Saturday, May 28, 2016

Seville Day 1 - Alice in wonderland

Metropol Parasol is the world’s largest wooden structure and stands tall in the ‘La Encarnacion Square’. It consists of six huge parasols and standing below them, I felt like I was enacting a scene from the Alice in Wonderland simply because the shape of the parasols resembles huge gigantic mushrooms. That is the reason, the Metropol Parasol is also referred to as ‘Las Setas’ which is the spanish word for mushrooms.
So the history goes that this square was a market place in the 19th century and as the building got dilapidated, it was finally torn down in 1976. The first attempt in 1990 to redevelop the area was put to a halt as ancient ruins from Andalusian era were discovered during the construction. The second attempt began in 2005 with a view to create this unique wooden structure but soon it was discovered that the design was technically infeasible (does this remind us of India?). So the work again halted in 2007. Finally, a new technique using glue as reinforcement was used and finally the Metropol Parasol opened up in 2011 for the visitors after spending more than 100 million euros.
Ok, good, so I no longer find it bizarre that India needed a ridiculous 10 years to construct something like the Bandra-Worli sea link, there are others as well!
Although the people of Seville like to call it mushrooms, the husband and I liked to refer it as waffle due to Metropol’s interweaving waffle-like wooden panels that rise from concrete base to the crown. The ticket queue was surprisingly short and shockingly cheap – 3 euros per person to go to the top of the Metropol and it also includes a free drink!! I mean in London, they wouldn’t even let you step on the tube if your oyster card has that low balance, forget visiting a touristy site.
The lift in the Metropol Parasol will leave you at Level 2 which hosts the restaurant. The panoramic terrace starts from there and is simply amazing offering one of the best views of the city Centre. You can also see the top of the Seville Cathedral, from which this architecture was inspired. In the words of the architect, this is a ‘cathedral without walls’!
The husband and I were already elated due to the cheap entry ticket and the prospect of a free drink but we decided to behave like good tourists and walked around the entire walkway stopping and taking pictures, enjoying the views, soaking the shining sun and meanwhile thinking about the free sangria that was waiting for us.
After a full round, we were back at the restaurant. Finding a nice table outside on the terrace is crucial and only a person who has travelled during the peak time in a Mumbai local can do so. Some tips to finding a good table – be quick, be shameless, stand near the table where you can see the glasses almost empty and hedge your bets and get the husband to stand near another table. If you aren’t able to grab a good table, in either case, do sit down for a while and enjoy the city from above.

All in all, I felt that Metropol Parasol has a fantastic, daring, creative and inventive sculpture-like repetitive geometric plan, making it a must visit if you are in Seville! The parasols provide for shade, the game of light and shadows is definitely attention grabbing and unique and it’s a contemporary landmark merging the historical medieval city and the contemporary city beat! 

The view of Las Setas from the square


Level 1 - Market

Level 2 & 3 - The panoramic terrace

Saturday, May 14, 2016

And on the sixth day, God created MANchester...

An unusual start to the weekend, I get up early, pack my bags, get ready and am off. The husband and I do the usual sprint to the train station. No matter what time we need to reach, we are always running and this is always how we start the holiday, so nothing quite unusual about this part.

The Virgin train is waiting for us at the Euston station. As soon as we step in, the doors close and the train bids goodbye to the station. After crawling through several connected compartments we finally reach the reserved seat. The coach seems to be unusually empty, quite a contrast to what the booking website showed when we made the booking a week ago.

There is a group of middle aged woman who seemed to have settled down long time back. They were already half way through their wine bottle and were giggling over jokes that I didn't seem to comprehend. I like to think that it was more to do with age than my IQ. I look around and everyone is already glued to their smartphones so I take the window seat and decide to do the same.

The train is classy and clean with plush red seats. The train zooms out at breakneck speed. The scenery outside changes soon as we slowly move out of the London city centre to the countryside. Large glass building are first replaced by brick houses and then to vast green grasslands. Sometimes I see  the sheep are grazing sleepishly and sometimes there are huge mustard farms. The weather seems to be kind and the sun is shining in bright blue sky.

I walk to the pantry and ask for a tea. The girl acknowledges and asks me something in a heavy Manchester accent. I don't quite understand what she asked but in the end I am handed a hot tea, some sugar and a milk sachet. I am pleased.

I go back to my seat and settle down. I borrow the husband's iPhone and play my favourite songs one after the other. The train moves forward adding a rhythm to the songs and I enjoy my favourite croissant and gaze outside to infinity.

Slowly the scenery starts changing again and we are closing in. I can see some distant traces of old mills and their chimneys rising above the otherwise commercial buildings. Old warehouses now seemed to be converted to shopping  complexes and the train makes a screeching halt.

We are here finally ..the city of Manchester. Time to put on the walking shoes and get ready to soak in some history....

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Seville Day 1 - Food for thought

We were tired, we were shabby and we were starving. We needed to rest, take a shower and eat and there was no plan in place for either. The girl at the hotel reception very kindly told us in her broken English that we could step into the room only at 300 pm so clearly the first two necessities of the hour were thrown out of the door. Note to self - the check in time for a hotel is an important consideration in booking the hotel - Note complete.  We left our luggage at the concierge and reluctantly stepped out.

The hotels location was fabulous and we were right in the middle of the old town. Seville's old town has a charm of its own and you have to visit it to feel it. We were in the city in probably one of its most action packed week - the Semana Santa or the Holy Week. Many apartment balconies had the red and gold cloths or palm leaves draped over them making it look even more beautiful. Even if you are not religious, it is impossible to ignore the sheer excitement and the enthusiasm floating around the city. The city was virtually shutting down for the evening procession and we promptly added the evening procession to our itinerary.

We made our way from a small lane into Calle Campana that opened up into a Plaza and lo behold! we found the two most common American chains - Starbucks and McDonald's. We too, like most people, succumbed to this American consumerism but mostly because we were starving and had no energy left to walk any further.

The McDonald's menu was obviously in Spanish and though we could understand some of it, the husband thought it was important to display our 'techieness' to the person on the counter rather than asking for the egg & cheese McMuffin minus the bacon and decided to pull out his phone and use the Google translate app. Now this app requires you to point your camera at the text that you want to translate and then the translated text will appear on the screen instantly.

Point to note that Google has put in a small footnote when you download this app that sometimes the translations aren’t perfect and might not work if the text is too small, written by hand etc. , meaning more often than not, it doesn't quite work. Now having tried and failed multiple times in using this app in Peru & Bolivia last year, I was obviously not keen in testing it another time but sometimes hunger stops the person from thinking straight so I agreed to play along.

The person on the counter was looking at us suspiciously and the moment the husband pointed the camera on the McDonalds menu she started screaming that no photos were allowed inside. Now first of all, who on earth would really take a photo of the McDonald's menu when there is a beautiful city outside to explore but I was in no mood to argue. So after several attempts, we finally ordered the McDonalds breakfast menu minus the bacon and hoped that she understood what vegetarian means.

Now that the stomach was full and the coffee was kicking in the blood, we were all set to explore the city.

City preparing for the evening procession for Semana Santa :-

1. Chairs ready to be laid out on the roads

2. Making way for the procession path


3. This part of the road is all set


4. The balconies of buildings also decorated with Red and Gold cloth


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