Splendors of Spain

Design Details “The Splendors of Spain” Nancy Barsotti

I am always ready for unexpected opportunities to travel, so when the chance for a summer vacation to Spain popped up, I said “Why not?” My intrepid friends and I put it together with a travel agent who, after receiving our “wish list,” said “You can’t believe the number of papers I had all over my desk getting this itinerary accomplished.” So fasten your seat belts and put on your walking shoes.

Barcelona – From Roman ruins to contemporary architecture, I can understand why some travelers feel that this city is the “be all and end all” of Spain. The wide avenues like La Rambla with its shops and cafes instantly gave us a feeling for Spain. Tours included the historic center of the city with old Roman aqueducts incorporated into the medieval Canon’s Residence and the Catedral La Seu. The opulent interiors of all the many churches we saw in every city brought full circle the stories we heard when we visited Peru two years ago – “ The Spaniards took our gold and silver back to Spain.” Well, here it was in all its glory! But of course what Barcelona is most known for is the work of Antoni Gaudi. Without a doubt there is nothing else like his architecture, which turned “architectural tradition on its head.” Pictures of the still incomplete Sagrada Familia, begun in 1882, cannot do justice to this revolutionary church. We experienced it first at night – when the Nativity façade is lit and really highlights the depth of the sculptural details – as well as a tour of the interior the next day. We also toured his Parc Guell – in the hills overlooking the city, with forms covered in fragmented ceramics – and the Casa Batllo – a private house designed from top to bottom, inside and outside which incorporated Gaudi’s holistic approach to arts and craft with color and texture. All of his work is a tour de force of organic, natural forms and techniques all his own.

Valencia – Trains are the way to go in Europe and the ride along the Mediterranean coast to this city was a feast for the eyes. The sandy beaches were filled with brightly colored umbrellas, the white stucco houses with the orange tile roofs, laundry hanging from the balconies and groves of the famous Valencia oranges. Valencia is the home to Paella, the delicious wide flat pan of rice and seafood. A real standout was the historic area of the city, especially the City Hall, and its incredible marble sidewalks. The city is known for its long history of the ceramic industry and we toured the ceramic museum. My only “had to have souvenirs” on the trip were antique tiles and fortunately I found one in a little hidden shop near the Mercado Central. The markets are so rich in color – the fresh fruits, vegetables, olive oil, wines, Iberian ham and seafood and the throngs of the local people. The Gothic cathedral here, like much of Spain’s historic buildings, have started in one style but were added to, redesigned and re-consecrated by their conquerors and occupants including the Moors. Valencia is also known for its contemporary architecture – especially those designed by its native son, Santiago Calatrava. The new section of Valencia – known as the City of Arts and Sciences – is a complex of spectacular futuristic structures along the Turia River and a suspension bridge of white interlaced cables. The architect and his buildings are controversial for their cost overruns and sometimes lack of function. But they were a vision at sunset as we dined high above them at the restaurant Vertical, enjoying an “over the top” dinner which began with eight starters and kept going from there. Good thing we were doing a lot of walking on this trip!

Granada – Who has not heard of this magical city and it’s famous gem,
The Alhambra. I was glad that before I arrived I read Washington Irving’s “Tales of the Alhambra.” Although the tales the traveler told of his stay here gave me a heightened sense of expectancy, nothing can prepare you for the site of it overlooking this ancient city. Our hotel, the historic Alhambra Palace was also on top of the hill and just a short walk from entering this vast complex. When we entered through the Justice Gate, I felt like I was stepping back into the 14th century when this part of the complex was finished. The Alhambra is not a single building born complete and perfect. It is much more the product of three centuries of construction at the end of Muslim rule in “al-Andlus,” (translation – Muslim Spain) which continued throughout the Christian period and almost until modern times. It is the finest example of Islamic art in the Western world. It is a “tree whose roots extend deep into times before al-Andalus, to earlier models in Persia and northern Africa.” The exquisite detail in the carvings, the ornamentation, the mosaics, the fountains, the columns and courtyards had our eyes popping and our jaws dropping. Our private tour guide said, “I’ve never had so many questions by very interested tourists.” We literally “Alhambra-ed” all day – from the tour, to lunch across the valley overlooking the complex, to a walk through the palace at night (the warm lighting imitated what it might have looked like with flaming torches and candles) and then a late night supper on a terrace across the valley again. The Alhambra was spread out before us in all its glory. A full moon hung over this mystical and majestic spectacle – a moment in time that is seared in my mind forever as one of the most fabulous travel experiences and views ever.

Next month – continuing through Spain, part two.

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