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The Underwater Museum
28 June 2019

 

There is a rather unusual museum on the Canarian island of Lanzarote. But visitors wanting to see the collection of sculptures created by British artist Jason deCaires Taylor will first have to put on a wetsuit and then dive 14 meters down to the seabed of Coloradas Bay, just off the coast of the town of Yaiza, in the southwest of the island.

Jason deCaires Taylor says his sculptures are a way to bring people into contact with the sea, as well as to make them more aware of the dangers our oceans face. At the same time as the figures tell a story, they help to protect the seabed. He also points out that the materials he has used are not harmful to their environment and he wants to help coral and other species to grow, which can help repopulate the marine biomass.

This isn’t Taylor’s first sub-aquatic venture. Around 500 of his pieces are already lying offshore in the warm waters off the coast of Cancún, on Mexico’s Caribbean coast.

When the local authorities in Lanzarote heard about Taylor’s work, they invited him to take part in the island’s biennial arts festival.
“As we knew it wasn’t impossible, we did it,” says José Juan Lorenzo, head of Lanzarote’s arts, culture and tourism department, which is responsible for running the museum.

 

 

 

“Taylor is a pioneer, an innovator,” says Lorenzo, highlighting Lanzarote’s long-standing support for the arts, best known via the work of local artist Cesar Manrique. “Lanzarote, thanks to the work of Cesar Manrique, has a long tradition of land art. The seabed here is as beautiful as the land, and so an initiative that highlights its importance, its fragility, its beauty, seemed perfect to us.”

 

 

Along with his family, Taylor has spent the last two years on Lanzarote preparing the seabed for the installation. While waiting for the paperwork, he has created images in his workshop there such as The Lampedusa Raft, a homage to refugees who flee their countries by sea.



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The Secret Library
20 June 2019

During the 1800s the fraternal order of Freemasons had lodges in practically every European-cultured country. Spain was no different, though the traces of the Freemasons are mostly hidden now—apart from this once-secret library.

Barcelona, much like London, Paris or Washington D.C., has an extraordinary artistic and architectural heritage based in Freemasonry. Masonic symbols like pyramids and the all-seeing eye can be found in cemeteries, libraries, sculptures, even government buildings. Passeig Sant Joan is devoted to Saint John, the chosen patron of Christian Freemasons. Ildefons Cerda, the urban planner who designed Barcelona’s layout, was a member and imagined a utopian city based on Masonic principles. At the turn of the century, there were nearly 170 Freemason lodges in Spain alone.

 

Rossend Arús was an influential journalist and playwright of the 1800s who used his Freemason associations for Republican political favour. Along with his fellow Masons, Arús had control of the city from behind the scenes. He began to host meetings in his home in 1888, and it soon became an official Masonic Temple. After his death in 1891, the house was turned into a library dedicated to Freemasonry. 

During Franco’s regime, almost every Freemason building was torn down and the Masons were prohibited from meeting. Like many fascist leaders, Franco feared uprising from independent organizations, as well as having misplaced antisemitic beliefs about the Freemasons’ purposes. Some in power sympathized with the Freemasons though, and the Rossend Arús library was shut down and hidden from view during the Franco years. After the dictator’s death and the end of his regime, Freemasonry slowly but surely crept its way back into Spain. 

After timidly growing less and less private and secretive, the Freemasons of Barcelona have opened Biblioteca Publica Rossend Arús to the public in Passeig Sant Joan. The luxurious reading rooms, golden frames, and precious marble of the 19th century still impress visitors. The collection includes important Masonic texts, as well as anarchist collections and rare magazines and literature. The third original version of the Statue of Liberty also resides in the main entrance. Today, the Rossend Arús is the best library for studying the working class history and Freemasonry in Catalonia. 

 

 

 



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Charco Azul- A day out in Chulilla
11 June 2019

 

Chulilla is hidden at the foot of its Arab castle in a spot difficult to imagine: a lake surrounded by lofty limestone walls where the Turia River becomes a mirror. The raging river that once swallowed up loggers has now been tamed.

Chulilla is a picturesque village made up of white houses huddled on the slopes of Cerro del Castillo, next to the natural moat formed by the Turia River which flows through the canyon formed by 160 meter high limestone walls. This canyon is currently one of Spain's rock climbing sanctuaries, with more than 500 routes. Here, at the foot of the rock walls, just a 30-minute walk from the village, we come across Charco Azul (Blue Pool), a haven of calm waters that mirrors the beauty of this vertical, solid rock landscape.

 

 

Charco Azul is an ideal place to have a refreshing swim in Summer and remember bygone days when the river flowed freely and unrestrained and logs cut in the mountains were floated downriver to the city of Valencia. Upon reaching this narrow canyon, where the lofty walls nearly touch each other, the logs became jammed and many loggers lost their lives trying to free them, and it is for this reason a chapel was built nearby.

The Charco Azul route is one of the nine self-guided routes that cross Chulilla's landscape. It starts and ends at Baronia square, the village's main square, and is well marked and very easy to follow and is even great for children.

Another route worth taking is the Pantaneros route, which follows the journey taken by the labourers who in the 1950s worked on the construction of the Loriguilla reservoir to travel from the village of Chulilla. It is a 5-kilometer walk (one-way) along the edge of the Turia River's canyon walls and has the added thrill of crossing the canyon on hanging bridges. To regain your strength after the long walk, there is nothing better than an 'olla churra', a stew based on white beans, cardoons, potatoes, pork, and cold meats, typical of this Valencian region of Los Serranos (also known as La Serranía or Alto Turia).


Olla churra and other stews, such as olla de berzas (cabbage stew) or rice with wild boar, are served at the restaurant hostal El Pozo in Chulilla. Another interesting option, of more modern cuisine, is the Restaurant Las Bodegas, which also has a bar that serves tapas and lunches accompanied by wines under the Valencia and Utiel-Requena designations of origin. So if you happen to pass through Valencia take a moment to visit Chulilla and its wonderful Charco Azul.

 



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Fried Fish Tapas Tour of Seville
03 June 2019

The "freiduría", or fish fryer, is the street food of Seville. Food stalls have always existed, in small stores on the ground floors of buildings, where chanquetes (transparent goby), sardines, shrimp, squid etc., are all fried and wrapped in paper cones that absorb the extra oil. The arrival of international restaurant chains didn't signal their end. Indeed, the people of Seville make good use of these traditional outlets each day, especially on summer nights.

Crossing the Andalusian capital you will encounter some classics. The Inchausti family run La Moneda which is by the Arco del Postigo and offers not only fish but also "puntillitas" (molluscs no longer than 5 cm, effectively baby squid - seen below in the photo) and mantis shrimp soup (a fairly flat crustacean, with not a lot of meat, but very flavorful). Since 1904, the same family has run El Arenal, near the La Maestranza bullring. Here, the specialities are adobos (Spanish marinades) and fried cuttlefish.

 

Visiting La Isla freiduría next to the cathedral we can try fried hake caviar, very popular in this Andalusian region. We should also keep in mind the breaded shrimp and the prices, which are quite reasonable compared to the rest of the establishments in the city centre.

 

 

Near the entrance to the Jewish quarter, the Puerta de la Carne freiduría is a must, founded in 1928. Fried, breaded, and boiled shrimp and cod are some of their specialities. They are open until midnight, with longer hours in the summer months.

 

 

Finally in the neighbourhood of Triana, probably one of the most popular in the entire city and a meeting point for lovers of tradition and tourists alike. Crossing the Isabel II bridge (popularly known as Puente de Triana, or Triana bridge) you will reach the Freiduría Reina Victoria. The establishment's interior is reminiscent of a school cafeteria, or an association hall, but that shouldn't detract from its appeal because founded by Galician immigrants, it boasts hake, cod and calamari served by few, but very effective, waiters. Before heading back to the centre, you should also visit Alboreá, with a spacious terrace and a bar, to have some weighed cold cuts. You can't leave without trying their tortillitas de camarones (shrimp fritters), quite common in Seville but difficult to find with such good quality. Enjoy the tour!

 

 

 

 



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The Lamb Festival in Asturias
22 May 2019

 

Oven-cooked lamb is a Christmas special, but I bet you haven't tried it cooked this way....Without a shadow of doubt, the festival of roast lamb (Cordero a la Estaca) is one on the finest “al fresco” eating experiences there is. Up high on a mountain top meadow, fires are lit early in the morning and constantly topped up with firewood from Ash trees creating a slow burning pit of embers ideal for cooking whole splayed lamb for six hours or more.

The result is a succulent “cooked to perfection” meat with a delicious smokey flavor from the Ash wood and a wonderful added taste from the homemade chimichurri (a mix of herbs, garlic, vinegar, white wine and olive oil) which is squirted into the meat just before the end of the cooking process. This process of slow-roasting lamb has attracted the attention of Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin who visited Asturias to see how it was done… who knows, maybe in future novels we will see the house of Stark celebrating with a “Cordero a la Estaca”.

Preparing and roasting lamb like this can be found throughout the region of Asturias during the summer with many towns hosting their own festival and is open to anyone wishing to try it. There are also many restaurants that offer “Cordero a la Estaca” throughout the year but keep in mind that you will probably you will have to pre-order the dish as it involves a lot of preparation.

One of the largest Lamb roasting festivals in Asturias is held in “Prau Llagüezos” (Llagüezos meadow) which is situated on the border between the council of Quirós and Lena 1330m above sea level. It is also one of the best situated thanks to its wonderful views and megalithic tombs and Dolmens which are located at the entrance of the meadow, called Alto de la Cobertoria. It has been held at this priviliged location annually since  1965.

Just in case you can't find the place, here are the coordinates!

Latitude     43° 9’11.57″N Longitude  5°54’23.45″W

Check out the video..

https://youtu.be/V2S74z-4icI

 

 



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The 'other' Giralda
10 May 2019

Driving along the road ‘N-340’ southbound, just entering the province of Tarragona you’ll find the town of L'Arboç (Baix Penedès), which boasts a scaled replica (1:2) of the famous Giralda in Seville, which was begun in 1184 by the then Muslim rulers of Spain, and was designed by mathematician and astronomer Jabir ibn Aflah.

 

The charming legend around the origin of the construction of this replica of Seville’s ever-famous minaret-bell tower is far more popular than the true story, even amongst many of the local town’s inhabitants.

The false story about the origin of the Giralda of L’Arboç  itells the story of a married couple who had emigrated from Seville  and after several years of living there,  greatly missed their Giralda, the emblem of their hometown. Sighing day and night and longed ever so much to see it again. The years passed and thanks to a lot of hard work they had amassed a great fortune, but their businesses were so important that it was impossible to return to their homeland. So they thought that if they could not go to live next to their treasured monument, they would have to bring it to them, and they commissioned an exact scaled replica so they could enjoy it every day for the rest of their lives.

 

            

 

But obviously this story, full of romance and nostalgia, is not exactly true but not far from it. The true story behind why there is a replica of the Giralda of Seville in the province of Tarragona, is as follows:

This striking monument which is more than a century old, was a tribute that Joan Roquer i Marí and Candelaria Negravernis wanted to pay for their trip to Andalusia on their first wedding anniversary. Extravagant, yes, but the young couple had received in 1886 a considerable fortune from the girl’s Indian uncle who had made his fortune in America. This led them to invest in several cultural projects, including the construction of the Teatro Romea in Barcelona or the Arbosense Theatre, originally the hometown of Joan, although he resided in Barcelona.

Their healthy economic position led  them to travel Andalusia and enjoy the buildings left by the Muslims during the time of Al-Andalus.

After several years of travel and business, in 1898 they decided to buy a plot of land of considerable size and commissioned a replica of those places that had fascinated them during their travels around the south of Spain.

A year later construction began, which lasted until 1907 and opened a year later (the ‘Giralda’ was finished in 1902). But not only the minaret was built there. Inside you can find a replica of the ‘Patio de los Leones’ from the Alhambra in Granada and a lounge covered by a Byzantine dome lined with 30 kg of gold leaf, a copy of the  ‘Hall of Ambassadors’ found in the Real Alcazar of Seville .

 

 

Thanks to the restless spirit of their owners, in the years following the Giralda of Arboç became a meeting place for characters linked closely to arts and culture, where events and music festivals were held. Today it is a cenvention center where you can even hold a wedding.

 



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Time Travellers in Salamanca?
17 April 2019

Salamanca, apart from being an old city known for its beautiful buildings and its university, has many hidden gems amongst them the mysterious carvings on two of it most renowned buildings. Students at the University of Salamanca, the oldest in Spain and third oldest in the world, are greeted with the old legend of the frog. It is presented as a challenge and ritual, that the students must spot the frog on the façade of the University, otherwise, they will not be able to graduate as doctors. This superstition still continues to this day and has also become a ritual for tourists in search of good luck, if you spot it without help you'll get more luck than chucking a coin into the Trivi Fountain. To find it you must go to  La Puerta de Salamanca, the University’s façade. It’s a plateresque design intricately carved out of stone. However I am going to give you a clue, I wouldn't want anyone leaving there without their "good luck"- the frog can be found sitting on a  skull. Apparently, after studies by an academic Benjamin Garcia-Hernández, the skull would represent Prince Juan of the Reyes Catolicos who died in 1497 just before turning 20 despite endless efforts by the "doctors" to save his life. The frog represents the physician who treated him, Doctor Parra, thus giving the frog its nickname "Parrita". So to help you out this is what you need to look for...

However, nothing is more confusing to archaeologists and historians then old hoaxes, hoaxes that are now themselves parts of history and have caused hours and hours of wasted research. One of the most famous was the crystal skulls, for example, which were "discovered" in the jungles of Belize in the 1920s and said to be 3,600-year-old Mayan artefacts, but were actually carved in the 1840s, or the Voynich Manuscript, an undecipherable coded and illustrated manuscript from between the 1300s and 1400s, which is likely a series of gibberish meant to either discredit Jesuit Priest Athanasius Kircher, or possibly to gain fame and fortune for the unknown author. 

The thing that makes old hoaxes so frustrating is that they are hard to tease out from their actual history. Something fabricated in the 1600s made to look like it is from the 1400s can be very hard to pick out. However, this brings me to another carving on the facade of Salamanca's cathedral. An astronaut. Salamanca has two cathedrals, the old and the new. The Old Cathedral was built in the 12th century in the Romanesque style and it is dedicated to Saint Mary of the See. It is closed to the public and only opened during very special occasions. The New Cathedral is not exactly “new”. It was built between the 16th and 18th centuries in the Gothic and Baroque styles, commissioned by Ferdinand V of Castile of Spain, the Catholic King. For some time there were numerous debates online about the fact that one of the carvings is decidedly an astronaut. Obviously, there were no astronauts back in the 18th century, so some bright sparks deduced that it was evidence of time travel or ancient space travel via alien intervention. Some minds are easily influenced. The Astronaut is hidden in the carvings of the lateral entrance of the cathedral. Additionally more evidence to support these ridiculous theories was a gargoyle eating an ice-cream which also appears to be laughing at you. Which is rather ironic. But on this occasion neither are hoaxes even though they may appear to be.

 The astronaut and the gargoyle on the Cathedral of Salamanca were both approved as a modern addition to the Cathedral, however, they have all the hallmarks of something which may provide for great confusion some 500 years from now. Built between 1513 and 1733, the Gothic cathedral underwent restoration work in 1992. It is generally a tradition of cathedral builders and restorers to add details or new carvings to the facade as a sort of signature. In this case, after conferring with the cathedral, quarryman Jeronimo Garcia was given the go-ahead to add some more modern images to the facade including an astronaut floating among some vines as well as the dragon eating ice cream. A lynx, a bull, and a crayfish were also added. The astronaut represents 20th-century technology and the gargoyle is said to represent the students of Salamanca.

So there you have it if you decide to visit Salamanca one day don't forget to pass by and pick up your dose of good luck and pay your respects to the ancient time travellers.

Good luck finding them!



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Barcelona's Hidden Treasure
08 April 2019

Barcelona's oldest treasure is also one of the most hidden. Located in the city’s Gothic quarter, four 2,000-year-old columns from the Roman Empire’s Imperial Period are hidden by the building that houses the Centre Excursionista de Catalunya (Hiking Club of Catalonia).

The temple was originally built to honor Emperor Augustus and once towered over the ancient Roman city of Barcino. It was constructed of sandstone from nearby Montjuïc Hill and at least partially plastered over. The building was built in the first century and measured 12 feet in length. It was surrounded by numerous 30-foot-tall columns, but now only four exist and lay testament to this wonderful building.

Most of the stones from the temple were reused for other buildings. Three of the columns remained intact, forming part of the inside of a new structure. They were found in the 15th century, but no one could figure out their origin until the 19th Century, when it was discovered they were, in fact,  the remains of a Roman temple.

The fourth column was rebuilt from the remains of the other columns and erected in the Plaça del Rei (King’s Square) in 1879, where it stayed until 1956 when it was moved to the spot where it stands now, next to the original three columns, which have never been moved. Though they rest on bits of plinth from the original structure, the ancient building is otherwise gone.

 

 



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Goya did the washing up at this restaurant...still open today
04 April 2019

 

In 1561, King Philip II ordered the court to be moved to the city of Madrid. The young king and his wife, Elizabeth of Valois, chose Madrid over Toledo and Valladolid. The reasons for this preference were, above all, based on practical arguments: Madrid was situated in the centre, half way between both ends of the Iberian Peninsula, it had good water and its climate was pleasant and clean.

The arrival of the court led to a spectacular, if somewhat chaotic, stint of urban growth. In order to control this chaos, the Junta de Policía y Ornato (Police and Order Commission) was established, and was governed by the architect, Francisco de Mora, who collaborated with Juan de Herrera during the construction of the Escorial Monastery. This commission was in charge of aligning façades, correcting sudden slopes and eliminating any projections.

Madrid continued to grow, despite the fact that upon the death of Philip II, Philip III temporarily transferred the court to Valladolid. It was precisely in this period (more specifically in 1590) that the first evidence of the building which today hosts Botín was recorded. Its owner applied for Privilegio de exención de huéspedes (Privilege of Exemption from Lodgers), documental proof of which still exists today. This tax was paid by owners of properties with one or more floors who did not wish to host members of the royal corteges who travelled to Madrid and did not lodge at the palace or in the homes of the nobility.

 

 

In 1606 the Court returned to Madrid and in 1620 with the refurbishment of the Plaza Mayor (previously the Plaza del Arrabal) the area became the main commercial enclave in the city with shoemakers, tanners, cutlers, braziers, and blacksmiths. The streets in the area even adopted the name of the trades carried out there: “Ribera de Curtidores”, “Plaza de Herradores” and of course “Calle Cuchilleros”. It was on one of these streets were a French cook by the name of Jean Botín arrived in Madrid together with his wife a native of Asturias with the intention of working for a nobleman from the Court of Habsburg. In 1725, a nephew of Botín’s wife,opened a small inn on the Calle Cuchilleros and carried out a refurbishment of the ground floor of the building, closing the existing arcade. Evidence of this work remains in the form of a slab at the building’s entrance which features the date. The wood oven also dates from that year and even today continues to attract diners with its tempting aromas.

An interesting fact is that until well into the 18th Century it was forbidden to sell meat, wine and other foodstuffs as it was considered an imposition which would jeopardise other trades. As a result, you could only serve what the guest brought to be cooked. From here came the legend that “in Spanish inns you only found what the traveller brought”.

By way of an anecdote referring to this time, the 1987 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records stated that in 1765, the adolescent Goya was employed at Botín as a dishwasher. The same edition also names Botín as the oldest restaurant in the world. Let us return, however, to the history of the restaurant: The Botíns died without any descendents, and the restaurant was subsequently taken over by their nephew, Candido Remis...which explains the name coined by the business ever since: Sobrino de Botín (Botín’s nephew).

 

 

During the 19th century, the ground floor underwent more renovations. As part of this process, the polychrome wooden frieze with gold leaf was constructed at the entrance, in addition to the large windows and the confectionery counter where fritters, crème pastries, sugar-topped sweet rolls and cream glory cakes. Back then, Botín was considered as a type of tavern, since the term ‘restaurant’ was solely used for the few and rather exclusive places which attempted to emulate Parisian establishments.

With the arrival of the 20th century, Botín fell into the hands of its current owners, the González family. At that time, only the entrance and first floor were dedicated to the restaurant, with the wine cellar being used for storage and the second and third floors for the family dwelling. When Amparo Martín and her husband Emilio González took hold of the reins, Botín was only a small family business with just seven employees, including the couple and their three children.

 

 

The dawn of the Spanish Civil War served to dash the family’s hopes of expanding the small business. Amparo and her children fled to the village of Segorbe in Castellon whilst Emilio stayed behind to look after the house, which turned into a dining room for members of the military.

After the war and the terrible period immediately following it, the couple’s sons, Antonio and José, assumed control of the business and gradually turned it into what it is today. Currently, the restaurant is made up of four floors, all of which have preserved the charming atmosphere of a traditional tavern. Situated at the heart of Madrid of the Habsburgs, Botín boasts a truly unbeatable location. This is exactly why great effort has been taken to maintain the restaurant’s original appearance. A series of renovation processes have been executed to cater for the ever-growing number of customers, without changing the building’s characteristic features.

Botín's speciality is Castilian cuisine, with a special emphasis on roast lamb and suckling pig. Three or four times every week, the restaurant receives suckling pigs straight from Segovia and lambs from Spain's renowned magic triangle: Sepúlveda-Aranda-Riaza.  The lambs and suckling pigs are roasted slowly and carefully in the original holm oak wood-fired oven. 

Today, the business is being run by the third generation of the González family: Antonio, José and Carlos. All of them are dedicated to achieving Botín's age-old commitment to not only spoiling the stomachs of their guests, but also reaching their hearts for at least three hundred more years to come.

 

Reservations : +34 913664217

 



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A spectacular walk in Teruel
26 March 2019

Some of the prettiest towns in Aragón can be found in Teruel province by the Matarraña river, such as Valderrobres and Beceite. One of the best walks in the region is the Parrizal (Parrissal) trail a truly wonderful walk along the river. On the last leg of the trail, hikers can cross wooden footbridges, walk through stunning gorges and refresh their weary feet in the ice-cold water pools which are crystal clear. If you are interested in discovering the route here is a link to a guide.

 

 



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