Showing posts with label Spain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spain. Show all posts

September 24, 2009

AVE

Spain is fast becoming the country with the longest high speed railway network in the world.

A lengthy report on the BBC uses the story to highlight the lack of progress in the UK and the tentative steps in the USA to get cracking on high speed rail.

As you know, we went on the Madrid Atocha to Cordoba AVE service (and the then decrepit Madrid to Barcelona train) in 2003, which was absolutely brilliant.

February 21, 2008

New AVE train route launched

Spain's long-delayed high-speed train service has been launched between Madrid and Barcelona, cutting the travel time to 2hrs 35mins city centre to city centre. It's been a long wait! We traveled on the AVE service to Cordoba from Madrid's Atocha station 6 months before the bombings happened, and what an absolutely amazing experience that was, wooshing at 300kph across the parched highlands of central Spain. It was always odd that a high speed service has been in service for 15 years to Seville - set up in time for the World Expo there - while the train service to Barcelona was a decrepit slow train that took us all day to get there. It didn't help that the track was washed out by recent floods so the train had to go the long way round.
But now you can leave after breakfast and arrive in time for lunch in two of the most fun cities I have ever been to, Barcelona and Madrid.

September 09, 2003

Barcelona

Friday found us up reasonably early to give us enough time to get to the station and our train to Barcelona. The area from Madrid to Guadalajara is mostly light industrial sprawl, as the outskirts of Madrid are a suburban sprawl fo medium rise apartments.
From here the train went north towards Zaragoza through quite hilly country, very scenic barren and rocky. But from the train went east instead of north to Illeida. We have no idea why this was, but it did make for a much slower journey as it was all single track and we had to keep waiting to pass other trains. Luckily there was airconditioning.
Arrived 40 minutes late to Barcelona after passing up the coast from Tarragona.
Our room is one let by just one guy, whose apartment is adjacent. The room has a view straight across Placa Gaudi to the Sagrada Famila, his triumphal cathedral. Even though it is still a work in progress ofter more than a hundred years, it is certainly a thing to behold. I can stare at it and never be bored.
We went out for piza (very good) and a drink, after a well needed rest. To bed and sleep!

Up by 8am. I believe my tummy to be better! First on the agenda was a trip to the station, Sants to change our tickets for Nimes, as I had inadvertently booked for Wednesday not Tuesday!! Then on to the Chino district in Raval, adjacent to the old city. This area was and still is to some extent the seedier side of Barcelona: arrow streets and working girls even in the mid morning! Hans insisted on having his picture taken in Jean Genet Square. Had a beer in an Irish bar full of football fans. Back down the Ramblas to the Palace of Palau Guell, designed by Gaudi. I felt this was well worth while, a very interesting insight to how people lived at the end of the 19th century. Well, that is to say the wealthy ones who could afford to patronise the arts.
A short walk away is the old city where we wandered until hunger got the better of us and we took lunch on the terrace of a cafe just outside the cathedral. I had tropical salad (kiwifruit, mango, lettuce and a good dose of dressing) followed by pork in a lemon and cream reduction accompanied with rice, yum! Hans had spag followed by sole meuniere. All washed down with chardonnay from Valencia, not at all fruity like the NZ ones. Now replete we caught a bus back to base for a kip.

Our last night in Barcelona tonight, tomorrow we are heading for France. Sunday was a real quiet day here, not many people about, just tourists like ourselves doing the tourist traps. Barcelona is of course Gaudi City, and he really takes a bit of getting used to. Every morning we wake up with a view of the Sagrada Familia Temple, and every night it´s lit up like a fairground. Ewen likes the building but I find it a bit too heavy going, all that squatness and heavy bottoms, I thought Gothic meant light and defying gravity visually, but that is not the case here, especially on the outside (the church is basically still a shell with the nave under construction, they reckon they´re about halfway finished now, you can give donations by credit card). The architecture inside is much more interesting, with the pillars branching out like trees at the top. Gaudi is pretty much an organic architect, taking forms and mathematical expressions from nature. He invented a clever way of calculating the load bearings needed using lead weights and mirrors to see whether a construction literally would stand up. A bit complicated to explain precisely here how he worked but you get my drift.
We went to the Parc Guell, a subdivision in the hills north of the city, designed as a property speculative venture, but that went rather badly. It´s now a park only with some typical Gaudi designs such as the snaking park bench made from shards of pottery and porcelain along the rim of the hillside. It´s very much postcard territory, and I think it looks actually better on postcards than in real life (we were there in a thunderstorm, and everything was muddy and wet).
Down in the Eixample district, an ostentatious 19th century middle class urban planned part of town, strictly rigid but with flights of Gaudi´s and other modernist architects´ fancy, we went into La Pedrera, a block of flats designed by Gaudi but the owners had second thoughts about the finished product. It looks very much ahead of its time but sure is a fine place to live in today, with very spacious apartments, light and airy, broad doors and plenty of rooms. The locals hated it (hence the name Pedrera, or stone quarry) because it looked unattractive on the outside. The walls are not load bearing, instead big pillars do the trick, so the flats inside can use all the space rather than having to build big walls 5 floors up. One of my favourites!
We had lunch on the top floor of the El Corte Ingles department store. Fine dining it was more like, heaps of waiters and bone china dinner sets. Ewen had lobster and chicken and I had salted cod with roast spuds. We truly have not had a bad meal in Spain (bar the unfortunate tuna sandwich) but it´s not very cheap. But hey, it´s a holiday: can´t go hungry! What they really do well here is coffee. So smooth, I could drink cortados all day long (that´s a short black with a little bit of steamed milk).
After lunch we took the bus to the Catalonian Art Museum, but I misread the guide book and it was closed on a Monday. We went further along to the beach instead. A stretch of sand abutting the city, and it´s not very attractive. Imagine a beach next to Auckland´s Viaduct Harbour 10 years into the future, and you get the picture of a faded urban redevelopment that has not aged well.

September 07, 2003

Cordoba

Had a drink in a gay bar tonight, and then went for dinner in a vegetarian restaurant. My food came out and it was spag!! I had ordered salad, as my tummy is still on the blink! When it finally arrived a just couldn't face it and beat a hasty retreat!! Never mind.

Up early and caught the 8:30 Ave high speed train for Cordoba. The trip was great, I love going at 300km/hr.
Decided to take the video-camera this time, we are such tourists! Passed through very arid countryside, stunted corn, and then in the southern hills, lots of olive groves. Breakfast was served on the train.
First up today we visited the Alcazar, home of the Catholic kings after the Moors had left. Here there are wonderful gardens with fish ponds, citrus trees, date palms, fountains, the lot. Everything one expects of a Moorish garden, one of the best in Andalucia, so the guide book says.
From here it was on to the Mezquita, the site of the original Mosque of the Moors. Of course the Christians came along and built their Cathedral right in the middle of it. The King regretted it later apparently.
There are still over 800 pillars still surviving from the original Mosque, which was built in the tenth century! That would have to be the oldest thing Ewen has ever seen, oh except for (perhaps there is a joke in here somewhere?) maybe some Roman ruins.
After this we ambled our way through the old Jewish quarter, with streets so narrow cars tyres squeaked against the curbs on both sides, and you have to stand in doorways to let them pass!
We lunched inside a wonderful courtyard with air conditioning, vines hanging from the upstairs windows and marble tiles on the floor. Lunch was gazpacho, even better than mine!! This was accompanied by water and bread.
As heat of the day took its toll, we took shelter in a wee cafe under topiaried lemon trees. It is amazing how the Spanish men are quick to appreciate the women. The workers across the Plaza were whistling all the time and clasping themselves in a surprising manner!
We have a two hour wander back to the train station through yet more municipal gardens, maybe even a kip under some trees would be good.

September 06, 2003

Madrid

Well, we made it after the 36 hour odyssey from Waiheke Ferry to our hotel in Madrid. The flight went well, we suspect that the sleeping police in Roma caused our flight to be over an hour late! We would advise not to use the Metro here in Madrid if you have large and heavy bags as we did! Many many steps and stairs and a long way to walk in the airport.
The hotel is rather basic but has all the things we need. Took a walk this afternoon in the siesta, all was very quiet, and the temp only 34C with a pleasant breeze.
Our stroll took us through the Habsburg area of old Madrid, all within easy walking distance of hotel. The architecture is not too over done in the baroque style. Saw the Royal Palace and the large Cathedral opposite.
It was then back to the hotel for our late siesta, slept like there was no tomorrow. 8:30pm found us back out on the the streets looking for a drink and somewhere to eat. Everything at this time of day of course is so much more alive. The time now is 10:30, and we still have to find some place to eat. It will then be back to bed and more sleep!!

Our second day in Madrid started off in glorious sunshine although it has been cooler (30C) than in recent weeks, even the locals seem pleased with the passing of the 40C heatwave.
We started off with a walk to the Atocha station where we will leave from on Thursday for a day trip to Cordoba on the super fast Ave train (yes, call us trainspotters, but call us).
Then off to the Royal Botanic Gardens, masses of pictures there, some New Zealand plants too.
The Prado museum was next but we restricted ourselves to Flemish and Dutch masters (and the sole Caravaggio), it´s far too massive to do it all and there is only so much religious art one can take in. I loved the Bosch hallucinating paintings, they are great fun - you can easily see where Dali got his inspiration from.
Then on to the Thyssen-Boremisza Museum, a formerly private painting collection of excellent range, from early Italian renaissance to late 20th Century painters. My favourites were an atmospheric moonlit view of a wintry evening in a 16th Century Dutch village, and a painting of an art dealer´s shop in Antwerp, where two foppish gentlemen (one dressed in ´purest green´ - Percy-style) stand too closely together discussing one of the works. You can imagine they are mightily bitching about it. It´s fun to create your own stories and attach them to the imagery. I thought the whole museum was worth seeing, and we did, it was not too large!
We got back to the hotel and Ewen wasn´t feeling too well after eating a tuna sandwich, dear oh dear, so I got to do the internet duty. We haven´t eaten much in general, it´s a bit too hot to be hungry and I guess we need to acclimatise some more first. The jet lag was over soon after a good night sleep with the help of air conditioning.

Well I seem to have recovered from my ordeal yesterday! NEVER eat tuna! After a sleep, Hans and I were both wide awake at 1am, so we decided to go out for a walk, both heading in the direction of the gay district without a word to each other. This journey took us through a red light district, where the city fathers have seen fit to turn out the street lights! Back to the hotel by 3 am.
Today saw us up by 8:30am and off to see the archaeological museum. On the way we stopped for coffee and a bite to eat as the food at the hotel is a little inadequate. Having taken a chronological trip through Spain's past habitation we headed for the Retiro Mediodia Park. Here we strolled along paths beneath the shade of horse chestnuts, that are just showing a little autumn colour. Out of the park and along a street side book fair (permanent) to Atocha metro station where we took a train back to Plaza Puerto Del Sol. Found a Belgian cafe to have lunch in, I couldn't yet manage to eat all my Tapas fria, cold meats and cheese, Hans said that it wasn't as good as the one in Vulcan Lane.