12th & 13th November 2022: Santiago de Compostela (Spain)

Here’s a little secret – people don’t like flying on the 13th, even less when it’s a Tuesday. Thus, I came across a bunch of awesome offers for the 13th of December, which unfortunately I could not take up due to work uncertainties. What I could muster was a mini getaway on the weekend of the 12th/13th of November, to the northern Spanish town of Santiago de Compostela. There were a few reasons for this choice – one, cheap flights; two, I’ve recently started considering a route through the so-called Camino de Santiago (St. James’ Way); and three, pandemic shuffled ‘Holy Years’ round so there was a special gate to the cathedral open that I wanted to see. I flew out around noon on Saturday and came back on Sunday night. It was a perfect plan for a decompressing getaway.

Santiago de Compostela is known as one of the most important pilgrimage cities in the world. According to the Christian tradition, the tomb of Apostle James was found in the area in Middle Ages (different sources vary throughout the 9th and 11th century), and the pilgrimage to visit the remains became one of the most important in the Christian faith, alongside Rome and Jerusalem, to the point that the pavement proudly states that “Europe was built on the pilgrimage to Santiago”. While I’m not religious, I have a thing for religious architecture, and as mentioned above I’ve been thinking about the Camino for a while, and visiting the goal felt a good way to start organising how I wanted to look at things.

However, let’s say it wasn’t the most perfect getaway ever. Though the flight was on time, and pretty short, there was turbulence – not something too out of the ordinary, but here’s something you might not know about me. Back in the mid-nineties, I sort of crash-landed in the Santiago airport, so let’s say I was not so invested in a bumpy flight.

As the flight had been very cheap (about 30€), I had decided to splurge a little in the hotel – and I found a not-so-bad offer of half-board at the Parador de Santiago – Hostal Reyes Católicos, downright at the centre of the city. It is located in the old pilgrim hospital, and it is a magnificent building, aside from a five-star hotel. I arrived around 14:00, and the room was not ready – fair enough. I wanted to get there early in order to drop off my luggage, and make sure I could arrange my dinner reservations for a convenient time. One of the reasons I decided to book half-board in the Parador was to guarantee myself a meal late in the evening, as I had booked a walking tour at 20:00, and the main restaurant served dinner till 22:45.

Wide shot of the Parador. It shows a severe building with an ornate gate. The sky is bright blue.

Unfortunately, the check-in staff “had booked me” at 20:30, and they asked if that was okay. I replied it wasn’t, and explained the reason stated above – the staff then said that they could accommodate me at 22:00 at the secondary restaurant, but not at the main one. I answered that then I’d have dinner at 22:00 at the secondary restaurant then, but the staff asked me to check the menu. I stated that it did not matter. I needed my dinner to be at 22:00, and if the main restaurant wasn’t available, it would have to be at the secondary one. The staff asked me to check the menus, and I explained again that I had a tour from 20:00 to 21:30 – I needed dinner at 22:00. I thought that was resolved, and as it was too early to get a room, I picked up my camera, left my backpack in the locker room, and went on my merry way to explore the outdoor “monumental route” within the historical city Ruta Monumental de Intramuros. The old city of Santiago is part of the Unesco Heritage Site Routes of Santiago de Compostela: Camino Francés and Routes of Northern Spain Caminos de Santiago de Compostela: Camino francés y Caminos del Norte de España.

As I had tickets for different activities in the cathedral booked for the previous morning, and the Sunday forecast was rain, I decided to do most of the walking on my first afternoon. I started off in front of the cathedral façade in the square Praza do Obradoiro (the Artisans Square), which hosts the town hall in the former Neoclassical palace Pazo de Raxoi, the Parador itself, and the main – but closed, will get into that later – entrance to the cathedral Santa Apostólica y Metropolitana Iglesia Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, with its Baroque façade called Fachada del Obradoiro.

Baroque façade: two towers and twin set of stairs, fenced away.

I walked around the cathedral, and stopped at all the other squares: Praza da Acibecharía (the Black Amber Workers Square), Praza da Quintana de Vivos (Living Villa of the Living Square) and Praza das Praterías (the Silversmiths Square).

A collage of views of the cathedral of Santiago.

I walked down Rua do Villar, which is the closest to a main street the historical town has. I strolled around the historical centre – there are many interesting buildings and churches, alongside the market. At some point I entered a bakery, but I kinda ran away when I heard the prices they were charging.

Santiago Route.  An archade, a fountain, an ornate corner with a coat of arms carved into it.

After an hour and a half or so, I found the convent-turned-museum Igrexa e Convento de San Domingos de Bonaval that has become the ethnological museum of the Galician people Museo do Pobo Galego. The museum itself was not too spectacular, but the building itself was fantastic. One of the most amazing things was the triple-helix staircase that joins the different floors on one side, and the remains of the gothic church (where I got to climb the pulpit). To the side there’s the pantheon for illustrious Galicians, including one of the few female historical figures in Spain – poet Rosalía de Castro.

Monastery and museum. The pieces include a humanoid stone idol, some Christian figures in polychromated wood, and two pipes

View of the triple staircase, from above, from below and through the door from one of the sides.

A view of a gothic chapel, showing an empty altar.

This was around 16:30, and even if I was not even a bit hungry, my legs shook a little. Thus, I decided that I needed to find a supermarket to buy a snack – I only had coffee before I left for the airport at 9:00. Before getting to the supermarket though, I walked around the former orchard and graveyard of the convent, now a picnic-friendly park Parque de San Domingos de Bonaval, full of ruins and fountains.

The previous church, from outside, on the right. There's a winter tree in front, and some old niches on the left wall.

I grabbed my snack and went back to the monumental route until I was back at the Praza do Obradoiro. I walked around to see the sunset, and caught a glimpse of the light playing on the façade of the church Igrexa de San Frutuoso, and some nice views from the adjacent park (which turned out to have been another graveyard) Xardín do Cemiterio de San Frutuoso.

Santiago sunset. Upper picture shows the church of Saint Fructuoso, and the lower one a view of the nearby park with the sun setting in the background

It was around 18:00 at that time, so I could finally check in – which I did, only to find out that the staff I had talked to had decided not to book my dinner in the end, which lead to me needing to explain about my tour again to a new staff who told me they couldn’t book me at 22:00 on the secondary restaurant! It had to be at 21:45, but they could notify the restaurant that I would arrive a bit later. I was really not impressed by the whole thing, even less when I apparently needed a bellboy to guide me to my room and carry my backpack– and of course get tipped.

I had my snack and then went on to explore the building. As I did, the sun completely set, so the different lights were cool. The Hostal Reyes Católicos used to be the pilgrims’ hospital. It is a huge rectangle with four interior cloisters named after the four Christian Evangelists, the inner areas having been refurbished into the rooms.

The four gothic cloisters of the Parador. Two have some greenery on them, the other two are just grey and built.

A few minutes before 20:00, I left for my tour. Although I’m not a big fan of tours and group activities, I had had my curiosity piqued by a “theatrical visit” of the historical centre of the town called Meigas Fóra. In the area of Galicia, a meiga is a type of traditional witch, good or bad, depending on what side the person speaking about them is – in this case, the guide being a supposed-meiga, of course they were all neat and nice. The tour was supposed to tell about the different legends and interesting supernatural trivia of the town, but just ended up being a bit watered-down walk around those graveyards-turned-parks I had walked before. The coolest thing was finding the pilgrim’s shadow Sombra del Peregrino, a fun game of light-and-shadows in one of the squares around the cathedral.

A view of the cathedral of Santiago at night, illuminated, on top. On the bottom, a column casts a shadow onto the wall behind it - it seems to be that of a man with a walking cane and a travel hat.

Hilariously though, as we were walking, someone approached me to ask in wonder if on top of taking the tour alone, I was in Santiago all by myself, in total awe of someone travelling on their own. She said that she would never be able to do so – while she took selfies of herself because the people she was “touring” with could not be any less interested…

After the tour I went to have dinner – guess what? At 22:00 h! Let’s say that it was not the greatest experience. The restaurant staff had their hands full with a table of around 20 drunk “pilgrims” who had come all the way from South America and were rightfully celebrating – albeit loudly and a bit obnoxiously (all that pilgrim wine, no doubt) – that they had reached the end of the Way. The rest of the patrons were, including myself, four one-person tables, which made me wonder if they just don’t book one-person tables in the main restaurant after the first shift. The floor staff – basically one working waiter, and one wandering waiter – was overwhelmed by the table, and it took me over an hour to finish my dinner – which was some local octopus (pulpo a feira), a roasted great scallop (Pecten maximus, not only a delicious shellfish, also the symbol of the town and the related pilgrimage, called vieira in Spanish) and a piece of the typical almond pie (tarta de Santiago).

Dinner: pulpo, a scallop and a piece of cake.

Then I went to my room for a nice hot shower and to get some sleep. I was surprised then to find no extra blanket in the wardrobe, though there was an extra pillow. This was around midnight already so I decided not to hit reception for the extra blanket and just cranked up the air-con on and off to stay warm. I slept on and off, too, but it was not too much of a long night.

The next morning I had breakfast and set out for my day at the cathedral, Santa Apostólica y Metropolitana Iglesia Catedral de Santiago de Compostela. Santiago was built around the 7th century legend that the apostle James the Great, Santiago el Mayor, was buried in the area of Galicia, after having reached Spain to convert it into Christianity. In the 9th century, a tomb was discovered among some abandoned Roman ruins, and the local bishop had “the certainty” that it was the Apostle’s tomb. The bishop informed the King, who was the reported first pilgrim, and later ordered that a church should be built to commemorate the finding.

As the number of pilgrims grew, the church became too small, so subsequent temples were erected. The current interior was built between the 11th and the 13th century in a very pure Romanesque style, but the exterior was covered in the 18th century, in a very adorned Baroque style, which is also the style of the altar.

The most important piece of the cathedral is the Portico of Glory Pórtico de la Gloria, the Romanesque entrance to the 12th-century cathedral, with 200 sculptures carved in stone in the three-archway portal. The entrance now is locked away, you have to pay to see it, and photographs are not allowed.

For starters, I climbed up to the roof of the cathedral and the bell tower – not really the bell tower but the “rattle tower”, as the bells chime on the eastern tower, and the rattle is played on the darker, western tower. The roof was restored as recently as 2021, and from there there are some nice views of the town.

The towers of the cathedral from the room, and some aereal shots - one shows the Parador cloisters from above.

Between visits, I went inside the cathedral, where the pilgrims’ mass was about to start. I might have stayed out of curiosity had I been in town for a longer period. Then I visited the portico – since pictures were not allowed, I’ve rescued some 1995 ones from when I were in town as a teen.

Three shots of the  very baroque altar in Santiago - it is heavily decorated and painted gold. On the bottom right, a silver urn, also very ornated, supposedly where the remains of St. James are.

A collage showing several sculpures of the Portico of Glory - Romanesque statues richly coloured and decorated, they look placid

After wandering the cathedral for a bit longer, I made the most out of the last hour of sunshine to head to the park Parque da Alameda to find the spot Miradoiro da Catedral next to a huge centennial eucalyptus tree (Eucalyptus globulus labill) Eucalipto centenario, a 120-year-old specimen, considered one of the oldest eucalyptus trees that was planted in Europe after captain Cook “discovered” Australia and the species was introduced by Fray Rosendo Salvado.

A panoramic view of Santiago, showing the cathedral.

My next stop was the museum of pilgrimages and Santiago Museo de las Peregrinaciones y de Santiago, which was free due to the Covid recovery plan. It features a collection of items related to Saint James Way, and other important pilgrimages of the world, including the Japanese Kumano Kodo [熊野古道], and the Muslim Mecca Pilgrimage Ḥajj [حَجّ]. The upper floors are dedicated to the hagiography of Santiago / James through the Way and in the city.

Museum of Pilgrimages. A collage that shows a wooden statue of Santiago on a white horse, sword raised; other depictions of Santiago as pilgrim; some paper scallops decorated by kids; and a Japanese sacred gate.

Later, even though I should have gone to eat a bite, I headed to the monastery and museum Mosteiro de San Martiño Pinario, religious complex built between the 16th and 17th centuries, though the inner areas and chapels date from the 18th century. Today it’s a cultural centre, and alongside the church, it features a museum with block prints, fossils, an ancient pharmacy… The church has the most baroque Baroque altarpiece I’ve ever seen, and two choirs – one behind the altar, and the other one up on the second floor.

Exterior of the monastery, including the double downward staircase, and a picture of the interior, showing a very Baroque altar painted in gold.

Finally, I stepped into the museum of the cathedral Museo de la Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, which features the entrance to the cloister, library, and the upper galleries, aside from artistic and religious treasures such as the original stone choir, wooden carvings, and tapestries. I was also able to access the upper galleries and look at the rain in the Praza do Obradoiro, and later the crypt.

A collage showing the cloister of the cathedral of Santiago while it rains outside, and the former Romanesque choir, carved in stone.

Romanesque arches and columns built in stone, and a cast ceiling.

After one last visit to the cathedral and its shop, I got myself a last souvenir – a silver and black amber bracelet I had seen upon arrival, and took a taxi back to the airport in order to fly back. All in all, I was not too impressed by the city nor its inhabitant, and I was pretty disappointed in the Parador. I think it has put me off the idea of doing the Camino as much as I thought I wanted to, but not every trip is perfect, I guess, and I hope my memories warm up with time.

A silver and black amber bracelet. The silver is very fine, and the gem is bright black.

Walking distance: around 11.68 km (18659 steps) on Saturday and 10.58 km (16931 steps) on Sunday, not counting airport transits

13th – 15th May 2022: Paris (France) & Saint Seiya Symphonic Adventure

This has been a weird ride in more ways than one. Back when we did not know what kind of hell was breaking loose in Wuhan, I went to Paris for a couple of concerts with the idea of coming back in a few week’s time. Instead of that, Covid turned the world upside down. Four postponements later, and a stupid amount of money I am not even going to calculate, I finally set off to Paris, France, once more, to watch the Saint Seiya Symphonic Adventure. The concert that was supposed to happen on the 18th of April, 2020 finally took place on the 14th of May, 2022, and the promoter handled the postponements pretty badly, which led to a lot of people returning their tickets at some point.

Ticket. Frand Rex 75002 Paris, Overlook Events Presente: Saint Seiya Symphonic Adventure. Les Chevaliers du Zodiaque. Samedi 30 Octobre 2021, 19:30 h. Orchestre Chevaliers Dor. Eur 240,00. Accès VIP. The rest of the information is blurred.

Corny and problematic as it may be, Saint Seiya [聖闘士星矢] was my favourite anime as a child – it was exciting and my parents heavily disapproved of it, the perfect mixture for a pre-teen finding their place in the world. In December 2019, I do not even remember how, I came across the information about the event, described as a fully-immersive live-to-picture symphonic concert with the music from pop-culture […] synchronized to cutting edge video screen, lighting and special sound effects. Similarly to the recent Final Fantasy Remake concert, the idea is an orchestra concert with the original singers for some of the musical pieces, along with projections of the original cartoon. Overlook announced an afternoon and an evening concerts. However, by the time I found out that the event had been planned, tickets had been on sale for a while. I managed to get a fairly decent ticket for the afternoon concert, but and a very bad one for the evening concert as part of Christmas sales (which meant I got both tickets for the price of the normal “good” afternoon ticket). At the time, I was ecstatic, as you may guess, though a tiny bit bummed I had not learnt about the whole thing in time to get some VIP tickets.

Enter Covid-19. One postponement led to another, and then another. At some point in late summer 2021 I entered the ticket page for something, and I could not believe my eyes – someone had returned one of the second-tier VIP tickets, and… I got that one. I seriously could not believe it. One of twelve (with the name of one of twelve characters of the show), it came with goodies, access to the rehearsal, and the autograph session after the show. So I now had a good ticket and a fantastic ticket!

Then the event got postponed again, barely three weeks before. I was… miffed. Eventually though, the promoter got in touch with me and I was assigned a character, I bought plane tickets (again), booked a hotel (again – in this case I booked two, one at the airport and one near the theatre), and… held my breath.

When the Japanese singers arrived in Paris, I realised that it was finally happening. And thus, I booked my airport parking ticket and… held my breath again. Iberia’s check in gave me trouble, but I eventually managed to get my boarding pass (I could check in on the webpage, but only get my boarding pass from the app), and fill in the passenger form to get into France.

The plane left late on Friday evening, and it was a long weekend in Madrid, so I left with time – a lot of time. I learnt two things: one, my planning skills are awesome, and two, my car has run out of air-con gas, as I got caught in a bad traffic jam, and yet somehow I arrived within five minutes of my expected entrance time. The flight to Paris was stupidly uneventful and I was surprised at how nicely the security personnel actually behaved.

Upon arriving in Charles de Gaulle I walked out of the plane into the bus and then to the terminal. There was no kind of health check whatsoever, so I could just walk up to my hotel, which was strangely bustling for it being near midnight.

14th May 2022: Paris & Grand Rex

The organisers had sent me an email that I had to be at the Grand Rex theatre at 10 a.m. in order to pick up my goodie bag. It turned out that the email was wrong, and I was not to be there till 11 a.m. The Grand Rex is an art decó building which, like a bunch of things I saw, was under renovation.

Outside the Grand Rex. It is only a huge scaffolding as the façade is being renovated.

Throughout all the waiting for the different sessions I took a few strolls around the area of Grand Boulevards after dropping off my luggage at the hotel. I ambled round and saw two smallish triumph arcs – Porte Saint-Denis and Porte Saint-Martin.

Two monumental gates in the middle of crossroads. The traffic is horrible.

Also around the area are Mairie du 10e arrondissement, a Renaissance Revival public building, Église Saint-Laurent (Church of Saint Lawrence), a gothic chapel which was also under reconstruction, Église Saint-Vincent-de-Paul (Saint-Vincent de Paul Catholic Church). A bit further away stands Gare de l’Est, one of the six large stations in Paris.

Some buildings, including a gothic church, a neoclassical one, and a 19th century train station.

At 11 a.m. I finally got into the Grand Rex to watch the rehearsal, which lasted about an hour. I had been lucky to find a staff member who spoke English as I was apparently the only non-French-speaker in the VIP group, and he told me that the artists would come to say hello after the rehearsal. He added that as everything would be French and Japanese I’d be lost. I replied that I had better Japanese than French anyway. After the rehearsal we got to wave hello to the two Japanese special guests – popster Nob and soprano Kazuko Ishikawa.

The staff member was very proud to point out the “Spanish person who had come from Spain” to the Japanese staff. Nob said “gracias” to which I replied in Japanese – the standard “we are looking forward to the act today”, which I guess threw everybody off a little, and got me an also standard “nihongo joozu” (you are good at Japanese” that the Japanese tell you when you’ve thrown the curveball of talking to them in their language. At this point, I became noticed.

I left the theatre for a while and came back for the first concert, which started late. The venue was rather empty, and during the break a bunch of people tried to parachute into better seats. I saw some other VIPs who had gotten a complimentary seat. As the lights went out the only thing that went through my head was “I can’t believe this is finally happening” again and again and again.

The inside of Grand Rex. The stage is a great arch with the words Saint Seiya Symphonic Adventure projected on a screen

But it was happening. The recital was divided in two acts – the first one aligned with the first arc of the anime, and the second with arcs two and three, what is call the “classical anime” as the final act was not animated up until a couple of decades later.

Pegasus Fantasy
The Galaxian Wars
Hyoga and Crystal Saint
Silver and Gold Saints
Zodiac Temples Part I
Ikki’s Wrath
Zodiac Temples Part II
Victory of the Heroes
Eien Blue

Saint Sinwa ~Soldier Dream
The Seven God Warriors
The Fury of Asgard
The Odin Sapphires
Yume Tabibito
Poseidon’s Lair

ENCORE: Pegasus Fantasy

Bluntly put, I loved it, but mostly because of nostalgia. The first one was better than the second, but there were issues with the sound, and the microphones, and at times the orchestra complete swallowed the vocals. The conductor was hilariously into it, bouncing in his platform. The harp was fantastic, and the soprano spectacular. NoB, the pop singer… is showing his age, but did a decent job of getting the audience hyped-up.

The orchestra on the stage. Images from the anime are projected on the screen.

Another of the guests was the voice actor who played the main character in the original French anime version, and boy did he bring down the walls. People absolutely loved him. To be honest, I was rather surprised at the audience’s attitude towards the whole thing, with clapping and yelling and – among everything – parachuting to better seats. I wonder whether this last thing is usual or just due to the stalls being rather empty (after all there was “free seating” in the first-floor paradise).

I went to the hotel between the first and second concert to retrieve my things and get some rest, but eventually I got back to the theatre. There were more people this time around, and my seat was undoubtedly better. It was there when I got “adopted” by the high-class VIPs, who had been very amused at my having been “lost” and then surprised at the fact that yes, I could speak some Japanese. Thanks to them I found my way to the signing session and got my programme signed by both NoB and Kazuko Kawashima. I did trip over my Japanese there, but I should have known I don’t do well trying to learn new words just before post-concert signing sessions.

Merchandise included in the VIP ticket: mug, t-shirt, posters and booklet, all with images from the Saint Seiya anime

A close up of the booklet - showing the signatures of the singer and the soprano, and the VIP badge.

15th May 2022: Angels, Unicorns and Organ Music

I checked in early in the morning and I fought the Paris Metro system to a) find an entrance where I could buy tickets and b) make the machine work so I could buy those tickets. My first destination was the largest cemetery in Paris – Cimetière du Père-Lachaise. This early 19th century cemetery holds the remains of personalities such as Oscar Wilde, whose grave is protected by a glass wall as it became a fad to put lipstick on and kiss it, which was damaging it; the grave looks like a Babylonian bull or angel. Another grave I wanted to visit was that for Jean-François Champollion – the man who discovered the Rosetta stone, whose tomb looks like an obelisk. And after some wrong turns I also found Frédéric Chopin (minus his preserved heart, which was taken to Poland); this tomb features Euterpe, the muse of music, crying over a broken lyre.

Graves at Père-Lachaise: a flying Babylonian angel (Wilde), an obelisk (Champollion), a muse weeping on her lyre (Chopin).

The cemetery was not as well laid-out as I had hoped so after a while wandering around I decided to move on. On Friday I had read that the museum of Medieval History and the old Therms of Paris had been reopened after a long closure. Thus, I decided to skip looking for more “celebrity graves” and headed towards central Paris. The Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge is built in a 1485 “town house” (more like a palace though, usually called a château) that was erected right on the the old Roman Baths that date the city of Paris back into the Roman period. Today it has been refurbished and holds artefacts and artworks from the Upper and Lower Middle Ages that have been brought from over different churches, including Notre Dame and the Sainte-Chapelle.

The most important piece in the museum is a collection of six tapestries, called “The Lady and the Unicorn”, dated from the late 15th / early 16th century. Five of them represent the sentences, and the sixth is a mystery (theories include “love” and “free will” – I’m a fan of the latter). They all feature the same medieval dame in a red background, accompanied by a golden lion and a white unicorn, and they are marvellous.

Collage: The foundations of the manor; an ornate church entryway, carved on the stone; a Virgin Mary statue; the tapestry of the lady petting the unicorn, with plants and a red background

A piece of art in its own right is the chapel of the town house. It was built around the same time of the house in the Flamboyant Gothic style. It contrast with the stark outside of the house, with its sever walls.

The ceiling of the chapel, which looks like a star fractal, and a view of the whole manor

I still had some time, so I decided to head over to the church Église de la Madeleine, a catholic church that looks like a classical temple (believe it or not to hail the Napoleonic army). It is built in the Neoclassical style, and it is enormous. However, it was also being renovated, so the outside was covered in hideous publicity panels.

Church of La Madeleine, it looks like a Greek temple, all columns with a triangular front, and the inside, showing Mary surrounded by the saints and the angels.

Finally, I went back to the hotel to pick up my things and walked back to the station – I did not want to carry my luggage around because I worried it would damage the posters I had got at the concert. I actually arrived and left from different airports, so I had to head to Orly this time. However, RER B joins both airports, so the closest station for arrival, Châtelet–Les Halles, was also the closest to leave. Upon coming out on Saturday I had caught eye of a small gothic church, and as I walked past this time I noticed that there was an open door and people went in and out. It was the church of St. Eustache, Église Saint-Eustache. The structure is Flamboyant Gothic, and the decorations are Renaissance and classical. It has one of the largest organs in France, and I was lucky enough that it was being played when I was there. It felt pretty magical, to be honest.

Top: A gothic church from the outside, with lots of windows. Bottom: the same church inside - high columns look like a forest, and the light filters through all the windows outsde, like water from a fall.

Afterwards, I hopped onto the train and headed for the airport. I got there earlier than expected, too, as I had planned according to some traffic restrictions that did not happen in the end. I debated some food, but everything was so expensive! The return flight was plagued with turbulence, and I got home exhausted and with a migraine, but it was well worth it! Also, travelling through Covid-19 was… weird. While I kept my facemask on most of the time, including the plane rides, the concerts, and whenever I was inside, most people would not – even the still-compulsory places. I was also happy to skip the “health checks” because I swear, the way I was feeling after landing, I don’t know if I had been running a temperature, and that would have been… awkward.

A view of Paris from the plane, also showing the wing

6th November 2021: Torrejón de Ardoz & Guadalajara (Spain)

No matter how much some people demonise it, one true thing is that a great chunk of the Spanish general income is dependent on tourism. That’s why when the 2008 recession hit the country, many areas or municipalities tried to fabricate tourist attractions where there used to be none. Torrejón de Ardoz is one of these places – despite shouldering a huge debt, it gambled a couple of tourist lure. One is a huge winter lights (Christmas) display, which runs from November through January. The other is a huge park in a former slum, called Parque Europa, Europe Park.

Parque Europa was described as “Pharaonic” upon its inauguration in 2010. It covers a whooping 23 hectares of trees, bushes, ponds, rides for kids and replicas of different European monuments and landmarks, both real and art depictions. I can’t be sure if in the end the park managed to break a profit, but the reviews online do sound like it did.

In winter, the park opens at 9.00 am, and I thought that if I managed to get there relatively early in the morning, I might find a free parking spot around the area. Online reviews do talk about limited parking space aimed to fill the pay-per-car parking lot close to the entrances, so I thought I’d try to leave the park in the streets of the industrial complex nearby. After a couple of Sat-Nav mishaps – human-caused aka I forgot the adapter for it to work in the car (≧▽≦) – I was on my way and I reached the neighbourhood a bit before 10.00 am. As I was driving towards my intended parking spot I caught a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, so when I turned and found a random parking spot, I decided to just ditch the car. There were many double-parked cars ahead so I thought the rest of the street would be packed. At that time in the morning, I could have just parked in front of one of the access gates without problems, apparently. So I had to walk two whole extra minutes!! In the end though, that parking spot was even closer than the ones I planned to look for – so it was all good.

I wanted something to do in the morning outside the house so I did not have a plan per se (to be honest, I had long made the afternoon plans and I wanted something to do in the morning to make the most out of the disposable contacts). However, as the fountains were turned on at noon, I wanted to leave them for last. Fortunately, most of them are in the same area of the park – which is shaped like a ham of sorts. At that time most of the children rides were closed, and I was mostly alone except for people jogging or walking their dogs, and it was rather chilly. But I wanted to see the replicas, so that was all right.

These are the monument replicas that are hosted in the park, in the order I saw them, turning clockwise from the entrance I used:

  • Puerta de Alcalá (Gate to Alcalá), Madrid, Spain. Neoclassical gate to the former walls in Madrid. Today it is considered World Heritage as part of the “Paisaje de la Luz”.
  • Torre de Belém (Belém Tower), Lisbon, Portugal. Officially named Torre de São Vicente (Tower of Saint Vincent), a 16th-century port fortification for Portuguese explorers, with high symbolism and ceremony.
  • Tower Bridge, London, United Kingdom. Crossing the River Thames, it is one of the most iconic London landmarks.
  • Kinderdijkse molens, the Windmills of Kinderdijk, Netherlands. The original windmills were designed as part of water drainage to drain the excess water in the Alblasserwaard polder.
  • Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate), Berlin, Germany. It is one of the most characteristic landmarks in the country, a monument built in the place of a former wall gate in the 18th century.
  • Den lille Havfrue (The Little Mermaid), Copenhagen, Denmark. This small sculpture is displayed on a rock in the a promenade in Copenhagen, and depicts the mermaid in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale becoming human.
  • La tour Eiffel (The Eiffel Tower), Paris, France, built for the entrance to the 1889 World’s fair and one of the most visited monuments of the world.
  • Michelangelo’s David, Florence, Italy. One of the masterpieces of the Renaissance sculpture, standing 5.17 m of white marble. This replica I didn’t get to see because it had been either stolen or taken away for restoration.
  • Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain), Rome, Italy. Dating back from 1762, the fountain is a “more dramatic” version of a previous one at the end of one of the Roman aqueducts. The fountain was turned on at noon and it had just a little water.
  • Manneken Pis (“Little Pissing Man”), Brussels, Belgium. It is a bronze fountain sculpture depicting a naked little boy peeing into the basin, dating back from the 17th century.
  • Atomium, Brussels, Belgium. This stainless steel building was constructed for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair, and renovated between 2004 – 2006. It stands 102 metres high and some of the spheres are open to the public and hosts exhibitions.

There are also “adaptations” or monuments that you can “sort of” identify but have been more freely reproduced.

  • Greek Theatre, based on the Athens one, with the Winged Victory of Samothrace watching over in a bit of an artistic license move I guess, considering it was a ship figurehead. The actual one is in the Louvre Museum in Paris. The theatre is built into the slope of the central pond of the park so visitors can see the light and sound show in said pond when they are held.
  • Plaza de España (Square of Spain). The centre of the square is the famous “Puerta del Sol” in Madrid and the older Post office. Its back represents the Main Square of the city. Other houses represent different regional buildings throughout Spain that I was unable to recognise.
  • Viking Ship fountain. There is not much I can say about this. It was one of the fountains, and this one was turned before any of the others.

Inspired by paintings, there are two other monuments.

  • The Three Graces. While the park’s webpage claims that the sculpture is a copy of the one that Antonio Canova created, it looks like it was sculptured using Ruben’s painting as inspiration. This one was the first monument I saw.
  • Van Gogh’s bridge”, a wooden bridge inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s painting “The Langlois Bridge at Arles”. I missed it at first so I had to backtrack and I did not find a good angle to see it from the side.

An original piece is the fountain called Plaza de Europa, Europe Square, a circular square with stars forming little fountains. This was one of the fountains I had to wait till noon to see and to be honest, I was… underwhelmed, expecting way more by the pictures on the website. I’m not sure if it was just “winter fountain” or whether the sprouts were set on low because it was a bit windy.

What was interestingly impressive was the original piece of the Berliner Mauer, the Berlin Wall. During the Cold War, after WWII, Berlin was partitioned into West Germany and East Germany with the erection of the wall in 1961 (in what was called the Berlin Crisis of 1961). It was all built within the eastern border as it was the USSR who decided to put it up. The Wall separated the city halves for decades, there were even deaths as people from the east tried to defect to the west. The wall officially but metaphorically fell in November 1989 as the political powers who had driven its building agonised. The piece that stands in Parque Europa originally stood in Postdamer Platz and was ceded to Torrejón by the city of Berlin and it stands behind the Brandenburg Gate.

There are many other areas and activities for kids. A number of them were already opening up by the time I left, others seemed to be on hold due to pandemic concerns. The park has different things to draw attention too, such a giant bird cage (mostly full of parakeets), three life-sized elephants made out of bush, gardens, or an artificial waterfall – which did not get turned on. I saw a lot of birds too – magpies, swans, mallards and some very territorial Egyptian geese (I think that they were Egyptian geese. I’m absolutely sure they were territorial).

I left Torrejón at around 12:30, I think. I took care of some errands on the way, had lunch, and then I headed off to the second part of my self-imposed day off. A late-Halloween activity that ran throughout the month of November: Arquitectura y escultura funeraria in Guadalajara: a walking tour with a focus on the funerary architecture and sculpture in town. Well, at least with a stop at those places that are directly controlled by the town hall, missing those that are not. Yes, I voluntarily signed up for a guided visit! Unfortunately, information on Guadalajara is rather difficult to find, so I thought there might be interesting knowledge to be gathered (Narrator’s voice: there wasn’t).

The tour started at the local cemetery Cementerio Municipal Virgen De La Antigua, where we saw several tombs and pantheons dating from the 19th century and the early 20th century. These included:

  • Panteón de la Tropa, the “Troop mausoleum”, a communal grave for soldiers who died in the African campaigns, where supposedly some of the Civil Wars victims were buried. It actually is not the place, but legends are legends, I guess.
  • Panteón de los Marqueses de Villamejor – a neoclassical mausoleum where a noble family was interred.
  • Monumento funerario de la Familia Cuesta Sanz, a creepy obelisk-looking tomb.
  • Some smaller mausoleums (or big graves) Panteón de María Luisa García Gamboa, Panteón de la Familia Chavarri, Panteón de Josefa Corrido de Gaona, and Panteón de la familia de Ripollés Calvo. All these are stone tombs with a rounded roof that drains off rainwater.
  • Panteón de los Condes de Romanones, the place of eternal rest of another noble family, whose head was the son of the previous one.
  • Kittens

We then walked off towards the chapel Capilla de Luis de Lucena. Luis de Lucena was a doctor and a priest who was born in the 15th century. He died in Rome as he worked as a doctor for the Pope, but he expected to be buried in this chapel, adjacent to a now-disappeared church. The outer area is built in brick, and the inner ceilings have several frescoes, even if they are rather deteriorated as the town had no money to take care of the art during the 90s and the early 2000s. The chapel was never used as a burial place, and now it is a tiny museum that keeps rests of other disappeared churches in town, especially the funerary sculptures.

The final spot was the crypt of the church of St. Francis – Cripta de la Iglesia de San Francisco, built in dark marble and similar to the one in El Escorial. This is where the Mendoza duchy family members were buried, but the area was ransacked by the French during the Napoleonic wars and the remains were taken to Pastrana afterwards, so the crypt is currently empty. Which is good considering the way some of the tombs are shattered…

This concluded the tour so I was free to go. I saved up the entry fee on the chapel and the crypt as the tour was free. Most of the tour was just crawling from one point to the other and there was not that much new information to be learnt. Maybe there is jut not enough information to be found…

Driven distance: around 83 km.
Walking distance: 13.14 km

9th August 2019: Pretty lights, 2019 Edition {Japan, summer 2019}

That morning I headed off to Ikebukuro [池袋], on my way to find one of the most important Tokyo [東京] graveyard – Zoshigaya Reien [雑司ケ谷霊園]. I wandered the graveyard for a while – it was damn hot.

However, there was one particular grave I was interested in, the restplace of Lafcadio Hearn / Koizumi Yakumo [小泉 八雲], the 19th Century collector of ghost and mythology stories.

I decided to walk out the opposite direction from which I had come in because I wanted to see a park. I did not find it, but pretty much walked into Otori Jinja [大鳥神社] (and discovered a new stamp rally I should attempt at some point).

I continued on my way towards the station and sort of accidentally walked past Honnōji [本納寺].

And then this little guy drew my attention and I entered Zoshigaya Mimizuku Park [豊島区立雑司が谷みみずく公園].

The park holds Takeyoshi Inari Jinja [武芳稲荷].

And Kishimojin [鬼子母神堂] (which I saw before / later in Gokusen 2005 and I right about died laughing).

Afterwards I headed to Roppongi [六本木] to meet with M***chan and D****e for Chinese at Tokyo Midtown [東京ミッドタウン], and later we walked through the Midtown Loves Summer light festival.

Walked distance: 18686 steps / 13.3 km.

27th August 2018: Nippori {Japan, summer 2018}

I went to the Yanaka [谷中] area in Nippori [日暮里] because I was not feeling too well and I thought it would be urban enough but empty enough. Unfortunately it did not quite cut it.

Just after coming from the station, I went to Hongyo-ji [本行寺]:

And then to Daikokuten Kyōo-ji [経王寺], whose gate is important cultural property and keeps bullet holes from the Battle of Ueno (1868).

I arrived to Yanaka Ginza [谷中銀座], a traditional shopping street. I saw Fukuyama Masaharu posters there and I found a shop that sold humoristic hanko for foreigners. I really, really fancied the idea of one with 榊 [Sakaki] on it (with a platypus drawing) but alas, extravagancy budget had already been topped by the Oiran photoshoot.

Then I walked throughout Yanaka Reien [谷中霊園], one of Tokyo’s urban graveyards, where you can see some special see-through bamboo barriers:

I also saw the Tokugawa family graveyard within, alhtough it is technically “only” the Grave of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, Tokugawa Yoshinobu Kōbosho [徳川慶喜公墓所].

And Tenno-ji [天王寺] next to the cemetery.

The truth was that I wanted to explore a few more temples in the area. However, I decided to do a Book Off, Tsutaya, etc tour because it was my last day on the JR Pass and I wanted to check out some CDs – and because my stomach was being stupid and I needed to be close to toilets. Truth be told I don’t have that much of a good memory from this day (≧∇≦), because I was totally unable to get anything to eat till dinner – boy was I hungry by then.

10th – 12th February 2018: Highlights of Glasgow and Edinburgh (Scotland, Great Britain)

This is another trip that I took with customers. We flew into Edinburgh and took a bus directly to Glasgow, where we arrived at around 9:00 on Saturady morning. We made a stop for breakfast, then we walked to Saint Mungo Cathedral.

Then, of course, I guided them up the Necropolis Hill. The weather was very nice for a chance – because I have the exclusivity of good weather in London, but not in Scotland, which yielded to a nice walk.

We had lunch in my favourite Greek restaurant, and then walked around Glasgow – some of the members of the party wanted to go clothes-shopping so I took the opportunity to get into a bookshop or two. We dropped our things off at the hotel and walked in and out some of the shopping centres in the Central Glasgow area. In the evening, I took them to try Wagamama, a ramen / British fusion food chain. I’m always in for ramen (≧▽≦).

On Sunday morning we took the train to Edinburgh. We visited the Old City and Edinburgh Castle, with some awesome sights (because again, the weather was really good – albeit cold as hell, because, have you seen that snow??) and fumbled around for a while.

We had lunch at the Deacon Brody Tavern, a traditional a restaurant in Castlehill – mince pie here.

We also took a walk towards the New City – and there was shopping again. In the end we had an amazing cup of chocolate as early dinner before we went back. I was supersuprised they wanted dinner, but I had had enough with that chocolate and just some tea at night. The shop where we had chocolate was called Coro: The chocolate Café, and I have no doubt I would go back to that shop.

Just before we headed back to Glasgow, we came across an art installation in Prince Garden, which had lots of pretty coloured lights.

And when we woke up on Monday to go to the bus station and head off to the airport… it was snowing! Honest to god snow on the streets!

We reached Spain without further incident in the afternoon, and that was another weekend wrapped up.

27th December 2015 – 1st January 2016: Scotland (Great Britain)

A friend and I decided to organise a New Year’s Eve getaway to Scotland, and I used the opportunity to get some stuff and redtape out of the way, so you might notice some chunks of time missing. Furthermore relationship with Scotland is complex and bittersweet, so I’m not sure how this post is going to turn up

The first part of our trip was based in Edinburgh. We arrived rather late in the evening so we just got to Waverly Station and walked to the hotel to get some rest before we started off the adventure.


Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, and it is a dark city, but not in a bad way. The dark, moss-covered rock seems designed to absorb any little beam of sunlight and warm the houses. In our first morning we had a walk around Princes Street Garden, where the Scott Monument, a memorial in honour of the writer Sir Walter Scott, stands. There was also a Christmas market standing.

We climbed up Castlehill to visit Edinburgh’s castle, in the Old Town. The castle stands on an extinct volcano and some of the archaeological remains can be traced back to Prehistory! The first castle is thought to have been built around the year 1000 BC, which means the foundations are 3000 years old! The site of the castle includes, among other dependencies, The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Regimental Museum, National War Museum, the Royal Palace, St. Margaret’s chapel, and a couple of distilleries. Due to its vantage point, also features a great view of all the Edinburgh area.

We walked back down Castlehill and made a stop at The Tron in the City, a former church turned artisan flea market.

My friend is a Hard Rock Café collector, so we went to the George Street area, which was decorated.

After lunch, we walked to Calton Hill, a hill / park area located near the centre and that hosts the Dugald Steward Monument, the National Monument and the Nelson Monument.

Then we met with a local friend to have dinner (bangers and mash!) to The Elephant House, the so-called birthplace of Harry Potter, where JK Rowling went to write the novels.

On our way back we saw some of the illuminated views, most prominently the Christmas market and the Balmoral hotel.


Aside from all the emotional baggage associated with Scotland, I can say that Glasgow is one of my favourite cities in the world. Most of what we did was walking around even if the weather was nasty at points. As we came out from Queen Street Station, our first visiting spot was George Square and the Glasgow City Chambers, and we had lunch in a Greek restaurant that I love over there.

But we quickly moved over towards Saint Mungo’s Cathedral, also known as the High Kirk of Glasgow. It is a 12th century building built in North Europe Gothic style.

Afterwards we walked up the Necropolis, a Victorian graveyard on a hill behind the cathedral. Today it is a great place for a stroll, aside from a place with way too much history for a humble blog post.

We strolled up and down Buchanan Street and the Central Glasgow area a few times – Queen Street, Central Station, the museum of modern art, the Japanese restaurants… We stopped at the HRC again, the Mandela Monument and dropped by St. Enoch’s shopping centre to see the light reindeer and warm up.

We walked to the Glasgow Cross area then, with the Tolbooth Steeple, the clocktower that marks the entrance to the Merchant City.

We came across quite an amount of interesting buildings in the Merchant City, among them St Andrew’s in the Square.

Another of the places we visited was Glasgow Green, which was half flooded due to the storm.

And when the weather became so bad that the sleet was making impossible to stay out on the streets, we visited the Riverside Museum, the Museum of Transport of Glasgow, where we had some delicious scones too.

We tried to see Dumbarton Castle, but it was closed down due to wind and the storm, so in the end we just took a ride there and walked around.

On the 31st we had dinner at a very nice Japanese – with awesome staff. Then we bought some provisions and headed to the B&B.

At night we were surprised by the fireworks so we ran out of the B&B room to find them.

And on the first we were treated to a rather… unimpressive… first sunrise of the year.

When we flew back I had one of the most surreal experiences ever – we had bought a pack of scones for breakfasts and snacks, and somehow it became tangled in my phone wires. Well, turns out that wired-tangled scones look one hell of a lot like bombs on X Ray machines! The poor Scots security guard was first deadly pale, then so relieved that I was not carrying a bomb!

3rd April 2015 (Good Friday): Carcassonne {France, Easter 2015}

For my final day we went to visit the nearby town of Carcassonne, which is famous for having a medieval fortified citadel, the Cité de Carcassonne , which can be traced back 2,500 years, to the Gallo-Roman period. It’s been a Unesco Heritage Site since 1997.

We wandered around the citadel for a few hours, and we had lunch, the famous (so I was told, I had no idea at the moment) cassoulet, made with white beans, duck confit, sausages, pork and mutton, served in a cassole. I remember this as super heavy but I have this obsession to eat everything I’m served, so I finished it – maybe I shouldn’t have.

Placed we visited included the Château Comtal, the Counts’ Castle, dating from the 12th century…

… the walls…

… The former cathedral of Carcassone, the Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus

The Église Saint-Nazaire, the church of Saint Nazaire…

… the Porte Narbonnaise, one of the castle gates…

… and the Cimetière de la Cité, the graveyard.

After that, we headed back to the train station and back to Toulouse as the following day I was flying back home, and France said goodbye with a neat sunset.

22nd August 2014: Re-discovering Zojo-ji {Japan, summer 2014}

After spending the morning with D****e waiting for her suicase to be picked up, we headed off downtown Tokyo. We would separate for a few hours and then meet up to go visit a Japanese friend.

I decided to spend my time revisiting the Zojo-ji [増上寺] and Tokyo Tower [東京タワー] area, because the last time I had passed by I had glimpsed a part of Shiba Koen [芝公園] park that I had not seen before and that seemed open. It actually was, and I got access to the back of the temple. The graveyard was closed down, so I only snooped over the fence.

After this I met with D****e again to go to our Japanese friend’s house, and she made us curry! Actual Japanese homemade curry!

Oh yeah, and we watched VAMPS videos and she gave us a lot of food-presents!

10th July 2012: Osaka, day 2 {Japan, summer 2012}

Tuesday 10th was supposed to be Kyoto day, but train trouble made me change my mind. Since I was in Tennōji anyway, I headed off to visit Shitennō-ji [四天王寺], a massive and colourful Buddhist temple dedicated to the Four Heavenly Kings.

A grand stone torii stands in the foreground. In the background, a temple and a pagoda, in dark red and white colours

A five-story pagoda and a temple building. They are both dark red and white, with some green and golden decoration

A purification fountain. The tap is sculpted to look like a dragon

There are a couple of graveyards, too. I always find fascinating how different cultures react to graveyards. In Japan, apparently, you can picnic there.

A number of polished rock blocks with kanji on them - they are tombstones, and they're arranged in haphazzardly almost one on top of the other

After Shitennō-ji I crossed above the Tennōji Zoo towards the Tsūtenkaku [通天閣] Tower, in Shin Sekai (New World) [新世界], the old-time entertaining district of Osaka. Sort of like two-centuries-ago Namba, you can say. I could follow the Tower in order not to get too lost XD

The Osaka TV tower. It is silver-ish, with a construction like a scaffolder. The upper area resembles a diamond. The body reads HITACHI

This picture is the pure essence of Shin Sekai: the giant blowfish, the Billy Ken (the god of things as they ought to be) statue, and the Tsūtenkaku Tower.

A shopping street, with the TV tower in the background. In the foreground on the right, a golden sitting idol that looks like a fairy, with big feet and pointy ears. On the left there is a restaurant with a giant blowfish paper lantern.

I had some kushikatsu lunch, but it was too hot to really appreciate the goodness of breaded, deep-fried goods:

Some breaded and deep fried vegetables, with sticks to pick them up and eat them

Once done with this, I crossed aaaall the city towards Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan [海遊館], in hopes of seeing their whale shark… but the whale shark tank was closed due to it being refurnished… they were adding 20,000 sardines.

The aquarium building. It is decorated with mosaics of different ocean animals: coral, dolphins, a sunfish...

I went in nonetheless, and took a few pictures for your viewing pleasure, starting by the hammerhead shark.

A hammerhead shark swimming in the tank.

There was also a Sun fish:

A sunfish sniffing the aquarium ground.

My first time seeing Japanese spider crabs:

Three Japanese spidercrabs

Jellyfish I knew, but they’re fun anyway:

White jellyfish with small tentacles folating around in a dark tank

I would have loved to go and see the Castle illuminated by night, but I was too exhausted and feared crashing down, especially considering that I had one challenge left… Kyoto in ten hours. So instead, I went to the hotel and had a full-blown conbini dinner consisting on “Korean hamburger”, onigiri and dorayaki.

A sandwich, a bar of chocolate, a pastry and two onigiri, which look like dark triangles

A close up of the onigiri. The triangle is made out of dry algae (nori), you can see the rice filling on one corner

A close up of the pastry. The wrapping reads どら焼き

Flashback to 26th & 27th June 2011: First time in Glasgow

  • Central Glasgow
  • Glasgow Central Station
  • River Clyde
  • Glasgow City Chambers
  • Glasgow Necropolis
  • Saint Mungo’s Cathedral
  • Glasgow Museum of Modern Art

Note: This is a flashback post, which means it is just a collage regarding a trip I took before I started the blog in 2012. Tags may be incomplete or slightly off.

Flashback to 28th December 2009: Comillas (Spain)

  • Cementerio de Comillas (Graveyard)
  • Capilla Panteón de los Marqueses de Comillas (Comillas Marchis’ Chapel and Pantheon)
  • Palacio de Sobrellano (Sobrellano Palace)

Note: This is a flashback post, which means it is just a collage regarding a trip I took before I started the blog in 2012. Tags may be incomplete or slightly off.