Wednesday Wander – Casa Batllo, Barcelona

I know, I know. You thought I was going to continue with my epic trip from last month. And, I am, definitely. There’s still so much to see in New York, from Rockefeller Plaza to the Chrysler building, Central Park to the Art Deco architecture of Fifth Avenue. Plus all the other places we visited…

But this week my mind has wandered to Barcelona, and an architectural masterpiece by one of my favourite architects, Antoni Gaudi.

I was last in Barcelona a couple of years ago. The weather was lovely while we were there, not too hot and perfect for walking around the city, which we did every day. I made sure to go and see as much of Gaudi’s work as I could, as I’d missed some on my previous visit, so we took the train up to Parc Guell, marvelled at the twisted spires of Sagrada Familia, and pondered the construction complexities of Casa Mila.

Not far from Casa Mila, on the Passeig de Gracia, is Casa Batllo or, as the locals call it, Casa Del Ossos, the house of bones. Looking at the extraordinarily intricate facade, one can see why – vaguely skeletal pillars hold curving window frames, while balconies look like the skulls of some strange sea creature, dried out in the sun.

Gaudi worked with colour and fantastical form, and I think this house is probably one of the best examples of his particular genius. The humped roof with scaled tiles was designed to evoke the idea of a dragon, with scaled tiles and a knobbly spine. There is a theory that the turret signifies the lance of St George, the patron saint of Catalonia, plunged into the back of the dragon.

The house was created in 1904 for the Batllo family, who commissioned Gaudi to design and build a new home for them. However, Gaudi convinced them that the existing building on the site, built in 1877, could simply be renovated instead. The Batllo family lived there until the 1950s, when the house was purchased by an insurance company and used as offices. It has since been renovated and restored, and is now open to the public (through ticket purchase) for tours and private event hire.

It was a thrill for me to see the house – what a joy it must have been to live there, in this wonderful ornate city where even the pavements are etched with flowers. Barcelona is one of my favourite places, and the art and architecture are a big part of the reason why.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next week, when we head back to America again…


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Thursday Doors – San Sebastian Aquarium, Spain

Continuing with the aquarium theme from yesterday’s Wander, today’s door belongs to the San Sebastian Aquarium. Located at the very end of the old harbour, the Aquarium was built in 1928, when much of the area was redeveloped.

And it has a rather spectacular door, don’t you think?

As well as being a rather wonderful place to watch the sun set…

This is my response to Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors Challenge. For more doors, or to add one of your own, visit Norm’s site and click the link.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – San Sebastian Beaches

It’s Wednesday and time for my weekly wander. This week we’re heading to Donostia San Sebastian, in the Basque country region of Spain. Donostia is the Basque name for the city, and is another way of saying San Sebastian – in honour of the dual heritage of the city, both names are used.

I visited earlier this year and fell under its spell straight away. The gorgeous old buildings and curving golden beaches were like a scene from a story – it was hard to believe people were lucky enough to live in such a place.

This is the iconic La Concha beach, the best known of the city’s beaches, voted the second best city beach in the world by Travel and Leisure magazine. A well- deserved award, I think. As you can see, it’s pretty popular – the clear green waves and golden sand make it a wonderful spot to lounge and take photographs during the day.

At night the beach changes, the deckchairs folded away, the entrance to the bay a perfect frame for glorious sunsets.

I sat for a half hour or so on the cool sand, watching the light change across the water, gold to red to violet, hardly able to take in such beauty.  Dark silhouettes danced at the water’s edge, the illuminated statue of Jesus on Monte Urgull seeming to watch over it all.

Day and night, the ornate promenade was full of people, families and couples and young people, all walking, laughing, enjoying the view. There are several small restaurants built into the seawall itself – one of them made excellent pizza, and was a fantastic place to watch the waves and people passing by.

Another city beach in San Sebastian is Zurriola, which is on the other side of Monte Urgull. This beach is wilder, the waves popular with surfers, although it is safe for swimming in parts, the Spanish lifeguards using a flag system similar to that we were used to in Australia. We visited La Zurriola most days – it was less crowded, yet easy to get to with ample parking nearby. I actually got dumped by a wave the first day there, scraping my knee – haven’t done that in years! Oh, and apparently, Zurriola is also somewhere you can hang ten in the buff, should you choose to – one of several beaches in Europe which allow nude surfing! Just remember to apply plenty of sunscreen 😉

When I began writing this Wander, I’d thought I would write a single post about San Sebastian. But, when I began writing about the beaches, they seemed to merit a post of their own. It seems certain that I’ll be wandering back to San Sebastian, both on this blog and (I hope) in real life too.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me! See you next time 🙂


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – Biarritz At Dusk

I recently took a trip to Basque country, visiting San Sebastian in Spain and Biarritz in France. Less than an hour’s drive lies between the two cities, even though they are in different countries. I thoroughly enjoyed the holiday – there is a magic to that stretch of coast and I felt very at home there, for some reason.

I saw a lot of different places while I was away, including two locations used for Dragonstone in Game of Thrones (I blogged about them here and here), so will be writing a few Wednesday Wanders about the various locales. This week, I’m wandering to Biarritz, and the beautiful main beach at dusk. We spent a lot of time walking along here, both day and night, as it was the direct route into the town centre. With the beautiful view, the combination of rocks and sea and sky coupled with Art Deco architecture, it was a pleasure every time.

One of the buildings along the seafront at Biarritz is the Casino. Built in the 1920s, it was opened only a few weeks before the Stock Market crash that marked the end of the glittering art Deco era. It is a beautiful reminder of that decadent time, nonetheless, and a survivor – plans to knock it down in the 90s were thankfully scuppered, and the building restored and designated a historical monument. Nowadays it contains a pool, restaurants and a casino, and was full of people every time we passed by.

The walk along the beach also passes this lovely islet, connected by a stone bridge to the mainland. It seemed like something out of a fairy tale (so I loved it, obviously). There was also a lovely church, as well as the old fishing village, which I’ll write about in more detail soon.

But for now, let us look at the gold and violet sky, the shimmer of ocean against dark sand, the clean lines of the Art Deco building, the warm lights of the coastline against the dusk sky. It is a supremely romantic coastline, with a warmth in the air that filled me with joy.

I can’t wait to go back one day.

Thank you for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Hello, everyone. I’ve been on a few wanders of late, most recently a trip up to Scotland for a Silent Eye weekend, a trip I’m still processing before writing it up on here. So this week I’ve decided to wander to a place I visited a few weeks earlier – the spectacular Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

The first sight of the Museum is a moment of wonder, the kind you get when seeing iconic structures such as the Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Harbour Bridge for the first time. It is an instant of disconnect, when you wonder whether what you’re seeing is real. Perched on the edge of the river running through Bilbao, the building seems almost to float upon the water, like a magical ship or giant sea creature, metallic scales reflecting the sky.

A museum of modern and contemporary art, the Guggenheim was designed by the architect Frank Gehry, known for his unique vision. When you come into Bilbao from the east, as we did, the Museum is one of the first things you see, a tumbled cluster of gleaming shapes on the curving edge of the river.

The museum was inaugurated almost exactly twenty years ago, on October 18th 1997. Prior to that, the riverbank was an industrial area, home to piles of curving steel and machinery, said to have partly influenced Gehry’s design. The architect said that ‘the randomness of the curves are designed to catch the light’ and they certainly do so, reflecting light and water and shade so that the angles constantly change, each step as you move around the building revealing a different viewpoint.

I particularly liked how the walkway and reflecting pool are positioned to look, from some angles, as though the river runs up to the edge of the building. I also like the red archway that sits astride the road into Bilbao, bringing you immediately into the design.

When we visited, there was a huge dog sculpture covered in real flowers at the front of the building, which we all loved. The spider sculpture, visible at the bottom right of my photo, is permanent and seems to be a popular image associated with the museum, if the tourist trinkets for sale nearby were any indication. Personally, I’m not a fan of spiders, especially huge ones like that!

This is not my first Gehry – I visited the EMP in Seattle a couple of years ago, and also saw El Peix, a fish-shaped canopy on the beachfront in Barcelona. Like most of Gehry’s works, the Guggenheim is impressive, extraordinary in its complexity. We spent ages just walking around the outside, taking in the shapes, wondering at the mind that could create such wonders.

Gehry’s style of architecture has been described as ‘desconstructivism’ though Gehry himself says he does not associate with that movement. Post-modern it certainly is, form without any other function than to catch the light and beguile the eye. Clad in titanium, at times it appears silver, and at others gold. Extraordinarily for a building of this type, the Guggenheim was completed on time and on budget.

Overall, it was a spectacular building to see and experience. I took loads of photos, as you can imagine, and these are some of the ones I liked the most. Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me! See you next time.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

 

A Monday Meander – Dragonstone Part 2

As promised, this is the second part of my Game of Thrones location visit, this time to the spectacular San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, on the coast of Spain.

San Juan de Gatzelugatxe is actually the name of the small hermitage located on the islet, a sanctuary dedicated to Saint John and dating back to the 10th century. The name of the islet, Gatzelugatxe, comes from the Basque language and translates roughly to mean ‘craggy fort,’ very appropriate.

The islet is joined to the mainland via a manmade walkway, which twists and turns up the rugged rock face to reach the monastery. There are two ways to reach the walkway – the first is a steep narrow trail, very rough underfoot, only wide enough for two people to pass. It starts at a restaurant perched high on the cliff, with excellent views over the small bay.

As we descended the kilometre or so to the walkway, the people coming uphill the other way looked completely wiped out, sweating and short of breath in the muggy weather. We found it easier going heading down, but our thighs still ached due to the steep and rocky nature of the path. It can be done in sandals (I did it), but I’d recommend runners and comfortable clothing.

As we descended we could hear the bell at the hermitage ringing. The tradition goes that if you ring the bell three times and make a wish, it will come true. Seeing the faces of the people coming uphill, I joked to hubby that perhaps they were wishing they didn’t have to make the climb back up again!

We reached the walkway quite quickly and paused, both to catch our breath and to take in the glorious views. The islet isn’t far along the coast from Zumaia and the spectacular rock formations of Itzurun Beach, so the landscape is quite similar.

With the mist looming low on the nearby hilltops, waves rushing, it wasn’t hard to feel transported to another time and place. The walkway and bridge have both been used in Game of Thrones as the entrance pathway to Dragonstone – it is on these stairs that Jon Snow ducks to the ground after seeing a dragon for the first time.

I saw no dragons, but it doesn’t mean the place is without magic. Aside from the beautiful scenery and wish-granting magic of the bell, there is also a statue of a saint sunk deep into the waters of the small bay. Tuna boats, before they head across the ocean to fish, all come here to circle the statue three times and ask for a blessing on their voyage and catch.

So, did I make a wish? Well, after the walk down, we decided that going all the way to the top wasn’t really for us. And, as we stood on the stairs, I wondered how on earth they’d got a film crew, equipment and actors in costume down the precipitous narrow path we’d just taken.

Then we noticed the road going back up. 😀

It made for an easier ascent, though it took a while. But much easier than we had thought. And I got to visit Dragonstone with my two favourite people. So perhaps my wish was granted, after all.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

 

Wednesday Wander – Andorra-La-Vella, Andorra

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Hidden in a valley, walled by high mountains, Andorra is built from wood and stone, houses perched on cliff edges and peaks, the main road following the path of the river that rushes from the mountains, carving the land. When I told a friend that I was going to Andorra last year, he commented that he’d always thought of it as a made-up place, one of those mythical European kingdoms you see in movies.

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The capital city of Andorra-La-Vella does have a bit of a fairytale feel, especially in the old part of town, though beyond there are shiny modern office buildings as well as lots of excellent tax-free shopping. Located between, and jointly governed by, France and Spain, Andorra is an ancient Principality steeped in history, with the capital city founded by Charlemagne over a thousand years ago.

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The Casa De La Vall, above, was built in the sixteenth century and is still the state’s parliamentary house, though a new modern building nearby now houses much of the administration.

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I loved the way the mountains felt, like a wall against the outside world, embracing and protecting the towns running along the valley. Apparently it can feel quite shut in during winter when the snow is high and travel more difficult, but the increasing popularity of the many ski resorts mean that there is plenty to do all year round.

When we left Andorra we followed the rushing river, which became wider and lazier as it headed towards Spain. As we crossed the plains I looked back, and all I could see were mountains, Andorra hidden from sight once more, as though it were never there.


Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next week!