’ve been cleaned, ever, on either side!

The carriage itself holds about 20-30 people, but moving around and enjoying a 360-degree bird’s eye view of the city isn’t an option. You’re packed in like pilchards. My friend and I ended up standing on the “bad side”, of course.

The ride is a short one, a mere few minutes, and once you reach the café on top of the hill, you do actually get a breathtaking view of Barcelona. A jug of sangria helps considerably to mellow the experience. Luckily, there’s no need to take the cable car on the return journey – you can walk back down into town very comfortably.

The main problem seems to be this: There are only TWO cable cars. One each way. There should be at least six of the damn things. Who thought this out?! WHO?!? I want that man, I want him tied to his harebrained creation by the balls, and, above all, I want him to re-do his fucking engineering degree in Germany. How can such a great idea turn into an epic fail? End of rant.

The tower of smudge

Dangling sardine can

…of which there are two. Those two.

Where’s the cake?! Well, there was no cake. Yes, you read that right. No Cake. I and my partner in crime went on a daily chocolate binge instead. We are a diligent pair. Barcelona is full of artisan chocolate shops. There’s no pictorial evidence of our collective sins, though, because my camera does not care for chocolate. No matter how handsome the morsel, it ends up looking like a turd in each and every photo.

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A Weekend of Hurricanes and Virgins

Joaquín is going to fuck up your weekend, my friend told me in a Facebook message. Who is this Joaquín and what has he got to do with my weekend, I wondered.

Joaquín turned out to be a hurricane set to tear through Andalusia last bank holiday weekend, when everyone had made travel plans. Including me. Sigh.

Well, a little wind and rain wasn’t going to deter us, and so my pal Noelia and I embarked on the five-hour drive down south on Friday evening to spend the weekend with some friends who had shamelessly abandoned us in Toledo and moved to Carmona, a small town about 30 minutes east of Seville.

In the end, Joaquín was very considerate, unleashing his unholy fury in the dead of Saturday night while we slept off our dinner.

However, despite being spared a torrential downpour in the daytime, it wasn’t the best weather for taking photos. But I shall post a few of them anyway. Coz my mum likes them…

A handful of shots of Seville:

Seville, River

Thanks for pointing this out, Noelia...

Noelia just making sure I didn’t miss anything.

Sevilla, houses along river

Sevilla Statue with bird

Torre de oro, Sevilla

Sevilla, gipsy church

Seville is obsessed with virgins...

Seville is obsessed with virgins…

A torero and some orange trees are an absolute must!

…and toreros

Seville is a stunner of a city, even on a gloomy day. Oh, and the food! But here’s the one thing I didn’t like: The town centre is thronging with hundreds of  horse drawn carriages, waiting to take tourists around. Nothing wrong with that per se, but at least one quarter of the horses I saw – though scrupulously clean and brushed up to the hilt –  were way too thin, too old and/or clearly unwell. Spain loves bureaucracy – so why is there no veterinary inspection service making sure that the only animals put to work were those that are fit and healthy??? I found this really quite distressing.

Get it sorted, Seville!

Get it sorted, Seville!

And a few shots of Carmona:

Carmona centre

A bar in Carmona, just about to open...

Carmona bar, just about to open…

And more virgins!

More virgins!

...and convent windows like these are designed to keep them that way

Forget chastity belts… how about chastity windows?! This one belongs to a convent, of course.

But it's not just virgins. There's also maids!

There’s also maids! There’s cakes in the back of that car, I could smell them…

Talking of which:

Some Middle-Eastern-inspired treats. Except for that big bulbous chocolate thing on the left, filled with marshmallow and Nutella(!) and scoffed by me.

Some Middle-Eastern-inspired treats. That big bulbous chocolate thing on the left, filled with marshmallow and Nutella(!), was scoffed by me. And no, I didn’t share.

A traditional Spanish dessert called

A traditional Spanish dessert called “leche frita” (fried milk), which is a bit like a semi-solid chunk of custard. Looks better than it tastes, though the sugar/cinnamon coating makes it somewhat enjoyable.

Three Countries in Five Days

After nearly three months of nothing but Toledo (except for the delightful little day trip to Cuenca) I was starting to go a bit stir crazy. The only thing that kept sane was an upcoming trip, which my friend Noelia had organised: Three nights at her friend’s place in Badajoz, Extremadura, just a handful of miles from the Portuguese border. From there, we would invade the neighbouring country and stuff ourselves silly with all the glorious Portuguese food we could cram down our gullets. Then, it was onwards, across the entire country and down to Andalucía for a couple of days, following a kind invitation from one of Noelia’s workmates, who had bequeathed us a lovely flat overlooking the beach.

All you all ready and comfortable? Let’s get started 🙂

Badajoz has some lovely public gardens

Badajoz has some picturesque public gardens…

...and glorious views.

…and glorious views. The town itself has a very southern Spanish flair, although it’s not much more south than Toledo. The Portuguese influence is keenly felt in the architecture, the colours and on restaurant menus. Salt cod and custard tarts galore!

Moving on to Portugal…

Évora's party piece: A Roman temple from the 1st century

Évora’s party piece: A Roman temple from the 1st century

Roman Temple and moi

Hidden gems

Lots of crumbling gems to discover…

...as well as some modern art. Noelia (left), and our hosts Gracia (right) and Lua (centre).

…as well as some modern art.
Noelia (left), and our hosts Gracia (right) and Lua (centre).

One of Évora's stunning residents turning his back on me

One of Évora’s most glamorous residents turning his back on me

The Almendres Cromlech, a few miles from Évora. A megalithic complex erected 8,000 years ago, and pretty well preserved. We just made it in time for sundown.

The Almendres Cromlech, a few miles from Évora city. A megalithic complex erected 8,000 years ago, and pretty well preserved. We just made it in time for sundown.

We're in Elvas now, another historic town settled since the year dot. Just don't ask me what that thing in the middle is...

We’re in Elvas now, another historic town settled since the year dot.
Just don’t ask me what that thing in the middle is supposed to signify…

Like any Portuguese town worth its salt, Elvas has a castle...

Like any Portuguese town worth its salt, Elvas has a castle…

...impossibly steep, cobbled streets...

…impossibly steep, cobbled streets…

...and plenty of tiles. Everywhere.

…and plenty of tiles. Everywhere.

 

And, of course, FOOD! Here we are, waiting for ours. The desserts at that place were to die for.

And, of course, FOOD! Here we are, waiting for ours. The desserts at that place were to die for.

For one last look at Portugal, how about this cork oak? The souvenir shops are full of cork products. You can even send postcards made of cork.

For one last look at Portugal, how about this majestic cork oak? The souvenir shops are full of cork products. You can even send postcards made of cork.

Cádiz Province, Andalucía, here we come!

Andalucía billboard

BEACH BEACH BEACH

BEACH BEACH BEACH!!!

I was very taken with that umbrella ;.)

I was rather taken with that cheery parasol 🙂

Andalucia Castellar

Did I mention the beach...?

Did I mention the beach…?

Noelia and our generous host and indefatigable tour guide, Paco

Noelia with our generous host and indefatigable tour guide, Paco

A cute frog fountain in Tarifa

A cute frog fountain in Tarifa

Soto Grande Boat

 

Gibraltar... that was the third "country" on our trip. We spent the morning there, I made a beeline to M&S, bought as many packs of hot cross buns as I could carry and several boxes of walnut whip. None of which survives.

Gibraltar, the third “country” visited on our trip. We spent a morning there, during which I made a beeline to M&S, heaping as many packs of hot cross buns as I could carry into my basket, as well as several boxes of walnut whip. None of which survives.

Now there’s just one thing missing, one VERY IMPORTANT thing:

Badajoz Cake

 

Cuenca, Cuenca On The Wall…

There seems to be a long-held rivalry over which city is the most beautiful, Toledo or Cuenca. I have learnt to stay well clear of these disputes, especially if my kindly chauffeur happens to be a born-and-bred Toledan, and there’s no humanely dignified way of getting back home to Toledo on public transport.

Instead, I just enjoy the view…

Cuenca's walls are a natural granite formation

Cuenca’s city walls are a natural granite formation

Cuenca View2

 

Cuenca View3

Cuenca View 4

Ewa posing for Maria. In the background, precariously perched on the left, are the famous "hanging houses", dating back to the 15th century.

Eva posing for Maria. Precariously perched in the background on the left are the famous “hanging houses”, dating back to the 15th century.

Cuenca View 5

Cuenca Casco

 

Cuenca Cathedral

 

Cuenca Churches

Cuenca House

Salt cod and roast garlic, all mashed up. (Mental note: Next time, cancel all subsequent social engagements...)

Salt cod and roast garlic, all mashed up. (Mental note: Next time, cancel all subsequent social engagements…)

Miguelitos

 

Cheeeezzzz...cake :)

Cheeeezzzz…cake 🙂

Look Up Look Down: Salamanca Cathedral

A couple of months back, when my friend Noelia and I spent the weekend in Salamanca visiting friends, we trudged all the way up to the top of Salamanca cathedral. The neverending and, at times, devilishly narrow staircases were regulated by a traffic light system to avoid collisions. To my great surprise, everybody seemed to heed the green and red lights. Which proves that the Spanish can follow rules after all 😉

I thought  these pics would make the perfect contribution to travelwithintent’s weekly Look Up Look Down photo challenge.

Salamanca view from Cathedral 1

View of Salamanca from the top of the cathedral

Top view 2Salamanca Cathedral details 1Salamanca cathedral detail 2

View of Salamanca cathedral from the Roman Bridge

View of Salamanca cathedral from the Roman Bridge

Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor – By Day and By Night

Even if you happen to turn up on a dank day, Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor still emanates the kind of majestic splendour you’d expect from the heart of an historic Spanish town 🙂

Plaza Mayor SalamancaPlaza Mayor Angle DayPlaza Mayor Angle NightArches, Town Hall

These three bods there are my pals ;-)

These three bods there are my pals 😉

Town Hall DayTown Hall - NightArches, Girl

Sunshine! That's what we ordered :)

Sunshine! That’s what we ordered 🙂

Plaza Mayor Building

For a more contemporary view of Salamanca, click here.

Contemporary Salamanca

Salamanca is an arresting historic city, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988, and, as you’d expect, replete with ancient buildings oozing with imposing beauty. But the city also has a modern face intermingled with its classic red sandstone glory. I took these pictures while strolling about the old town.

A mural above the entrance of an underground car park

A mural above the entrance to an underground car park

Salamanca Catering & Hoteliery School (I think...?)

Salamanca Catering & Hoteliery School (I think…?)

This lovely piece of wrought ironwork belongs to Casa Lis, the city's Art Nouveau Museum

This lovely piece of wrought ironwork belongs to Casa Lis, the city’s Art Nouveau Museum

Library

Some funky posters gracing the inside of Salamanca’s 15th-century Casa de las Conchas (Shell House).

Cafe mural

A colourful mural. Not sure what it’s supposed to be… but who cares 😉

Clouds

The shading provided by these moody rainclouds and the angle of the evening sun makes it seem like the street lamps are lit, but they aren’t.

Someone's very intent on keeping folk out. The sign reads "Dangerous dogs, forbidden to touch the fence", followed up by this vivid pictorial representation of a bull being chased through the Tormes river, with Salamanca cathedral serving as the backdrop.

Someone’s very intent on keeping folk out. The sign reads “Dangerous dogs, do not touch the fence – a message reinforced by this vivid pictorial representation of a bull being chased through the Tormes river, with Salamanca cathedral serving as the backdrop.