The abandoned beauty of Canfranc

30 09 2019

For more photographs, please visit:

https://jeromekg.wixsite.com/flymetothemoon/post/the-abandoned-beauty-of-canfranc


Set against a backdrop of snow-capped Pyrenean peaks and in a quiet village in Spanish foothills of the range that forms much of the Franco-Spanish border, the majestic and long-disused Canfranc International Railway Station looks well out of place. Often described as Europe’s most opulent station, it is as much its Beaux-arts styled appearance as is the scale in which it was built that has earned it this reputation.

The beautiful and somewhat mysterious Canfranc International Railway Station seen against the backdrop of the Pyrenees.

Built from 1921 to 1925, it was as much a symbol of Franco-Spanish cooperation at is opening in 1928 as it was to have been the terminal building of an elevated railway line that triumphed over the challenging Pyrenean terrain that separated the two countries. This required, among other efforts, the digging of a tunnel – the Somport tunnel that took six years to complete. It was in use until March 1970 when a train accident, which damaged the Estanguet bridge beyond repair, closed the Pau-Canfranc line for good.

The station has been abandoned since an accident in March 1970 closed the line.

Much intrigue and mystery has surrounded the station since its closure. Over the years, details have emerged of the station having been a transit point for Nazi loot, including some 86 tons of gold stolen from Jews to obtain much needed tungsten in the Iberian peninsula. Tungsten was need to as an alloying element in steel used in tank armour. Details have also emerged of how a French Customs Officer based at the station, Albert Le Lay, posed as a double agent and in doing so, facilitated the escape of hundreds of refugees – many of them Jews into Spain from 1940 to 1942. Dubbed the “Spanish Schindler”, Le Lay, was part of a spy network based at the station that also helped in the transmission of messages and equipment for the French Resistance.

A view through one of the station’s 365 windows.

The station, which measures 241 metres in length, is 12.5 metres wide and has a total of 150 doors – 75 one each side. It also has 365 windows – one as they say – for each day of the year. Operated jointly by France and Spain, it contained a restaurant, a hotel, post and telegraph offices and the offices of the railway operators and immigration and customs officials for both countries.


For more photographs, please visit:

https://jeromekg.wixsite.com/flymetothemoon/post/the-abandoned-beauty-of-canfranc





10 reasons (out of possibly thousands more) to want to win that trip to Spain

18 09 2016

Spain with its rich history, diverse cultural and culinary influences and its much varied geography, is a country that offers a wealth of experiences to the traveller. There are many reasons to want to visit it, much more than the ten that follow and you now have a chance to find that out for free with TripZilla. The travel magazine and portal is looking at giving  a 12 D/11 N trip sponsored by the Spain Tourism Board and Turkish Airlines away in  Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines through its SPAIN IN THE EYES OF SOUTHEAST ASIA giveaway.

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The contest is open only to residents of each of the countries mentioned who are between 23 and 55 years old. To take part, a minimum of three smart phone taken photographs (taken in their respective countries of residence) that participants feel best represents Spain, need to be submitted. Participants will have until 24 September 2016 to do this, after which one winner will be selected from each of the three countries. The trip to Spain being given away will include round-trip tickets, hotel accommodation and guided tours.

Just four simple steps are needed for the chance to win this valuable trip, which are:

  1. Sign-up @ https://www.tripzilla.com/spain-tourism-board-giveaway
  2. Take a minimum of 3 snapshots of places, items or colours in your country that you think best represents Spain
  3. Upload your photos onto the TripZilla Facebook page event with the hashtags #visitspain #winatriptospain #spainintheeyesofsoutheastasia
  4. Add a caption to describe why you think that place/item/colours in your photos best represents Spain

More information on the giveaway can be found at TripZilla.com and also TripZilla’s Facebook page event.


10 (out of possibly thousands more!) reasons to want to win that trip 

The stunning sight of Toledo rising above the River Tagus

The historic city of Toledo, as view from Cerro del Emperador.

Toledo, as viewed from Cerro del Emperador.

The vista from the Cerro de Emperador after dark is just as stunning ...

The vista from the Cerro del Emperador after dark is just as stunning …

As it is just before sunrise.

… as it also is just before the sunrise.

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Quaint villages right out of a book of fairy tales

Twilight descends on O'Cebreiro, a hilltop village along the French route of the Camino de Santiago. The village church is where the Holy Grail is housed.

Twilight descends on O’Cebreiro, a hilltop village along the French route of the Camino de Santiago. The village church is where the Holy Grail is housed.

A traditional thatched roof stone hut known as a palloza at O'Cebreiro.

A traditional thatched roof stone hut known as a palloza at O’Cebreiro.

The village of La Riera in the Asturias.

The village of La Riera in the Asturias.

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The opportunity to spend a night in a historic building

Parador Hostal Dos Reis Catolicos in Santiago de Compostela, built as a hospital in 1499.

Parador Hostal Dos Reis Catolicos in Santiago de Compostela, built as a hospital in 1499.

Inside the Parador Hostal dos Reis Católicos.

Inside the Parador Hostal dos Reis Católicos.

Parador Hostal de San Marcos in León, built in the 16th century as a military building.

Parador Hostal de San Marcos in León, built in the 16th century as a military building.

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A wealth of UNESCO World Heritage Sites that span a period of more than 2000 years

The amazingly well preserved 2000 year old Roman aqueduct in Segovia.

The amazingly well preserved 2000 year old Roman aqueduct in Segovia.

The gondola, seen from the walkway.

A UNESCO World Heritage site from more recent times – the Vizcaya “hanging bridge”. 

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Its gorgeous seaside towns

San Sebastian in the Basque Country.

San Sebastian in the Basque Country.

Castro Urdiales, a grogeous seaport in Cantabria close to Bilbao.

Castro Urdiales, a grogeous seaport in Cantabria close to Bilbao.

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Some of the oldest university towns in Europe

The University of Salamanca, which dates back to 1134, is the oldest in Spain and the third oldest in Europe.

The University of Salamanca, which dates back to 1134, is the oldest in Spain and the third oldest in Europe.

Salamanca.

Salamanca.

The original university at the town of Alcalá de Henares goes back to 1293.

The original university at the town of Alcalá de Henares goes back to 1293.

Alcalá de Henares. The town is also known for its famous son, Miguel de Cervantes, Spain’s most celebrated literary figure.

Alcalá de Henares. The town is also known for its famous son, Miguel de Cervantes, Spain’s most celebrated literary figure.

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To learn about its rich and fascinating history, particularly that of the Rerconquest 

The reconquest - in which this cave in Covadonga in the Asturias, featured.

A cave in Covadonga in the Asturias, which featured in the launch of the Reconquest,  a significant event in Spain’s history that remains very much embedded in the Spanish psyche.

The walled medieval town of Ávila, whose walls date back to the 11th century and are said to be the best conserved of the age. The walls were constructed following the reconquest and repopulation of the area.

The walled medieval town of Ávila, whose walls date back to the 11th century and are said to be the best conserved of the age. The walls were constructed following the reconquest and repopulation of the area.

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A set of still used pilgrimage routes that date back to the 9th Century

Pilgrims on the long road to Santiago de Compostela. A well used route is the Camino Frances, which involves a 780 km walking journey from the south of France.

Pilgrims on the long road to Santiago de Compostela. A well used route is the Camino Frances, which involves a 780 km walking journey from the south of France.

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the relics of St. James (Santiago), one of the 12 apostles, is kept.

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the relics of St. James (Santiago), one of the 12 apostles, is kept.

The city of Santiago de Compostela.

The city of Santiago de Compostela.

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Its impressive Gothic cathedrals

Toledo Cathedral.

Toledo Cathedral.

Burgos Cathedral.

Burgos Cathedral.

Stained glass inside León Cathedral.

Stained glass inside León Cathedral.

The walled town of Segovia is topped by its impressive cathedral.

The walled city of Segovia is topped by its impressive cathedral.

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The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

The Gueggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

The Gueggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

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Hanging on – the amazing hanging bridge near Bilbao

29 06 2016

I love bridges, especially ones on which supporting truss or cable stays structures add to their overall aesthetics.

One rather interesting looking bridge the sight of which I was particularly taken with, is the Puente Vizcaya (Bizkaia in Basque) or the Vizcaya Bridge. I managed a visit to it during a sojourn in the north of Spain in 2013. Straddling the Río Ibaizábal, close to where it spills into the Bay of Biscay, the bridge with its horizontal span elevated some 45 metres above the ground and supported by four lattice ironwork towers, is quite an amazing sight to behold.

The suspended gondola of the Vizcaya Bridge with Portugalete seen in the background.

The suspended gondola of the Vizcaya Bridge with Portugalete seen in the background.

The bridge, a so-called transporter bridge, is not what one might think of as bridge in the conventional sense. Rather than a roadway or walkway across which vehicular of pedestrian traffic is carried, a transporter bridge carries its load on a gondola that is suspended by wire-ropes from a moving trolley running across its horizontal span and is more akin to a ferry.

The Vizcaya Bridge.

The Vizcaya Bridge.

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The bridge in its early days (Gizmodo Australia).

A close-up of the gondola.

A close-up of the gondola.

Developed as a solution to allow the crossing of navigable waterways in areas where space and geography restrict the deployment of the long ramps that  would be necessary to carry vehicular traffic to the deck of bridges elevated high enough to clear shipping, the do have limitations in the volume and rate at which traffic can be moved across the gap and as a result have not seen widespread use. Less than thirty were built worldwide, mostly around the turn of the twentieth century.

The gondola is suspended using wire-ropes from a trolley running across its span.

The gondola is suspended using wire-ropes from a trolley running across its span.

The idea for the transporter bridge has been attributed to Charles Smith, an Englishman from Hartlepool. While his invention was made public in 1873, it wasn’t until two decades later in 1893 that the first such bridge, which was the Vizcaya, was completed. Designed by Basque architect Alberto de Palacio, a disciple of Gustave Eiffel (of the Eiffel tower fame), it sparked off a small wave of construction of several other transporter bridges.

A view of the trolley from the top of the bridge.

A view of the trolley from the top of the bridge.

Known also as “puente colgante” or “hanging bridge”, the Vizcaya Bridge as a structure, takes us back to the heyday of the industrial and maritime age in Bilbao and a time when the area’s deposits of iron-ore fed the hungry blast furnaces of Europe. This, as well as several other factors that include its dramatic presence and aesthetics,  the technical creativity it expresses, and its role in influencing the development of similar structures, has seen its inscription on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Inscribed in 2006,  the Vizcaya Bridge now holds the distinction of being the only World Heritage site in the Basque Country.

A view of the moth of the Ibaizába estuary from the bridge.

A view of the moth of the Ibaizába estuary from the bridge.

The bridge is well worth a visit if you do find yourself in and around Bilbao, a city best known in these parts for its football team and the rather iconic Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Besides the unique experience that crossing on its gondola offers, the bridge also features a walkway across its horizontal span, which provides not just a view of its trolley and operating mechanism but also a fantastic view of the towns of Getxo and Portugalete as well as the landscape around the mouth of the Ibaizábal estuary. More information on the bridge, access to its walkway and its UNESCO World Heritage listing can be found at the following links:

Portugalete fron the bridge.

Portugalete fron the bridge.

The gondola, seen from the walkway.

The gondola, seen from the walkway.

The walkway.

The walkway.

Getxo as seen from the bridge's walkway.

Getxo as seen from the bridge’s walkway.

The Ibaizába River.

The Ibaizába Rive, a passage for shipping destined for the old docks of Bilbao.

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The Vizcaya Bridge seen through the buildings of Portugalete.

The Vizcaya Bridge seen through the buildings of Portugalete.

 





The old university town of Alcalá de Henares

21 04 2015

I love old university towns and I got to have a look at one of Spain’s oldest, Alcalá de Henares, quite recently. The university established there had its origins in 1293 as Estudio de Escuelas Generales de Alcalá and became the University of Compultense (Universitas Complutensis) in 1499 through the vision of a important church figure at the time as Spain was entering into its Golden Age, a move that was to transform the former college to one of Spain’s most important seats of learning and also lead to the expansion of Alcalá into a planned university town. Although the university has since been moved to Madrid, the city of Alcalá de Henares’ still retains much of the flavour of the old university town and has seen a revival of the old university as the University of Alcalá in more recent times.

A courtyard inside the historic Colegio de San Ildefonso of the University of University of Alcalá.

A courtyard inside the historic Colegio de San Ildefonso of the University of University of Alcalá.

I arrived in Alcalá de Henares in the quiet of a Saturday morning and the first glimpse I had of the city was of its quiet, neat and ordered streets lined with brick and sandstone buildings coloured gold by the light of the morning sun. Alcalá, some 30 kilometres from Madrid, seemed distant enough to be isolated from the hustle and bustle of Spain’s capital city; the dignified air of calm unsurprising perhaps of a city that was reinvented as a seat of learning.

A peek at Alcalá de Henares.

There is much more than meets the eye in Alcalá de Henares.

A street in Alcalá de Henares.

A street in Alcalá de Henares.

What does surprise in Alcalá is that perhaps there is much more of it than its early weekend demeanour does suggest,  the city’s glitter is one that glows not just due to to golden light of the morning, but the that of the city’s fascinatingly storied past.  The city’s rich history, which has been recognised by the listing of its historic and university precincts have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1998, goes back well beyond the university or even the Moorish origins of its name, Alcalá – derived from the Arabic Al-Qal’at or fortress. This I was to very quickly realise two hours into my stay in the city.

The quiet streets of the university precinct on a Saturday morning,

The quiet streets of the university precinct on a Saturday morning.

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My visit to Alcalá de Henares was the first stop in what was to turn out to be an amazing journey that also included visits to four other UNESCO World Heritage cities close to Madrid. The trip was made possible by the Spanish World Heritage Cities Group (Ciudades Patrimonio de la Humanidad de España), the Spanish Tourism Board and Thai Airways. Alcalá de Henares, located close to Madrid’s Barajas airport, made it a very convenient first stop.

City Hall.

City Hall as seen from Plaza de Cervantes.

Another view of the university precinct.

Another view of the university precinct.

One of the things that becomes very quickly apparent about Alcalá, is its association with Spain’s most celebrated literary figure, Miguel de Cervantes; Cervantes’ work, Don Quixote, an icon of a masterpiece that is considered to be one of the most important works in Spanish literature. Alcalá is where the famous writer came into the world during the days of the Spanish Golden Age and Alcalá’s heyday in 1547, and in Alcalá, we find all things Cervantes, including in and around the city’s main square that is very predictably named after him.

The statue of Cervantes in the centre of Plaza de Cervantes.

The statue of Cervantes in the centre of Plaza de Cervantes.

The main square, Plaza de Cervantes, is where the medieval town of Alcalá and the post-medieval university town meet. The formerly walled medieval town in which there was a Arab, Jewish and Chirstian quarter, lies to the east of the square. To the west is the university town and its ordered streets. In the centre of the square, the centre perhaps of Cervantes’ Alcalá, is where the writer is immortalised in a statue that stands high over the square, holding a quill in his hand.

The northern half of Plaza de Cervantes.

The northern half of Plaza de Cervantes.

Plaza de Cervantes by night.

Plaza de Cervantes by night.

It was to the square that I headed out to almost as soon as I put my bags down at the hotel, resisting the urge to climb into the very inviting king sized bed in the beautifully furnished room of the hotel. This despite the lack of sleep having stepped off only hours before from  the 12 hour intercontinental flight.

The rooms of the parador as seen from the very peaceful roof top garden.

The rooms of the parador as seen from the very peaceful roof top garden.

The room in the parador.

The room in the parador.

The hotel, Alcalá de Henares’ is surprisingly modern as a Parador. Surprising because the limited experiences I have had of staying in a paradors, were of ones in which the tone of the decor of the rooms seemed to match the history of the buildings they would be found in. Paradors, luxury hotels run by the Spanish government, are usually found in historic buildings such as former palaces, castles and monasteries.

The parador in Alcalá.

The parador in Alcalá.

The cloisters of the former Convento Santo Tomas.

The cloisters of the former Convento Santo Tomas.

The old and the new parts of the parador.

The old and the new parts of the parador.

In the case of the parador in Alcalá, while it is rather interestingly set up in a 17th Century former Dominican monastery, the Convento de Santo Tomás that has also seen use as a military barracks in the 19th century and a prison in more recent times, its transformation into a parador has given it an ultra modern feel. The parador’s beautifully furnished rooms and spa, does make it all that more difficult to want to leave its premises.

Another view of the cloisters - through a second level window.

Another view of the cloisters – through a second level window.

The roof top garden by night.

The roof top garden by night.

At Plaza de Cervantes, the gaze of a Cervantes is towards the the plaza’s north. Following his gaze and turning west is one of the main cobbled streets of the medieval Jewish quarter, the Calle Mayor, along which the house in which Cervantes was born is found. Furnished with furniture from the era, the two-storey house with an inner courtyard typical of old Castille, is now a museum that is a must visit, especially for all interested in Cervantes’ life and work.

Calle Mayor in the medieval quarter.

Calle Mayor in the medieval quarter.

Another look at Calle Mayor.

Another look at Calle Mayor.

The birthplace of Cervantes.

The birthplace of Cervantes.

My travel companions in the courtyard of the birthplace of Cervantes.

My travel companions in the courtyard of the birthplace of Cervantes.

An exhibit depicting a scene from a puppet play at the birthplace of Cervantes.

An exhibit depicting a scene from a puppet play at the birthplace of Cervantes.

Furnishings for a sanitary  room from the period.

Furnishings for a sanitary room from the period.

The dining room.

The dining room.

It was just past Cervantes’ birthplace on the Calle Mayor that a link to pre-Moorish past was to leap out at me to the beat of of a march. Making its way down the street was a religious procession. While being one very typical in the sense of the Iberian traditions as well as one commemorating a post medieval event, the 1568 return of the relics of city’s patron saints, “los Santos Niños”, Saints Justus and Pastor, the procession also tells of Alcalá’s links to Roman times. The saints, both children, had been martyred for their faith in the year 304 AD, at a time when a Roman settlement, Complutum, was established there.

The statues of los Santos Niños being led through the streets of the medieval quarter.

The statues of los Santos Niños being led through the streets of the medieval quarter.

Figures seen during the procession.

Figures seen during the procession.

Don Quixote meets the procession along Calle Mayor.

Don Quixote meets the procession along Calle Mayor.

Plaza de Cervantes being at the divide of the old and new Alcalá, is always a good place to start with orientating oneself with Alcalá, especially when one gets to do so high above it with an ascent of 109 steps to the top of the tower of Santa María (Torre de Santa María). Located at the square’s southern edge, the 15th century tower that was the bell tower of the Church of Santa María la Mayor, is one of the few parts of the church that escaped destruction during Spanish Civil War. The view it provides, besides that of a close-up of the storks that seem to be nesting and roosting on top of just about every red rooftop and the spire in the city, is unparalleled and provides a sense of how the city had evolved.

Torre de Santa Maria.

Torre de Santa Maria.

Nesting storks perched on a spire.

Nesting storks perched on a spire.

A stork in flight.

A stork in flight.

A view south from the tower.

A view south from the tower.

The view north across Plaza de Cervantes. The medieval quarter is to the left of teh square and the university precinct to the right.

The view north across Plaza de Cervantes. The medieval quarter is to the left of the square and the university precinct to the right.

Lying in the shadows of the tower, are some of what has survived of the ruined church. One of the attractions the ruins contain is a reproduction of its destroyed baptismal font with pieces of the original font embedded into it. The original font was the one that featured in Cervantes’ baptism in October 1547 and its recreation can now found in the surviving El Oidor chapel. The chapel along with the Antezana chapel are where an Interpretation Centre for the Universes of Cervantes (Los Universos de Cervantes) is now housed. What is also interesting is that the archway that leads to the El Oidor chapel is beautifully decorated with a 16th century grille and beautifully executed Mudéjar plasterwork.

Inside the El Oidor chapel.

Inside the El Oidor chapel.

The 16th century grille and the arch decorated with Mudéjar plasterwork at the entrance to the El Oidor chapel.

The 16th century grille and the arch decorated with Mudéjar plasterwork at the entrance to the El Oidor chapel.

A piece of the original font that is embedded into the reproduction.

A piece of the original font that is embedded into the reproduction.

Besides the ruins, there are also several other interesting historical structures around the square. One I was able to visit is in the south-eastern corner close to the tower, a two-storey Castilian courtyard building from the 16th century that served as a guesthouse or hostel for university students. The house’s structure has been well preserved along with the courtyard and its laundry well. Used by the municipality in more recent times, two rooms on the upper floor of the building have now been reoccupied by the university.

The courtyard of the hostel.

The courtyard of the hostel.

The laundry well.

The laundry well.

A structure of significance lies on the western side of the square. This, the Corral de Comedias, constructed as an open air or courtyard theatre or corral de comedias in 1601, is the oldest in the country to have survived and also one of the oldest theatres still in use in Europe.

Inside the Corral de Comedias.

Inside the Corral de Comedias.

The stage and the space below the stage, which includes a well.

The stage and the space below the stage, which includes a well.

Modelled after Spain’s first purpose built theatre, the Corral de la Cruz, Alcalá’s corral was originally laid out as all early purpose built theatres in Spain were, replicating the layout and arrangement found in the makeshift theatres that preceded them. The makeshift theatres utilised courtyards of inns and houses and had a stage placed at one end and as with the makeshift arrangements, the purpose-built ones that were a natural progression also featured balconies and boxes on the upper levels of the three free sides, where the audience, segregated according to social status and gender, could watch the performance from.

Stage machinery.

Stage machinery.

The Corral de Comedias before restoration (source: http://www.corraldealcala.com)

Over time, the Corral de Comedias underwent several transfromations, including the addition of the horseshoe shaped theatrical seating facing the stage in 1831. From 1945 to 1971, the theatre saw use as a cinema, after which it was abandoned. It wasn’t until the 1980s that a massive effort was made to restore it, which was completed only in 2003 when the grand dame’s dignity was restored through its use as a theatre.

The restoration has uncovered some of the original foundations.

The restoration has uncovered some of the original foundations.

As well as provided an idea of the width of the original theatre boxes.

As well as provided an idea of the width of the original theatre boxes.

One of the surprising things I learnt about Alcalá, was that it was here that the seeds of the Spanish sponsored adventure led by Christopher Columbus into the new world was planted. The city, serving as the location of the first meeting of the Venetian with Queen Isabella and where the expedition was planned, the events taking place in and around the very majestic Archbishop’s palace tucked away in an area of the city northwest of the main square.

A statue of Isabella by the Archbishop's Palace.

A statue of Isabella by the Archbishop’s Palace.

The palace is especially interesting in that it was built as a residence for the Archbishop of Toledo, the highest ranking member of the clergy in the Catholic church in Spain and through much of Castille’s and Spain’s history, one of the country’s most influential positions, in 1209. Its architecture bears the influences of its long history and within its walls resided not just powerful church men, bit also served as the residence of kings and queens, including Ferdinand and Isabella and in which their daughter Catherine of Aragon, the future first wife of Henry VIII and the Queen of England, was born in 1485. It the annulment of marriage to Catherine that Henry’ sought that was to lead to the split of the English Church from Papal authority in the 1530s.

The Archbishop's  Palace, built in 1209 as the residence of the Archbishop of Toledo.

The Archbishop’s Palace, built in 1209 as the residence of the Archbishop of Toledo.

The Church, or rather an important member of its leadership, was to have a significant influence on the revival of the city’s fortunes, which fell into decline following the expulsion of the Jews in 1496. Cardinal Cisneros, Queen Isabella’s one time confessor and a powerful member of the clergy, established a university in 1499 that was to become one of Spain’s most important seats of learning. The buildings of the university, which would be centered around the magnificent edifice of the Colegio de San Ildefonso put up by Cisneros east of the medieval town, to which I will devote more detail to in a separate post, has to be one of the highlights of a visit to Alcalá.

The Colegio de San Ildefonso built by Cardinal Cisneros.

The Colegio de San Ildefonso built by Cardinal Cisneros.

A visit to Alcalá, as in the rest of Spain, would of course, not be complete without indulging in its gastronomic offerings. There is a mix of old and new, traditional and fusion that can be found along the city’s streets. The parador for one, offers two restaurants, in which a full meal can be savoured for a reasonable outlay and is great value for money. One is in the more traditional setting of the Restaurante Hostería del Estudiante across the street from the main lobby of the parador at the former Colegio Menor de San Jerónimo. The other in a more contemporary setting of the Restaurante de Santo Tomás set in the cloisters of the former Convento de Santo Tomás.

The traditional setting of the Restaurante Hostería del Estudiante.

The traditional setting of the Restaurante Hostería del Estudiante.

There is also the chance to savour the more modern interpretations of traditional dishes in more contemporary settings in Alcalá, with restaurants such Plademunt in the quiet streets of the new part of the city and Ambigú in the historic quarter, just by the Teatro Salón Cervantes. Both restaurants are helmed by  young culinary talents. On offer at Plademunt are the extraordinary tapas creations of Ivan Plademunt that feature some very traditional and hearty working class comfort foods from the region such as migas and atascaburras as well as pinchos of pintxos from the Basque country.

Plademunt.

Plademunt.

Migas, a traditional dish made from a base of breadcrumbs.

Migas, a traditional dish made from a base of breadcrumbs.

Ivan Plademunt demonstrating how Atascaburras is made.

Ivan Plademunt demonstrating how Atascaburras is made.

Pinchos.

Pinchos.

The Teatro Salón Cervantes on Calle Cervantes.

The Teatro Salón Cervantes on Calle Cervantes.

Ambigú’s offerings include many favourites including grilled octopus, sardines and a dessert to die for, torrija. The utterly sinful dessert, traditionally served during Lent and the Holy Week, is made from a base of bread soaked in milk and is similar to the English bread and butter pudding, only better!

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Offerings at Ambigú include the utterly sinful torrija.

Offerings at Ambigú include the utterly sinful torrija.

It was a pity lunch at Ambigú can on the back of a visit to Esencias Del Gourmet on Calle Mayor just around Cervantes’s birthplace . The proprietor of Esencias Del Gourmet holds a fun yet enlightening food and wine appreciation experience, which was to provide me not only with a much better appreciation of wine and how fine foods can complement wine and bring out its flavours, but also a full stomach that left me with little room for much more.

Esencias Del Gourmet on Calle Mayor.

Esencias Del Gourmet on Calle Mayor.

Wine appreciation experience at Esencias del Gourmet.

Wine appreciation experience at Esencias del Gourmet.

Unseen Alcalá - the former Women's prison behind the parador.

Unseen Alcalá – the former women’s prison behind the parador.

The entrance to the former women's prison after dark.

The entrance to the former women’s prison after dark.

 





Magical Landscapes: Spain, north of the plain

11 06 2014

A view from the backseat of a car of the landscape in the plains of the far north of Castile and León. The photograph was taken on a road trip around the north of Spain in late October 2011. The region is where some of the well-trodden pilgrim pathways of El Camino de Santiago  – the UNESCO World Heritage listed ancient pilgrimage routes of the Way of St. James, passes through, taking pilgrims on journey that is blessed with some truly magical landscapes as well as places en route that are a joy to discover.

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The pilgrimage, which dates back to 9th century A.D. sees pilgrims walking hundreds of kilometres (some routes do involve distances of as much as a thousand kilometres) along several routes leading to the sacred destination of Santiago de Compostela in the far northwest of Spain, the shortest of which is just over a hundred kilometres to venerate St. James (Santiago in Spanish) the Great – one of the twelve apostles. It is in a crypt in the city’s cathedral, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, that what is believed to be the relics of the saint, is housed.





The magic of O Cebreiro

11 10 2013

It was late on an autumn day at the tail end of a road trip with three friends which took me across the length of the varied landscapes of northern Spain that I found myself marvelling at this magical sight. The sight was of the gorgeous purple and orange hues painting the evening sky over the mountain top hamlet of O Cebreiro in Galicia in the far northwest of Spain.

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The village is one which on its own is a magical place – it is where in an stone church set amongst narrow cobblestone streets, stone village houses and thatch-roofed pallozas, a miraculous holy grail is kept. The village, located midway between the León and the the pilgrimage destination of Santiago de Compostela, lies along the French route of El Camino de Santiago or The Way of St. James, a medieval pilgrimage route and comes at the end of a steep climb and is place to rest and reflect for many pilgrims.

The pilgrimage route, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list, can involve pilgrims walking along entire lengths of several routes, some with starting points in the south of France over distances that typically are in excess of 700 kilometres.

The routes have long been a source of fascination to me – and I hope to have the opportunity to walk at least part of it one day.





A picture postcard fishing port – Castro Urdiales

9 07 2012

Headed west on a road journey that started in the Basque city of Bilbao, my three travel companions and I would probably have not thought of making a detour to the Cantabrian fishing port of Castro Urdiales just 35 kilometres into the drive, if not for a sign which seemed to urge us to make that detour. What we would have missed out if we hadn’t was the picture postcard view we were treated to of the port’s harbour against the backdrop to its medieval monuments atop a high point on a promontory that forms one end of the harbour.

The picture postcard view of the harbour of Castro Urdiales and the Puebla Vieja with its medieval church and castle sitting on a promontory across the harbour.

The monuments, part of the Puebla Vieja, the old town, are the remnants of a medieval world that had once existed where a more modern world has taken over. The monuments inlcude the Gothic style Iglesia de Santa María de la Asunción; the Castillo de Santa Ana, a castle; and the Puente de Castro Urdiales, a very high single span bridge with a pointed arch. All of these along with the harbour decorated with the colours of the boats it shelters and the houses that line the quayside paints a charming and very picturesque scene.

Another view across the harbour towards the promontory and the medieval church and castle.

The church a fine example of the Cantabrian Gothic style which shows French influence built from the 13th to 15th Centuries stands next to the ruins of a Romanesque church, the Iglesia de San Pedro. Among the artifacts that are housed in the church is a tall stone sculpture depicting Mary with the infant Jesus – Santa María con el Niño that dates to the thirteenth century.

The church, la Iglesia de Santa María de la Asunción, dates back to the 13th to 15th centuries.

The church is built in the Gothic style and show French Gothic influence.

Flying buttresses typical of Gothic style churches.

A polychrome stone sculpture of Santa María con el Niño (Mary with the infant Jesus) dating from the thirteenth century that is housed in the church.

A view of Santa María de la Asunción through the ruins of an 11th Century church, Iglesia de San Pedro.

The castle, Castillo de Santa Ana seen together with the ruins of Iglesia de San Pedro.

A view of the new part of town from the Puebla Vieja.

A view towards the breakwater from the promontory.

The medieval castle stands on the highest point of the promontory overlooking the sea.

The medieval bridge, the Puente de Castro-Urdiales. The lighthouse built on the castle can be seen atop the castle.

It is from the promontory where one gets a magnificent reverse view of the harbour – and the new town beyond it, a view that is no less beautiful than the view one gets of promontory from across the harbour and the four of us could have spent an entire day and not find the town short of views to photograph. Glad that we had made the detour, we probably spent a little more time than we had allowed ourselves, reluctantly leaving after spending a good three hours in all … three hours that were certainly very well spent.

The 18th century Neo Classical Town Hall, Casa Consistorial.

The cafe culture is very much alive in a fishing town that has become a tourist destination.

A house along the quayside.

A view of the harbour.

A close-up of a building along the quayside.