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Max Abroad : The Best of Spain

Quite simply writing about the best things Spain has to offer and anything that might crop up along the way. Spain is a lot more than just sun, sand and sea...

I Spy with my little eye....
29 January 2020

In Cádiz there is a Moorish palace which was built in the 11th century - Casa Palacio de los Marqueses de Recaño. This building responds to the characteristic typology of civil gaditana Baroque architecture complete with a vaulted mosque, a system of wells, elaborate gardens filled with fragrant trees and even a multi-room hamam.

Being in one of the highest areas of the city, it is the highest of all the watchtowers in Cádiz, located 45 meters above sea level and in the centre of the historic town. Because of its height and privileged location, it was the official watchtower of the port of Cadiz in 1778, receiving its current name - Tavira Tower - which was its first watchman, D. Antonio de Tavira. 

Apart from the architecture, it provides a unique tourist attraction: the "Camera Oscura". It projects a vivid and moving picture of what is happening outside in real-time. It is a relatively simple optical principle, already known in times of Leonardo da Vinci. The system comprised of two lenses and a large periscope mirror was installed on the very top of the tower. This optical contraption is controlled from below by a pair of long wooden-handled levers, to cast live images of the surrounding town onto a large parabolic table around which people can gather. In a modern age where the resolution of the images we see on our screens are constantly questioned and improved, the lenses’ projected picture on the table before the viewer is surprisingly sharp and focused. The mirror swivels around and zooms in on incredibly small details around the city and the fields beyond.

 

 

In the tower, there are also two exhibition halls. In addition to the exhibition halls and the Camera Obscura, the monument also has an amazing viewpoint to enjoy magnificent panoramic views of the entire city.

The guide who is also the lens-operator speaks English and uses the Camera Obscura not only to show the incredible architecture but also to discuss the history of the development of Jerez.  The tour costs an extra two euros on top of the normal price of admission to the palace grounds and is worth every penny. If you manage to go, make sure it is on a bright and sunny day to enjoy the best results.

 



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Bunkers in Barcelona
21 January 2020

If you happen to be visiting Barcelona in the near future don't leave without enjoying this stunning bird's-eye view of the city. Few viewpoints give a better landscape than the hilltop ruins of the Bunkers del Carmel.

Built during the Spanish Civil War as anti-aircraft fortifications in 1938, the bunkers on the hill of Turó de la Rovira were situated so that they could survey the entire width of the city. Large Vickens 105 mm cannons were mounted on the concrete and masonry defences. The objective was to protect the city of Barcelona from the Italian fascist aviation that used a bloody tactic called "carpet bombing" (later this tactic became generalized during World War II).

 

The carpet-bombing caused around 800 dead, more than a thousand wounded and the total destruction of about 50 buildings. The city counted as a single defence a wide network of underground shelters and this system of antiaircraft warfare installed by the Government of the Republic.

 

 

After the war, naturally, the guns were removed and the bunkers were simply abandoned. Yet the view from the site was too lovely to stay neglected for long and eventually the old bunkers became known as a beautiful if a bit remote, place to take in the historic city.

As the popularity of the site grew, the bunkers received a revamp as officials wanted to make it more appealing to tourists as well as celebrate the ancient Iberian settlement that is also nearby. The formerly secret site now regularly sees visitors but is secluded enough that it is often still fairly private. They are free to visit and open 24 hours a day.

 



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Wooden Mushrooms
15 January 2020

When Jürgen Mayer-Hermann designed and began constructing the Metropol Parasol, there was a near-uprising from locals in Sevilla. Erected in the Old Quarter of Sevilla amidst historic and beautiful buildings, a gigantic, modern interpretation of wooden mushrooms didn't quite seem to fit. Despite the initial uproar, citizens and visitors of Sevilla have come to embrace the wooden landmark.

At a staggering size of 150 by 70 metres and 26 metres high, the Parasol dominates the landscape around the city centre. Made entirely out of wood, it is the world's largest wooden structure. Created out of 8,000 timber pieces and connected with steel and glue, the structure is an architectural nightmare that yielded a magnificent and dreamlike result.

The entire complex was finally opened in April 2011 and cost a whopping €123 million USD. Naturally, it was 70% over budget following good Spanish tradition.

Given its size, the Parasol, also referred to as Encarnacion's Mushrooms, serves a variety of purposes. The basement floor houses a museum of ancient Roman and Moorish artefacts and the ground floor hosts a lively Central Market. Along with the pleasures of food and history below the wooden mushrooms, the truly amazing levels of the structure are the terraces high above the ground. The terraced walkways on the 2nd and 3rd levels of the structure offer stunning views of the city and the ability to walk eye-level with the ancient buildings of the Old Quarter. Even though it was a colossal cost, it is quite impressive and well worth a visit.

 



Like 1        Published at 18:37   Comments (0)


George Orwell and the Spanish Civil War
08 January 2020

Even though he was an Englishman, famed author George Orwell made it a point to head to Spain during the Spanish Civil War in order to join the fight for democracy, mainly out of idealism. Today, his path through one portion of the war is remembered by a trail of recreated fortifications.

Orwell joined the fighting of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, despite the reasoned advice of fellow author, Henry Miller. Despite being a volunteer, Orwell wanted to head to the front lines of the war, but it was not in the cards. Instead, he was sent, with a regiment to the region of Aragon, where the fighting was rather light. There he didn't see much action, but he did encounter a great deal of hardship among the soldiers, including hunger, terrible living conditions, and lack supplies in general. While his initial visit was uneventful, he would return to Aragon later and be shot in the neck. He survived and managed to escape Spain, and his ordeal would go on to inform his book.

 

 

Despite a general agreement among many in Spain to let the events of the civil war remain in the past, many of the trenches and fortifications where Orwell spent time have been methodically recreated today. The trenches and bunkers along what is now called the George Orwell Route look as though they have never even been touched by time, much less war. Visitors can now walk the same hilltop path that was not only visited by Orwell, but by countless soldiers who took part in the tragic war. 

The Spanish Civil War may not be a popular subject among many, but thanks to Orwell's high-profile visit, this battlefield will not be forgotten any time soon. 

 

              

Ruta Orwell



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Discover the Gooseneck Barnacle
02 January 2020

This Christmas and New Year gooseneck barnacles were one of the prized dishes on the dinner table. Known as Percebes in Spanish, they are so called because of their resemblance to a goose’s neck and head but could easily be mistaken for alien beings. This barnacle forms dense colonies in crevices on rocky shores with strong waves. Barnacles anchor themselves to rocks by a tough, flexible stalk (peduncle), which also contains the ovaries. This is actually their “head” end.

 

Once the gooseneck barnacle has attached itself to an object, it secretes a series of pale plates at the end of its stalk, forming a shell around its featherlike legs, which comb through the water for food. The legs face away from the sea, enabling the barnacle to feed by filtering out particles of detritus from returning tidal water as it funnels past them through cracks in the rocks. Gooseneck barnacles become sexually mature at about five years of age and may live for up to 20 years. The larval stage is free-living but depends on sea currents for its transport and survival. Colonies of gooseneck barnacles are susceptible to the damaging effects of oil pollution and they recover only slowly from disturbance.


On northern Spain’s "Coast of Death" local men (percebeiros) risk their lives searching the jagged cliffs for gooseneck barnacles, a rare delicacy for which consumers will shell out hundreds of euros. It is here, where the roaring surf crashes wildly on to the rocks where the largest and fattest examples – the ones that bring in the most money – grow.

Galicia is a relatively poor region of Spain: there are few jobs and none that pay well. The shipbuilding industry, once the pride of Galicia, is in ruins, and the sea is overfished. Hunting for gooseneck barnacles is one of the few ways in which to earn money. Gourmets pay a high price for the rare stalked crustaceans: in a restaurant a plateful can cost €100. On the eve of important festivities, fishermen can make up to €300 per kilo at auction – with luck they can earn €1,000 in a day. But the stakes they play for are high; this is a dangerous way to make a living.

The Costa de la Muerte, the Coast of Death, is the region between the fishing village of Malpica in the north and Cape Finisterre, so called because of tricky northwesterlies and barely concealed rocks, which have often proved fatal for fishermen and seafarers. One of the worst tragedies occurred in 1595, when 25 ships of the Spanish Armada were hit by a storm and 1,705 sailors died. In the past five centuries more than 500 ships have capsized and thousands of seamen drowned. Many of these were ‘percebeiros’. On average, five fishermen die every year.

Conditions must be perfect to harvest gooseneck barnacles: good weather, a quiet sea and the right point in the lunar cycle. Spring tides and a particularly low ebb happen every two weeks, with a full and a new moon; at all other times the long-necked barnacles are underwater. The lower the sea level, the better, as the barnacles usually live below the waterline, where they are safe from predators.

Barnacles are a genus of primitive invertebrates that have populated the oceans for 500 million years. Unlike other crustaceans, they cannot move. The larvae stick themselves firmly to rocks with their cement glands, and use the tentacles in their mouthparts to collect the plankton that is whipped up by the surf. In the mid-19th century Charles Darwin devoted eight years to studying a total of 10,000 specimens, which he arranged and classified in species and subspecies. This work helped him to develop his theory of evolution.

Firmly anchored on the rock face, gooseneck barnacles often live near mussels. But unlike these shellfish, they have resisted all attempts to breed them. Scientists suspect that they need the tides to survive, and it has proved impossible to recreate these conditions in a laboratory. They thrive in intertidal zones where there is particularly strong surf, so it is at these points that the best specimens, which fetch the highest prices at auction, can be found. Those that are easiest to reach, on the upper edge of the rocks, stay dry for too long during the ebb tide, and are as thin, mushy and tasteless as Moroccan gooseneck barnacles, which lack the mineral-rich Galician granite on which to flourish.

 

 

 

 About 400,000kg of barnacles, valued at €10 million, are handled annually. Gooseneck barnacles taste so intensely of the sea that the secret of their preparation is extremely simple: you put them in boiling water, ideally sea water, for a couple of minutes, without any other seasoning. Purists say you should be able to taste the waves of the surf and the plankton on which the crustacean has fed. You break open the shell – using the thumbnail of one hand, at the point between the stalk and the end that looks like a hoof – and twist the barnacle apart, then suck the flesh from the black shaft, a ¾in-1½in, orange-brown rod that tastes like a combination of crab, shrimp and oyster. You can also eat the barnacles raw. 

This video will give you an idea of what they go through to get these prized barnacles :

 



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