Experience and impressions

Buenos Aires, Argentina
Mi viaje a Buenos Aires
Hay dos Buenos Aires diferentes. Una para el turista, una vidriera de cosas estupendas, y otra para el porteño, que puede darse algún que otro gusto pero no puede permitirse vivir al nivel de un turista. Me refiero especialmente a ciertos barrios relativamente nuevos como Puerto Madero o Palermo Soho (llamado así porque es un barrio “trendy”) donde sus restaurantes, tiendas y hoteles están preciosos, impecables, pero que en general son bastante caros, con precios para turistas que van con dólares o euros. Algunas tiendas no marcan los precios en la ropa, a modo de broma dicen que depende de cómo habla el cliente, es un precio u otro. Si te mueves en sitios muy turísticos, los precios son elevados, aunque de todos modos, con el cambio actual, para los europeos son muy buenos precios. A lo mejor no hay tanta diferencia en ropa de marca, que es cara, pero sí por ejemplo en cosas cotidianas como cenar en un restaurante o en coger un taxi. Hemos pasado allí Navidad y Año Nuevo, con calor, claro. A pesar de los 35 grados se acostumbra comer frutos secos, turrones y unas buenas comilonas protagonizadas generalmente por un asado o un lechón frío acompañado de todo tipo de ensaladas, arrollados y postres con dulce de leche para después. Buenos Aires es y está muy bonita. La seguridad, un tema que preocupa bastante a los visitantes, está mucho mejor que años atrás, ya no se nota esa sensación de inseguridad en las calles. Desde luego es un momento ideal para conocer la ciudad. A partir de estas fechas los precios de los pasajes ya han bajado, y a pesar de que hay que aguantarse 12 horas de avión merece mucho la pena conocerla. Y ya que hacemos el viaje es obligado hacer un recorrido por las bellezas naturales del país como el Glaciar Perito Moreno, las cataratas del Iguazú o la Patagonia Argentina.

La Ribera, Barcelona, Spain
A must for anyone taking a walk through Barcelona.
La Ribera neighbourhood is a must for anyone taking a walk through Barcelona. Whether you get there from the Via Laietana or the Arc de Triomf, as you explore the maze of narrow streets in this neighbourhood where merchants, artisans and guilds once, you’ll discover the city of design, leisure and fashion. Many artists have set up their studios in La Ribera neighbourhood, inheriting the past of the neighbourhood where Barcelona city’s artisans used to live. Many street names remind us of the ancient trades and skills: Mirallers (mirror makers), Sombrerers (hatters), Argenters (silversmiths), etc. Streets that grew up around the church of Santa Maria del Mar, which is, without a shadow of a doubt, the masterpiece of Catalan Gothic architecture. By the 13th century, Barcelona needed to expand beyond its city walls and a separate borough was created, which soon became the district where merchants and the wealthiest Barcelona families came to live, supported by an important seafaring tradition. Carrer Montcada, currently the home of art galleries and major museums such as the Museu Picasso, formed the centre of this affluent part of Barcelona. The medieval palazzos are a vivid reminder of this past. A period of splendour cut short in the 16th century, and later, by the War of the Spanish Succession, when Philip V built a military citadel on the eastern side of La Ribera. Now, among the ancient stones of La Ribera, restaurants, wine bars, cocktail lounges, dance clubs and designer boutiques showcase the vibrant colour of an old neighbourhood whose beauty has been renewed.

Barri Gótic, Barcelona, Spain
The centre of the Roman city, today’s Gothic Quarter.
A stroll through Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter brings to light the early Roman city of Barcino and the medieval town with its palazzos, mansions and Gothic churches. This is the style that defines “the heart of Barcelona”: a neighbourhood where the splendour of the historic past coexists with the vibrancy of the present. The centre of the Roman city, today’s Gothic Quarter, was marked by the point where the two main streets, the Cardo and Decumanus, converged. Today the Carrer del Bisbe and Carrer Llibreteria stand on this site. Nearby, we can still see the remains of the Roman temple of Augustus. In fact, the original centre of Roman and medieval Barcelona still forms the core of 21st-century Barcelona. Its maze of narrow streets and squares is steeped in the city’s past and present. Here, in the Gothic Quarter, we find the City Hall and the seat of the Catalan Government, the Palau de la Generalitat, the Cathedral and other Gothic churches, including Santa Maria del Pi and Sants Just i Pastor. Very near the Plaça de Sant Jaume, right in the middle of this Barcelona neighbourhood, is the old Jewish Quarter, the Call Jueu, with its endless narrow streets, where some remains of the ancient synagogue still survive. In the Gothic Quarter, the Plaça del Rei proudly showcases the architectural ensemble made up of the royal residences of the Catalan-Aragonese monarchs. Below the square, you can visit the impressive archaeological remains of Roman Barcino. Behind the Cathedral stands the beautiful Plaça de Sant Felip Neri, with its baroque church. The square is surrounded by narrow streets in a Barcelona neighbourhood suffused with history which comes to life when you go there. by

Barrio del Raval, Barcelona, Spain
Beautiful place to visit!
The word Raval, which comes from the Arabic Rabad, means neighbourhood or district. Once home to a cluster of convents and hospitals in Barcelona, the Raval has become a multicultural mosaic where the mix of modernity and the past of the former Barrio Chino, have made it a pole of attraction for people from all over the world. Barcelona’s Raval neighbourhood, which was hemmed in by the city walls until 1859, is now bounded by La Rambla, Carrer Pelai, the Ronda Sant Antoni, Ronda Sant Pere and the Paral·lel. These ancient Roman roads marked out the boundaries of the walls which were demolished so that the rapidly growing city could expand. Within these perimeters, this area, which had been the site of fields and convents until the mid-19th century, saw the construction of textile mills and workers’ houses throughout the network of narrow winding streets in this Barcelona neighbourhood. As a result of its industrialisation and proximity to the port, the Raval became a neighbourhood with a high immigrant population, where social problems were commonplace. And it was because of this that the journalist Àngel Marsà christened it the Barrio Chino in 1925, a monicker still used until fairly recently. The efforts made by Barcelona City Council since the 1990s to clean up and improve living conditions in Raval neighbourhood, by building new streets, such as the Rambla del Raval, and creating institutions which have had a major impact on its social and cultural life, such as the Centre de Cultura Contemporània and MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona), have given the Raval back its reputation and prestige. by

Norway, Norway
Fata Morgana
If the aurora inspires wonder, the fata morgana may prompt a visit to a psychiatrist. The clear and pure Arctic air ensures that distant features do not appear out of focus. As a result, depth perception becomes impossible and the world takes on a strangely two-dimensional aspect where distances are indeterminable. Early explorers meticulously laid down on maps and charts islands, headlands and mountain ranges that were never seen again. An amusing example of distance distortion, described in the enigmatic book Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez, involves a Swedish explorer who was completing a description in his notebook of a craggy headland with two unusual symmetrical valley glaciers, when he discovered that he was actually looking at a walrus. Fata morganas are apparently caused by reflections off water, ice and snow, and when combined with temperature inversions, create the illusion of solid, well-defined features where there are none. On clear days off the outermost coasts of Lofoten, Vesterålen, northern Finnmark and Svalbard, you may well observe inverted mountains or nonexistent archipelagos of craggy islands resting on the horizon. It’s difficult indeed to convince yourself, even with an accurate map, that they’re not really there! Also unsettling are the sightings of ships, large cities and forests where there could clearly be none. Normal visibility at sea is less than 18km, but in the Arctic, sightings of islands and features hundreds of kilometres distant are frequently reported.

Norway, Norway
Aurora borealis
There are few sights as mesmerising as an undulating aurora. Although these appear in many forms – pillars, streaks, wisps and haloes of vibrating light – they’re most memorable when taking the form of pale curtains wafting on a gentle breeze. Most often, the Arctic aurora appears as a faint green or light rose but, in periods of extreme activity, can change to yellow or crimson. The visible aurora borealis, or northern lights, are caused by streams of charged particles from the sun, called the solar wind, which are directed by the Earth’s magnetic field towards the polar regions. Because the field curves downward in a halo surrounding the magnetic poles, the charged particles are drawn earthward. Their interaction with electrons in nitrogen and oxygen atoms in the upper atmosphere releases the energy creating the visible aurora. During periods of high activity, a single auroral storm can produce a trillion watts of electricity with a current of one million amps. The Inuit (Eskimos) call the lights arsarnerit ('to play with a ball'), as they were thought to be ancestors playing ball with a walrus skull. The Inuit also attach spiritual significance to the lights, and some believe that they represent the capering of unborn children; some consider them gifts from the dead to light the long polar nights and others see them as a storehouse of events, past and future. Norwegian folklore attributes the lights to old maids or dead maidens dancing and weaving. The lights were seen as a bad omen and a sign that God was angry, and people who mocked the superstition risked incurring the ire of God. The best time of year to catch the northern lights in Norway is from October to March, although you may also see them as early as August. Oddly enough, Svalbard is actually too far north to catch the greatest activity.

Masjid-i-Vakil, Shiraz, Iran
Outside the Arg I walked over to what Bradt refer to as the Bagh-I-Nazar. This is described as ‘a small octagonal reception Pavilion of Karim Khan Zand’. Now Bradt says that, it used to house a small local museum. However the only building that matched this description was a museum, looked quite nice as well – but it was closed. No one nearby seemed to be entirely sure whether this was the Bagh-I-Nazar and I decided to move on. The Masjid – I – Vakil, a 1773 construction was supposed to be walking distance. Bradt say that it is out of bounds to foreign tourists, but I was able to get in without any problems. There is some reconstruction work going on though – with one of the workmen willing to give impromptu guides (in Farsi) – but he usefully did point out the foundation stone. It’s a very large mosque with massive dusty stone pillars and a large courtyard with grass growing between the paving stones. It’s difficult to imagine that just next door is a heaving market with hundreds of people. As usual with these places the only other tourists seem to be Iranian school children and the odd Europeans. Next to the mosque is the Vakil bazaar (18th century, whose rents paid for the mosque). Like bazaars in other cities this is covered, with two of the original four caraveranserai remaining. These were places for traders and travellers to stay, now they seem to be used as offices and warehouses. In Nishapour (north eastern Iran) I had seen a caravanserai converted into a museum and in Isfahan into a kitsch hubble/bubble tea shop.

Jalil Khayat Mosque, Erbil, Iraq
Jalil Khayat Mosque
The Mosque allocated in a very distinct area of Erbil city capital of Kurdistan Region, surrounded by four streets (two of them are main streets), the land area is about (15000m²). The mosque building relies on Islamic architecture and al-Abbasi design except the domes, which built, relying on OTTOMAN Mosques. The Mosque is distinguished by hugeness skeleton, many domes, and tow high minaret, intermediate the mosque skeleton big and huge dome, the height of the main dome (48 meter), and the diameter (20 meter), and around the main dome (four half domes), (twelve quarter domes) and (four domes on the corner) There are also many domes distributed around the Mosque, with the presence of two high minarets with (75 meter) high beside the main sanctum together with domes which cover the sanctum gives a nice architecture view to the mosque. The two minarets are designed and built relying on Islamic architecture, with a square base, and the second nave with an octagonal shape and the third nave with a circular shape, in additional to the columns which bear the crescent. The mosque project is consider the first mosque in Kurdistan Region and Iraq in variegation, design, ornament and skeleton where as the big sanctuary (which specified for men praying) which take about (1500 prayer). The sanctuary has been ornamented from inside by hand which took one year of hard work, as all inside walls and domes carefully variegated and golden ink used to write verses of the Holly Koran. The chandeliers used for lighting consist of original crystal and all the metal gold plated 24 K gold. The second sanctuary specified for woman for praying and listens to the Friday speeches, can take (300 prayers), and also variegated and ornamented from inside. The mosque includes two main gates on the main street, the first main gate is (25 meters) of height covered by a big dome and two half domes, the second gate is built relying on Islamic architecture and covered with bricks, there are also several gates on side streets. On the left side of the big sanctuary there is a big hall can take (300 persons) for the religion occasion, the ceiling of the hall variegated with mirror ornamented and lighted by chandelier which includes original crystal and gold plated. The hall includes annex for food service. Beside the occasion hall there is a grave yard with octagonal shape, over it a circular dome, with a separate entrance. The path ways leading to the occasion hall and other mosque annex and halls is beside the sanctuary and around consists of a corridor built relying on (Al-Abbasi design of corridors) decorated and covered with bricks and colored ceramic. There are three places ablution and annex for departed and pray on, the mosque includes a kitchen to arrange food for poor people at owner expenses. Under the mosque at the basement floor there are several rooms designed to be a library or introduce different services to the mosque. During ten years from the beginning of the project and until the completion hundreds of believer and faithful people work to build this project and introduce this edifice to the Erbil City to be a living evidence during history, beside other Erbil edifice.

Sultan Al Mansur Qalawun Mosque, Cairo, Egypt
Qalawun Mosque in Old Cairo
This impressive complex is one of several Mamluk madrassa/mausoleum complexes that still stand along Al-Muizz Street. The Madrassa of Sultan Barouq and the Mausoleum and Madrassa of Al-Nasir Muhammed are also along Al-Muizz Street, but of these two only Sultan Barouq’s religious school is open to tourists. The Qala’un Complex, dating from 1285, is the oldest and most impressive of these structures, built to memorialize Mamluk rulers of Cairo. The complex is built at the heart of Islamic Cairo at a place known as Bayn Al-Qasreen, or ‘Between the Two Palaces, named for the two Fatimid Palaces that originally stood here. Like most of the Fatimid buildings in the city, these palaces were built over by subsequent rulers who sought to erase the influence of the Shi’a dynasty. Qala’un actually built his complex on the foundation of one of these palaces. Qala’un’s memorial included a large hospital, a madrassa-style mosque (distinguished by the teaching spaces on each of the four wall for each of the influential schools of Islamic thought) and finally his mausoleum. The hospital was state of art in its day. It offered 2000 beds and many rare amenities to patients. It was working up until the late-Ottoman period (19th century), but was demolished in 1910. The highlight of the Qala’un Complex is the mausoleum. It was modeled on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, but it stand out in its own right. The building was restored as part of the project to revive the entire Al-Muizz Street and it now stands out as one of the most beautiful monuments in Cairo. In fact, it is regarded as one of the most beautiful buildings across the Muslim World—a mausoleum to compete with the famous Taj Mahal of India.

La boqueria (mercat sant josep), Barcelona, Spain
The most spectacular food market
Barcelona's most spectacular food market, also known as the Mercat de Sant Josep, is an explosion of life and color graced with wonderful little tapas bar-restaurants (with counter seating only). Stall after stall of fruit, herbs, wild mushrooms, vegetables, nuts, candied preserves, cheese, ham, fish, poultry, and provender of every imaginable genus and strain greet you as you turn in from La Rambla and wade through the throng of shoppers and casual visitors. Under a Moderniste hangar of wrought-iron girders and stained glass, the market occupies a neoclassical square built in 1840 by architect Francesc Daniel Molina. The ionic columns visible around the edges of the market were part of the mid-19th-century neoclassical square constructed here after the original Sant Josep convent was torn down, uncovered in 2001 after more than a century of neglect. Highlights include the sunny greengrocer's market outside (to the right if you've come in from La Rambla), along with Pinotxo (Pinocchio), just inside to the right, where owner Juanito Bayén and his family serve some of the best food in Barcelona. (The secret? "Fresh, fast, hot, salty, and garlicky.") Pinotxo—marked with a ceramic portrait of the wooden-nosed prevaricator himself—is typically overbooked. But take heart; the Kiosko Universal, over toward the port side of the market, or Quim de la Boqueria both offer delicious alternatives. Don't miss the herb- and wild-mushroom stand at the back of La Boqueria, with its display of fruits del bosc (fruits of the forest): wild mushrooms, herbs, nuts, and berries.



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