Barcelona

Mercado de La BoqueriaOur trip to Europe in 2017 allowed us to make a quick detour to Spain’s two main cities Barcelona and Madrid. We flew from Pisa in Italy to Barcelona via Rome. After picking up our rental car we made our way to the Airbnb we would be staying at while visiting the city.

Barcelona has a population of 1.6 million but if you count the surrounding municipalities the population jumps to 4.8 million, half who seem on the road at any one time. While visiting the sprawling Mercado de La Boqueria, established in the 19th century we ate at one of the open-air diners owned by the sons of a former boxer, Clemen' s Boqueria, famed for their seafood tapas.

One of my enduring memories of the market was the cured meats you could buy. We bought a small bag one from which we couldn’t help eating on the long drive to Madrid.

Antoni GaudíAll over the world Barcelona is known as the home of Antoni Gaudí i Cornet. Gaudi was actually born in Reus and moved to Barcelona at the age of 18 to study architecture. As an architect Gaudí was part of the Catalan Modernista movement, eventually transcending it with his nature-based organic style. Chief among Gaudi’s works in Barcelona is the Basílica de la Sagrada Família.

The construction of the Basilica of the Sagrada Família was begun at the initiative of Barcelona-born book merchant and devout Catholic Josep Maria Bocabella i Verdaguer, who founded the Associació Espiritual de Devots de Sant Josep (Spiritual Association of the Devotees of Saint Joseph). Four years later, he went to Rome to give Pope Pius IX a silver image of the Holy Family and, on his way back, he discovered the Sanctuary of the Holy House in Loreto. This building enshrines the home where, tradition says, the Holy Family lived. Bocabella, impressed by the symbolic and artistic beauty of this Sanctuary, inspired him to build a replica in Barcelona, the seed of the Basilica of the Sagrada Família.

The cornerstone of the temple was laid on 19 March, the feast of Saint Joseph, in 1882 in a solemn event presided over by the bishop of Barcelona, Joseph Urquinaona but one year later Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano, the Temple's first architect. , stepped down due to differences of opinion with the developers and the position was given to Antoni Gaudí.

Gaudi became so involved in this work that he produced little else late in his career and lived next to his workshop in his final months of a life cut short when he was run over by a tram and died in 1926. On 12 June, he was buried in the chapel of Our Lady of Carmel, in the crypt of the Expiatory Temple of the Sagrada Família.

Still work continued over the years and in 2010 the Temple of Sagrada Família was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI. Currently, 70% of the Basilica is finished.

ICAR - Indoor Slot RacingThe area around Barcelona can rightly be called the center of the slot car world, the model electric cars that are guided by a slot, a hobby that was popular in the United States during the 60s and is still enjoyed to this day.

The surrounding area hosts numerous clubs including ICAR - Indoor Slot Racing in Igualada. There you will also find the largest slot car shop in the world Cric-Crac.

While there I was met by Xavi Tomàs, a member of ICART who was kind enough to show me around. He also recommended a fabulous Catalonian restaurant called Cal Frare de Maians. The restaurant turned out to be very good and the trip out there was enjoyable. It was quite funny to order the food because the waiter could not really understand English and our Spanish is very bad. It took one of the cooks to come out of the kitchen to help us.

“Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.

Lawrence Block
SmartWool

Madrid

Madrid at NightThe drive from Barcelona to Madrid was, for the most part, forgettable but fortunately we made good time and we were able to park our car in a garage by the Plaza Mayor.

During the fifteenth century, it was called Plaza del Arrabal and then renamed Plaza de la Constitución, Plaza Real and Plaza de la República. After the end of the Spanish Civil War, the square was given the name of Plaza Mayor, which it still bears today.

The plaza is located in the heart of Madrid, very near the Puerta del Sol. It was designed by Juan de Herrera and Juan Gómez de Mora. Coming to Madrid I didn’t really know what to expect but it turned out we were staying in a very good location. There were a lot of small streets with restaurants serving Tapas.

While in Madrid we visited the Corral de la Moreria, considered the world’s most famous and oldest flamenco tablao. A flamenco tablao a place where flamenco shows are held and feature a platform on which artists dance is made of wood, a material that has a quality sound for the ‘zapateado’ and also helps to protect the joints of the dancers.

The first tablaos arose in the mid-twentieth century, replacing the old singing cafes, which were the first spaces in which flamenco was shown to the general public, given that until then flamenco had been restricted to family celebrations or impromptu performances.

Even if you have seen flamenco on stage or TV, nothing will prepare you for the raw energy if the dance and cante (singing) of a flamenco tablao.

Segovia

Alcázar de Segovia Segovia, the old quarter of which, along with its Roman aqueduct, are World Heritage Sites, lies on high ground between the Eresma and Clamores Rivers. In addition to its famous aqueduct, numerous Romanesque churches, the Cathedral and Fortress go to form this magnificent landscape that presides over this part of Castile.

Standing between the confluence of the Eresma and Clamores rivers, the first documented record of the fortress dates back to Christian writings in the 12th century. It was built on top of a rock, a testament to its original military status. It was used as a residence by Alfonso VIII. In the 13th century the building took on an air of Gothic elegance thanks to the Spanish architects working for John II and Henry IV. In 1764, Charles II founded the Royal College of Artillery here. The edifice has a number of secret passageways that lead to the river and connect several of the city's palaces.

The Roman Aqueduct of Segovia was built during the second half of the 1st century A.D. and supplied water from the Frío River to the city into the 20th century.