Güell Park for all
November 29, 2007, 2:26 am
Filed under: spain, travel | Tags: ,

I reached the monument square with Gaudi’s famous benches, where a couple of tourists were trickling in. By 10am tour groups had arrived. Potential photos were obstructed by oblivious old Korean men gazing down into their video viewfinders as they shuffled, zombie-like. The sounds of birds were echoed by Americans trilling obvious observations.

Had I not worried about stashing my stuff securely I wouldn’t have reached the park until 10. I headed back to our Poble Sec podroom, pleased that my fears, though groundless, resulted in a better last-day-in-Barcelona experience.


Dawn at Güell Park
November 29, 2007, 2:22 am
Filed under: spain, travel | Tags: , , ,

I reached the park, still eerily quiet, and wandered amongst the cacti towards the three crosses. I ascended the tower at the same time a guy descended, my first park companion who had been there to take photos of the sunrise. We greeted each other.

From this high point I surveyed my surroundings. I saw several people doing things people do in parks in the morning; walking dogs, running with iPods. I was surprised there were just a few locals and no tourists. My fears of Barcelona muggings proved unfounded. The few people about said ‘bon dia’, nodding their heads as they passed with their dogs. The exercisers paid no attention, focused on their heaving chests and burning muscles.

Güell Park purgatory
November 29, 2007, 2:19 am
Filed under: travel

Escalators at Park Guell entrance

Originally uploaded by cobismith.

Barcelona is Ian and I’s temporary parting point. He has to fly back to London to get on the same flight that I’m getting in Frankfurt, for stupid reasons. Hence I had my last morning in Barcelona to myself. Since Ian had proved unimpressed by Gaudi’s works around the centre of Barcelona, I left Güell Park for my last morning in Spain, alone.

I was planning to check out, leave my bags at the hotel and go to the park. Then my Italian-reared fears of Barcelona surfaced and I decided I couldn’t take my credit cards and passport and other valuables with me to the park because I would get mugged and be left stranded in Barcelona, within a day of leaving the continent. I reformulated my plans, so I would visit the park before midday (luscious late Spanish checkout times), allowing me to leave my valuables in the safe at the room.

I saw Ian off at the metro station and went the opposite direction to the park. It was about 8am. In London the metro is overflowing at this time, but in Barcelona just a few sleepy people were propped up on the seats. It was just past dawn. I got off the metro and marvelled at the outdoor escalators that would take me up to the park. It was quiet, I was the only one around. I circled the first escalator entrance like a wary animal. Peering beyond the steps to the cloudy sky it looked like an entrance to the heavens via purgatory. I decided to take the stairs alongside instead.

Bizarre Barcelona
November 29, 2007, 2:17 am
Filed under: travel

Barcelona at night

Originally uploaded by cobismith.

I’ve been waiting to visit Barcelona for five years. When I lived in Italy in 2001, I had the choice of going either to Barcelona or Sicily. I chose Sicily partly because I’d heard so many bad stories about Spain, about how Barcelona particularly is full of thieves and muggers. Stories about unsafe and mafioso Sicily is proved false for me (ask me about how I accidentally left my handbag in my friend’s unlocked scooter for an afternoon in Cefalù). Equally, the stories about dreadfully dangerous Barcelona proved unfounded, in my experience.

Don’t get me wrong, Barcelona is no Cambridge, where you can flit about at worst worrying that someone will steal your bike, or perhaps you’ll fall in the river Cam while drunk at night. There were a few dodgy alleys in Barcelona we avoided, and I probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable walking around at night without Ian by my side. That said, when I struck up a drunken conversation with a possibly dodgy young bloke who murmured the usual ‘hola guapa’ as he passed by, while Ian was talking on his mobile phone, the guy turned out to be a pleasant Argentinean who worked at a nearby hostel. First impressions can be deceiving.

In Barcelona, there are a lot of unusual things. It’s not just the Gaudi architecture. It’s the pet stores set up like market stalls along Las Ramblas. It’s the fact that people walking around Barcelona airport in flash suits stand out as unusual, whereas people with quirky hairstyles or colourful pants blend in.

Ian got his haircut just before we left Seville. They gave him a fullet (a front mullet). I chopped it off in our hotel pod in Barcelona. It’s a pity, because it made him look more Spanish. At least now he looks presentable for when we reach Japan.

Alcázares Reales de Sevilla
November 29, 2007, 2:15 am
Filed under: travel

Window in the Alcazares

Originally uploaded by cobismith.

I’m getting ahead of myself. If you follow my photo streams as well as the text, you’ll have noticed that words arrive sometimes weeks after pictures. It all depends on when I have a spare hour to write (such as now, waiting in Barcelona airport, where I’ve found a cosy armchair next to a socket near the VIP lounges). Before I started my last week in Seville, I spent a day there on the way to the Cadiz beaches, from our mountain base. Ian and I made time to see the Alcázares Reales de Sevilla, essential since Rosie’s recommendation.

I’m going to put it out there: the Alcázares in Seville is better than the Alhambra in Granada. Let me qualify: I paid the base price for both (roughly five Euros each). This only allowed us to see the gardens and some buildings at the Alhambra, while at the Alcázares we got to see almost everything for that price. Ian even got in free, with his student card.

I like that in Spain, the Alcázares, a royal residence, is open to the public. I overheard a tour guide point out that it is owned by the state, not the royal family, therefore the public have as much right to enjoy it. Is the status of Buckingham Palace different? Wandering through the Alcazar I was astounded by layer upon layer of intricacy, a characteristic of the Arab architecture I’ve come to love. Not just in individual stone carvings, but in the structures: walls, halls, tunnels. I could have spent a day wandering there.

My favourite bit was the cellars and underground tunnels, some of which is set aside for piles of pottery, another part of which is a seemingly endless pool framed by lit arches. It has that smell of clay I love, like a good wine cellar.

I can’t believe it took me nearly 2 weeks in Seville to get the Alcázares. It should be top of the list.

Flamenco school
November 23, 2007, 11:27 am
Filed under: dance, europe, music, spain, travel | Tags: , , ,


Originally uploaded by cobismith.

I am sitting on the top floor of the terrace building which houses my flamenco school, called Taller Flamenco. I’m lucky that the school has free broadband in the study room, which I can use while periodically gazing out of the window to see what’s happening on the street below. Soft November sun streams in the terrace windows.

Behind me in the study two guys practice flamenco guitar. They are clearly not beginners. Their fingers dance across the strings through melodies, resting on the frets while they wait their turn, each inspiring the other.

Live, spontaneous music is a much better backdrop for design work than my ipod.

When I committed to doing freelance editing work for a company in England during my European travels I was taking a bit of a risk, assuming I would be able to find suitable places to work so I could meet my deadlines.

This is more than suitable. This is a dream.

Little Lagos
November 23, 2007, 11:22 am
Filed under: travel

Lagos marina

Originally uploaded by cobismith.

I was expecting Lagos to be bigger. It seemed to me there were just three parts: the pretty, pastel-walled old district, the inviting nightlife district, and the sea.

Perhaps residential Lagos is much bigger, but walking around we came across just these three areas. Breakfast in the old district, an afternoon on the beach, followed by a funky bar at night. The perfect combination for a weekend away.