Navigating through Seville by map, this square was marked as 'Plaza de Encarnacion' and I was expecting some suitably grand old religious building, not this vast, suspended amorphous lattice of steel. The builders are still finishing it off. It boasts an (appropriately) underground archaeological museum and there's going to be a restaurant on top. The platform underneath looks a little bare and Stalinist. Its official name is the 'metropol parasol'. The Sevillanos have already dubbed it 'the mushrooms'.
This ridiculous, beautiful and mostly empty confection was constructed for an exhibition in 1929 and I've been wanting to visit it ever since I saw it in the film 'Lawrence of Arabia'. Back in 1995, when my archaeology mates and I were living unemployed in Bristol, we watched that film on VHS far more times than was healthy.
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Seville's motto, which is to be seen everywhere. Apart from Amsterdam with its 'XXX', and maybe Rome with its 'SPQR', I haven't seen many such successful brandings of a city as this. The amalgam that is London doesn't even have a single identity.
NO8DO is a rebus. The 8 is not really an 8 but a skein of wool, a 'madeja' in Spanish. Say the whole thing "no madeja do" and it sounds like "No me ha dejado", which means "It [Seville] has not abandoned me".
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Seville's cathedral is one of the largest in Europe. Parts of the 12th century mosque that previously stood on the site were recycled and incorporated, including the large minaret which is now the cathedral's iconic tower (the 'Giralda'), and the mosque's courtyard with its inlaid geometric water channels. Although I knew all this it was still a little surprising to see Islamic and Christian gothic pressed up against each other. It felt like being given a tour of Canterbury cathedral and then being shown the older, Hindu part of the building. Culturally, subconsciously, I am the product of an inward-looking Christian bubble.
The interior is vast. I expected vast but was still surprised by the size of the solid silver altar, a team of men crawling all over it with polishing cloths. Christopher Columbus is there too. He travelled almost as much after his death as he did in life, his bones being transferred from Spain to Dominica, then Cuba, then back to Spain again, spending a while in a convent in Seville and then ending up in this heroic, 20th century pre-Raphaelite-looking monument in the cathedral. I quite fancy something like this for myself, please.
In contrast to Britain's Occupy protesters, who are being evicted by St Paul's cathedral, some young unemployed Spanish school teachers had set up a permanent protest inside their cathedral, seemingly with full consent.
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This room entertained me. It is hung with 16th century tapestries commemorating the conquest of Tunis in 1535, an early-modern D-Day involving the Spanish, Genoese and Portuguese. My education of that period was basically confined to northern Europe and I'd never heard of this event. It makes the Spanish attempt to invade England 23 years later seem less foolhardy than I assumed. One of the tapestries is a huge map depicting the fleets of ships surging forth from Italy and Spain towards the African coast, but upside down, so Africa is at the top. Another attempts to depict various stages of the battle in some technical detail. You have canal boats, earthworks with carriage-less cannon, soldiers hiding in fox holes with canon balls embedded in the soil around them, rotting bodies, drowned sailors and buildings exploding. It's all quite perplexing.
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I catch my flight back to the UK this afternoon. Goodbye Australia!
I WILL MISS:
- My clever, volatile sister and her clever, manic boyfriend. They are a phenomenon.
- My childhood friend, Tyler. A driven genius writing an eye-popping novel. Somehow, not having seen each other since 1986 didn't matter.
- Renata, who I last saw at her house in the Czech Republic, just outside my wife's native village. Nice to see her here living her new life, evidently successfully.
- Australian food. The standard here is consistently high and less than half the price of the UK. An average Sydney cafe serves food and coffee better than anything I've had in France, and quality asian and middle eastern fare is ubiquitous.
- Large and exotic flora absolutely everywhere. Gaily coloured parrots playing in the trees every morning.
- Vicious sunshine that burns in 20 minutes. Giant roaches.
- Sydney traffic. Less than half the population of London but it's already this bad? Jesus. Doesn't bode well for the future.
- The lack of children. I really miss mine. Where do they hide them in this city? Are they so unwelcome in public? The few I saw seemed tightly confined to a small number of playgrounds and swimming pools.
- The social drinking. Very generous but, really, I think it would kill me in a few months. The wine is superb, of course.
Today I made my way to Sydney city centre, alone. What to do? Some ships outside the maritime museum distracted me for a while but that great gleaming white magnet of the opera house drew me back in the end. I couldn't resist. I paid for the expensive tour of the interior. An Indian gentleman who was in our group became excited by the quality of the concrete. I empathised. It is the best building constructed since WW2, without any doubt. The story of its creation reads like the making of some Werner-Herzog epic. They'd been constructing it for three years before they even formed an idea of how they were going to render its curved shell roofs into physical reality. It ran eleven years over schedule. Its Danish architect, Jorn Utzon, walked off the job in 1966 and never saw it again. Everything about it is special. The shells are cladded in a mixture of matt and glazed tiles which Utzon described as "snow and ice". The ceiling of the concourse, in the plain brown podium upon which the shells sit, is made from concrete members that undulate from a cross-section U-shape to a T-shape and back again. Even the wash basins in the toilets are strange and clever; almost flat, dented tables onto which the water runs off, seemingly into the wall behind.
"It is strange that it should be here, in such an otherwise conservative country" observed my sister's Australian boyfriend.
I took photos, which will be posted when I return to England.
Then I turned my attention to Australia, sniffing up and down the streets in Sydney where my sister and other friends live. I sent one friend a chirpy email describing the recycling bins and pot plants outside his front door, and the grafitti on the wall nearby. "Stalker! I feel dirty." he replied. Getting bored of this I soon discovered that Google streetview isn't confined to Australian cities but, remarkably, extends across the entire vast expanse of that country, criss-crossing the desert. I'm surprised they went to all the bother, but the result is absorbing. Pick a road at random way out in the middle of nowhere and just drop your little yellow man. I highly recommend it.
My good friend and fellow-nurse raywelly went on a motorcycle tour of the Indian Himalayas last year. He took this photograph at Kumzumla Pass. I rather like it. Each inscribed stone on this heap represents a Buddhist prayer. In a small effort to reverse the flow of prayers, Ray picked up a small stone from nearby (not from the pile, don't worry) and brought it back to England as a souvenir.
The centre of Prague is well-known and features a great deal in postcards, normally with blue skies and empty streets. I thought I'd present you with some more realistic views, with rain and crowds of tourists. Still pretty though. This is the famed astrological clock. Little wooden automatons come out of it every hour.
I spent a great deal of time pushing the baby around my mother-in-law's village. The blossom was somewhat spectacular. I took most of these pictures within the same half hour one day.
Here are some photos of the small town of Votice, which is near my wife's native village. I thought they would give an impression of how interesting the Czech Republic is, even outside the tourist honey pots like Prague. This first picture shows the 17th century St Wenceslas (Vaclav) church and the 'old chateau' brewery.
How strange and beautiful to find ourselves suddenly above the clouds in sunshine so bright it hurt my eyes. In England you become used to living underneath an opaque lid of cloud. Bretagne sailed by below us, then the Bay of Biscay, then the snow covered back of the Cordillera Cantabrica. Banking steeply over Lisbon we looked down on something that looked more like a South American city than our part of Europe. Permanently parked on the edge of the runway was a ‘Republique du Zaire’ passenger jet with oddly narrow-looking 1970’s engines and a growth of moss clinging to the top of its fuselage. I’d love to know how it got marooned there.
Leon met us and we took a bus into the old city. Old Lisbon is a dirty but exotic place. Rebuilt after the huge 1755 earthquake, they went big on baroque detail, coloured Delft-like tiled exteriors, fountains, statues and gold encrusted churches. I’d describe it as being like a Latin Prague with touches of Paris. One thing I hadn’t expected was the faces of the natives. Dark, sometimes very Moorish, features of the Portuguese mixed with large numbers of Mozambique immigrants and a few Indians from Goa and Chinese from Macau.
There were many things about life there which seemed attractive to my English eyes: old people socialising in the parks and streets; young people being polite to old people (!); young people participating in the general election campaigns; young people actually sitting outside in the evenings and NOT drinking.....amazing.