November 18, 2017

This is just the start of what could turn out to be a lengthy series of posts about our recent trip to China.  It has taken  a few weeks since our return to sift through the 1500 photographs, identify proper place names and choose a small enough selection not to bore our friends rigid.  We started our visit in Beijing, travelled south through Xi’an to Chengdu and then east via the Three Gorges onto Shanghai – many cars, trains, planes,  one boat and, of course, a rickshaw.

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Wumen (Meridian Gate), Forbidden City

It would take a week to really do justice to the amazing architecture and layout of the Forbidden City in Beijing but we did enjoy our whizz around visit in bright, cold sunshine.  Originally the Wumen was reserved for the Emperor’s sole use but even we were allowed entry now and through into the first of many awesome sights.

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Jinshui He (the Golden Water Stream)

We were now in a vast paved courtyard cut across by the Golden Water Stream.  The water wasn’t actually gold but still reflected the five marble bridges spanning it with their ornate marble balustrades.

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This imposing bronze lion was one of a pair guarding the next gate, Taiheman (Gate of Supreme Harmony).  He is positioned on the east side and his paw on a globe denotes that imperial power extended world wide.

If you have the seen the film The Last Emperor you will recognise this enormous space as  the largest of the interior courtyards – it could accommodate the entire court of up to one hundred thousand people.  As you see there were a lot fewer people the day we visited – almost entirely large parties of Chinese tourists.

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On the right is the Taihe Dan (Hall of Supreme Harmony)

As well as the sweeping vistas I was entranced by some of the close up details and particularly their symbolism.

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Main entrance doors always had large studs arranged in rows, the number indicating ranks in the feudal hierarchy.  The ones above were made of brass and then gold plated.  The pattern of 9 X 9 implies a gate used only by the Emperor as the number nine represented the supremacy of the monarchy.  Other titled people, princes and barons had fewer studs on their gates, and the lower ranks had studs made of iron.

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The Palace of Earthly Honour

The bronze crane above is featured often throughout the Forbidden City, and indeed all China, as cranes were venerated as the prince of all feathered creatures and had the legendary status embodying longevity and peace.  There were hundreds of the huge water vats scattered close to the main buildings.  As well as being decorative they also had a very practical purpose – filled with water against a fire emergency.  In winter they were covered and wrapped around with quilts and, when necessary, heated from below with charcoal to prevent the water from freezing.

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Wenshou (ornaments on roof ridges)

I loved these mythical little creatures adorning the ridges of every roof in the Forbidden City.  Again there is intriguing symbolism and mythology involved.  The largest one on the right is a son of the Dragon King who rules the seas therefore he could stir up the waves  and change them to rains – yet another fire precaution.  The size and number of the smaller ‘animals’ would be decided by the status of the owner or occupier of the building.  The above ridge has only five creatures and is on one of the twelve halls in the side courtyard which were used to house the imperial concubines of different grades.  The most important building has a series of eleven mythical animals.

Sadly and tiredly we left the Forbidden City and travelled the few kilometres to the Summer palace.

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The Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, Summer Palace, Beijing

This beautiful, colourful, ornately decorated palace was first built in the Qing Dynasty in 1750 by Emperor Qianlong.  It was rebuilt in 1886 and was the place where the infamous Empress Dowager Cixi handled court affairs, accepted laudations and received foreign diplomats when she stayed at the Summer palace.

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The Long Corridor of the Summer Palace

Emperor Qianlong built this kilometre long covered walkway for his mother’s 60th birthday.  It goes along the shore of Kunming Lake and was to allow the lady to enjoy the view even if it was raining or snowing.  The inside of the roof was painted with delightful little scenes along its entire length.

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The Hall of Prayer, Temple of Heaven, Beijing

Inside was where prayers were said for a good harvest.

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Inside the Hall of Prayer

To be continued.


How Did That Happen?

October 9, 2017

I hinted in my last post about the slightly scary feeling that time has been speeding up.  This time warp experience was confirmed in August when it was noticed that we have been married for fifty years.  How can all that time have passed so quickly?  Anyway it was time to celebrate.  I believe in making celebrations last as long as possible so we started with a superb little dinner party at Two Fat Ladies at the Buttery in Glasgow – the food was exquisite, a bit different from gammon steak and pineapple half a century ago at our wedding reception.

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The ladies have moved on from a wee sweet sherry to exotic cocktails.

A few days later was our main party at the Kingarth Hotel on Bute.

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Founder members of the newly formed ‘Stripy Gang’

It was a great night filled with laughter, food, champagne and good friends.

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“On behalf of my husband and myself ……”

As a wonderful gift to us, our two children, plus wife and partner, arranged a family weekend away crammed with very carefully chosen activities to fit with individual and collective tastes and interests.

We were booked into the Devonshire Arms at Bolton Abbey near Skipton – equidistant for the journeys for both the Scottish and English travellers.  It was a beautiful sunny afternoon when we arrived and a joy to stroll down to the ruined abbey.

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The late afternoon sunshine was pouring through the stained glass windows onto the ancient stonework.

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The weather on Saturday was mixed but we managed to avoid the heaviest of the showers and enjoy the sunny spells.  The day’s activities started with a visit to Ingrow Loco Museum & Workshop.  An interesting little place absolutely crammed with steam trains and artefacts and jolly volunteers.

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You are never too old to dream of being a train driver.

Of course the next step had to be a ride on a steam train – on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway from Ingrow to Haworth.

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I think Jane was the most excited of us all, as, strangely, she had never been on a steam train before.

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Hanging out the window in the smoke.

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Very evocative sounds and smells.

Our destination had also been carefully chosen – this one very specifically for me, a visit to the Bronte Parsonage Museum at Haworth.

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The tour group at Haworth Parsonage

The family were very kind and waited quite patiently while I went a lot more slowly than them, soaking up a perfect mixture of history and literature.

Back at the hotel this was the idyllic view from our room as we changed for dinner.  Colin and Keith went out and watched for a bit – a change from a muddy shinty pitch.

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Our meal  in the hotel on Saturday night was an amazing ‘tasting menu’.  Counting in various amuse bouche, it ran to about ten courses, all of them quite small quantities so that we did not feel stuffed.  Similarly the accompanying different wines for each plateful were only a couple of mouthfuls so no one ended up legless.  We are all interested in food and cooking so it was great fun.

Saturday was a whole day activity and a totally new experience for us – a trip to York Races.  We had tickets for the County Stand and in advance had discussions about what to wear – did the ladies need hats a la Ladies Day at Ascot?  Fortunately it was Family Day so the dress code was relaxed a bit.  We all scrubbed up well, with the girls in frocks and high heels but no headgear, and the boys with smart casual jackets but no ties.  It was quite a cool blustery day with a few showers which caused all the scantily clad young race goers to stick closely to the bars inside.  Some of the outfits were astounding!

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Studying the Odds

I enjoyed learning a new ‘skill’ and having betting explained to me but I found it all a bit tense, as if I was sitting a test all the time – there was not a lot of time to relax between races.  It was fun but I am too mean to get carried away – I don’t like handing out money and getting nothing back!  I preferred to watch the assorted people and the beautiful horses, and drink more champagne.

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I would have been better off simply choosing my favourite colour than trying to work out odds, starting prices and all the other information available.  It was fun and exciting at times but I am clearly not a natural punter.

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The thunder of hooves.

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First Past the Post

Our Golden Wedding celebrations were all wonderful in their different ways.  We are so blessed  to be surrounded by such loving, caring, and thoughtful family and friends and to have had each other for such a long time no matter how fast or slow time passed.

Was That Summer Then

October 5, 2017

It is two months since I last wrote a post and when I look back and sift through the hundreds of photographs I get a feeling that time is definitely speeding up.  Is this a sign of impending old age (not there yet, although see the next blog).  Life has been busy, Rothesay has been busy – unfortunately a disproportionate amount of time was spent dodging rain.  The summer weather was …. unkind.  After the glorious fortnight way back in May we haven’t had two really good days in a row – the pattern was more a lovely warm, sunny day sandwiched between two dreich wet ones.  Life went on, of course.

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On many days we watched the Waverley paddling past with a small handful of cagoule clad aficionados huddled together around the funnels for warmth.  Fortunately the day we chose for our annual trip was bright with a stiff breeze.

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Leaving Arran

I watch the Waverley from our house so it was a change to watch our house from the Waverley.

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Since the beginning of ‘summer’, as the tide recedes, this amazing creature crawls onto the shore a hundred yards along from us – so far he hasn’t managed to get up and over the bank (where’s yer Nessie noo).

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The Butefest Festival at the end of July was very successful and brought a lot of happy, appreciative visitors to the island – but it also suffered from the dreaded precipitation.  The resultant quagmire conditions left at the Public Park, mostly caused by the heavy lorries used to dismantle all the marquees, stages, fencing etc, had a serious knock on effect.

To everyone’s horror the Cattle Show (Agricultural Society) a few weeks later had to be ‘cancelled’ because yet more incessant rain meant no drying out of the ground together with a forecast of yet more rain on he day.  This decision caused much despondency and disappointment.  Later the Society managed to reschedule a much truncated version of the Show, more of which later.

A week later the Highland Games committee were still faced with weather related problems, but with some judicial rearranging of the positioning of individual events they went ahead.  The day was blustery with occasional vicious squalls!!!!  The crowds were noticeably thinner, but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, as did I.


It was a bit of a struggle to raise the games flag.


Normally I love to wander around the area where the Highland Dancing competitors gather.  A hundred or so, tinies to teenagers, mostly girls but with a sprinkling of boys, complete with their entourages of teachers, Mums and Grannies all chatting, practising, doing stretching exercises.  This year the adults were squeezed into the wee grandstand and the dancers were clad in long waterproof coats and wellies and the normally colourful ‘encampment’ looked like this –


– but they kept dancing under those leaden skies.


The new much larger dancing platforms meant the dancers were under cover and the floor dry and safe but the poor judges sat there in the rain with their hoods up.

Both the competitor and visitor numbers were way down on previous years but there were participants in every event.


Dancing or wrestling?

The weather didn’t seem to faze the large turn out of runners for the 10K race.  Within minutes of starting, still within the ‘stadium’, they were running into the most spectacular of the afternoon’s horizontal downpours.  When they started to return to the Park about 45 minutes later I was helping hand out the medals and goodie bags.


The weel kent face of Tommy the Clown


Another weel kent face.

Not every runner got a great big hug as well as a medal.

Sorry to go on so much about the weather but it did have a great impact – the Highland Games committee are much to be congratulated for soldiering on.  I have to confess we eventually wimped out and didn’t stay for the Grand March down through Rothesay.


The many shades of green.

The Cattle Show was rescheduled for the second last Saturday in September – again a hard working committee did their best.  What have the weather gods got against Rothesay this year.  Another day of drizzle, downpours and mud, glorious, mud.  I enjoyed myself.  Not so many photographs this time as I struggled to keep the camera dry and from slipping in the glaur.


At long last I can name some of the colourful sheep breeds.


Glad he was fenced in.

The next photograph is quite dark but it does give a glimpse of the heavy grey sky and a hint of the muddy ground – the worst areas were fenced off because if you strayed into the very deep parts a tractor would have been the only way to escape again.


It was dry inside the show tents but surprisingly if anything the mud underfoot was worse – none of the following ‘creatures’ were at all bothered.




Add your own caption!

As at the Highland Games the numbers attending the Cattle Show were very small compared to ‘normal’ years but, again, congratulations to all involved.



Even in a steady drizzle you can look good.

Gardens, Cousins and Other Things

July 28, 2017


Not really a ‘picture’ but a ‘view’ – as seen from our bedroom.

We have had a very busy few weeks with rushing to get the garden make over finished before welcoming the cousins from far flung places – New Zealand, Spain and London.  The work in our ‘back green’ took much, much longer than anticipated and we felt we were living on a building site for months.


M and his team of garden gnomes undertook a big task – removing about 10 tens of red chips, turning all the slabs through 90 degrees, excavating various enormous lumps of concrete and much more….


… old clothes poles removed and the ‘lawn’ reshaped.


It is still not quite finished but at least we are able to enjoy coffee (or something stronger)  on the new deck area.


I am really pleased with the curved palisade fence – in spite of all the jokes about Cowboys and Indians.



Really should have brought the washing in before getting the camera out.  There are still two features to be added to complete the garden – a curving, stepping stone path diagonally across the grass and two diamond shaped, raised herb beds on the biggest pebbled area.  Then all I need to do is keep on top of the ‘wild flowers in the wrong place’ aka weeds!

We were too busy when my cousins were staying for a few days to sit about much – eating, talking, drinking, talking, sightseeing, talking, drinking etc.  I love showing people around this beautiful island we have chosen to live on because I invariably spot things I haven’t noticed before.


Dinner at Harry Haw’s – that’s Rothesay Castle across the road.

The weather was a bit grey and chilly but the sun did shine occasionally.


The visit to Ardencraig Gardens came with a severe warning from the Council ….


A trip to Bute is never complete without visiting Mountstuart – no matter how often I have been there I always happily return.


The garden here is a bit grander than mine.


The Marble Chapel, Mountstuart

I wasn’t too sad when I waved goodbye to my cousins – I hasten to add they were delightful guests – because we were meeting up again a few days later with yet more cousins.


Seven of Grannie Walker’s 14 granddaughters (only one grandson)

The seven cousins able to meet up in Glasgow had a hilarious afternoon reminiscing – we all spent many childhood holidays together with Grannie in Whiting Bay.  Most conversations started with ‘my Grannie said ….’ to be instantly shouted down with ‘our grannie ….’


Be proud – Isabella Walker nee McMunigal 1892 – 1978

Apart from my cousins there have been many more visitors to Rothesay, it being Glasgow Fair.  There is a tradition here that all the Christian congregations hold an ecumenical evening service at the ruins of St Blane’s Chapel on the middle Sunday of the Fair.  Last year it had to be cancelled because of near gale force winds and torrential rain but the weather was much kinder last weekend.


St Blane’s was tranquil in the early evening sunshine – fortunately with just enough of a breeze to keep the midges at bay.


The Rev Owain Jones preaching in his ‘church without walls’

The cloud was really beginning to thicken as we all strolled back down the hill – creating wonderful effects with the sun shining through over Dunagoil with Arran on the left and Kintyre behind.


Tractors, Scooters and … the Waverley

July 10, 2017

Bute was buzzing on Saturday when in glorious sunshine we had an influx of very interesting visitors.  The annual Vintage Tractor Club rally mustered on the Promenade.  A mix of elderly, grey workhorses (tractors or owners?) and shiny high tech modern.  The officials of the  Club were very, very pleased that about 120 entries had made the journey to join in.



Little and Large

I think perhaps the huge rear tyre on the red tractor cost as much as the whole of the little grey one when it was new.  It is a very sociable event with groups of boiler suited gentlemen deep in conversation, holidaymakers with ice-cream smeared weans and local dog walkers enjoying the sun.


Our beautiful gardens with tractors lined up behind.

I am not a connoisseur of tractors but I think most of the historic vehicles were Massey Ferguson models.


But there were other ‘decorations’ on display …


Every year the Club sets a different route for the parade to follow, always incorporating a drive through Rothesay, in and out of Mountstuart grounds and then across some farm tracks and roads before returning to the Yacht Club for a barbecue.


One of the ‘passenger’ tractors

Every year the convoy passes our house at some point on their journey – so here is ‘my View’ with added tractors.


There was another group of very colourful visitors taking to the roads of the Island.  Fifty or so Vespa scooters, their drivers and passengers, from The Animals Fae Naboombu Scooter Club were buzzing around like busy wee wasps.  Earlier in the morning as we walked into town there were happy little coteries of scooters parked outside a number of the B&B establishments.


Other Scooter visitors were camping.


Although the tractors and scooters were not out on the public roads at the same time – imagine traffic snarl ups in Rothesay!!?? – I did manage to capture a representative of each group in the same photograph.


Of course, on a sunny Saturday in July there is no show without Punch and our favourite paddle steamer came swooping into Rothesay to join the fun.


PS Waverley in Rothesay Bay

Altogether a great day and I hope all the visitors enjoyed it as much as I did.


More Spanish Cities

July 2, 2017

Seville was a new adventure for us and had just as much wow factor as Barcelona and Cordoba.  We were quickly becoming immersed in the juxtaposition of Moorish architecture, middle ages Christian additions and adaptations, and the pomp and bling of Catholic Christianity.  This can be epitomised by the Moorish entry into Seville Cathedral.

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The Moorish horse shoe shaped arch flanked with Christian saints and angels.

The cathedral was started in 1401 on the site of an earlier mosque and took a century to complete (Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is simply following the long building pattern).  My guidebook says “… in sheer cubic vastness [this] is the largest Christian church in the world … the vast Gothic arches that line the nave inside the cathedral are so high that the space within the building is said to have its own independent climate”

The piece de resistance has to be the immense  golden Retable Mayor built between 1482 – 1564 and now reputedly the largest altarpiece in the world.  Again I was glad of my binoculars for closer inspection.

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Attached to the cathedral is another piece of ‘recycled’ history – La Girelda, the symbol of Seville.  This was originally a minaret of the mosque built in 1198.  In the 14th century the bronze spheres on top were replaced with Christian symbols and the final ornate design we see today was completed in 1568.  We climbed to the top to enjoy the amazing views over the old city.  Intriguingly it wasn’t steps we had to negotiate but gently sloping ramps from floor to floor – much easier on the knees during the descent.

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After the Cathedral we moved on to Seville’s most iconic building – the Reales Alcazares.  Again I find it easiest to quote from my guidebook – saves me overloading on the word ‘awesome’.  “This extensive complex embodies a series of palatial rooms and spaces from various ages.  The front towers and walls are the oldest surviving section, dating from AD 913 and built by the Emir of Cordoba, Abd ar-Rahman III , most likely on the ruins of Roman barracks.  A succession of caliphs added their dazzling architectural statements over the ensuing centuries.  Then came the Christian kings, particularly Pedro I in the 14th century, and finally the rather perfunctory 16th century apartments of Carlos V.”

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The mosaic tiling on the lower walls in places was very delicate and very beautiful.  In the following photograph you can also see some of the intricately carved wooden doors.

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Wandering through courtyards and rooms, everywhere we turned there were yet more stunningly beautiful things to see.

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The refurbishment of this part has replicated the original bright colours.

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At times the beauty around us was almost overwhelming but away from the iconic tourist sights we found Seville to be a warm, friendly destination.  When surrounded by such amazing architecture and decoration even our hotel got in the act – viz the lift doors in the main lobby.

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The weather was mostly sunny and very hot – but you will know the phrase ‘The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain …’.  Well it certainly did in Seville one afternoon when we had two 10 minute monsoons.  This turned out to be a very friendly experience as the cafe pavement sunshades became refuges for every passerby including us.

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Our last awesome Spanish city was Granada  – where, of course, the Alhambra dominates.  This is the best preserved mediaeval Arab palace in the world and had long been on my wish list for a visit, and it certainly did not disappoint.

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The Alhambra, Granada

Seen from across the valley the Alhambra looks a quite austere, regular, defensive palace but once you start to wander around the inside it is an almost overwhelming visual feast.   There was not the layers of Muslim and Christian worship we had grown accustomed to in our other three Spanish cities – this was purely residential, luxurious and oozing power and wealth.

From the guidebook – “A magical use of space, light, water and decoration characterises this most sensual piece of architecture.  It was built under Ismail I, Yusuf I and Muhammad V, caliphs when the Nasrid dynasty ruled Granada.  Seeking to belie an image of waning power, they created their idea of paradise on earth.  Modest materials were used (plaster, timber and tiles), but they were superbly worked.  Although the Alhambra suffered pillage and decay, including an attempt by Napoleon’s troops to blow it up, in recent times it has undergone extensive restoration and its delicate craftsmanship still dazzles the eye.

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 Patio del Mexuar

This council chamber, completed in 1365, was where the reigning sultan listened to the petitions of his subjects and held meetings with his ministers.

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The temperature in Granada was in the mid 30s – a wee bit hot for we fair skinned Scots so we found the exquisitely decorated surrounds of various pools and patios particularly welcoming.

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Looking out to the Garden de Lindaraja

The Islamic calligraphy and arabesques around this window were superb and the garden beyond looked very peaceful and inviting.

The Alhambra is rightly a huge tourist attraction and after a few hours of sharing space with our fellow gawpers and trying to absorb everything I was seeing it was very pleasant to head next door to the Generalife, the country estate of the Nasrid kings – ‘tranquility high above the city, a little closer to heaven.

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Patio del Acequia

Looks like we had the place to ourselves!  I don’t know how I managed to take the above photograph with no other tourists in view – they were wandering about in their thousands – and I hope they enjoyed the Alhambra as much as we did.

A Tale of Four Cities

June 19, 2017

The cities in question were the four we visited last month when in Spain.  But first a little digression.  I always smile when filling in my address on an online form.  Usually there is space for two address lines and then the next one says ‘city’ – so I ‘promote’ Rothesay to city status.  Then I feel I should apologise to my fellow residents because we all chose to live here and not in a ‘city’!

Our trip to Spain was a concentrated sight seeing feast of Andalusia but we started with a short visit to Barcelona.  This was very specifically to see again the wondrous Sagrada Familia.  We last viewed it about 16 years ago and knew that much more of the building has been completed since then.

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Sagrada Familia dwarfing the surrounding city.

When we were last there it was even more of a building site, with really only the eight giants towers in place.  This time the main sanctuary is almost complete. It has been consecrated (in 2010 by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI) and is already used occasionally for worship.

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The huge, elegant, soaring pillars.

To stand inside this amazing space is to make you feel at the same time very, very small, and also in awe of the  immensity of the human brain able to design and build such an incredible building.

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Exquisite detail on the enormous doors.

Antoni Gaudi who designed the Sagrada Familia was in charge from 1883 until his death in 1926 but others have continued to bring his visions to reality.  Gaudi was very influenced by nature and passionate about conveying the teachings of the Gospels and the Christian Church so every detail whether large or small has meaning.

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Stained Glass Windows

The sun streaming through the glass simply filled the sanctuary with multi coloured light – it felt like standing inside a rainbow.  I loved the stained glass – no depictions of  saints, the Holy Family or Bible stories – all abstract, but a very carefully planned movement of colours.

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In most ways it has the form and shape of a traditional cathedral but just on an awesome scale.  Modern building technology and new materials allow for the heights both inside and outside to be greater – very clever geometry means that the supporting pillars appear slim and elegant.

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I used my binoculars frequently to look at the details and the sculptures on the two main facades – the Nativity and the Passion.  Sagrada Familia is now estimated to be completed by 2026.  I pray that I will still be fit enough to return then.

Whilst in Barcelona we made a quick return visit to another of Gaudi’s masterpieces – La Pedrera with its iconic chimneys.

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The other three cities we visited were all new to us.  In Cordoba we were introduced to another building ,equally as awesome as the Sagrada Familia but from a different era – La Mezquita, a mosque begun in AD786 which was frequently extended during the next six centuries until it had over a thousand pillars.

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Just a few of the forest of pillars.

The 10th century Mihrab in an octagonal chamber has some of the finest Byzantine mosaics in existence.

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In 1523 about 60 pillars were removed from the centre of the mosque at the behest of Emperor Carlos V and a huge Christian cathedral built inside and to this day it has been a place of Christian worship.  My guide book says “La Mezquita’s identity as a mosque is inescapable – notwithstanding the cathedral insensitively placed in its centre like a huge spider in its web.”

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Cordoba Cathedral

The next photograph shows how refurbishment work has been done in places on the outside to show how glorious it must once have looked.

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I loved the narrow streets of Cordoba – sometimes only a few feet wide, and sometimes just enough space for a car to squeeze along with its wing mirrors folded in.

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It was hot in Spain so we were very grateful for our cool hotel, housed in a series of very old buildings with a number of inviting little courtyards to relax in.

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Not sure how authentic the ‘ancient broken Roman pillar’ was but the oranges were real and were virtually falling off the trees as we watched.  As well as the ‘formal’ sightseeing at La Mezquita and other places we had the huge privilege of being in the right place at the right time.

Cordoba was holding its version of Gardens Open Day – La Fiesta d Los Patios d Cordoba, and we discovered the most beautiful garden gems normally hidden from sight behind the whitewashed house walls with their lace covered, ornately barred windows and solid wooden doors.  We had a sketch map outlining a route around the neighbourhood and like many local people we popped in and out of the riotously coloured and lovingly cared for private patios.

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Hours of watering every day!

That is two of my four Spanish cities – Seville and Granada will follow soon.