SUE JACKSON Therapist/Writer/Photographer/Activist

Last year, as the unofficial blogger/photographer to the anti-East-West Link campaign, our battles were my blog's entire focus. But by Christmas, with the electoral win for people power and the dumping of the dud Tunnel, I was suddenly at a loss. What to write about now? Not sure yet. But there will be ongoing musings and images from this Australian life. So please leave a message. (No need to sign into an account. Simply comment as ‘anonymous’; then leave your name within the comment itself.)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Vamos a l'Espagne!

We leave tomorrow for Barcelona.
I can finally say that with a degree of confidence. Iceland has had us up in the air - unlike many others - for weeks. But flights are now apparently pretty much back to normal, at least on the route we are taking.
I'm fundamentally a home-body, so I'm beginning to experience the old familiar pre-trip cocktail - two parts excitement to one part anxiety, with a twist of anticipatory home-sickness. I just hope I return in a month stirred, but not shaken.
Peter and I had great fun doing the research for some travel article pitches. I hope they give you a sense of some of the many things that draw us to this fascinating country.

1. Gorgeous Gaudi
Visionary, vegetarian, Catalan nationalist and a local hero who was left to die in the street, Antoni Gaudi’s life was full of enigmas and contradictions. But the legacy he left is irrefutable. We will be crisscrossing Barcelona in Gaudi’s footsteps, visiting the streetlamps, parks, buildings and iconic unfinished Sagrada Familia church that he worked on for 30 years. Hopefully in the process we will learn more about the man, the architect and his unique contribution.

2. The Strawberry Train (Tren de la Fresa)
Every spring since the early 20th century the antique Mikado steam train has pulled out of Madrid’s Atocha station taking members of the royal family to Palacio Royal in Aranjuez to escape the heat. The train acquired its name from the family’s habit of whiling away the travel time sampling the region’s earliest strawberries. And that’s exactly what we’ll be doing, attended by staff in period costumes, serving the delectable fruit on silver trays – at least that’s what we’ve been told. Arriving in Aranjuez, we will spend our time wandering through the palace and gardens, just like the royals.
3. The More-ish Moors
Toledo’s famous Balal Madar gate, the various Al Cazars, Cordoba’s gorgeous tiled patios and Mezquita, Granada’s Arabic baths, its world-famous Alhambra and the Al Bayzin, the old Muslim quarter where we will be staying – we aim to steep ourselves in Moorish culture and will be keen to tell all.
4. So you think you can dance – Flamenco
Imagine - two mad keen Latin dance enthusiasts on the loose in the home of Flamenco. We are determined to track down flamenco for afficiandos in the crooked alleys of Al Bayzin, Granada’s Muslim quarter, in Madrid and in Seville’s Los Gallos, renowned for its dark, passionate atmosphere. No promises, but we may even be tempted to give it a go.
5. The thriller that is Spain
Visigoths, Romans, Muslims, Jews, Christians – all have fought and plotted and struggled to control parts of this wonderful country, leaving their indelible marks seared into the landscape and towns. We will be sifting through the remains and exploring the wonderful melting pot of what was and is Spain.
6. Tilting in La Mancha
Rich in castles and ancient windmills, Toledo and Madrid are key towns in Castilla – La Mancha, the heartland of the world’s favourite nutty knight, Don Quixote. We follow in his footsteps, and in the process hope to tilt at a few windmills of our own.
7. Welcome to Madrid’s Sobrino de Botin – the oldest restaurant in the world.
Established in 1725, today’s patrons can dine on specialties that have changed little over the past three centuries. The restaurant’s suckling pig and roast lamb have delighted generations of writers and film makers, who have featured the restaurant in their works about Madrid. It’s amazing to think that Hemingway may have been musing on ‘The Sun also Rises’ as he tucked into his pork at our very table.
8. Picasso
Barcelona’s renowned Picasso museum, composed of 5 adjoining medieval stone mansions, is home to numerous works particularly from the earlier periods of the artist’s life. We will be staying just around the corner and would be keen to report on the experience of seeing lesser known Picassos ‘in bulk’ in this exceptional setting.
9. El Greco’s Toledo
Toledo, described by Lonely Planet as an ‘open air museum of medieval buildings and cultural sites’ is where El Greco made his home. The city is peppered with works by its most famous son, who died there in 1614. We will be on a quest to track down his works and to understand why he called Toledo home.
10. Ancient Italica
Move over Pompeii, Spain’s wonderful Italica has it all. Founded in 206BC, this site, situated 6 kilometres north-west of Seville, features a huge ampitheatre, broad paved streets, a theatre and several houses with gorgeous mosaics. No wonder the second century AD emperors, Trajan and Hadrian, made it their home. We look forward to visiting the best known Roman ruins in Spain.
11. Concurso de patios Cordobeses
Every year scores of beautiful private courtyards in Cordoba are open to the public for two weeks only in May. These ancient patios have a unique charm. Many of them were built by the Romans and modified later by the Arabs to include fountains, Islamic tiles and engravings. They provide a direct link to the past and the rich cultural mix that is Spain. We are keen to report on the experience of visiting them and, hopefully, meeting with some of their current-day owners.

The pitch that appealed to our magazine of choice was number 4. They want an article on Flamenco, on the proviso that Peter and I take lessons while we are there. So we've enrolled at a dance school in Seville, and Peter is trying hard to grow a pony tail.

Hasta luego.