Nov 29, 2009

Photo Essay: Granada pt.2, a day wandering around Sacromonte

She beckons us, her old wrinkled face mournful yet grinning, her floral dress fluttering in the breeze. Like a picture of a grandma from storybooks on gypsies, she gives me and M a sprig of fresh rosemary each for luck before quickly taking my hand and telling me my fortune in rambling incoherent Spanish. Without pause she grabs M's hand and tells him he has a beautiful girlfriend and makes the usual prediction that our relationship will be enduring. We are charmed but know her open palm will soon demand payment for her performance. We figure this "magical experience" is worth 2 Euros. [an aside: that I now, a mere two years later, stand in the cold ashes of this "enduring" relationship, I think, is a testimony to the veracity of Gypsy fortune-telling in general and this fortuneteller in particular.]

Granada is a vibrant young university town with free tapas, plenty of nightlife and it bustles with tourists hoping to conjure history and romance. This is a place where gypsies can and do take full advantage of their well-known mystique, which clearly glitters in the eyes of tourists, and quickly part them from their euros in return for palm readings and a sprig of rosemary. In the narrow labyrinth streets on Christmas night we also saw a witch in a filthy dress and matted hair cursing and spitting on an upside down framed picture of Christ on the cross. Such are the passions and mysteries of this city which enflame the imagination.

With its the old Arab quarter of Albaicín and Gypsy caves, Sacromonte (Holy Mountain) is an enchanting place to spend the day wandering and getting lost.

Wandering up the hill:
Granada, gypsy home, alhambra and sierra
A gypsy cave house on Sacromonte.

On Summer nights this area comes alive with castanets, strumming guitars and strutting dancers. This tourist trap is called a Zambra. Fortunately, since we were here in winter, it was quiet and no gypsies emerged to sell us their wares.
Granada, gypsy cave
A gypsy cave with two chimneys near the old wall.
Granada, home sweet home
A gypsy cave, campfire, and assortment of furniture.

Granada, sacromonte vista
A spectacular view of the Alhambra and mountains from the top of sacromonte.

Granada, no dogs allowed
At the gate to the Museo de Sacromonte... a dog skull with a gypsy cave in the background.

Granada, Sacromonte
Along Camino del Sacromonte.

Wandering around Albaicín:
Staircase leading to a school in Albaicín
Granada, home garden
A garden in Albaicín with a collection of charming ceramic plates typical of the area.
Near the Mirador de San Nicolás in Albaicín.

Wandering west of Albaicín:

The bazaar near calle Elvira

Strolling along the Darro river:
Granada, Carrera del Darro at sunset

Carrera del Darro, known as the most romantic street in Granada, at sunset.

Back to the hostel:

A view of the cathedral from our hostel's rooftop at sunset.

All photos by me, taken around Christmas time 2007.

For the next post in this series on Granada, I'm posting a photo essay on the amazing urban art that covers the stairway to Mirador S. Cristobol. So stay tuned.

Nov 27, 2009

Photo Essay: Granada pt.1, splendor of the Alhambra

Granada, a former stronghold of Moorish Spain, is a city steeped in romance and folklore. About 2,200 ft above sea level in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, Granada spills over two hills, the Alhambra and the Sacromonte. Past glories of this fabled city were popularized in the English speaking world through Washington Irving's Tales of the Alhambra. Granada is also the hometown of the celebrated poet and dramatist Federico Garcia Lorca who shot by soldiers in 1936 during the early days of the civil war.

Today I begin a three-part photo essay series on Granada, starting with the Alhambra, which is the hilltop fortress palace of the last Muslim rulers of Spain, the Nasrid Kings, and one of Europe's greatest attractions. To avoid the famed queues, I bought our tickets in advance online and this made for smooth sailing into this stunning complex of palaces on Christmas Eve. The clouds and rain stayed away and it was a magical experience that didn't fail to impress. The Alhambra is a dazzling treatise on the beauty of symmetry.

Reflections in the pool in the Palace of the Nasrid, the most impressive of all the palaces we saw at the Alhambra.
Granada, Alhambra
Granada, Alhambra
Intricately carved, lace-like walls and ceramic tile designs in the Palace of the Nasrid.
Granada, Alhambra

Granada, Alhambra
Granada, Alhambra
Torre de las Damas (ladies tower), all that remains of the oldest palace, Palacio del Partal, at the Alhambra.
Granada, Alhambra
A view of Albaicín and Sacromonte from the fortress tower, Alcazaba.

Overlooking the Alhambra, is Generalife, which was built in the 13th century as a summer retreat. It is famed for its lush gardens but since we were there at Christmas the gardens weren't blooming but that still didn't take away from the splendor and lavish beauty of the palace.

An enclosed oriental garden called Patio de la Acequia.
Granada, Generalife, Patio de la Acequia
A view of the Alhambra from the arched portico in Generalife.
Granada, Generalife
Two Generalife views at Sunset.
Granada, Generalife
Granada, Generalife
All photos by Shehani Kay. Taken Christmas Eve 2007.

Next in this series on Granada will be a photo essay of Sacromonte and the Gypsy caves nestled in the hill. So stay tuned!

Happy Friday!

Nov 25, 2009

Photo Essay: A brief tour of Cementiri del Sud-Oest on Montjuïc

Extending down the south side of Montjuïc hill in Barcelona lies one of Europe's most beautiful and haunting cities of the dead. Opened since 1883, Cementiri del Sud-Oest Montjuïc is a quiet treasure trove for poignant sculptures with hauntingly realistic expressions of sorrow and grief.

I have always loved visiting cemeteries because these places often reveal the soul of a people - their fear of death and the mythologies they construction to ease these fears and console themselves over the loss of their loved ones. This cemetery, in particular, has some of the most beautiful, moving and lovingly carved sculptures I've seen anywhere.
Cementiri del Sud-Oest Montjuïc
Cementiri del Sud-Oest Montjuïc
Cementiri del Sud-Oest Montjuïc
Cementiri del Sud-Oest Montjuïc
Cementiri del Sud-Oest Montjuïc
Cementiri del Sud-Oest Montjuïc
Cementiri del Sud-Oest Montjuïc
Cementiri del Sud-Oest Montjuïc
Cementiri del Sud-Oest Montjuïc
Cementiri del Sud-Oest Montjuïc
All photos by me.

This cemetery is best known for the many famous Catalan artists and politicians who are buried here, like the artist Joan Miró, dancer Carmen Amaya and poet/priest Jacint Verdaguer and Generalitat presidents Lluis Companys and Francesc Macià. There are also many victims of the Spanish Civil War who are buried in unmarked graves here and a memorial park that commemorates them.

Photo Essay: Barcelona and Gaudí

Barcelona is a beautiful harbor city with pretty beaches, Gaudí architecture, a rambling ramblas, and ubiquitous scooters. Since this is a very bicycle friendly city, we rented bikes for a couple of days and rode around. In my opinion, it's the best way to see this city.

Some highlights:
Me riding a rented bike on the beach. Photo by Mark Yuill.

Some beach art:

To the market, to the market, to the Boqueria market on the Ramblas. One of the best markets I've ever been to.

No visit to Barcelona is complete without a brief tour of some of Antoni Gaudí's (1852–1926) works.

First up, the Sagrada Familia, which is under perpetual construction.
Next, situated on the hill of el Carmel in the Gràcia district is Park Güell, a whimsical garden with fantastical architecture.

And finally, located at 92, Passeig de Gràcia is Casa Milà, which better known as La Pedrera (Catalan for 'The Quarry'). On the rooftop, wonderful biomorphic sculptures seem to undulate up towards the sky. I've never seen anything like it - it is amazing! Also the lobby downstairs has an interesting museum and showcase for Anton Gaudí's works. Trust me, this site is well worth the long queue to get in.

All photos by me except the one of me riding the bike.

Disclosure: Since I am currently financially skint, this is a photo essay of a trip I took a couple years ago. I'm going to begin a whole series of photo essays based on past trips. If I can't physically travel right now, I may as well revisit the places I've been (in spirit) and share what I saw with you, my dear readers.

Next post will also be from Barcelona but from a less touristy place - the hauntingly beautiful city of the dead on Montjuïc.

Nov 13, 2009

A ramble around Lavapiés

Hola Guapos! Today I'm the guest blogger over at travel writer, Anja's blog everthenomad. Anja approached me about writing a guest post on Madrid and so I decided to give a little good hype to my favorite barrio, Lavapiés.

Here's an excerpt:

This is probably the only barrio in the Spanish capital where you can see a mix of Moroccan, Chinese, Latin American, Bangladeshi and Senegalese people sitting around a plaza bench chatting together amicably. There seems to be a fine balance here, in which no one racial group is dominant so everyone simply lives together as a community. Beyond the diverse immigrant population, the Gypsies and the Spanish abuelos, Lavapiés is also home to tons of artists and musicians. I once saw a cheeky artist spray paint some of the ubiquitous dog poop gold then stick it with a toothpick sign that read: 5/1000, as if it were a part of an art series.

Happy Friday all!

Nov 5, 2009

Quintanar de la Sierra: photo essay and beyond

I spent last weekend in Quintanar de la Sierra, which is a town located north of Madrid, in the community of Castile and León, in the province of Burgos.

The pueblo:

The charming circle of conjoined trees in the Plaza Mayor looked as if they were holding hands.

Vistas from routes in the surrounding area:
A soaring eagle:

I was looking forward to picking mushrooms but we were too late and had no guide. que peña.

All photography by me.

Beyond the photos:

I have often heard my students talk about going to their pueblos for the weekend and I suppose I imagined the nightlife to be a little like it is in a lot small Canadian towns. There's one or two bars where everyone drinks and plays pool then they all go home hammered. Not too thrilling in my experience. I've only ever been to pueblos on day trip excursions and there was nothing in the quiet sleepiness of the street life to make me think that pueblo life was anything other than slow and relaxing. These were my misconceptions until I was invited to spend the weekend in my friend's pueblo.

Contrary to the quiet tranquility as seen in my photos above, the truth is, the streets may have been empty during the day because the townies were out until 8am fiesta-ing. It might very well be that they were tucked into bed sleeping off their resacas (hangovers) while the tourists wandered the cobbled streets and delighted in the quaint architecture. I suppose it does make the town sleepy but not for the reasons I had imagined.

Amaya and I went out at midnight to the local bar to have a couple ron y lemon before disco hopping to 3 very crowded places packed with youngsters (18-21). I wondered where the hell they had all come from. By about 4am we went into another disco that had just opened its doors so I was able to watch as the crowd thickened. There were loads of girls dressed like Amy Winehouse (and not for Halloween either surprisingly enough) and tons of buff guys wearing tight t-shirts or no shirts at all, speaker dancing.

By 5am it was packed to the gills with not just younguns but their parents and their parents' friends. Amaya pointed out all the folks who knew her mother and her aunt. She also introduced me to dudes with strange nicknames, like el chino (he looked not in the least bit chinese). She told me that the youngsters all know each other at this age and how wonderful it was to have a sense of belonging, of being able to return to the pueblo where you are always welcomed. It made me think of the theme song to the TV show, Cheers. And it reminded me of the ties to places other people have that I don't because I have been a wanderer all my life. I thought of the primal connection and nostalgia my ex had for Winnipeg. And I felt a twinge of something inexplicable. But we drank more 3 euro ron y lemons and we danced. By 7am I was done and had to leave but the party raged on and I finally understood just how much the Spanish fiesta in the pueblos.

It was a cultural experience, I muttered to myself on the drive home the next afternoon, trying to keep down the nausea that threatened to expel from me in torrents.
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