I’ve just returned from a visit to my daughter who lives in Catalonia, Spain. She works in Barcelona, which is a beautiful city, but she is moving into a new apartment a bit further along the Mediterranean coast at Calafell.
Calafell is in the Tarragona region on the Costa Daurada or Golden Coast, to the south west of Barcelona. It has miles of spotless golden sandy beaches, which the local council workers clean and smooth down every morning. The warm Mediterranean Sea here is reasonably calm and shallow, which makes it a perfect holiday destination for families. When I went it was May half term in the UK but not in Spain, so everywhere was quiet and very relaxing.
It is a fascinating town, which is great to explore on foot, and easy to get to by high-speed train from the airports of Barcelona or Reus. The railway station is in the newer part of town where all the amenities you could want are situated. There is a hospital, schools, supermarkets, museums, football club, sports stadium, and gorgeous parks with ancient olive trees and cooling fountains. There are even co-operative offices within the library which you can rent by the hour or for longer periods. These are great for entrepreneurs, writers and small-business people like my daughter who don’t need their own permanent offices.
A short walk up a very steep hill took me to the heart of the town. Many of the ancient stone buildings have been renovated and turned into cafes, restaurants or artisan shops. But the rich character of the old town is still visible. It is all set around a public square, Plaça de Catalunya, which was established towards the end of the 18th century. There is a church which was built in the 19th century by the people of the town when the bishop could no longer make the steep climb to the old chapel for his visits.
The original chapel was in the castle, which is situated at the very highest point of the old town. Here the buildings are medieval or older. Indeed, parts of the Castle of the Santa Creu of Calafell date back over a thousand years. From the top there is a magnificent view of the surrounding area with its medieval buildings, Roman ruins and vineyards as far as the eye can see. For this is the heart of the Catalonian Cava region. My daughter recommended the Freixenet which is produced locally.
The local officials in Calafell are clearly very proud of their heritage and culture. There are informative posters and signs in several languages close to any site of historical significance.
One such poster explained that
“22 million years ago the hill where the castle is now situated was a coral island surrounded by vast, fine sandy beaches. Now completely fossilised, one can still see the remains of coral (grey coloured rock) and molluscs (yellow coloured rock) in the fossilised sand.”
And I could! It also explained that
“The melting of the polar ice caps caused the sea level to rise to its current level and the Cobertera stream formed a fertile valley that has been agriculturally exploited since the time of the Iberians. During the Roman and Medieval periods and well into the 20th century, cultivation spread throughout the basin and even the surrounding hills were deforested and margins built on them for the cultivation of vineyards.”
Being fascinated by the history of any place I visit, I spent many hours wandering in the old town of Calafell. However, I was with two of my young grandchildren, so the sandy beach was the place to be every afternoon. It is amazing what children will find to play with in the absence of their usual toys. Pebbles, shells and the sand itself kept them busy for hours. Chasing waves was a delight, especially as they had my daughter’s tiny dachshund dog to compete with. And washed up bits of wood triggered off magical games. It was a joy just to watch them.
In the evenings, when the children were in bed with their parents taking a well-earned rest, it was time for my daughter and I to explore some more. Alongside the beach there is a beautiful paved promenade dotted with palm trees. Along here there is a 5-star hotel with a gorgeous beach bar and lots of privately owned apartments with swimming pools. But nearer the town there is a little group of remaining fishermen’s houses including Casa Barral.
Carlos Barral (1928-1989) was a writer and publisher and a bit of a character from what we read. He used to gather other writers around him for literary conversation. These gatherings would consist of lots of drinking and smoking and loud noise which drove his poor wife to distraction. When she could stand it no longer she banished them to a nearby bar called L’Espineta.
Since 1999 Casa Barral has been owned by the town and converted into a museum to preserve the seafaring customs and lifestyle of this small community. It also reflects the literary importance of Barral, who was a very influential figure in 20th century Literature. One of the writers who gathered regularly at L’Espineta was Gabriel García Márques (1927-2014).
I have read two of his books; One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, and I have to say I found them hard to understand. However, I can appreciate his genius. Being American Spanish from Colombia, he is considered to be one of the best writers in the Spanish Language. His style has been called ‘Magical Realism’ and most of his stories explore the theme of solitude.
The bar, L’Espineta, that they met in has remained exactly as it was, owned by the Barral family, until very recently when it was sold. The new owners have kept every detail intact even down to the pictures on the walls.
There was a reopening party on the night I arrived and I went every night while I was in Calafell. It truly is a strange experience sitting on the chairs García Márques would have sat on and drinking from the glasses he would have used in the bar he knew so well. I felt submerged in his world of Magical Realism.
The final detail that sticks in my mind about Calafell is the incredibly ornate Cementerio. I am used to decorative statues and ornaments on graves in our local cemetery, but they are not nearly as ornate as those in Spain. I discovered that there is actually a European Cemeteries Route in Spain which celebrates the historic and artistic heritage of the most distinctive examples. And, Catalonia is the region with the largest number of significant cemeteries.
While I don’t think I will be going on the Cemeteries Route, I am almost certain that I will go back to Calafell if I can conquer my terrible travel anxiety. I had such a lovely time but it takes me a week to recover from the stress of the journey!
Enjoy my photos of Calafell~
Old town and Castle
Park, Beach and swimming pool
Take a peek at my week
My photos will give you a peek into the variety of exciting places I’ve been to recently. It has been a most unusual time.
Over the course of 7 days I got in or on 2 planes, 4 underground trains, 4 taxis and countless lifts. Anyone who knows me well or has read my post about my attempted trip to the USA, will know that I find travelling challenging to say the least!
I used to travel all over the world for work, twinning, conferences, pilgrimages, or just pleasure and you can read some of my travel blogs on these links Russia, USA , Lourdes, Kenya , Poland.
But, this time I was heading to Spain for my grandson’s christening. And, with a trusted friend for company, I made it.
We breakfasted in London, spent 3 nights in a gorgeous apartment in the beautiful town of Tres Cantos, attended the Christening in the ancient town of Manzanares el Real, and celebrated with a wonderful family lunch in Madrid.
We managed to do a bit of sight-seeing in each of these very different places, then returned to London and reality.
Tres Cantos is a beautiful ‘new town’, which has been really well planned. The wonderful weather and seemingly perpetual blue sky helps of course. But everywhere was spotless with parks, fountains, and lots of pedestrianised areas. It has the advantage of being close enough to Madrid for commuting too.
Central Madrid, or the small area that we saw, is exquisite. The impressive white buildings gleam in the sunshine and the roads seemed incredibly wide. Here too we found beautiful tree-lined pavements with water features, fountains and statues. Since we were in the city, coincidentally, during the demonstrations in support of a unified Spain, there were Spanish flags flying from many buildings. We were told that one of the flags is the biggest in the world!
We were very impressed to see a huge banner across the front of the Palacio de Communicaciones, which has got to be the most impressive ‘Post Office’ in the world. The banner reads, “Refugees Welcome”.
A little further on and we saw the National Museum of Prado. For almost 200 years this world-famous art gallery has given visitors the opportunity to see the best of the best in painting and sculpture. I would love to go back to spend whole days in there.
So, we relaxed in Tres Cantos, were blown away by the culture of the city of Madrid and its people; but what of Manzanares el Real? Well, 20 plus years ago I visited Yellowstone National Park in America and literally could not believe my eyes. The geology of that place seemed totally other-worldly with its extraordinary geysers, hot springs, mudpots, steam vents, and bubbling rivers. The wildlife too was totally alien to me. I saw bears, bison, moose, elk, antelope, marmots, chipmunks, and even a mountain lion! So I didn’t expect this relatively small and ancient town to surprise me as much as it did. It is truly unusual and spectacularly scenic. I believe the name means ‘Royal Apple Orchard’, and it gives its name to the River Manzanares which flows from the Sierra de Guadarrama, on through Madrid. The ‘royal’ bit comes from the fabulous restored castle which we visited.
The town is set at the foot of a spectacular mountain range called La Pedriza. The whole area is dotted with huge granite boulders which are unusually rounded and smoothed. They are everywhere to the extent that the houses in the area that I visited are just plonked on, in, or around the boulders. This makes for very unusual gardens, and brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘man-cave’, as there really are caves in some of the gardens! The whole area is a dream for rock climbers and nature lovers. There are also spectacular views of the huge Santillana reservoir, which attracts large colonies of water birds as well as birds of prey. Higher up among the boulders; I was informed by my son who runs there daily with his dogs; there are red deer, wild cats, wild boar and wolves.
And he wonders why I worry!
Photos from Madrid
“Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire”
For this week’s, WPC theme of ‘danger’, I thought I could post my daughter’s photo of the injured seal that had worn itself out and washed itself up on the beach near Santa Cruz, where she lives. It was in grave danger until Lisa called Marine Rescue, who turned up quickly and returned to poor creature safely into the ocean.
There was also a photo of a skunk walking down the garden path between Lisa and her front door! Skunks are notoriously aggressive, unafraid of humans, carry diseases and smell disgusting. She was in great danger of being attacked or sprayed as she carried her shopping in from the car.
But then, as I was reading Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice for my Open University course, I suddenly realised just how much danger some persecuted individuals or groups have faced, over the centuries.
In the Merchant of Venice, it is Shylock who is hated for being Jewish. Shakespeare explores this brilliantly as only he can. But it reminded me of places I have visited where evidence of the dangers of being Jewish is still clearly visible, or just below the surface.
Last year I visited a little Catalan town called Empuriabrava. In the old town, I was horrified by the evidence of past abuse of Jews. There was a cemetery dedicated specifically to those who had been coerced into converting to Christianity.
“On 18th February, 1417 more than 100 people were baptised at the font of the Basilica of Santa Maria, surrounded by their godfathers and authorities.
In 1415, there was the first wave of mass conversions to Christianity as a result of the Perpignan ordinations driven by Benedict X111, known as “Papa Luna”. From that moment on, the converted Jews were buried in a delimited space of the Christian cemetery. The cemetery was attached to the Northern wall of the apse of the basilica. This area has been known for centuries as “the cemetery for the converted Jews”. Nowadays part of the old cemetery is occupied by the Cappella del Santissim, built in 1724, and the other part has been restored as a pedestrian walkway. “
It is a beautiful, peaceful town now but I have to say the references and reminders of those dark times were everywhere, and quite menacing.
At Gettysberg, Maj. Gen. Joshua L Chamberlain said,
“On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; buts spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision – place of souls”.
I knew exactly what he meant when I travelled to Krakow in Poland.
The city of Krakow is beautiful, compact, well preserved and a joy to walk around. But my visit to the old Jewish quarter in Kazimierz as well as my visit to Schindler’s Enamel factory in Zablocie, which is now a museum, was a revelation. It happened that I was there on 14thMarch 2012, 69 years to the day of the “final purge”. The fact that this holocaust happened within living memory is horrific. The fact that slaughter of innocents on this scale may be happening in parts of the world today is unbearable.
There were about 225,000 Jews living in Krakow before the war but only about 15,000 managed to survive it with the help of brave Poles who kept them hidden, and the enigmatic German Oskar Schindler who needed the cheap labour force they provided.
In March 1941, all Krakow Jews who previously lived in areas such as Kazimierz were forced to live in the new ghetto of Podgorze. The area comprised 320 buildings which had been home to the poorest Poles. Almost 17000 Jews were now crammed into these buildings and the area was surrounded by barbed wire and walls. By the autumn of 1941 the jobless Jews who did not have the correct paperwork were transported to concentration camps or shot where they stood.
On March 13-14th 1943 the final extermination was begun. The first-hand accounts of the few who survived these events were recorded and can be heard at the Schindler factory which is now a museum. I heard that the remaining men were separated from the women and children. They were marched off to be used as forced labour. Any who could not walk unaided were shot on the spot. Then German soldiers went through the buildings clearing out the women and children to be loaded onto transport which would take them to the extermination camps. Children and babies were just thrown out of the windows onto the waiting carts, not all landed safely. The sick and elderly were just killed where they lay.
Literally thousands of Jews were loaded onto transport to the Plaszow camp where they gradually died from starvation, beating, disease, hard labour or execution. Thousands of others were taken to the extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau over the next few months. The Auschwitz archives record the fate of those transported. In February 1944 the remaining men arrived, in May the rest of the children and in August the women. They all died in the gas chambers shortly afterwards. The final transport of prisoners from Krakow arrived in Auschwitz the day before the camp was liberated by the Soviet army.
For a harrowing first hand eyewitness account of all the deportations including the final purge there is the memoir, The Cracow Ghetto Pharmacy by Tadeusz Pankiewicz.
Here are some photos from the displays at the Schindler factory or the Jewish Museum which touched me greatly. They show families and groups of Jews being taken or led away from the ghetto to the camps. They had to carry whatever they could and abandon the rest. The last picture shows the Plaszow Camp between 1943-44 where women are being marched to forced labour.
I’m feeling very jubilant today as my middle daughter, Anna, has started her own business in the wonderful arty quarter of Gracia in Barcelona, Eloquent Barcelona Anna has lived and worked in Barcelona for many years, having travelled the world as a dancer and fallen in love with the Mediterranean climate.
Spain, like everywhere in the world these days, is a hard place to build a successful business. It would give Anna so much encouragement if all my blog’s followers logged onto her website and sent her good wishes and positive vibes. And, if you are on Facebook, could you like and share her Eloquent page please. This would give her just the boost she needs.
I know I am her mother, BUT, she really is a multi – lingual, very talented, highly skilled and experienced, hard-working and beautiful young lady. Not only does she provide English language lessons and tutoring for adults & teenagers (age 16-19) in Spain, but she also offers bespoke language services for businesses, including translations, editing and copywriting. She is also able to provide language & logistical support for International businesses setting up or working in Barcelona.
Empuriabrava on the grid
Well September, always my favourite month, has been particularly exciting this year. I was lucky enough to take a trip to Empuriabrava in Spain with some of my family, to celebrate my daughter’s 40th birthday. My photos come from there. Thanks to WPC, I became obsessed with grids and spotted them everywhere in the old town!
Empuriabrava is a wonderful place, especially in Autumn, when the vast majority of foreign tourists have gone home. It is built around national parks ~ lush and green thanks to the fresh water springs, and there are magnificent views of the Pyrenees in the distance. The beautiful beaches are deserted except for fearless young windsurfers. The parks are left to local children and older folk who make good use of the play and exercise equipment freely provided. The seemingly endless footpaths are given over to dog walkers, runners and cyclists. While walking along the footpath, I was surprised and delighted by a herd of extremely well-behaved goats following a farmer. They stopped occasionally to feed or explore the hedgerow, but were easily coaxed onward by the goat at the rear with a bell round his neck. They seemed happy and even managed what looked like a smile for the camera. The wide river Muga flows along one side of the footpath on its journey from the Alberes mountains of the eastern Pyrenees to the Mediterranean Sea at the beautifully named Gulf of Roses. The bamboo, rushes and trees beside it were filled with birds and butterflies while the steps leading up to the path were dotted with sunbathing lizards. Nearer the town, the fig trees were filled with the sound of squabbling parakeets. There seemed to be masses of these bright green birds with grey breasts nesting in every palm tree, which delighted my little grandson. They are feral monk parakeets apparently and they are quite common.
The new part of Empuriabrava is often referred to as the Venice of Spain. However, it reminded me strongly of St Petersburg. There is no Hermitage, and no Palace or fort, but the whole town is criss-crossed by canals, just like St Petersburg. Many of the luxurious white houses, villas and apartments back onto the canal and have their own moorings. Sleek boats of all shapes and sizes can be seen everywhere and they can be hired quite cheaply. It is such a leisurely way to get around.
The old town of Castello d’Empuries is only about 4km from the new town and is connected to it by the footpath that we walked each day. It is so quaint that if it were possible to remove the occasional car and delivery lorry, it would be easy to imagine yourself back in the Middle Ages. There are unspoilt historical monuments, including roman baths, and a fascinating Jewish Quarter. But the most exciting place for me was the restaurant in the Gothic Portal de la Gallarda. It is sited over the Gallard gate, which was the fortified entrance to the old town. There is an ancient moat around the wonderfully conserved walls, which extend to the Basilica of Santa Maria. We had a superb meal there, contrary to negative TripAdvisors’ reviews ~ and lots of lovely Cava!
My trip was the perfect restorative holiday, and it was rounded off at the airport in Girona when the Spanish ‘Red Arrows’, known as the Patrulla Aguila (Eagle Patrol), flew in. They had been performing a display in Mataro near Barcelona at the Festa al Cel. The display team is normally based at San Javier in the Murcia region so we were very lucky to see them. This was a week earlier than usual to avoid the regional elections for the government of Catalunya which take place this Sunday. These elections are hotly contested and there were flags on many of the houses displaying their allegiances.
Below you can see some of my photos. They are all connected with my trip and some are in monochrome.
Fruit falls from burdened branches
September sweeps by
Palm Sunday 2014
I have celebrated Palm Sunday in many different countries, Kenya, Spain, France, Poland, Italy and UK and it is a church tradition that I love. When I was at work (teaching primary children) one of our jobs was to make the palm crosses for the local church each year. It was an eagerly awaited treat for the 10/11 year olds in their final year of primary school, to learn how to weave and fold the crosses from simple palm leaves.
I have written about other Palm Sundays before and the links are below if you would like to read them. I hope you do.
This year I am laid up in bed with a very nasty case of tonsillitis on antibiotics so I have not even seen a palm!
But I did look at the Vatican website to see the celebrations in St Peter’s Square. My overriding impression is that this Pope, like Jesus, is adored by the people because of his common touch and understanding of what it means to be poor in this world. But my fear is that like Jesus, he is rattling too many cages and there will be those who plot against him. I also see in his face that after only a few months in the job he is looking exhausted and strained.
Two Haiku I wrote last year sum up my fears.
Cheering throngs gather
In Messianic fervour
Fronds fall at His feet
Calling for His death
Crowds that cheered Him now decry
Innocent, He’ll die
You can see the Palm Sunday in Rome here http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-to-celebrate-palm-sunday-mass-in-saint-peters
And my previous Palm Sunday posts are here:~