Posted by inka on Jun 15, 2014 in Day trips
, Travel tips
My daytrip in the second day of my stay in Andorra had three stops: the first on the way to Ordino a Mirador with splendid views over the mountains and valleys which are so typical for Andorra.
The second was at the sanctuary of Mertitxell which I told you about yesterday and the third in a place called Encamp at Casa Cristo, a stone house built between the 18th and 19th century which was the dwelling of a humble family dedicated to agriculture. It was inhabited until 1947 when the last owners decided to move to France and sold the house to the community.
Casa Cristo in Encamp
Since then it has become an ethnographic museum which illustrates the way Andorra farmers lived not so long ago. Divided into a ground floor and three floors, each nook and cranny has been made good use of and you have to admire the inventiveness of the owners.
The ground floor houses tools for working the land, the woodshed and the cellar-food store.
A very narrow wooden stair case leads to the first floor with the kitchen-dining room and two bedrooms, one for the grandmother and one what you would call the master bedroom which also has the only cupboard of the house.
The next floor up is a big space which serves as living room, room for festivities and family reunions and another bedroom for the kids.
And one more stair case up: the slated attic was used for storing lumber and as drying room for fruit and products from the land.
It was really a stroke of luck that our group consisted of only three people plus our guide and the driver, because it gets pretty cramped and it was not possible to take any picture without one or other of my fellow visitors being in it.
Posted by inka on Jun 14, 2014 in art
, Day trips
, Private trips
, Travel tips
I only spent two days in the tiny principality of Andorra, high up in the Pyrenees, wedged between Spain and France, but I discovered that the country is full of surprises. Ok, I did expect ski resorts for winter, snow covered mountains year round, valleys with roaring streams and an extensive network of hiking paths, but I what I found by way of modern architecture, churches and ancient legends by far surpassed my expectations.
Yesterday I told you about the world call spa La Caldea in Andorra´s capital called Andorra La Vella. The next day, I went on a tour with a company called Tourist Bus. Surprise, surprise, we were only three people, a luxury because they laid on not a big tour bus but a small people carrier and we had guide and driver all to ourselves. They went out of their way to show us things which were not officially included in the tour.
Leaving La Vella for the north, we headed along the river which runs through town and comes from the mountains to a place called Canillo. This was already more like the mountain village I expected, with stone houses and cobbled streets, many hotels which cater to winter sport and restaurants.
Our destination however was the sanctuary of Meritxell nearby. There are about 40 churches in all of Andorra and they are all in the Romanesque style. No Gothic, no baroque, all have the typical Romanesque arched, are small with a square bell tower and stern Romanesque art inside.
Legend has it, that an image of the virgin was found under a flowering rosebush in the middle of winter by a shepherd who went to mess in the church of Canillo. The image was taken into the church and placed near the altar.
The next day, the sacristan found that the image had disappeared and rested, again, under the rosebush. This happened three times and finally it was decided that the virgin didn´t like this particular church and a new one was built where she happily remained. This became the sanctuary of Meritxell which soon converted into a place of worship and pilgrimage.
In 1873 siad virgin was oficcialy declared the patron saint and protector of Andorra. Then, in the night of 8th October 1972, something terrible happened. Probably due to a burning candle, the church and the image of the virgin burnt down and were completely destroyed.
Even after the fire, the place people came to worship here and finally it was decided to create a new sanctuary. The famous Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill won the competition and conceived a monumental place of worship which combines the nature of Andorra with the religious worship of the followers of the virgin of Meritxell. The result is something very close to a cathedral, dominated by grey and white arches, open spaces which allow light to come in from all sides, combining grandeur with the sternness of the Romanesque style.
A truly impressive church/monument fully integrated into the wild landscape of Andorra.
The destroyed statue of the virgin
Posted by inka on Jun 13, 2014 in Day trips
, Private trips
At first sight you may be forgiven for thinking that you are looking at a very modern cathedral. Up to a point, you are not far out: although not a church, Andorra´s emblematic landmark, La Caldea is certainly a temple to health, fitness and beauty.
The impressive futuristic structure, entirely covered with mirrors is the creation of French architect Daniel Gelabert Fontova. Andorra, the tiny state high up in the Pyrenees between Spain and France is blessed by several thermal springs. Making use of the healing waters, La Caldea came into being, offering a huge array of different indoors and outdoors pools, every imaginable kind of water treatment from Aztec to hamam, beauty treatments, massages, shopping, cafes and restaurants.
Me in the mirror
The idea of the many mirrors was to reflect the characteristics of Andorra, mountains, gray stone, woods and snow. The surrounding landscape is reflected in the mirrored surfaces and so is, in winter, the snow.
In the evenings, La Caldea also offers a spectacle called Mondaigua, a multi media extravaganza telling the story of water with actors, fireworks, water plays and much more.
It is the biggest thermal spa in the mountains of Europe and an experience which will never be forgotten.
Posted by inka on Jun 6, 2014 in Spain
, Travel tips
When I was sitting on the train back to Madrid from Salamanca in the heart of the province Castilla-Leon, I made a resolution: if only for a short time, I wanted to be a student again. And, I´m making this resolution come true by having enrolled in a month long Italian language course at the Istituto Italiano in Florence during the month of September.
What has Salamanca to do with this, you might ask. Well, this jewel of Renaissance buildings is also the seat of the oldest and most prestigious university in Spain. Founded in 1134 countless scholars have taught there and continue to do so to this day. Students from all over the world attend the various faculties in wonderful ancient buildings and their presence makes for a very cosmopolitan atmosphere.
University of Salamanca
They are happily sitting on the floor of the impressive Plaza mayor between classes, munchinh on slices of pizza and talking to passing visitors. Moving among them, seeing them hurry from lecture to lecture or just having fun brought back such vivid memories of my own student days, that I felt the irresistible desire to go back in time and become one of them again. And so, I will.
Plaza Mayor Salamanca
Another imposing building and mayor site of Salamanca is the 16th century New Cathedral, a mixture of Gothic and Baroque architecture. Near by is the Old Cathedral and wherever you turn in Salamanca you happen upon palaces and historic buildings. My favorite is the late 15th century Casa de las Conchas (House of the shells) a palace decorated with 350 sandstone shells which today is a public library.
Casa de las conchas
Learning and education being the main theme in Salamanca also means that I have found bookstore after bookstore where I have spent many an hour browsing… and buying.
In Roman times Salamanca was a stop over on the important commercial route Via de la Plata,( Silver Road) and the Roman bridge over the river Tormes remains intact and invites to a walk from where you can enjoy the panorama of cathedral and university.
Last but not least, let´s talk about food. Most famous is the cured ham of Salamanca closely followed by a variety of appetizing tapas. Nobody will ever starve in Salamanca.
Posted by inka on Jun 5, 2014 in art
, Travel tips
You can´t go anywhere in Avila, the medieval town in the province of Castilla-Leon without met by two images: the massive town wall surrounding the Old Town and Santa Teresa.
Born as Teresa Sanchez de Cepada y Ahumado in 1515 near Avila she entered a convent after the early death of her mother. Teresa became one of the foremost authors of Catholic mystical literature, a Carmelite nun and a great reformer of said order.
Early on in her stay at the convent Teresa fell ill and during her illness she experienced long periods of religious ecstasy. Jesus appeared to her in bodily form and she felt a seraph drive a golden lance through her heart, not killing her but causing her a `delicious pain`. She believed that silent contemplative prayer, self conflagration, abject poverty and mystic devotion were the only way to communicate with God.
In her time, the Carmelite convent had become a rather worldly affair. Visitors were constantly in and out of the convent, disrupting the original strict rules of silence, contemplation and prayer. Teresa resented the relaxation of rules to the extent, that, despite many difficulties she finally founded her own convent of the Discalced Carmelite nuns, the Convent San Jose located in Plaza de Santa Teresa. This was made possible through the contributions of a wealthy woman (not a nun) who supported Teresa and her reforms as finally did the pope.
Before her death she proceeded to found another 16 convents some also for monks and to write countless mystic books which even earned her a doctorate from the Vatican and the University of Salamanca.
Entering the Old Town through the Puerta de la Santa you find yourself facing the Convento de Santa Teresa which contains an image of the saint in ecstasy.
She died in October 1582 and Avila´s most important festival which lasts nearly the entire month of October is the festival of Santa Teresa with processions, fiestas, bullfights and everything else which is so typical for a Spanish festival on a grand scale.