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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Perfect Holidays on Costa Brava? Come to Blanes!

Sightseeing boat at Blanes beach in Costa Brava, Catalonia, Spain

If you are planning your vacation on Costa Brava, the town of Blanes should be on your list not just because it has a long and wide beach from where sightseeing boats like this depart or because you can find budget accommodation in all inclusive hotels or in a nice Catalan villa, but also due to the fact that the door to Costa Brava, as it is known Blanes, has much more to offer than you could think of:

First of all, its Mediterranean history, a history that tells us of Iberian settlements upon whose ruins Romans built an oppidum, "an ancient Roman provincial town lacking self-government, especially one having walls and fortifications and serving as a provincial strong point" (Merriam - Webster), which they called Blanda or Blandae after a city by the same name in Lucania, a region from ancient Italy. Remnants of the Roman Blanda were found during the els Pedrets excavations in the 70s and also at the parish church, at Racó d’en Portes and near Sant Francesc hermitage. The reason for these strongholds to exist were basically for protection of the coastal towns from pirates or from land incursions.

Of course history extends further, a history of landlords, of castles, of Genoese attacks, of Catalan splendor, of invasions, of migrations to America (Havana, Montevideo and Buenos Aires), but I will not digress.

Based upon such rich past, there grew a fishermen town with an intense activity that was also centered in the industry of textile and cork. Shipyards building fishing boats, frigates and brigantines were also part of the city's main industry in previous centuries. As you can guess, much of those early trades are now secondary to tourism although fishing is still around. Worth mentioning is the local fishing fleet that every morning sails the Mediterranean to bring their fresh captures to be auctioned and sold at nine market stalls from where they go straight to meet the touristic demand.

Blanes together with Lloret de Mar, Malgrat de Mar, Tordera and Palafolls municipalities is part of what is known as the Catalan void, a territory between Maresme and La Selva comarques. This area experienced an important demographic and town planning growth during the XX century. Important migrations from the South of Spain took place then, first during the 20s after the opening of the SAFA artificial fiber factory (1923) and later from 1955 to 1970, coinciding with mass tourism boom. This considerable flux of migrants gave Blanes its unique trait, a melting pot of cultures, from where new Catalans were born.

But why is Blanes good for holidays?

A good reason to visit could be the local cuisine. Take for example this incredible paella I had at Celler Sant Antoni  restaurant very conveniently located near the beach and the marina. I'd also recommend laBalma restaurant or the terrace of Es Blanc.

Seafood Paella or Paella Marinera at Celler Sant Antoni in Blanes, Costa Brava, Catalonia, Spain

Another reason may be because accommodation is cheaper than in other Costa Brava towns like Cadaques or Begur for example. Vacation rentals in Blanes might as well be another affordable option for you. From there you could move along the coast easily visiting nearby towns.

Besides eating and sleeping of course, there is always time to walk along carrer Ample to find the beautiful Gothic fountain from 1438, look for Casa Saladrigas by a disciple of Gaudi, visit Marimurtra, one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the Mediterranean, organize a wildlife tour to the Tordera delta, dive in Blanes waters, escalate to the 1582 convent on top of the cliffs overlooking the port or the castle of Sant Joan (better to go by car) and last but not least buy vegs and fresh fruit at the daily market at Passeig de Dintre.

There are plenty of other things to do in Blanes, like going hiking along Cami de Ronda till Cala Bona the favorite beach of locals or getting lost in the intense nightlife of the little cousin, Lloret de Mar.

The list might go on endlessly. I hope that after you enjoy your Costa Brava holidays you come up here and share some more hints with our community.


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

What to See When Vacationing in Spain

Alhambra Palace, Granada, Spain


Spain is one of the world’s countries most steeped in culture and history. The nation draws in millions of tourists each year to enjoy its beaches, food, music, art and sculpture. Spain’s ideal geographic location in Europe helped the creation of its centuries old empire. Remnants of the empires last today seen in the bits and pieces of Spanish culture that dot places from Latin America to Northern Africa. Visitors to Spain have a lot to choose from when it comes to itineraries. They could spend the whole time soaking in the Mediterranean sun or dancing to music in the evening streets. If they’re road warriors, they can spend weeks traveling the country trying out the wide variety of food, people and architecture that Spain offers. Even better is the fact that Spain offers a more affordable travel destination than other European tourist powerhouses like France and Germany. You can spend less, get more out of your stay in Spain and walk away with a five-star experience. Here are some of the best things to see across the country on your Spanish getaway.

Granada


Granada is home to the most visited monument in Spain: The Nasrid Palace is famous around the world for its tile work, exquisite stucco ceilings, as well as beautiful pools, fountains and gardens. Over three million people come to Granada every year. The Alhambra is a place and fortress that was built in 889 A.D. on top of old roman buildings. The palace is a literal storytelling of Spain’s history as it changed between the hands of different rulers over the years. The building’s Muslim architecture is a relic of past Islamic empires that ruled the region. The Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visitors to Granada will learn that a lot of songs and tales in Spain are tied to the palace and its history. One of the biggest draws inside the palace is the Court of Myrtles. The Court was used to help cool the palace and was also a symbol of central power. The center pool is crafted with marble pavement with galleries alongside the corridors. One of the most incredible technological feats inside of the palace is the Fountain of the Lions. Twelve marble lions supporting the fountain were made to spew water from its mouth each hour, a hydraulic feat for its time.

The Sagrada Familia Basilica


Located in Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia is perhaps the most recognizable of all Spanish architectures. Though initially started under Francesc de Paula del Villar in 1882, famous architect Gaudi took over the job the next year and worked on the church until he died in 1926. In fact, Barcelona is known for other Gaudi projects across the city, and people love the way old avant-garde Gaudi buildings mesh with traditional modern and old Spanish architecture, many visitors are surprised to find out that construction is still ongoing, meaning the building has been on for 137 years. Currently, Joseph Maria Subirachs leads the construction project, and the basilica is nearing completion. The Sagrada Familia is known for its tall spires and detailed exterior. The twelve towers symbolize the twelve original apostles, and the three facades represent the Nativity, the Passion and Death, and the Glory of Christ. The Sagrada Familia is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Construction is funded by ticket sales and private donations.

Madrid’s Prado Museum


The Prado Museum is one of the greatest collections of art in the world. It’s recognized as the largest art gallery in the world, housing more than 7,500 paintings. Only a small portion of the collection can be displayed at any given time because of space restrictions despite recent additions. The Prado Museum came into being when Charles III combined the disparate royal collections so the people could view them in one place. An interesting bit of history- during the Spanish Civil War, the Prado collection was sent to Switzerland for safekeeping. Once the war ended, it was sent back during the Second World War. In addition to its thousands of paintings, the Prado Museum is home to many marble sculptures, coin collections, and other pieces. Construction on the museum started in the late 18th century and continued for around thirty-five years. Many art collectors still choose to leave their pieces to the Prado Museum when they die, so the collection continues to grow. As a result, more additions have been put on the original buildings. In 2007, a US $219 million addition that took ten years to complete was built to hold large temporary exhibits.

Cathedral of Seville


Seville is one of the most scenic locations in Spain, drawing in international visitors who want to take in the culture of the renowned city. The Cathedral of Seville is the heart of it. It’s also among the oldest of Spain’s famous architecture. Started in 1401, the cathedral was symbolically constructed on top of the Moorish mezquita that was there before. The final stage of the cathedral was finished over three hundred years after building began. No expense was spared during construction. The building has over 75 stained glass windows, marble floors, bronze candelabras and more. Among the other draws to the city, the Cathedral of Seville is famous because it houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus, the famous explorer who discovered the Americas. The cathedral is home to over 500 pieces of priceless artwork, and, you guessed it, the cathedral is also UNESCO World Heritage Site, underscoring the amount of historical treasures to be found in Spain.

These four locations are just the foundation to a wonderful Spanish vacation itinerary. The country has hundreds, if not thousands, of other worthwhile locations and attractions. You’ll find world class music, food, sport and shopping around the country. Getting around is easy and the Spanish people are among the friendliest in the world. Visitors walk away from Spain with a greater appreciation of the region’s history that has done so much to shape the world around us.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Sant Joan's Eve Cocas and Fireworks



One more year Catalonia and its capital Barcelona celebrate the arrival of summer with this traditional festivity known as Revetlla de Sant Joan /Verbena de San Juan / Saint John's Eve.

Sant Joan is a moment to share with family and friends and who made the first bonfire is certainly unknown since all the summer welcoming celebrations of history occurred once in a long gone night of mankind when it was time to thank the gods, make a toast for past victories, blessing crops and guarantee a better future. The longest day of the year, the solstice seems to be the perfect occasion to rejoice from dusk to dawn drinking and eating in the most pagan ways. Fortunately there is no need to sacrifice animals or virgins anymore.

Of course in spite of the 'tribal rituals' of the night there is also the feast that commemorates Saint John The Baptist's birth that no one seems to remember anymore. The fact is that bonfires made of bones and wood, something rather hard to find in Barcelona nowadays, are called St John's Fire and that was perfect to repel witches in the past, who knows if even today!

The bonfires can be seen along the Catalan geography by the thousands especially at the beach (a celebration that this year 2019 generated 20 tons of crap on the capital's waterfront)

Those who prefer to celebrate at home or on the city streets, limit themselves to fireworks of all sorts like the one on top that, as somebody suggested to me at the Barcelona Reddit, looks like one of Dr. Strange's portals.

The stars of the night are the famous Cocas de Sant Joan which are of different kinds according to the ingredients. Here is a Coca made of brioche, candied fruit, pine nut and cream filling.




Here is another Coca de Sant Joan known as Coca de Llardons, a flat pastry cake made with eggs, sugar, pork crackling (llardons) and pine nuts. What if you try a Coca de Llardons recipe?



Do not forget some nice Catalan cava as the perfect dressing of a memorable evening!
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