Tuesday, 14 August 2018

HERCULES or JULIUS

There was no warning sign just how deeply I was going to fall in love before I set foot on the beach-lined North Spanish gem of A Coruňa (Gallego), or La Coruňa as it is known in Spanish. I am not a lover of cities by any means, but the ‘City of Glass’ is poles apart from any other city I have set foot on. My (travelling) bones were letting me know at that moment that I was going to be in for a treat!

With its many medieval structures and countless heritage sites, the city's architectural charisma made up of a mix of glass and concrete as well as its instantaneous magnetism enthralled me from the start. I cannot decide whether the moment of falling in love struck me while walking down Avenida da Marina, marveling over the glistening white glass-enclosed balconies, called Galerias, which tower over the city or the excitement of visiting the centuries-old Greco-Roman Tower of Hercules.

The history of the 55-meter high ‘Herculean’ tower is equally imposing as the 57-meter rocky hill it is poised on. Caius Servius Lupus from Portugal was the first architect of the tower, which he dedicated to Mars, the Roman god. The tower was abandoned after the fall of the Roman Empire, but in1789, Eustaquio Giannini reconstructed and transformed the tower into its current neo-classical style. Today, it is the only Roman lighthouse still in use and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2009. 

The tower is proudly guarded by one of Galicia’s medieval heroes, Breogan, the founding father of the Galician Celtic nation, who some believe ordered the tower to be built for his sons so that they could have the green shores of Ireland in view. I did not test whether Ireland could indeed be seen from there.

A different legend has it that the mighty Hercules, son of Zeus, killed Gerylon, with an arrow dipped in the blood of Hydra, a snake-like monster. He then buried Gerylon’s head and ordered a city to be built upon the grave. 
No matter which version of the tale you want to believe, the mythological or the medieval legend, a visit to the tower is the highlight of a visit to A Coruňa. 


The steep walk to the top is lined with benches, lawns and a park filled with imposing sculptures depicting Greek mythology and Celtic history. The skill of bagpipe musicians entertains thousands of visitors making their trip to the top.

My favorite sculpture, the bronze Caronte (Queronte) by Ramon Conde, has a predominantly masculine face and a body with woman features. He symbolises the mystical boatman from Greek mythology.  In Greek mythology, Kharon, the Ferryman of the Dead, ferried the souls of the dead across the Acheron to Hades.  It was custom to place a coin in the mouth of the deceased and send them down the river with the help of the ferryman.

Panoramic views of the ocean and the city await you at the top of your ascent where the museum is located. It reminded me of the beautiful views from the Cape Point Lighthouse in South Africa. Looking down from the top of the tower you can also see a gigantic compass rose by Correa Corredoira, a Spanish painter, which represents the different Celtic countries, of which Spain was one.

A stroll down the Avenida takes you to the Plaza de Maria Pita, one of many plazas in Coruna, with the impressive Town Hall as the focal point and the statue of Maria Pita guarding it. Maria Mayor Fernandez de Camara Pita, or Maria Pita as she is known, was a courageous woman. She was regarded as one of Galicia’s greatest heroines when she incited a counter-attack between the Coruňan forces and the British Armada of St Francis Drake by killing an English soldier. 

A Coruňa is a city infused with legend and mysticism, but with 21st-century architecture and charisma. As we walked down the Paseo Maritimo promenade, the longest of its kind in Europe, the beauty of this glass city captivated my soul in absolute marvel.

I've always been a fan of Julius Caesar. For one, we were born on the same day, but when I learnt that it was all because of him that La Coruna, or Brigantium as it was called in 62B.C, became one of the grandiose cities of the Western Roman Empire, I knew why I fell head over heels in love with this wonderful city. 

When I left the city behind, the words of Toni Morrison came to mind: “When we fall in love with a city it is forever. As though there never was a time when we didn’t love it.”




A Coruna




COAT OF ARMS A CORUNA

BREOGAN 



KING CARLOS III (1716 - 1788)

QUERONTE

THE MIGHTY HERCULES



UNESCO 2009

THE WALK TO THE TOP

THE TOWER 


MARIA PITA


THE COMPASS ROSE



AND I WAS THERE
THE GALERIAS
THE TOWN HALL

AVENIDA DE MARINA

Paseo Maritimo promenade

GALERIAS


Tuesday, 22 May 2018

HIKING THE SLIPPER

The Lady Slipper hiking trail- or any hiking expedition for that matter- should preferably not be done unaccompanied. Fortunately for me, my friends are quite supportive and even join in some of my adventures.

The Lady Slipper gets its name from the shape of the rock, which looks as if it has been glued to the side of the mountain. It resembles an upside-down lady slipper and can best be seen when you look at the mountain from a distance.

The reserve and mountain belong to the Mountain Club of South Africa in the Eastern Province and a permit is needed to enter the hiking trail. The rugged trail is approximately 3.2 km up and down and takes anything from one to three hours to complete.

Taking on the Lady Slipper trail is not a walk in the park. Young adults and teenagers reach the top huffing and puffing and boastfully flaunt a bruise or two. The older generation, however, celebrates when reaching the summit by gulping down heart and blood pressure tablets with suspicious looking fluids from their silver flasks and plastic bottles.

Although the peak is only 585m above sea level, it felt much higher. As we made our way through branches and bush to ascend the rocky Lady Slipper trail, the sudden drop in temperature was a welcome relief from the scorching sun that had been burning on our skin at the start of the trail.  

For those brave enough to take on the Lady Slipper trail, stunning views of the Groot Winterhoek Mountains on one side and the Sunshine Coast on the other await you. The jaw-dropping views are worth the steep and sometimes slippery walk through a beautiful landscape and untouched fynbos. The raging fires of last year are all forgotten when you become aware of the indigenous saplings breaking through the black earth, and can rest assured knowing the mountain will soon be covered in colour.

A comfortable pair of hiking boots/shoes suitable for rocky surfaces is advised when taking on the Lady Slipper trail, as it is far from a smooth walk. As with any hike, it's also important to bring the standard gear: enough water, a strong sunblock, snacks, a hat, and a sweater. A hiking stick for older and unfit hikers like myself comes in handy when crossing the particularly rocky and coarse parts of the trail. Be prepared to go down on your derriere or use all fours to get you over some of the steeper rocks and obstacles. Children under the age of 8 and pets are not allowed on the trail although we were met at the top by two friendly dogs belonging to some of the locals living in the area.

We were absolutely exhausted after the climb to the top but somehow mustered up the energy to explore the area for another 3km. The descent, however, was easier said than done. Simon and Garfunkel's 'Slip-sliding away' was the song that came to mind as I was trying to keep my balance on the steep rocks and slippery paths. 

After 5 hours out in the blazing sun, we reached our car, bruised, sweaty, dehydrated and dirty - but proud of our achievement. Our next hike is already on the drawing board.


GALLERY



The Slipper from a distance
Photo credit:  Geoview



















 


Wednesday, 16 May 2018

CUNCAS IN CALDAS

I am at a stage in my life where I no longer need to impress anyone and deem it much more rewarding to collect memorable moments than worldly possessions. When the sun goes down and the bra comes off I want to look back and say  “No regrets - it was a day well lived!”  

The best way to create meaningful memories, in my opinion, is by traveling. Finding hidden treasures and experiencing magical moments is my idea of bliss.

Small towns nestled in the lush green valleys of Pontevedra are the jewels of Galicia and Caldas de Reis is no exception. The birth-place of Alfonso VII, the first Emperor of Castile and Leon, is often referred to as the ‘spa-town’ and lies at the confluence of the Bermana and Umia rivers in the province of Pontevedra.  

The municipality profits from having curative mineral water renowned for its temperature, which fluctuates between 30 and 46 degrees Celsius. Its unique composition is believed to aid with the healing of respiratory, rheumatic and skin conditions. Unsurprisingly, the town’s hot springs have a long tradition of therapeutic and relaxation centers. 

Galicia has more mineral and hot springs than nearly any other city or town in Europe. Its unique springs have been around for thousands of years! To the Romans the thermal water was sacred; they believed that the mystical beings with superpowers to restore the health of their aficionados lived in the waters. Today these Roman baths are very popular with pilgrims traveling on the Santiago de Camino route from Portugal. Many tired and sore feet have sought comfort in the healing waters of Caldas. 

As I was not one of the thousands of sore-feet and tired pilgrims passing through, I had no reason to set foot in hot water and risk a disease or infection of some kind. However, nothing could have prevented me from going down on my knees with cupped hands and drinking hot water from a century-old fountain. I must admit there was nothing pleasant about tasting these wonder-waters of the Romans. But it’s like my mother used to say, ‘good medicine never tastes good’. 
  
The highlight of our visit to Caldas, however, was not the spas or healing hot springs but an unforgettable evening at O Muiño. We were not the first international guests to be intrigued by this charming restaurant. Situated on the banks of the river this old watermill turned restaurant/bar boasts character and old world charm.

Do not let the outside of this old building fool you, once inside, the ebullient ambiance, country food, and the local wine are first class. The most important feature of O Muiño is, of course, its Galician cuisine and bucolic interior. 

Galicia is famous for its fresh seafood and the cold plankton-rich waters of the Iberian coast has been the ideal spawning ground for the glistening fresh sardines that are served at most tapas bars and restaurants.

Dipping chunks of rustic bread in the sauces of the perfectly fried sardines and drinking a light Ribeiro (wine) from a cunca turned my Galician dinner into a Roman feast.

Drinking wine from a porcelain cup or ‘cunca’ (unha taza in Galician) was a first for me, yet it is the most traditional way of drinking wine in Galicia. Historically, glassware was rare and expensive, so most bars and taverns served wine in ceramic bowls.

Caldas de Reis will be remembered fondly and when I open my photo files, I know I will muse over them, experiencing a brutal nostalgia knowing I will return in memory and dreams.

GALLERY

O Muinho


Down on my knees


Rustic bread on display

WALL DECOR

Inside O Muinho

Wine in a cunca

A Roman feast

Sunday, 11 February 2018

WHERE MONKS WALK

Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Oseira (Galician) or Monastery of Santa Maria de Oseira (Bear in Latin), is one of many National Monuments in Galicia, Spain and imbued with the old Romanesque culture. This medieval Catholic Monastery is located in one of the most beautiful parts of Galicia and known for its historic and artistic value.  Surrounded by the San Martina mountains (Serra da Martina) and nestled on the banks of the Oseira river all add to its beauty and splendor.  It, therefore, comes as no surprise that Queen Sofia awarded it the Europe Nostra prize on the 15th of October 1989.  Situated in the isolated Arenteiro Valley, 22km from Ourense in the municipality of San Cristovo de Cea this Trappist monastery forms part of the very famous and popular Camino de Compostela silver route. 

It was established in 1137 by Alfonso VII and integrated into the Cistercian Order in 1141 when Saint Bernard of France, sent a group of monks to occupy the monastery.  Sadly they had to leave the monastery again in 1835 because it was confiscated under the law (the law of desamortizaciόn) of the Prime Minister, Juan Alvarez Mendizabal.  The monastery was plundered and left abandoned till 1929 when the monks returned and the reconstruction of this impressive building started again with the help of both the French and Spanish monks.

The church, which forms the central part of the monument, together with the ceremonial staircase and the Main Chamber or Palm Tree Room, feature both  Baroque and Gothic styles. The Palm Tree Room is absolutely magnificent with its palm vaulting and twisted columns. The Renaissance influence can be seen in The Sacristy, the Bishops staircase and the courtyards of the Pinnacles while the Baroque style can be seen in the Caballero en Madalones Court Yards.

The Monastery is still home to approximately 11 Monks, each with his own defined profession and function, spending most of their day in chanting prayers and the upkeep of the gardens, the liquor production, and the bakery shop. They produce a lovely Eucalyptus liqueur, Eucaliptine, made of the eucalyptus leaves from the trees in the area.

Daily guided tours are done by the monks themselves, although on my visit during July,  the busiest month of the year, our guide was a Spanish lady and of course a disappointment for the visitors not familiar with Spanish.  The curio shop sells delectable pastries and cookies, wine and liqueur produced by the monks themselves, and souvenirs like bracelets, Rosaries, and chocolates.   

Romanesque and Gothic gems are scattered all over Galicia but  Monasteria de Oseira stands out as a gem of immense value and majestic beauty, where history and religion live in harmony.  

With my chocolates and my bracelets and the chanting prayers in the background, I left the monastery knowing that I will be back.


GALLERY 























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HERCULES or JULIUS

There was no warning sign just how deeply I was going to fall in love before I set foot on the beach-lined North Spanish gem of A Coruňa (...