Mike Vickers' Blog

November 29, 2016

An Impression of St Petersburg

Filed under: Europe, Music, St Petersburg, Travel, World Class — derryvickers @ 10:07 pm

The immediate impression on driving from the airport to the city centre is how many shop signs you recognise. This is buoyed up as soon as you start to walk round the centre; you might have confused St Petersburg for any Western City. On flying out you are required to go through the usual array of booths selling perfume, biscuits and booze.

But of course St Petersburg is not only a western city; it is a living museum to a great Russian Past; first established when Peter The Great wished for a seaport on the Baltic from where he could attach the then Swedish Empire which had plagued the North Western Russian Baltic coast. Peter also was an avid travel within Europe and wished to ‘westernise’ Russia. He built the city and then required his state officials to move from Moscow. Which of course they did, after all Peter was a Tsar, but moving into the outback was unthinkable; they brought their mansions with them and so you have the magnificent heritage which is St Petersburg. Of course St Petersburg was not built in a day; St Petersburg was taken forward by Catherine the Great, who had married a grandson of Peter and looks to have usurped the throne from him. You can find much more about St Petersburg on Wiki including the transfer of power from the Romanovs to the short lived Democratic Government to the Bolsheviks.

Tomb of Peter The Great. Peter Paul Cathedral

Tomb of Peter The Great. Peter Paul Cathedral

Short-lived Democratic Government

Short-lived Democratic Government

Catherine The Great

Catherine The Great

But one point worth bring up is that the area occupied by St Petersburg was a swamp, cut into two by the Neva River, a great wide navigable river; the swampland was drained by canals and these together make a splendid feature of walking around the city; the canals and palazzi reminder one of Venice though all a lot colder.

Neva River

Neva River

Canals

Canals

To the glamour buildings and there plenty of them:

The Hermitage – a truly enormous set of rooms spread over three buildings: The Winter Palace, the Little Hermitage and the Large Hermitage, all sumptuously furnished that the guide books says will take three days to do justice to. We spent just 1/2 day

The Hermitage

The Hermitage

The Clockwork Peacock

The Clockwork Peacock

The General Service Building across the Palace Square– now an art gallery containing art from the world over: more Rembrandts than the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, more French Impressionists and Post Impressionists than Pompidou Centre in Paris

The Palace Square

The Palace Square

The General Service BuildingThe General Service Building

 

 

The Church of the Spilt Blood – plastered from doom to floor in mosaics – no longer a Greek Orthodox Church, but the church is excellently preserved.

The Church of The Spilt Blood

The Church of The Spilt Blood

 A Church Tower Dome

A Church Tower Dome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Marble Palace – Marble Rooms with immaculate parquet  and mosaics floors and near the top the most modern of modern art.

A Mosaic Floor

A Mosaic Floor

Just One of the other Churches

Just One of the other Churches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Russian Museum

The Russian Museum

The Citizens

The Citizens

A Sculpture

A Sculpture

The Russian Museum – set to rival the British Museum

Puskin in from of the Russian Museum

Puskin in from of the Russian Museum

All well attended but we were there on a public holiday weekend – Celebration of The October Revolution and it seems clear to me that Russians are proud of their history; history even prior to the Communist Revolution. On The Peter and Paul Fortress, an island in the Neva River near the city centre is the Peter and Paul Cathedral where all the Tsars are buried; even Nicholas 2 who was assassinated by the Bolsheviks: he and this family were exhumed from their grave at Ekaterinburg.

Peter and Paul's Cathedral

Peter and Paul’s Cathedral

 

But to us, as splendidly glamorous as the main buildings are we were as interested to the Museum of Politics: it provides a history of the period up to the Communist revolution and from then up to the passing of power to Putin on January 2000. Yes, the displays do contain some propaganda but not all ‘sunny side up’. And this to me was a feature of St Petersburg itself striving to be a western city, but glorying in its Tsarist past and little sign of overarching or even any Government power. Yes, you do go through careful passport control at the airport but even that scrutiny is exercised more in acquiring a passport in the Edinburgh Visa office in Edinburgh. BTW if you do want to go to St Petersburg (other than on a cruise ship) you do need a visa and the easiest way to get one is to have your St Petersburg hotel to invite you with dates of residence.

Two of the Tomes the Czars

Two of the Tombs of the Czars

To other things:

The available music is great.

First night to see Puccini’s Tosca – as well a dressed performance as you would get anywhere in a western opera house and at less money.

The Opera House

The Opera House and Royal Box

A string concert in one of the rooms in the Large Hermitage – you need to get there early as the seats are unmarked and it is difficult to find the entrance – not the main one. One of the caretakers was very helpful in telling us the way

And finally the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra: three pieces finishing with Schubert’s Great C Major played with all the gusto of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 to the delight of the audience.

Just a couple more comments

  • Eating is cheap – we were set up when we found the Market Place – packed with students and great food
  • A café in the main street Nevsky Prospect which is up to any café in Vienna

    Café in Nevsky Prospect

    Café in Nevsky Prospect

  • Alexander Nevsky – the Russian hero who’s relics are buried in St Petersburg
  • The Singer Building – used to make sowing machine but now a book shop – that took me back what Foyles used thirty years ago before its splendid face lift
  • Pushka Inn where we stayed. Staff speak impeccable English – but so do most Russians who have anything to do with the tourists: English is the lingua franca – will it remain so after Brexit and Trump?

    Our hotel was on the right

    Our hotel was on the right

  • Is there any effect of Western Financial Clampdown.  Well some of the arcades are half finished but that could have started before the clampdown.

In Summary St Petersburg is an excellent place to visit even in November with an outside temperature of around -1 C in the daytime and a lot cold in the evening with winds blowing around the canals!

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September 8, 2016

Putting the Camera aside in the Mediterranean

Filed under: Europe, In Our Time, Politics, Travel, War — derryvickers @ 8:46 am

How’s this for a business model? The smugglers of Libya cram as many people as possible aboard ramshackle dinghies and send them off across the Mediterranean. There’s virtually no chance that the boats will make the 300-mile journey to Europe; they will either sink, drowning all on board, or be intercepted by a rescue ship or naval vessel on patrol. But the outcome makes little difference to the smugglers, who are part of a more than $5 billion industry; either way, they get paid, and new passengers keep coming.

This is the very definition of a death-defying journey, which TIME correspondent Aryn Baker and photographer Lynsey Addario set out to tell for this issue and an ongoing multimedia project. Now that the refugee route from Turkey to Greece has all but closed down, more and more migrants are braving the far more dangerous Libya-to-Italy corridor. Aryn and Lynsey embedded with a rescue team from the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières on the MV Aquarius. It took their 77-metre., steel-clad, multi-engine surveying vessel 36 hours to reach Sicily from Libya. “The thought that these tiny, 40-horsepower-engine [migrant] boats, loaded with one tank of fuel, could make it anywhere would be laughable but for the number of lives at stake,” Aryn says, and indeed the death toll on the route has risen sharply this year, to 2,726 people.

These refugees came not just from the nightmare war zones of Syria and Sudan but from all across Africa. As dangerous as the sea journey is, Lynsey observes, “This is the least harrowing of their months- and years-long journey to date. They have been tortured, bound, gang-raped, trafficked, humiliated, starved and thrust into the open seas, and we come upon them often as the first ally since they left home.” At one point after intercepting a sinking trawler, there were 551 people aboard the Aquarius; Aryn handed out emergency rations, while Lynsey deployed her rudimentary Arabic to help calm frightened passengers.

“After almost two decades of covering people at their most vulnerable, I am often asked when is the appropriate time to put my cameras down and intervene in any given situation,” Lynsey says. Normally, her response is that she is not a doctor, and her mission is to tell the story to the larger world. But as the rescuers scrambled to pull some 400 people from one sinking boat, babies, toddlers and children were thrust from the crowd, one after another, passed along a chain of rescue workers. “When I pulled my camera away from my face, I realized everyone’s hands were full but mine,” Lynsey says, “and there was a startled boy at my feet–no more than 3 years old. The boat was jostling to the left and right, the sea splashing around us, and I thought of my son. I instinctively picked up the boy, letting my cameras dangle at my side, and undoubtedly missed some of the most important images of the day. But the situation was tense and precarious, and I knew what I needed to do then and there.”

This was Lynsey’s fourth journey on a search-and-rescue boat. She knows already it won’t be her last.

Nancy Gibbs, EDITOR: TIME Magazine September 12, 2016

PS If this doesn’t bring tears to your eyes

July 22, 2016

Two weeks in The Western Isles – Barra to the Butt

Filed under: Land Ownership, Lesley Riddoch, Linda Norgrove, Music, Painting, Scotland, Travel — derryvickers @ 7:30 pm

Barra

  • Wind, Sea and Vatersay seasky
    • New road across from Barra. But there in LR’s time
      • EU supported
  • Kisimil castle – right in the middle of Castlebay
    • Get there by boat
    • Lovely restored wee castle of the MacNeils Kilmil
  • Kisimil restaurant
    • Not to be missed – need to book
  • Weather had been bad on first day and in the North saw three Twin Otters land within the hour the next

 

South Uist

  • Ceolas at Dalburgh –
  • Music Summer school
  • http://www.ceolas.co.uk/summer/
  • Ceilidh
  • Two young accordionists
  • Patsy Reid- excellent Scottish Fiddle Player
    • Did not play much at the evening we attended but she may have continued later
    • Tutor in Fiddle
  • Step dancing – people just got up one by one and danced
  • Mountains all down the East Coast
  • Machair on the West
    • glorious flower drenched in the sun
    • machair

 

North Uist

  • Balranald RSPB reserve
    • Otters but we never saw it
    • Oystercatchers in profusion, ringed plovers, dunlins
  • BB with Jac
    • Excellent house
      • Got the sun room
    • Artist – colourful landscapes
    • Views from our window great
    • Not easy to find restaurant
  • Chambered Cairn cairn
    • Unfortunately entrance recently blocked
  • Trinity Temple
    • Believed to be oldest university in Britain
    • Dun Scotus University

South Harris

  • Golden Road
    • Built in 1937 – so called as so costly to build
      • Must have been recently rebuilt
    • Harris Tweed shops and museum
    • Community café – excellent
  • Coffin Road
    • Ground too hard to bury dead in East
    • More likely because people wished to bury their dead in the cemeteries of ancestors, which were on west
      • People evicted from Seilebost in west to stony, poor ground in the east
    • Excellent walk over bealach
      • resurfaced
  • Scalpay
    • New bridge opened by Tony Blair
    • Fish restaurant – quality fish at a price – locally caught
    • No lack of small boats in small harbours with small jetties
      • Run by Community
        • A general situation in the Outer Isles
  • More Harris
    • One eagle observed from Eagle Observatory
    • Sight of St Kilda from Huishinish – Far West
    • Luckentyre – lovely beach but two cemeteries
    • North Harris Community buy out
    • Harris is very mountainous
      •  All over

Lewis

    • Lewis is flat
    • Old Village at the end of the road, Orasaigh OldVillage
    • Ravenspoint museum
      • Unbelievable collection of old documents and photos off South Lewis
    • Callanish – stones fabulous
      • Callanish 1 2 3 etc
    • Black houses occupied till 1940
    • Harris tweed made largely in Lewis
      • Calloway loom – Hattersley 60 inch now out of production
        • Complex to set up
        • To be classed as Harris tweed it must be woven at home Hattersley
      • Norman Mackenzie
      • Isle of Berneray
      • Good walk
      • Iron Age House
    • Uig
      • Mangersta
      • Restaurant
      • Glen Bhaltois – geology
    • Butt of Lewis
      • Birds
        • Gannets diving, fulmars nesting, kittiwakes, shags fishing and nesting, terns, ravens
        • Fulmars unbelievable fliers when close to cliffs
      • Lighthouse TheButtLight
      • St Moluag’s Church ButtChurch
      • Crofts not being crofted
    • Pol’s Pantry
      • Excellent food
        • Chef saved a buzzard caught in barred wire Buzzard

General

    • Roads of good quality and surface
    • Communities very much on the move
    • Plant trees, protect them and they grow
    • Difficulty of cash machines – then we find them in Post Offices but they close at 5pm
    • Great that CalMac kept the Western Isles Ferry contract
    • For a better travelogue with people read Lesley Riddoch – On the Outer Hebrides

May 31, 2015

Maybe Hope for Cyprus at last

Filed under: Cyprus, Europe, History in the making, Politics, Travel — derryvickers @ 8:32 pm

An article in todays Observer brings back memories of my stay in Southern Cyprus. It was more than 10 years ago and I still communicate with a good friend I met as part of my job; I was the senior consultant with a consultancy on a project to completely rethink the IT systems of the Electricity Authority there.

The guys in the Electricity Authority were great – they joked that the Authority was drowning in red tape – tape left by the British.

But the key feature was the Green Line – the line that divided the Turkish North from the South. The island’s population is small and many friends bemoaned that they could no longer have an evening coffee in Kyrenia – the old city on the north coast – just 20 miles from Nicosia. The Green line is an International Dividing line set up in 1974 by the UN and in my time we could not cross it without piles of paper and no guarantee that you could get back.

Since 2003 the Cypriots do cross but there has been no break through in re-integration – till now; but hope may be on the way. There is a new Leader in the North, Mustafa Ankinci , and Nicos Anastasiades in the South is more amenable to talk. Here they are drinking coffee – you may know Turkish Coffee but you won’t find in the South – there it’s Cyprus Coffee but it tastes the same and you can take in withour sugar!

For the full article see

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/31/mustafa-ankinci-advocates-focus-future-for-splintered-cyprus.

If you enjoy a good travel read then you could do a lot worse than read Lawrence Durrell’s Bitter Lemons – a bit old now but setting out the problems that lead to the island dividing – Turkish North and Greek South

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitter_Lemons

And if you’ve not been to Cyprus , in February you can swim on the coast at Ayia Napa and drive 20 mile and ski on Mount Olympus at 6000ft.

And did you know the UK still has two sovereign bases in Cyprus – Akrotiri and Dhekelia.

Turkish or Cyprus the coffee is the same

Cyprus Leaders drink coffee together

March 19, 2015

Filed under: Education, History in the making, Poetry, Travel, USA, World Class — derryvickers @ 12:27 pm

Which of these eight women put forward in the New York Times to appear on the 20 dollar bill in place of Andrew Jackson –

Sojourner Truth, Susan Anthony, Rachel Carson, Margaret Sanger, Emma Lazarus, Frances Perkins, Wilma Mankiller, Harriet Beecher Stowe

do you know.?

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/03/18/putting-a-woman-on-the-20-bill

I admit I had heard only of two of them.

Emma Lazarus, a poet, who supported the immigrant cause penned the inscription on the Statue of Liberty. I had not known or had forgotten the inscription:

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

An inscription that all of us in the UK should revere in the period up to the May election.

November 20, 2014

A short visit to Berlin

Filed under: Europe, Personal, Politics, Travel — derryvickers @ 12:21 am

Berlin feels a small Capital City (but has a population of3.5 million).  A friendly, noisy open town.

Bikes everywhere – no helmets (well 1 in 20) – weaving in and outs of the trams and cars.

Trams, U Bahn and S Bahn criss-cross the City but  the trams only exist in what was East Berlin – whether they never existed in the West or just not rebuilt after WW2 is unclear. Perhaps capitalism and trams don’t mix!

I had not been there since the Wall came down.  I had not realised, despite a coach tour of East Berlin at the time that the Old City was in the East, the only area of note in the West was  Kurfurstendamm and the Tiergarten.

Tiergarten

Tiergarten

Balloons over Berlin

Balloons over Berlin

It’s 25 years last weekend since the Wall came down and quite by chance we were there to celebrate – 6000 helium balloons were launched along what was the Wall to 7pm Sunday 9 November

 

The Wall remains central for visitors if not for the inhabitants.

The museums are good but not as comprehensive as London – The Museum Island packs them all in on an island in the Spree .

There are a few exceptions – the Jewish Museum – well worth a visit just to walk around – but you need to be prepared for the message – the Jews have been persecuted from the time when they were introduced by the Romans.

 

Also the Holocaust Memorial is very memorable.

Holocaust Memorial

Holocaust Memorial

Lots of good displays – Wall, Holocaust – Willy Brandt

I had forgotten about Willy Brandt but there is now a permanent exhibition to him on the Unter den Linden. What a clever socialist politician – he knew where to put pressure and where to cool canny  to get what he wanted – If Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister in scotland does just half as well with Westminster, Scotland will become independent in her life time.

 

April 24, 2013

Belfast – for better

Filed under: Europe, History in the making, Lesley Riddoch, Personal, Travel — derryvickers @ 10:28 am

If you are keen on Ireland then you will enjoy Lesley Riddoch and Chris Smith’s pod:

http://www.lesleyriddoch.com/2013/04/mostly.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+LesleyRiddoch+%28Lesley+Riddoch%29

I took lots of notes taken while listening to this Belfast pod. Much the same material as Lesley’s Scotsman Article but so much better as a pod.
I admit, as I’m sure I have done before, I am an Irish fan, though I also admit not much knowing about Belfast other than driving round it to get south of the border.

And that takes me to Unionism in the UK and in Ireland – it’s the geography again. The UK could reasonably split between Carlisle and Newcastle. Ireland can’t be so split geographically but it has been split largely by an influx of Scots in the time of King Billy.
It is well to note that at a professional level – the professional classes have been working together for a long time and then there is the Irish Rugby team.

However listening to the programme it comes over to me that perhaps despite the Peace Walls there is now some sort of enduring spilt between the five counties and the rest of Ireland – perhaps as Lesley says a realism of real life in Northern Ireland rather than the somewhat phony blarney of Eire – and perhaps the south will move to the realism of the north following their financial troubles.

Yes Belfast picking itself up – I can’t forget the Paisley McGuiness chuckles. And a couple of quotes from the pod: Point of departure to where you arrive well, and the Titanic: it left here fine!

March 20, 2013

An interesting two days in London

Filed under: Personal, Travel — derryvickers @ 9:23 pm

Every time we visit London to see the son there is something new despite the cash strapped UK economy.

The Shard – the tallest building in Western Europe – the view is literally 3 dimensional  – and still more new sky scrapper glass houses  being built.

The Tate Modern– two new exhibitions – Lichtenstein and A Bigger Splash.  The Lichtenstein was fully booked so we went to the Bigger Splash – the theme how art has developed since Hockney and Pollock – dreadfully in the years 1960 – 70 in my opinion; may be just emerging to something that I may want to look at.
And the galleries were bursting with people – I read somewhere that Gallery gazing is the post-modern religion and if this was an example it looks to be true.

We also went to the Tate in Millbank – a much quieter affair – struggling for popularity with its new offspring the Tate Modern but to me much the preferable – nice exhibition of landscapes taking us up to the present – John Nash was included but not my favourite, his brother Paul – a pity.

We spent some time in Foyle’s Bookshop – last time, admittedly some years ago, it was very run down but not so any more – a wonderful transformation and I had forgotten how large it is once inside the front door.

And somewhere in between a visit to the Old Vic with a revival of Terence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy – not expecting much, seen it before years ago, but it turned out to be a wonderful evening with all the cast performing excellently .  The play has a serious theme of individual rights against the state – the Petition of Right – summed up by the defending barrister that Right rather than Justice was done ; but the play also has an underplay of comedy.  You tend to forget until you hear the words that Rattigan’s dialogue is excellent.  As one critic wrote – almost three hours and it just flew by.

But I come away wondering Is London still part of the UK.

October 1, 2012

Thoughts following another holiday in Northumberland

Filed under: Personal, Philosophy, Travel — derryvickers @ 9:55 pm

We have just been again for a short break in Northumberland – Northumberland is a lovely place of high rounded hills and productive flat grassland planes separated from the North Sea by a high escarpment and a narrow delightful coastal plane with castles, one on Holy Island, a large impressive one at Bamburgh, just a wall remaining at Dunstanburgh and a nice one at Warkworth.  If you want to know more about Northumberland just go to http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=northumberland&hl=en&qscrl=1&rlz=1T4AURU_enGB501GB501&prmd=imvns&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=AwhqUKaYEaKN0wX83YCoAQ&sqi=2&ved=0CEEQsAQ&biw=1600&bih=713

Alternatively you can see my short blog for our previous trip last year at derryvickers.com  – October 2011.

But back to the high rounded hills next the planes; many of them are topped with hill forts which date back to the bronze age.  From the tops there are magnificent views, though I suspect that the inhabitants at those early times were more interested in preserving themselves and their cattle than be too concerned with the view – though perhaps I am wrong – why should I doubt that bronze age peoples and their successors in iron age were no less attracted to the views in their spare moments than we.  Which takes me to a book I have been reading by a philosopher John Gray entitled ‘Straw Dogs’ – I don’t commend it to anyone who has not a strong constitution.  John Gray’s  statement is that we humans are no different from the other animals and like the other animals do not progress – we are just as likely to regress over the next years  – if we think otherwise we delude ourselves and he points to many examples.

On our last morning of the holidays I looked up to the skies and saw three or four skeins of wild geese flying south forming and reforming their ‘V’ shaped flight formations, ones at the front falling back with others taking over;  and remembering John Gray and thinking the geese will still be flying south in September each year when we humans have long died out from the Planet.

September 8, 2012

4 Days in Barcelona

Filed under: Politics, Scottish Independence, Travel, World Class — derryvickers @ 9:21 pm

had not been to Spain before, so Barcelona is the first.

A very compact city even though the population of the city itself is 1.5 million

What is it famous for: well its football team – we went to the Stadium and its ‘big’ – it can take 100,000 spectators though how they all get home after the match is unclear?  It’s proud – very proud – it’s Barcelona Football Club and that’s the feeling you get about the whole city – its proud – it’s got Messi – my son tells me he is the greatest.  But it’s also proud of its ethics – multicultural – fair on the pitch and in the dressing room and it wears Unicef proudly on its shirts gives an annual donation to them.

Then it’s got Gaudi and Gaudi is everywhere – well in the centre.  Gaudi is the Art Nouveau architect par excellence.  Glasgow has Rennie Macintosh – but Gaudi has more left still very visible.  Yes  we have all seen photos of his church Sagrada Familia still being built after 100 years (but that’s true of most large churches) but what a church – the inside is magnificent – towering upwards on columns that could be tall branching trees – richly colloured stained glass windows letting in the light from all directions (we did have a cloudless sky) and you can go up the towers – 8 so far but 8 more planned including the central spire.  Not everyone likes it – George Orwell hoped it would have been blown up by the Republicans in the Civil War.  And there are also three town house that Gaudi designed  – one of which is itself three with an amazing artic like an up turned boat – well many boats all joined together.

Gaudi Chimneys

And then there is Joan Miro; Miro is colourful and his Fundacio (gallery) is joyous – he almost has a style of his own although you can see extraneous influences from Picasso, the Surrealists, and the Paris crowd.  Interestingly the Gallery awards a biennial prize to a modern artist and houses a selection of their work – this biennial it is Mona Hatoum a Lebanese sculptor who start work in Cardiff!  Well worth a look at:

 

 

 

Sagrada Familia - Work continues

Miro in the Park

Miro in the Park

q=mona+hatoum&hl=en&qscrl=1&rlz=1T4ADFA_enGB478GB478&prmd=imvnsob&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=wplLUN2bI6rT0QWt9YHgDw&sqi=2&ved=0CC4QsAQ&biw=1229&bih=727

 Oh! And by the way there is Picasso with a Museum to himself – not that he appears to have spent much time in Barcelona but he had a mate Jaume Sabartes who did.  An odd collection with early pictures that you wouldn’t recognise as Picasso to his blue period, to drawings of himself and his models and his minotaurs/ bulls.  But most interestingly his paintings leading up to his version of Las Meninas after Velasquez with over 50 paintings done over a period of 3 months – a real hard worker!  The only pity was that there was not a photo for the final version (though perhaps there was no final version).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Las_Meninas_(Picasso)

Yes there is very good food – we mainly focused on the tapas and one evening spent in a very nice wine bar.

And as the central city is quite small we walked almost everywhere.  There are lots of places I have forgotten and didn’t make it.

But a few comments

Barcelona has its own Gothic Cathedral but it was virtually empty ,  it has a marvellous open large open church, Santa Maria del Mar, with just a few visitors but the Gaudi Sagrada Familia was packed, a queue 200 metres long to get in and every one with cameras – it’s no longer clear what we are all looking for – going to a gallery with its demi-gods has taken over from going to church.  Still that’s better than going to a retail part.

Barcelona is the largest city in Catalunya and Barcelona was the centre of the Republican Government in the Spanish Civil War – yes the republican were eventually crushed by Franco.  You can get a flavour of the war in Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and why although coming in on the Republican side he left in disillusionment by the Communist Party and why he wrote Animal Farm and 1984.   Anyway I had assumed that Barcelona would be left of centre but I am wrong – for the last few years it was right wing governments as the rest of Spain.

This takes me to my last comment.  Catalunya to Spain is like Scotland to the UK.  It is proud of its Catalan language, lying between Spanish and French, and the first language is formally Catalan. It would like to be independent but unlike the Basque region relies on negotiation rather than terrorism.  It has its own government and like Scotland gets a block grant from the central government although it appears not to have so much control over education.  An interesting comparison to follow up over the next two years, along with Quebec.

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