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Gruesome but history – Museum of Inquisition/Cordoba

eisernA very dark chapter in the history of the Catholic Church and, indeed, Spain is the Inquisition of the 13th and 14th century. I’m sure everybody knows what man did to man to elicit confessions of being a witch, a sorcerer, a heretic. A simple denunciation was enough to lead to an arrest and unspeakable tortures inflicted on mostly innocent people to get them to confess to being possessed by the devil, poisoning their neighbors by witchcraft of otherwise  infringing he doctrines of the Catholic Church. It goes far beyond the scope of this blog post to really delve into the depth of this part of history in the 13th and 14th century when a ruthless witch hunt was on. But, the medieval methods of torture were also applied to press confessions out of common criminals, unrelated to any ‘crimes’ against the Church and the Catholic faith.

Meandering through the colorful streets of the Juderia, the old Jewish quarters of Cordoba, I happened upon a museum which immediately caught my attention. Gallery and Museum of the Inquisition,  read the sign over the entrance to a small passage where, at first sight, coats of arms and medieval armors of knights were displayed. Closer inspection revealed, that this museum housed a collection of authentic torture instruments of the Middle Ages as well as a documentation of what happened at the time.

Entrance to the Museum of Inquisition
Entrance to the Museum of Inquisition

In I went and, I must say, a chill went down my spine when I entered the first room. It’s one thing to read about these atrocities in history books, but quite another to come face to face with an Iron Maiden, the wheel and other horrible instruments, knowing that they were not reproductions but had actually been used on living and breathing people.

chair

henker

ton

stool

paintig

ritter

It was yet another fascinating find on my trip to Cordoba and a hands on education in history. What really threw  me though was that, when I left, I discovered that miniature reproductions of torture instruments were on sale at the museum shop by way of souvenirs. I was really take aback and asked the assistant if people actually had so little taste as to buy these things. ‘Oh yes,’ she said. ‘They are quite popular… as a gift for the mother in law!!’ Go figure!

 

 

 

Gibraltar – more than banks and monkeys

 

Gibraltar is one of those places which you either hate or love. No room for indifference. I know plenty of people who hate the place. ‘Dirty, noisy, too commercial’ are some of the comments. I personally belong to the group of Gibraltar fans.

Over the years I have visited hundreds of times, mostly due to my job as an attorney in Marbella. Hence the banks.  These times are now in the past and I visit for pleasure. What I leave out though are the monkeys. Everybody knows about the monkeys which live on the rock and have become a trademark of Gibraltar. Opinions still differ on how they came to be there in the first place, but the most convincing theory seems to be, that they were on board a ship which anchored in the bay. Finding the climate and food agreeable, they decided to stay after they escaped and to breed, and breed, and breed!!!

They may look cute – from a distance. Close up they are smelly, noisy, nosy and they bite. The opinion  will change  from ‘cute’ to ‘nasty’ quickly after they have snatched your purse and made off with it to an unreachable place between the rocks.

But, as the title of this post indicates,  there is much more to Gibraltar than banks and monkeys and here are some of  my reasons why I love the place:

Language

Spanish and English are  spoken simultaneously in Gibraltar and I mean this literally. ‘Muchas thank you’ is absolutely common. And totally correct Gibraltar speak. Which ever language comes to mind first you use, to be followed by the other. I happily join in. This way of talking feels cosmopolitan, sophisticated and relaxed at the same time. Very much in keeping with the entire atmosphere of Gibraltar.

Airport

When I first came to Gibraltar, the airport was even smaller and more cute than it is now. Modern times (and security) have caught up, but it’s still a place which evokes feeling of flying pioneers. You walk across the tarmac to your plane and you climb gangways.

Even better is the runway. It ends just short of or in the sea, depending on the skill of the pilot. Quite a few have misjudged in the past. When coming to Gibraltar, I parked my car in La Linea, the neighboring town on the Spanish side. The I walked across the border and, to reach town, have to cross the runway. A flimsy barrier and a traffic light indicate when it’s safe to cross. However, more often than not, bells start clanging,  lights start flashing  and the barrier starts to lower when you are halfway across and it always  gives me a thrill to see who is faster: me or the approaching plane. As far as I know, there has never been an accident, but there is always a first time.

Glassblowers

I bet you don’t associate Gibraltar with glassblowers, yet there it is: The Gibraltar Crystal factors in th Grand Casemate near the clock tower. Fabulous works of art, goblets and vases are made in a quite small factory. What is more, you can watch the entire process really up close and buy the most beautiful things in the showroom. To see my favorite, a black and gold goblet, visit www.gibraltar-crystal.com.

Even watching the masters makes thirsty and you can enjoy a pint or two in the picturesque pub right next door.

St. Michael’s Cave

Rock of Gibraltar

Photograph by Gibnews Wikipedia common

The rock appears solid, but it is really quite hollow. Apart from man-made tunnels, there are over 150 caves of which St. Michael’s is the most fascinating. Over 1 mill visitors a year think exactly the same. A cathedral like structure of stalagmites and stalactites form a natural auditorium. The many colors of the minerals are enhanced by skilful lighting. Acoustic is fabulous too, that why the main ‘hall’is used for concerts and.. the Miss Gibraltar Beauty Pageant.

St Michael’s Cave

Photograph by Greenshed Wikipedia common

I need to revisit soon because last time I didn’t have a digital camera and I want to take my own pictures. Ah yes, and a bit of shopping  never comes amiss either.

 

 

 

 

 

Two unusual ways to explore Toledo

 

Toledo in Castilla La Mancha/Spain is probably one of the most visited destinations of the country. And rightly so, given the rich culture of the city, spanning more than 2000 years.

It’s located on top of a mountain with the river Tajo circling ¾ down below.

River Tajo
River Tajo

Medieval walls, churches, synagogues and mosques not to mention countless museums and other works of art will keep a visitor busy for more than one day. As is so often the case, your feet are your best means of transport.  Number 1 priority in Toledo is good, comfortable shoes with sole that don’t slip. Up and down steep and narrow streets you walk, climbing steps in between and squeezing into shop entrances when cars negotiate around corners and past protruding walls, trying not to damages their vehicles and not to run over pedestrians. Or dogs or cats!

calleancha

Having done my bit of walking for 1 ½ days, I was glad to discover an unexpected means of seeing the city from a different angle. Believe it or not, Toledo sports  the longest inner urban zip line in Europe, or so the advert claims.

zip

Ah, to fly over it all and let your feet peacefull dangle over the river Tajo. It’s called La Tirolina and the fun costs all of €10.

Traject of La Tirolina
Traject of La Tirolina

La Tirolina starts near the majestic Puente San Martin and you can buy your ticket online and get more information here.Open from 11am to 8pm year around.

Puente San Martin
Puente San Martin

Apart from the fun of ‘flying’ you get splendid views of the cathedral. Alcazar, part of the Juderia and of course the bridge San Martin itself and the Tajo below.

Alcazar
Alcazar
Main portal cathedral
Main portal cathedral

In the evening, I did the opposite. Instead of flying over Toledo, I went underground. Discovered by chance thanks for a very friendly taxi driver, I approached a person with a rolled up yellow umbrella under the arm in the middle of Zocodover Square which is right in the heart of Old Town Toledo. These people are guides for a company called cuentametoledo. Among the more usual tours, they offer two very special ones.

Yellow umbrella guide
Yellow umbrella guide

One is called Secret Toledo and is a two hour nocturnal walk through the streets of Toledo with tales of history, legends, anecdotes and much more.

The other one which I went on and found more fascinating is called: Underground Toledo. It starts at 10pm and finished at midnight. The tour guide takes you underground through tunnels and arches you would never suspect from above. You visit Roman and Arabic baths, the cellars of a Jewish house and a deep, deep well. Again, tales and legends abound.All illuminated by a mystical yellow light, the tour makes you forget which century you are actually living in.

If you visit Toledo, don’t miss out on one or the other of these adventures, or, time permitting, all of them.

 

 

 

Festival of Santa Marta – the grateful survivors

Festival of Santa Marta – the grateful survivors

You can easily plan en entire holiday in Spain around festivals.

There are so many, all year around and  of such great variety. Think of the lovely flower festival in Gerona, the rather weird baby jumping, the mysterious witchcraft festival of Zugarramurdi or Trasmoz and the, in my eyes disgusting but so very popular, Tomatina.

On 29th of July, the tiny village of As Neves in Galicia celebrates survival. Inhabitants who have had a near death experience, have survived or avoided a fatal accident or recovered from a terminal illness ,demonstrate their gratitude to Santa Marta, the patron saint of the village.

Santa Marta was supposedly the sister of Lazarus and therefore is closely associated with re-birth and resurrection.

The people dress in their Sunday best, then climb into an open coffin, close their eyes and are carried in a huge procession on the shoulders of pallbearers who are family or close friends.

Foto by viaggio coutard/flickr

The procession makes its way to the church where the statue of the Saint lives. She is carried on the heard of the procession.

A service of gratitude is held, the survivors climb out of their coffins and, as this is Spain, a great fiesta follows with special food and a river of wine and beer.

Some closed  coffins are also carried in the procession, but there are no dead bodies in them. They are symbolic for those who repeat the ceremony.

The special food, is Pulpo a Feira, squid Galicia style. It has nothing to do with the tough rings covered in batter and deep fried which are so often served.

The entire squid is boiled in a huge copper pod, and dipped three times into the water. Then it’s thrown onto a thick wooden board and cut into chunks with special scissors. The squid chunks are arranged on individual wooden plates with a layer of boiled potatoes underneath, then drizzled with olive oil and liberally dusted with sea salt and paprika. Eaten with crusty bread and washed  down with the local  albariño wine, near dead and not dead enjoy a great festival and are thankful that they are all still alive.

A festival which certainly leaves a deep impression.

 

Konstanz, where a district is called Paradise

Our tour around Lake Constance isn’t finished yet. How could it be without taking a look at the largest town bordering the lake – beautiful and interesting Konstanz?

Photo JoachimKohlerBremen

Konstanz has a long history, beginning with the Celts and continuing in Roman times. Take a look at the late Roman remains of a castle called Constantia which can be seen through a glass pyramid.

Due to commerce, the city thrived during the Middle Ages. The well preserved Old Town, located at the left bank of the tiny Saubach which divides the city, will invite you to a long walk through small alleys. Paradise is right next to the Old Town.

Neither the 30year war nor WWII damaged any of the buildings which is why you can today experience life during the Middle Ages in Konstanz.

Prominent is the Rosgarten Museum.  Located in the former building of the Butchers’ Guild dating from 1454, the museum features a plethora of exhibits documenting life and commerce along the river Rhine during the Middle Ages. http://www.bodensee.eu/de/wohin-reisen/bodensee-staedte/konstanz/ausflugsziele/Rosgartenmuseum_poi177

 

Another must see is the Konstanz cathedral (Muenster). Built in 780, the original church collapsed for unknown reasons in 1054, but reconstruction was started immediately. It’s one of the best examples of a Gothic/Roman church in the region, added to with extensions and bell towers over the centuries. What you want to do is climb the bell tower for stunning views over, city, lake and even the Alps on a clear day.

Photo UserFb78 MPano 07 3

Reformer Johann Hus was tried and executed in Konstanz. He is remembered in the Hus museum and by a huge black stone which marks the place of his execution on the stake.

Maybe you aren’t interested in history and want more modern entertainment? Konstanz isn’t short of that either. Apart from sailing, boating and walking, here are two venues you will want to see.

The underwater world comes to life in Sea life. Fish of all oceans are displayed and can be observed through a glass tunnel. In addition there is a permanent  exhibition called Rainforest which familiarizes you with the nature of South America and another very pretty exhibition exclusively dedicated to sea stars. http://www.bodensee.eu/de/wohin-reisen/bodensee-staedte/konstanz/ausflugsziele/SEA%20LIFE%20Konstanz_poi119

 

Do something for your health and have fun at the same time? Go for an hour to a session in Salt’z which is a salt oasis in Konstanz. You can sit in a grotto made from 28 tons of salt and breathe the healthy, iodine heavy air of salt .The grotto can accommodate 28 people in one session. http://www.bodensee.eu/de/wohin-reisen/bodensee-staedte/konstanz/salt%27z%20-%20SalzOase%20Konstanz_poi189

 

Konstanz is also the starting point for trips to the flower island of Mainau. If you happen to visit during the month of April, you will have the chance to see the island covered in thousands of multi colored tulips.

What ever your interest, Konstanz caters to young and old with a great variety of sights and things to do. Come to Konstanz and enter ‘paradise’.

 

 

 

World travels of a chic granny