Day 13: Last day in Spain

After a late night, we tried sleeping in a bit.  Our only tourist event for the day was to see Sagrada Familia, a church designed and started  150 years ago by Gaudi.  It is still being built and they are hoping to finish by 2026.  It was great to see it after our visit to Montserrat since Gaudi was heavily influenced by the shape of the rocks there.   It was also interesting to visit Sagrada Familia after seeing gothic cathedrals.  It had the same grandeur using modern aesthetics.  I was particularly taken with the branching arches and the stained glass. The first picture is of the Nativity façade which was built in Gaudi’s lifetime.

After Sagrada Familia we went back to the hotel for a quick rest, and then headed back to L’Auditori for the final concert that the TCC sang in.  They were invited to join the Salt Lake City Vocal Artists in one of their final songs.  We stopped at a little grocery store to get some baguette and cheese to tide us over until after the concert (which started at 5pm).  The baguette was less than one dollar Canadian and was better than most of the ones we get for $3 or more in Toronto.

The concert was good, but the choirs did not adhere to their half hour time slot, so instead of being a 2.5 hour concert, it was almost 4 hours long.  The kids didn’t get out until after 9pm, and hadn’t eaten since 1pm, so a whole pile of pizzas arrived on motorcycles and they ate them in the plaza.  A group of parents went out to find dinner after that, but were turned away from 3 restaurants before we finally found an Indian restaurant that would take us.  The food was quite good and it was fun to visit with the other parents.  We were the only parents in the group with returning choristers.

Unfortunately, the rain started when we left the restaurant, so we got thoroughly soaked on our way back to the hotel and had to pack wet shoes and clothes the next morning.

I’m writing this on the flight back.  We are on the same flight as the choristers, and I think most of them have been sleeping for a good part of the trip.  They have definitely earned some rest.  We are looking forward to sleeping in our own beds tonight.

P.S.  Putting the final touches on this post at home.  We are trying to stay up late enough to switch our clocks back.  (My body thinks it is almost 1 am but it is only 7pm here.  It is good to be home.


Day 12: Montserrat 

We had a great day at Montserrat!  The views were spectacular, and it was fabulous seeing the kids sing in the basillca.

We heard stories of a transit strike that would affect subways in the morning, so we decided to take a cab to the train station.  Another choir parent, Veronika, joined us.  There was the usual confusion about finding the right place and which tickets to buy.  We thought we had missed the train because the platform we were sent to only showed the train an hour later.  Fortunately, we discovered that they had changed platforms for our train and we were on our way.

We had the option of going by rack railway or by cable car for the last stretch and we chose the cable car.  

The first thing we did at the top was to take the funicular up to the peak and walked around.  It was fun doing this with Veronika — she took a lot of pictures of us which was great!

We were a little worried about a long line coming out of the basilica, so Irving and Laura went to get a bite to eat while I stood in line with Veronika.  We eventually figured out that the line was to see the black madonna not to get into the basilica.  Irving and Laura were shoeed out of the square because they were eating, so they had to finish their sandwiches quickly.  We heard the Salt Lake choir before the TCC sang.  The church has incredible acoustics!  

  After singing, the kids ate their boxed lunches and we all got some ice cream.  

Matthew had the opportunity to play the organ at 3:20 so we staye for that.   He offered that any of the kids who wanted could go up and watch, so Ellen did.  I would love to go hear an organ concert there.

We were thoroughly exhausted by the time we got back.  I even dozed off a bit on the train.  We had a little time to rest and then went down to where the choir was singing to try to find some food.  We happened to run into another family, so we ate dinner with them before the concert. 

It was the last full concert for all the kids who are graduating, and the last time this choir will sing most of the pieces they performed.  We are going to the concert this evening where they will sing 3 songs, but yesterday really marked the end of the season for this choir.

Day 11: Bus tour and concert

Since Laura is still suffering from a cold, and was not keen on walking, we decided to do a bus tour today.  It was one of those hop-on-hop-off double-decker buses.  The first part was disappointing because we couldn’t see the sites they were talking about without getting off the bus.  The second half was more fun and we got some good views of the city, particularly the harbour front.  There are thousands of tourists everywhere!

I didn’t get a lot of good photos on the tour, but here is one from the harbour looking toward the city.  The monument is of Christopher Columbus.

We went to the first concert that the TCC performed in at the World Choral Symposium this evening.  I’m so proud of all the kids! There were at least 1000 people in the audience and they performed admirably.  The second choir that sang in the concert might be the best choir I’ve heard, but I found some of their repertoire difficult.  The third choir was an 11 voice acapella group from Denmark that was truly outstanding. 

We had really good pizza for dinner and we are getting ready for a trip to Monserrat tomorrow.

Here is a building just down the block from us.  

Day 10: Back to Barcelona

Today we did not spend the whole day in the airport!  Our flight went smoothly and we arrived at the airport before noon.  It took us a little while to figure out how to get to our hotel by transit, and it was a bit of a long trip.  Since our room wasn’t quite ready, we went for lunch nearby.  When we got into our room, I had a good nap while watching the Tour de France in German.  We finally roused ourselves to take the metro down to La Rambla where we found lots of shops and restaurants.  We ended up eating in the corner of a large square.  There were street performers showing of acrobatics to try to earn money, and people trying to sell roses.  It really felt like we were experiencing Barcelona.

Day 9: Walking!

We had a lazy morning in Seville.  After a late breakfast we went to pick up our laundry.   (It feels quite luxurious to have clean clothes.). Then we started walking into the centre of the old part of Seville.  We had though to just meander but Laura wasn’t feeling well and was grumpy so it became a bit of an exercise in trying to figure out what would cheer her up.  In the end we decided to go on a horse and carriage ride.  It cheered us all up because we saw some interesting places that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen and riding in the carriage was fun.   In particular, we saw the Spanish pavillion from the 1929 Seville Expo adorned with beautiful ceramics from all over Spain.

We headed towards the cathedral which was to be our main tourist excursion for the day, but we realized that we hadn’t had lunch and it was after 2 pm.  We found a pastry shop and Laura and I had the best flaky pastry with chocolate inside.  The pastry was flakier and lighter than any pastry I’ve had in North America, and the chocolate wasn’t overly sweet.  

The cathedral is the 3rd largest in the world and the largest Gothic cathedral. It also represents the 3rd largest (or important)  art museum in Spain.  Although the sheer size and grandeur of the cathedral is awe inspiring, I was particularly taken with the paintings from the 15th to 18th century.  Many of them were much larger than you would see in an art gallery, and the use of light to focus attention as well as the facial expressions were fascinating.

Of course, we were all impressed by the main chapel with all of its gold.

We times our visit so that we were there when the choir was touring.  The most fun was going up the Giralda tower with them.  (34 times around the tower).  The view was definitely worth the climb and it was especially fun seeing them react when one of the bells chimed right over our heads.

In the evening we left Laura at the hotel and drove to a small town, Sanlucar de Mayor to see the choir perform.  The church they performed in was almost a ruin which lent an interesting ambience. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing the choir sing.  They had a bit of fun at the end when the made up words to the Habanera song from Carmen to say farewell and thank you to their tour guide.

Day 8: Mezquita Mosque/Cathedral

We spent the morning touring the Mezquita Mosque/Cathedral.  The first church built on the site was by the Visigoths in the 6th century.  During Moorish times, a mosque was built on the site with a courtyard and many columns.  Successive Moorish rulers expanded the Mosque until it could hold 40,000 people for a prayer service.  The most striking features are the many arches and columns, and carved ceilings.

When the Catholics conquered the area, rather that tearing the Mosque down, they built a cathedral into it.  So the center of the mosque has a beautiful cathedral growing out of it, and all four walls house small chapels.  Much of the latest additions were made in the 17th and 18th centuries, so there are many ornate features.  Of course we ran into the choir there, and they sang a song that combined Dona Nobis Pacem with an Arabic hymn.  It was very moving and highly appropriate.

Unfortunately, Laura has come down with a nasty cold, so her head was increasingly plugged up as the day went on.  We did a little further wandering and then drove to Seville.

We stopped at a very interesting site along the way.   We spotted a bright light driving in to Córdoba yesterday and looked it up on Google maps.  It turns out that it was a solar electricity generator.  The light we saw (from more than 60km away) was the 140 metre tower at the center of a circular array of mirrors (195 hectares)  that focus sunlight on the top of the tower where it melts salt and the heat energy is converted to electricity.  We drove right up to the site which was only about 5 km off the highway.  (I’ll have to get some pictures from Irving.  The ones I took weren’t very good.)

In Seville, we rested a bit and then found a laundry service where we dropped of a bunch of clothes for pickup the next morning.  We had a quick dinner and then relaxed some more at the hotel.  Irving and I went up to the rooftop bar and caught a pretty good sunset.

Also, here is an example of the ham you see hanging in most restaurants:

Day 7: Three bridges, two cities, and a great concert

We got back to the hotel too late to write up the day, but it was a pretty good one.  We walked around Ronda in the morning, and pushed it a little too far because Laura pretty much crashed on us.  We did quite a bit of up and down to see the bridges.

Laura was quite taken with the misnamed bridges.  The “New Bridge” (Puente Nuevo) was completed in 1793 (so it isn’t new).

The  “Old Bridge” (Puente Viejo) also known as the Arab Bridge is not the oldest bridge and was built in the 16th century after the Moorish times.  The “Roman Bridge” (Puente Romano) was actually built by the Moors, and is the oldest of the three bridges.  (It is the little bridge that you can see in the arch of the larger Old Bridge.)

We also paid to see a somewhat quaint tourist-trap type of museum.  It was in an old mansion and had an interesting variety of artifacts.  Probably the most interesting were the tools of torture (mostly replicas) from the Spanish Inquisition times, and the witchcraft exhibit (which would have been even more interesting if we could have read the stories about the artifacts) which included some great taxidermist constructions of impossible creatures.

Of course, we couldn’t leave Ronda without some ice cream.

After lunch, we decided we wanted to see the bridge from the bottom of the gorge so we drove down.  We might not have chosen to do this if we had seen the road first.  It was an incredibly steep, windy, cobblestone road, in some places no wider than car-width.  We certainly appreciated the view, but were not sure the car could make it up again.  We thought we might take the scenic route back to the highway to avoid the climb, but the road became even rougher, so we turned around.  Fortunately, going up was considerably less scary.

We drove to Córdoba where we stayed in the same hotel as the choir, so we immediately ran into choir staff.  We found ourselves some supper and then went to the concert that started at 9pm.  They sang in an old palace with gilt mirrors and painted ceilings to a packed audience.  It is truly amazing that they can sing so we after such a jam-packed day.

Laura discovered a local dish called Flamequín.  It is ham, cheese and pork in a roll deep-fried.  She loved it!