A dragon on the roof

Part of the “discord bloc”, casa Batllo is one of a few houses that have made a patch of Passeig the Gracia famous. In spanish manzana means both “block” and “apple” making this a pun – the apple of Discord, referring to the very different styles of homes next to each other.

Casa Batllo is another Gaudi building. Once a boring flat complex, Antoni Gaudi was commissioned to demolish and rebuild, he convinced Josep Batllo i Casanovas, its owner, to refurbish it instead in 1902.

One of the distinctive features of the house is the roof terrace due to its famous dragon back design. The tiles on the roof make it look like scales of a dragon and the cross it is said to represent a sword insinuating when the knight saved the princess from the fearsome dragon.

This house also has a lift that was first installed by Gaudi and is now used only for less mobile visitors or in case of emergencies. I can say for certain that more than 100 years later, it still works.

Octopus everywhere

Carballiño (literally meaning the little oak), a little town in Galicia has celebrated, since 1969, on the second Sunday of August, “La Festa do Pulpo”. This is a culinary party with an estimate of 80 to 100 thousand guests who consume around 50 thousand kilos of “pulpo a la gallega” during the event.

It is said that the festival started as the fishermen of the area were obliged to pay a tax in produce to the frays. Amongst their catch there was the octopus, plentiful in Pontevedra. With the quantities they were receiving, the frays had to commercialise it and the festival began.

The “polbeiras” or “pulperas” (women who cook the octopus) cook this animal in copper pots. The octopus has to be ‘scared’ and is introduced into boiling water for a few seconds and taken out again a few times. This technique helps the octopus keep its skin once boiled for longer amounts of time. After its boiled, the octopus is cut in slices and served with olive oil and cayenne pepper sprinkled in the top. Perfect to pair with a local brew or wine.

Almost a ghost town

Once a fruitful town that housed more than a thousand people, the Malta knights amongst them, now it struggles to reach one hundred. Pazos de Arenteiro is a town that almost disappeared near the rivers of Arenteiro and Avia. A disease struck the grapes of the region which declined the (fruitful) wine making business and took almost every vine to its death. But now, a passionate galician has the dream of restoring this little town to its former grandeur attracting tourists and locals to stay or give them a homemade meal as good as any high end restaurant in a big city.

This tiny village has plenty to offer: a XVI century church you can visit and tracks to stretch the legs. One of the walks will take you through an abandoned village, a medieval bridge and the vegetation of the area.

Tower or Lighthouse?

Functioning since late 1st century AD, the Tower of Hercules is considered as the most ancient lighthouse in the world. It was chosen by its ancient Roman builders for its view of the sea.

The Hercules Tower, was once known as “Farum Brigantium” or “Brigantia Lighthouse” and it was built on a 57 metre high rock, and it rises a further 55 metres, making it the second tallest lighthouse in Spain.

It is said that that Hercules, son of Zeus, slew the giant tyrant Geryon, after 3 days and 3 nights of continuous battle, with an arrow dipped in Hydra’s blood. Hercules then buried the head of Geryon with his weapons and ordered that a city be built on the burial site, where now the lighthouse sits. This is why now a skull and crossbones appears in the coat-of-arms of the city of Corunna, representing the buried head of Hercules’ slain enemy.

Surrounding the tower, 47 hectares border the sea and are home to 19 sculptural projects, including the “Menhirs for the peace” representing Family. Menhirs allow for the energy that is around to be captured. These sculptures have holes that allow visitors to frame the Tower of Hercules on one angle or the ocean on another.

30 minutes from the centre of Barça

The Sitges county has around 17 beaches. All small but with their own character and personality. Platja del Garraf is only 380 meters long and around 28 meters wide but it has 33 little green and white houses that were once built for the workers who built the train tracks and fishermen. Only 30 kms south of Barcelona, this beach is a perfect trip for a picnic and a swim.

Humour in sculpture

The first portuguese artist to have her own exhibition in the Guggenhaim Bilbao. This famous sculptress has a sense of humour that explores the duality of life, in which there is a conflict between the public and private, luxury and austerity, and she questions sociopolitical issues in the world and those that surround women as a gender. To create these contradictions In her work, Joanna Vasconcelos uses everyday items such as pots, pans, mirrors, irons, tampons, etc.

All through the Vasc museum, a gigantic Valkyrie that slides in each crevice of the museum is adorned by coulourful crochet art made by the 20 artisans who during 2 years helped her build Egeria. Using this skill in her artwork, the sculptor tries to highlight the contributions of women who work.

And outside, Solitario, a reference to the single diamond of an engagement ring. Juxtaposing male and female through the use of whisky glasses and Mercedes wheel hubs to make a woman’s jewelry item.

How to revamp a city

Frank Gehry was the architect appointed to build this museum which was inaugurated on 18 October 1997. An engineering project that cost 89 million dollars and was done on time and on budget. The project was the result of a partnership between the Basque government and the Guggenheim foundation; the government would fund the building in the decaying port area and in exchange the Foundation would manage a permanent exhibit and rotate temporary exhibitions.

This was an attempt on revitalizing the economy of this industrial port city. In the first 3 years four million people visited resulting in 500 million euro injection to the economy. A fifth of that the government recouped in taxes and paid for the investment. Nowadays about a million people visit the museum per year.

There are not many buildings in the world that look like this one.

A multi-faceted symbol of Catalonia

Tourists, pilgrims and believers visit this popular destination, The Monastery of Montserrat, to visit the Black Madonna, patron saint of Catalonia. Known to locals as “La Moreneta” due to its colour, she was attributed many miracles in the 12th Century.

The Monastery sits two thirds up Montserrat, the ‘serrated mountain’, called so due to its shape which can be viewed from afar. The peak of St Jerome stands tall at 1,236 meters above sea level and only 45 km northwest of Barcelona. A funicular goes almost all the way up to the top. The keyword being almost as from the funicular there is still a steep hiking trails which leads through the nature park to the top of the mountains and reward hikers with a magnificent view of Catalonia.

The Monastery faced difficult times during the Franco dictatorship but they put up resistance. Despite the ban in those days, Catalan was still spoken and fairs were held in that language, many persecutees of the Franco regime were also in hiding there. As a result, around 20 monks were executed.  This defiance makes the Montserrat Monastery an important symbol the fight against oppression.

Navajas con ajo y limon

Surrounded by sea, Spain offers an opportunity to taste a wide variety of creatures from the ocean. Sometimes even what was once used, and still is used, as bait years later becomes a delicacy.

These fish are long, thin molluscs with shells that look like the old cut-throat razors and are sometimes aso known as razor clams. They swim vertically, in sychronised groups, with their long snouts pointing down.

Sometimes they are harvested by hand or trailing an electric cable behind a boat to struck the fish.

Sabor criollo

One of the benefits of living in a multicultural city is the opportunity to stumble across different cuisines. Especially if you know it will be good seeing the numbers of people regularly eating there. An authentic flavour of South America brought to our table on a Friday evening; washed down with some Venezuelan brew.

Venezuelan cuisine, “cocina criolla” as it is known, reflects the complex history of the country mingling European influence (especially Italian, Spanish, French and Portuguese), indigenous roots and African ancestry. This unique blend makes it a flavoursome dishes.

In our table the national dish, Pabellón Criollo, and the most famous dish, Arepas. The Pabellón Criollo is a simple dish of shredded beef or pork, black beans, white rice, and sometimes accompanied by fried plantain. Arepas are cornmeal disks that are grilled, baked or fried. Unlike in its neighbor country Colombia where it is normally eaten unadorned, in Venezuela Arepas are split open and filled with a variety of cheese and/or meats. In Venezuela, Arepas are generally eaten as snacks or as side companions at meals. For us, as a main dish.