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Hello Summer! Hello Fire!
20 June 2018

In San Pedro de Manrique in Soria, It is said that only local townsfolk can complete the walk without being burned.

In this otherwise unknown village, two different celebrations take place during the Festival of San Juan. The famous ‘Paso del Fuego’ (Firewalking) on the eve of San Juan and that known as  ‘Las Móndidas‘, on the 24 th of June. Both of these festivals have been declared of National Tourist and Cultural Interest.

 

 

Each year on 23 June, Midsummer night's eve, this ritual takes place. It consists of crossing the live coals of a meticulously prepared bonfire barefoot. The bonfire is lit at 9:00 at night with 2,000 kilos of oak wood, which burns easily and does not form lumps. At around 11:30, the carpet-like path of red-hot coals is prepared by smoothing them with poles called 'hoguneros'. Young men dance around the fire, and exactly at midnight everything is ready to begin the walk across the carpet. Ten to twelve young men are chosen to do this, and they generally carry someone on their shoulders, since the extra weight avoids combustion. They try to ensure that the coals contain no ashes or hard objects; thanks to these precautions they never get burned. 

 

 

Only inhabitants of San Pedro Manrique are permitted to pass over this burning carpet and do so accompanied by the fanfare of a trumpet. The ‘Móndidas’ (three local girls who play the role of priestesses) are the first to cross the embers but are carried on the backs of gallant young men afterwhich any one of the neighbours may partake of this ancestral tradition. In the past it was rare for women to participate but nowadays it is not unusual to see them enduring this ritual. The Móndidas, carrying wicker baskets and long breadsticks ("arbujuelos"), walk in a procession the following day. One of them, the most important one, offers the first "arbujuelo" to the priest. 

 

 

Some people would say that this is a Celtic Rite others a purification rite and others a pagan sun and fire-worship but if you ask one of the "fire walkers" (or pasadores) about the origin of the festival, they will simply answer: “It has always been like this” Some people just follow their father’s or grandfather's footsteps, others just do it as a promise to the patron saint ‘Virgen de la Peña’, some just do it to prove themselves that they can do it... there are a lot of reasons, but for every man in this town the Paso del Fuego is part of their identity. 

 

 

 

 



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Geominero Museum
14 June 2018

Madrid is teeming with museums, but none quite like the Museo Geominero. Opened in its current location in May of 1926, the collection’s roots extend nearly a century earlier when engineers and geologists began amassing literal and figurative gems of the nation during a massive project to map Spain’s geology, undertaken in 1849. Housed originally in the palace of the Duke of San Pedro, the current cavernous home of these specimens has become a cherished secret among Madrid’s sometimes ravenous museum-goers.

As if tiers of cases containing sparkly bits mined deep from the centre of our planet and invertebrates older than humankind weren’t enough of a draw, the museum itself is a masterpiece in its own right. Housed as it is within a four-story marble and glass building constructed in the beaux-arts style, the ornamentation surrounding the show’s stars are reason alone to visit. Due to architect Francisco Javier de Luque’s adroit inclusion of a massive glass roof, everything contained therein is imbued with an added sparkle due to the natural light radiating from on high. 

Additionally, the "Museo Geominero" distinguishes itself from its geological peers in its execution of a self-proclaimed mission to educate its patrons. Its displays are accompanied by an uncommon amount of information on all matters geologic and paleontologic, both in Spanish history and far beyond. Visitors to the museum leave not only blinded by brilliance but with a depth of knowledge about what so often goes unnoticed underfoot.



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The Oldest Establishment in Spain
31 May 2018


 

Opposite the Cathedral of Seville, in the heart of the Andalusian capital, Las Escobas is a living testimony of the history of Seville. There are writings that rate it as the oldest tavern in Spain, founded in the 14th Century, when it was also grocery shop, where wine was sold and brooms were made and hung from the ceiling.

The Antigua Taberna de Las Escobas dates back to 1386, making it the oldest establishment in Spain. It specialises in Andalusian cuisine: Prize-winner for Creative Tapas and Catering Merits.


The oldest tavern in Spain is named after an old basket weaver, who served and made the brooms or "escobas" by hand, which hang from the ceiling. Now it has two air-conditioned dining rooms and an open-air terrace, although you can feel the history of the establishment in the air. 

 

 

People from all walks of life used to come to the Antigua Taberna de Las Escobas, including famous writers, poets and artists from different periods: Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Bécquer, Dumas, Lord Byron, Santiago Montoto and the Álvarez Quintero brothers, who today give their name to the street where more this age-old establishment is to be found.

Nowadays, the Antigua Taberna de Las Escobas serves a great variety of dishes and tapas typical of the varied gastronomy of Andalusia and the Mediterranean. 

 



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The Stunning Village of Morella
04 May 2018

 

Morella is an extraordinary example of a Gothic town and has the designation of 'Place of Cultural Interest' and is well worth a visit if you are in the area.

The highlights are, first of all, the castle and medieval walls, erected in the 14th century. Within the old enclosure, there are notable churches, like the Santa María la Mayor Archpriest (1263-1330), Gothic with Baroque details; the old San Francisco Convent (13th century); the San Juan Churches (15th century), Gothic with Neoclassical decorations, and the San Nicolás Church, Gothic; and the San Marcos and San Pedro Mártir Chapels.

 

 

As far as civil architecture is concerned, the Casa de la Villa (14th and 17th century), and the Ciruana, Piquer, Rovira and Cardinal Ram Houses are all worth mentioning, as well as the hospital (15th century).

Likewise, walking through the network of streets full of staircases, passing by the porticos of Blasco de Alagón, completing a loop around the mountain via the Alameda and contemplating the outside of the medieval Santa Llúcia aqueduct, are essential for getting to know this wonderful town.

 

Two points of interest stand out in the municipality of Morella: the cave paintings of Morella La Vella, and the Sanctuary of the Virgen of Vallivana. Every six years since 1673, a procession climbs to the virgin of the city. On the edges of the highway there are many chapels where pilgrims perform prayers and supplications on their 22 kilometre march.

 

 



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A Unique Village Church
26 April 2018

 

The Sagrat Cor de Vistabella church is thought to be one of the Modernist architect Josep Maria Jujol’s masterpieces. It is a wonderful example of ecology applied to architecture and building construction. Jujol was fascinated and obsessed with nature and the environment and its potential and thus used simple materials to build the church, such as wood, forged iron, stone and brick.

The interior of the church is rather unusual and to create the design, he used techniques such as stuccowork, sgraffito and exposed brick, so that the decorations would blend into the building’s structure and share its originality. All of the church's furnishings and accessories were also made of simple, recycled materials.

 

 

  

 

According to the art historian Montserrat Duran, author of the biographical and artistic study Josep M. Jujol. L’arquitectura amagada, «his imagination for covering both the interior and the exterior with simple materials crafted completely by hand, makes this building a unique work of art, fitting of his understanding of art joining with its natural environment. In other words, entirely economic architecture».

Jujol´s intention, apart from reducing the budget — the project was financed by just one family and from contributions made by the inhabitants of the town—, was to make the most of the natural elements provided by the environment. Jujol’s work, therefore, became a perfect combination of functionality, saving and sustainability.

Built approximately between 1917 and 1924, Sagrat Cor church has a square floor plan. The ceiling is a groin vault made of parabolic arches. The cupola is hexagonal and there is a spectacular triangular bell tower.

 



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Carved into the Rock
12 April 2018

 

This strange sight looks like something straight out of Tolkien’s Rivendell. What resembles an ancient, mythical village is carved into the rock, complete with elegant arches that lead into ornate corridors.
Perhaps disappointingly, this random roadside scene is not at all related to the fictional Elven realm. In reality, it’s the work of a 20th-century Spanish priest.

 


Don Aurelio, the priest of nearby Valderrebollo, Spain, constructed this curious hamlet in the 1960s. Almost every day after mass, he and local volunteers would carve their way through the soft karst. They created elaborate doors and banisters and a network of tunnels that wind through a labyrinth of hidden chambers. Supposedly, one of the lower caves even held a bar frequented by local fishermen.


Now, the intriguing hamlet is abandoned. Some of the inner walls have collapsed, and plants are slowly beginning to blanket parts of the space. But amazingly, a little fountain nestled amid the structures still gurgles with life. Fed from a natural spring, the crystal-clear water cascades out of small set of brass spigots and pools within a trough, waiting to quench the thirst of any animals that happen to wander by.

 

 



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The Stone Monastery - a heavenly complex
05 April 2018

Since May 20, 1194 when Alfonso II of Aragon donated an old Moorish castle to a handful of monks in order to found the Monasterio de Piedra, this spot in Spain’s mostly barren reaches has been home to a divine paradise here on Earth.

Though officially secularized in 1835, during the reign of Isabella II, visitors to the monastery today will still find the remaining Gothic and Baroque buildings as heavily fortified as they were in the days of the monastery’s founding. Its cloisters remain intact, surrounded by immaculately landscaped gardens, though the main church was irreparably damaged in the aforementioned secularization and subsequent period of abandonment.

These ruins have an eerie, beautiful air about them, as they remain half-triumphant in their unwillingness to fall after so many years. Heavily fortified since its conception, visitors to the monastery will find the compound’s original cloisters intact, albeit reincarnated as a hotel and guesthouse.

 

Just slightly farther afield from civilization, ancient and contemporary, is the Piedra River, which is responsible for the conjoining nature park’s legendary, remarkable waterfalls. Created through the dissolution of limestone in a phenomenon geologists refer to as “karstification,” these standout cataracts include the 50-meter-tall Cola del Caballo (named such for its resemblance to a horse’s tail), and a handful of others which seem to bell into a million tiny rivulets running over the shoulder of huge boulders.

Clearly marked trails wend visitors on a five-kilometer path through the park’s most famed sights, including a natural reflecting pool trapped in a canyon called Mirror Lake. The natural park also has several caves, into which shepherds have built shelters for their flocks, as well as a raptor center that’s open to the public.

 

As of February 16, 1983, Monasterio de Piedra — natural park and all — was declared a national monument, which should ensure the protection of this little slice of the divine for another 800 years to come. 

 

 



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The Biospheres of Asturias
27 March 2018

One thing Asturians are proud of is their region's nature: its mysterious forests and coastline left unscathed by the whirlwind of property developments, its salmon rivers and steep mountains, ideal for rock climbers and hikers. Arising from this pride is a magnificent conservation that has led to more than a third of Asturias' territory being declared as national and international protected areas and the best-preserved coastline in Spain.


The exploration begins with the 6 UNESCO-listed Biosphere Reserves in the Principality.


The Picos de Europa's reserve was Spain's first National Park, protected since 1918. Rising up in the centre of this park is the Picu Urriellu, a real magnet for rock climbers, which then opens onto the Lakes of Covadonga. Fuentes del Narcea, Degaña and Ibias is a Nature Park with totemic fauna including the brown bear and capercaillie. Within this park you will also find the Muniellos Forest Nature Reserve and El Cueto de Arbás Partial Nature Reserve.

Only 20 people per day can enjoy the experience of travelling through the Muniellos Forest, the largest oak grove in Spain and one of the best-preserved in Europe. You need to book far enough in advance. The route is mapped out, is circular and is 20 kilometres long. It's free but you can pay for a guide. It takes about seven hours and covers an ascent of 600 m. 


The brown bear's habitat extends up to Somiedo which, as well as being a Biosphere Reserve, became the first Nature Park in Asturias (1988). Its lake, El Valle, is the biggest in the region and its brañas (high-mountain pasture areas) are dotted with teitos (thatched roof cottages). Las Ubiñas - La Mesa Nature Park contains the second largest mountain range in the region, the Peña Ubiña Massif and is full of natural monuments, such as the Huerta Cave, home to a large bat hibernation colony, or the Puertos de Marabio, with its peculiar karst complex. Redes is a refuge for all species native to northern regions, from the brown bear to the capercaillie or the wolf. Its complex terrain, also recognised as a Nature Park, is combined with spectacular mountains, valleys and limestone gorges that can be discovered on the River Alba Trail or in Los Arrudos.

Oscos-Eo  (GPS:+43.515568,-7.043293) is the biggest UNESCO-listed Biosphere Reserve. Running through this territory is the river corridor of the Eo River, a special area for bird watching.

Other networks of international protected areas are the European Union's Red Natura 2000 and Sites of Community Importance (SCIs). Following their trace, you can discover the Sueve Range, the Oneta Waterfalls, the Esva Basin, the Deboyo Cave, the Santiuste Blowhole, the Villaviciosa Estuary, the Caldoveiro Peak, the Pastur or Barayo Yew. Ponga Nature Park is made up of gorges such as the Ponga or Beyos gorges and lies within the Partial Nature Park of Peloño.

 

 

Hiking is possibly the best way to admire these lush spots In Asturias, there are trails suitable for all physical conditions and tastes and for those looking for only short excursions. And you don't even need to park the car. The intricate network of regional motorways allows you to combine visits and organise unforgettable excursions. Other options are cycling along the sign-posted and well-preserved greenways or taking a journey on one of the routes travelled by giant dinosaurs, using their ichnites carved on rocks as a guide. 

Wildlife watching tourism has opened up a new door of experiences: set off on an ornithological route, follow the footsteps of the brown bear, get a taste of nature on an excursion collecting plants that are used in cookery workshops or travel through folds used by shepherds keeping your eye on the sky to spot the bearded vulture, reintroduced into Picos de Europa, in flight. This way you will be able to experience the passion for  Asturian nature first hand.



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The Roundabout
22 March 2018

 

An exact replica of a colossal Olmec head sits atop a pyramid in Madrid. 

A large head, perched atop a stepped pyramid, keeps an unblinking eye on drivers as they whirl around a roundabout in Madrid. The odd sight looks as though it should be behind glass in a museum, not plopped outside and encircled by a steady stream of cars.

The looming roadside structure is actually an exact replica of an Olmec head known as “Colossal Head 8” which was carved sometime between 1200 and 900 BC. Also called “The King,” the ancient boulder that inspired this new version is one of 17 colossal heads discovered throughout Mexico.

 

 

The heads are a hallmark relic of the Olmec civilization, which once flourished across ancient Mesoamerica. Archaeologists are still unclear as to what the giant heads represent, or how the big boulders were transported across vast distances.

The Olmec head above the Madrid traffic circle was made in 2005 by the Mexican sculptor Ignacio Pérez Solano. It was donated by the Mexican state of Veracruz in 2007.

The roundabout 'head' is the same size and weight as the colossal head it’s modelled after. The sculptor spent about three months working to carve it.

The big Olmec head is in the centre of the Ensanche de Vallecas neighbourhood, located southeast of the city centre.

The 'Cabeza Olmeca' an approximately half-mile walk from the tube station Congosto. Walk along the street Peña Sorrapia until you reach the park, where you can see the monument.



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Marenostrum isn't what you might think it is...
05 March 2018

What used to be a divine place of worship is now the home of the Barcelona Supercomputing Center. The Torre Girona church houses what could possibly be the most beautiful computer in the world if computers can actually be beautiful, and it fills the expansive main hall with banks of futuristic computer equipment within a glass box. 

Marenostrum, as it is named, has been housed in this former church since 2005. It is one of the most powerful supercomputers in Europe that was instrumental in developing modern microchip technology. The giant machine is used to calculate the massively complex calculations involved in such fields of research as human genome mapping, astrophysics, and weather prediction. Physically the computer consists of a number of black computing racks that are all encased in a giant glass box, which itself sits in the romantically-styled main hall of Torre Girona.

 

 

Rebuilt after the Spanish Civil War, the Torre Girona is a 19th-century church that sits on the campus of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia. The space was actually in use as a Catholic church until at least until 1960 but was since deconsecrated and used for more functional purposes until finally being inhabited in full by the supercomputer and its attendant offices. 


MareNostrum is one of the most powerful supercomputers in Europe. To put MareNostrum’s original calculating capacity into terms a typical PC owner can appreciate; it has 10,240 IBM 2.3 GHz processors and 20 Terabytes of main memory. That doesn’t, however, mean that – if you went out and bought 10,240 PCs and joined them together, you would have the power of a MareNostrum. Those 10,240 PCs would, putting it very simply, work rather like a production line producing, for example, a car silencer – the first person would weld a seam on a rolled form, the second would insert one end plate and weld it in, the third would insert a pipe and so on; one job would follow on another, so nothing would be completed until the final person/processor in the chain had finished its allocated job.

MareNostrum’s processors don’t work like that! The architecture of this super computer is such that all those 10240 2.3 GHz processors work together, sharing the work of producing the end product, rather than passing each phase of the process on, the result is a capacity to perform a staggering 94.21 trillion operations per second!

It has since been upgraded. Now MareNostrum has a peak performance of 1,1 Petaflops, with 48,896 Intel Sandy Bridge processors in 3,056 nodes, and 84 Xeon Phi 5110P in 42 nodes, with more than 104.6 TB of main memory and 2 PB of GPFS disk storage. God knows what that is in everyday English but for those who understand computers, you might find it interesting!

MareNostrum may not be the most powerful computer in the world any longer, but it will likely remain the most visually appealing for many years to come. 



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