Tag Archives: Barcelona

Finding My Heritage In The Iberian Peninsular

15 Oct

Our trip to Spain and Portugal had a special purpose for besides wanting to see places I had not seen. I also wanted to see the bits and pieces left of the Sephardic Jewish imprint on Spain. I have written about my maternal grandfather and his family’s Spanish roots in an earlier blog (see below). Now I wanted to see what I could see.

I was on a mission that started in Barcelona. I had been to this lovely city before and heard the story about the Jewish cemetery destroyed and replaced with a Christian cemetery. Now the only Jewish aspect was the name of the hill: Montjuic.

However, in Barcelona you can visit the site of the Major Synagogue. A small space that you must walk down to see, this tiny space reflects the rule that no religious site would be bigger than the smallest church. So it is small. But I was glad to see that it has been found and reclaimed. There is a guide on site who gives a 10 minute presentation about it. So I am glad we went. Most places do not even have that!

Our next stop with a bit of Jewish history was surprising to me. We went to the small city of Sagunt or Sagunto near Valencia. I was not expecting what I found. First they were having a festival to celebrate their Middle Ages history, and as we entered I saw a menorah symbol on banners. The town had its Jewish quarter still designated including one of the original arches, called the Blood Arch. The tour guide did not know why. I have my own ideas. You actually walked through the Jewish Quarter in order to get up to the Roman theater.

The narrow, hilly streets are picturesque, and walking through the quarter you come to the top where a private house stands on the site of the original synagogue, with an iron Menorah window. We were also able to see the archeology site of where they think the mikveh was located.

I have since researched and learned that in ancient days this town was called Morviedro. Here the Jews were protected from massacres in 1391 and Jews from other areas took refuge there. When the 1492 decree was made, the Jewish residents arranged safe passage out for about 500 people.

Next was Malaga. We were there to see the Picasso Museum. Imagine my surprise when walking from it we found a building in the name Ben Gabriel. Actually Solomon Ben Gabriel was born in Malaga and is thought to help reintroduce Jewish Literature. This building was right across the way from the Jewish area and the sign for the Street of the Jews.

Our journey continued in Gibraltar where I knew there was a strong Jewish community. While there we saw several men and boys wearing kipot. We walked to the old Flemish Synagogue where I took a photo of the door.

In Cadiz an earthquake and tsunami destroyed the old quarters in 1750. I asked the guide about a Jewish presence, which I was sure must have existed since it was a trading route and the Moors were there. But she did not know. So of course I check for more information and found that at one time 8,000 Jewish inhabitants lived in Cadiz. They left after the 1492 decree. So when the old section was destroyed so was evidence of their once thriving community.

Before our planned tour of the Jewish areas of Lisbon, we went to Sintra for a day to see the Pena Palace and visit the lovely town. It’s winding shopping street is so like a shuk and of course is in the old Moorish area.

This was the place where I actually purchased gifts. I found a shop with cork purses and purchased one. I noticed on the card an interesting address: Beco Da Judiaria. I was actually shopping on the street of the Jews in Sintra’s Jewish section. I was meant to find it.

Part of our final day was exploring the old city of Lisbon and learning more about the Jewish experience in historic terms and now.

We saw so much. The House of the Inquisition and the plaza, Rossio Square, where heretics and crypto-Jews were tortured. Right next to it is the Church of Sao Domingos where the April 1506 massacre of Jews took place.

We walked through the Jewish section and saw where they think the synagogue once stood. We heard stories about King Manuel and his somewhat positive relationship with the Jewish residence. I knew how many of the Jews from Spain came to Portugal after the decree forcing them to flee, as my ancestors joined that exodus.

But I also enjoyed going to the synagogue built in the early 1900s and learning that there is a small Jewish presence in Spain. That about 2000 Jewish residents now live in Portugal and 300 belong to the congregation.

I learned of the Portuguese diplomat, Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral e Abranches, who wrote visas and saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust as Portugal was neutral during WW2. He was punished by the Portuguese dictator Salazar for continuing to write visas even when ordered to stop. He is honored as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad VeShem.

I learned that Jewish living in Portugal is good at this time. Our guide at the shul told is that this Yom Kippur over 500 people attended services with members and tourists mixing together for the holiest of days.

My experience in Iberia was wonderful. I know I still must see the Spanish towns of Seville and Cordoba as well as Port o, Portugal. And our guide told us the best place to learn more about Judaism’s history here is to go to villages along the border of the two countries. I look forward to learning more.

https://zicharonot.com/2014/06/09/as-spain-welcomes-back-jews-expelled-in-the-1400s-i-share-my-spanish-roots/

Https://dis.bh.org.il murviedro-sagunto

I Do Love Gaudi! My Second Barcelona Gaudi Adventure.

8 Oct

I returned to Barcelona with one main focus — to see the Gaudi sites I missed last time and to see the new house that opened to the public less than a year ago.

Although I had see CASA Batllo in my first trip, I had not seen Casa Milo up close. Since it was just a few blocks from our hotel, we walked there our first day. It did not disappoint, even though it was not colorful! And I do like color. I loved the terraces and curving forms.

I also got to see Casa Batllo in the evening, which is another wonderful view.

The next day we had hired a private tour guide to take us on a Gaudi tour. High on my list: Park Quell and the new Casa Vincens, a house that was privately owned until just a few years ago and opened as a museum in November 2017.

Added to our agenda was Gaudi’s dragon gate at the entrance to what was once the Quell estate, then became the King’s palace and is now a convention center.

This gate is Amazing!! The dragon can move but cannot fly away!

As for Park Quell, the park was donated to the city of Barcelona when Mr. Quell died around 1919.

The gardens, paths, bridges, and buildings are wonderful to explore. The outdoor theater, market and the two houses call out to be explored. The three bigger houses on the property were big designed by him. But the two at the main entrance are probably his design.

I also loved the iron fencing, with its swans and lily pads in my opinion, which is repeated at the Casa Vicens. Gaudi’s designs were fantastic, original and amazing.

Finally Casa Vicens with its spectacular ceilings and moorish smoking room was the end to my Gaudi adventure. I especially loved the walls in the bedrooms and the little balcony off the living room. And my sojourn in the torrent on the rooftop made me feel like the queen of Gaudi!

My love of Gaudi grows with each additional site I explore.

https://zicharonot.com/2015/07/06/my-architectural-love-affair-with-hundertwasser-and-gaudi/

Walking My Way Through the Perils of Stone Pathways in Europe

10 Jul

Shoes are the most important item to pack for a trip through southern Europe! Forget heels. No heels! Sturdy walking shoes are the only reasonable shoe to take and nice flats for the evenings. Believe me when I tell you that walking on stone streets and paths is not for the timid or the unbalanced.

Italy,  St. Peter's Stones/Bricks.

Italy, St. Peter’s Stones/Bricks.

I have learned to hate St. Peter’s Stones. These unusual shape stones make up many of the pathways in Rome. Each stone is about 4 inches wide at one end and tapers to about 2 ½ inches at the other end. Between each stone is about a half inch of grout…if you are lucky. Most of the time the grout is missing. A great place to get a heel caught and trip.   I asked some female Rome citizens how they walked in heels. Their answer, they don’t. I know why.

Stone walkways in the Jewish Quarter of Rome.

Stone walkways in the Jewish Quarter of Rome.

But it isn’t just the St. Peter’s Stones that can wear on the legs. Almost everywhere the sidewalks and streets are made of stone. And it makes sense. These are old cities. In the Jewish Quarter of Rome there were square stones that paved the walkways and streets.   I say this together because in the tight areas of the old city people and cars share the streets and walkways.

I cannot imagine what they are like when they are wet. We were fortunate and never encountered rain on our trip, but I can imagine that these stones cause much misery when they are damp or wet.   The only place I can compare it to is Jerusalem. Also a city paved with stone, Jerusalem is a place where I have experienced rain and snow and it was not pretty! After two days of walking in Rome, even with sneakers and flats, my legs were aching.

In our not quite two days in Rome, we walked 11.8 miles! And over our two-week trip to Europe I walked 62 miles, averaging 4.4 miles a day, including the two at sea days. I know for a fact as I wore my Jawbone Up the entire time! So believe me when I say I became intimate with the stone walkways of some of the cities along the Mediterranean. And I feel fortunate that we all survived intact!

To be honest, the stone walkways were so beautiful, I started taking photos of them. Lovely to look at in every city and island we visited… but terrible for the legs and feet.

Pompeii stone streets... Pretty good actually.

Pompeii stone streets… Pretty good actually.

I loved the incredible stone streets of Pompeii. That they lasted this long through fire and ash and 2000 years shows their durability. And actually the stone walkways in Pompeii were easy to walk on. I was amazed at how the craftsmen took irregular shaped stones and fit them so precisely together. They were just stunning.

Sicilian Stone walkways.

Sicilian Stone walkways.


Sardinian stone.

Sardinian stone.

On the islands of Sicily and Sardinia we encountered larger, more even stones. Rectangle and squares probably made it for easier for masons to install the stonework. They were also a bit easier to walk on in the more modern parts of town.   But still gave no relief to tired calf muscles!

Corsica at the citadel.  These stones were impossible! And yes, it was the only place to walk.

Corsica at the citadel. These stones were impossible! And yes, it was the only place to walk.

After Corsica, I knew the stones were starting to take their toll on people. In Calvi, Corsica, the citadel is located high above the city. You have to walk up a multitude of stone staircases before reaching the path that takes you into the citadel. Should I call it a path, or the stone walkway from Hell? These uneven and rounded stones pushed into the ground must be carefully and diligently watched as you walk. They look like giant river pebbles. When you walk on them there can be no looking up until you take a break. Just watch your feet. I thought going uphill was bad. But going downhill was much worse.

The day after the trip to Calvi, I noticed several people on our cruise ship now in wheelchairs with their ankles wrapped. An older woman, who had been on our flight to Europe, and was on our cruise, fell and was sporting a black eye. She spent two days recouping from that incident. Calvi’s citadel is not for the weak-kneed or anyone who needs help walking!

Monaco, beautiful patterned pebbles to walk on.

Monaco, beautiful patterned pebbles to walk on.

Monaco had lovely walkways, easy to meander through. But near the prince’s palace, where we watched the changing of the guard, there was a beautiful inlayed pebbled area, so beautiful to see, but perhaps difficult for the pedestrians in heels. I just took pictures, and tried to stay off of it. Okay, honestly, I had to walk on it at least once to test it out. It was okay, just a little rough on the soles of my feet.

St. Tropez, more stone for people and cars.

St. Tropez, more stone for people and cars.

St. Tropez’ older areas had more St. Peter’s Stone’s as well as larger rectangular steps. And I do not like St. Peter’s Stone! To be honest this was my least favorite stop on our journey. However it had the best story about the paved roads. The walkways in the ancient area are all made of stone, slippery when wet. Our guide told us that when people tried to invade the city, the citizens would pour olive oil into the street, which made the hilly stone paths impossible to navigate. I wish I could have seen the invaders’ faces as the olive oil came oozing down the roads. The slipping and sliding was not funny to them, I am sure. What an ingenious idea!

The beautifully stone paved Rambla.  Easy to walk on.

The beautifully stone paved Rambla. Easy to walk on.

We ended our trip in Barcelona. The new parts of town have easy to walk on streets. And we loved walking on the Rambla! The stonework was so pretty with waves of color. And the stones were even and comfortable for walking. But the old, gothic city also had its stone and uneven pathways. However, I understand that these streets and paths are over 1,000 years old. So I am not complaining, I am just saying BE Careful.

Notice the difficult walking through the trails at Montserrat.

Notice the difficult walking through the trails at Montserrat.

Our final stop was Montserrat, a beautiful mountain and Monastery about an hour from Barcelona. This area is so breathtaking with its views and buildings. It has three main walking paths. We took one.   You can see that they are trying to repair the paths in some areas, in others it was quite the challenge.   But so worth the effort!

My legs are still recovering from the hard walking. To be honest, I went for a leg reflexology on the cruise ship. It was wonderful after all those stone steps. I gifted myself an extra long 75-minute leg and foot massage. I figured that my legs had done me well, and they deserved pampering. When I got home, I went for a pedicure with massage at Old Town. It helped as well. Sixty-two miles of walking on stone paths was perilous, but worth every step!