3rd & 4th February 2023: Final Fantasy Distant Worlds 35th Anniversary – Coral – in Barcelona (Spain)

3rd February 2023: Mummies, fish, and music

Though I would not have minded to become a gamer back in the day, my joint issues discouraged this. Thus, my relation with the Final Fantasy saga is tangential. However, my sibling is a big fan of one of the instalments, and last year I accompanied them to Final Fantasy VII Remake Orchestra World Tour in Barcelona in 2021. Having had more time to prepare for this one, we got VIP tickets, and I planned a two-day outing.

Our arrival in Barcelona happened right on schedule, and we walked from the station to Caixa Forum Barcelona to see the exhibit Momias de Egipto. Redescubriendo seis vidasEgyptian mummies; Rediscovering six lives, in collaboration with the British Museum. I am not sure whether the items are part of the actual collection over there or are in the archives, because I don’t really remember seeing any of the mummies. The Barcelona exhibits focus around six mummies and how they lives could have been before their deaths. Aside from the actual mummies and their sarcophagi or coffins, there are objects that they may have used in life, and images of what the bodies look like inside the wrappings.

It was at the very same time interesting and creepy, everything we can get to know through technology about these poor souls who passed away millennia ago. There was information about their age, illnesses, and objects they had been buried with – god statuettes, jewellery, funerary miniatures… One of the mummies in display was that of a small child with his face painted on the wrapping, that was more than a bit creepy, to be honest.

A collage showing a a mummy and a turquoise wrapping; a sarcophagus; four canope jars; three statuettes: Horus, an ibis, Thoth; close-up of a sarcophagus, with bright colours; a mummy and a plain wooden casket.

We took the underground towards the waterfront to visit L’Aquàrium de Barcelona, located in the harbour. With more than 11,000 animals and 450 species, it is the largest aquarium dedicated to the Mediterranean Sea. It was inaugurated in 1995 and it holds 35 aquariums, including an oceanarium with capacity for almost four million litres of water (36 metres diameter, five metres high) with two tunnels at the bottom. Species-wise, the aquarium does not have anything out of the ordinary, but the size of the tiger sand sharks is impressive. There are a few sharks, some tropical fish, axolotls, frogs… and a very fun sperm-whale room to keep the jellyfish in darkness.

A collage of the aquarium. Seahorse; swimming sharks; anaemone; baby dogfish shark; tiny crustacean similar to a prawn; sand tiger shark; octopus trying to eat the viewers; penguin showing off; fabulous tiny jellyfish

We grabbed an expensive-but-convenient bite to eat at the aquarium itself during some of the feeding events to make sure the cafeteria was empty. AFter we had finished viewing all the exhibits, we went on towards the hotel, which was well-placed between the auditorium and the shopping centre. Since check in had been so bad when we went to the previous Final Fantasy concert, this time we had booked different accommodation, and it was a total 180 – everyone in the hotel was super friendly, and we had zero issues. We procured some sandwiches for dinner, then got ready for the concert.

The Final Fantasy Distant Worlds 35th Anniversary – Coral – directed by Arnie Roth is a compilation of the background pieces from all the Final Fantasy games, from the first (1987) to the latest to date not counting the remakes (Final Fantasy XV, 2016. It was held at the CCIB – Centre de Convencions Internacional de Barcelona. We had no idea what time doors would open, but I calculated that an hour should be good for queuing for merch and then get to our seats.

By the time we got to the queue, the concert booklet had already been sold out. When we reached the front, my favourite plush toys were also gone. I decided to get the previous year’s CD in order to get it signed later at the meet & greet event that was included in the ticket we had bought. Looking back, maybe I should have asked for the autographs on the tote bag we got for the spending.

The concert had two halves and an encore, and was… strangely not very coral, for something called so. The choir was placed over to one side, and only did three or four songs – they actually did not show up for the whole first half. The set list was accompanied by projected images on the screen and it was super-impessive to see the first 8-bit games at first compared to what the technology of the latest Advent Children (movie from Final Fantasy VII) managed to create.

    First half

  1. Final Fantasy I~III: Medley 2002
  2. Final Fantasy III: Eternal Wind
  3. Final Fantasy IV: The Red Wings ~ Kingdom of Baron
  4. Final Fantasy IV: Main Theme of Final Fantasy IV
  5. Final Fantasy V: Home, Sweet Home ~ Music Box
  6. Final Fantasy V: A New World
  7. Final Fantasy VI: Phantom Forest ~ Phantom Train ~ The Veldt
  8. Final Fantasy VI: Kids Run Through the City
  9. Final Fantasy I~VI: Battle Medley 2022

    Second half

  10. Final Fantasy VIII: Liberi Fatali
  11. Final Fantasy XI: Ragnarok
  12. Final Fantasy XII: Flash of Steel
  13. Final Fantasy VII: Aerith’s Theme
  14. Final Fantasy XIV: Torn from the Heavens
  15. Final Fantasy XV: Apocalypsis Noctis
  16. Final Fantasy IX: Not Alone
  17. Final Fantasy X: 素敵だね [Suteki da ne] (Isn’t it wonderful?)
  18. Final Fantasy Main Theme with Choir ~ The Definitive Orchestral Arrangement ~

    Encore

  19. Final Fantasy X: Zanarkand
  20. Final Fantasy VII: One-Winged Angel

The concert was all right. I did not feel the general chill I had through the previous one. I really liked Liberi Fatali and One-Winged Angel, but I guess I don’t have enough of an emotional connection with most of the games. Aside from the conductor Arnie Roth, we had composer Yoko Shimomura present, and vocalist RIKKI, who is the original singer of 素敵だね in Japanese, and did the live version.

Collage. Three pictures show a classical orchestra with different things projected on the screen behind them - the logo of Distant worlds, several 8-bit screenshots of games, a very realistic depiction of a blond man with a very unrealistic sword. The last picture shows singer RIKKI, composer Yoko Shimomura and conductor Arnie Roth

The M&G was fun, and I got to tell Roth that when I grow up I want to have as much fun as he does at work. They signed autographs and took pictures with people – it was much less stiff than the usual, too. We headed off afterwards for a sandwich, a shower and a good night’s sleep. In general though, not much value for money considering how much more expensive the VIP tickets were, even though the seats were good. Also, the fact that most merchandising sold out showed poor planning.

Collage. The ticket reading the name of the concert, the autographs of the three main artists, and a plush of a Final Fantasy imaginary being, it looks like a white teddy bear with a huge pink nose, a red ball on top of it and cute wings

4th February 2023: Ramen with Friends

We had bed and breakfast at the hotel, and the latter was fantastic. The buffet had both a juice bar and a milk bar – both of which I sampled, of course. I overdid it with the fried egg, I fear, but they were just cooked and it looked just too appetizing not to fall for one. After breakfast, we packed up, vacated the room, and asked the hotel to keep our bags for a couple of hours. We went to the science museum Museu de Ciències Naturals NAT, where we spent a couple of hours. This is the only place where they refused to speak Spanish to us.

The museum is divided in several areas. The first one is “history of the Earth”, where you can see a few interactive exhibits, fossils and reproductions. The second one is the collection of living animals, most of the stuffed, some of them just skeletons. There was another one about fungi – with the edible ones exhibited in tins. Then there was one on plants, and finally rocks and minerals. Not a bad place to spend a couple of hours, but it is just one of those places that takes itself much more seriously than it should, to the point that it felt pretentious. Some items were exhibited over and over again, as if they just wanted to use up the room – I counted at least eight elbaite specimens in different locations, and there were a bunch of reproductions taking up important spaces, you would believe they were originals if not paying lots of attention to the writing, and the blue light made for horrid photographs.

Collage. Four pictures show prehistoric animals in blue light, stuffed animals, a tin of mushrooms along real specimens, a red algae and some shiny rocks.

We transited to Sants train station to drop off my sibling’s bag at the cloakroom there and went on to meet my Barcelona friends E**** and P***o who had offered to take us to eat really-real Japanese ramen. Since I had a feeling that the restaurant would be on the small-ish side, and my sibling’s luggage was a bit oversized since they had cosplayed for the concert, I decided on the Sants detour for convenience.

The restaurant is called KOBUTA ramen i més (Kobuta Ramen and More) and I was amused when all of us made the same choice – tonkotsu miso ramen with an extra of half an egg, and water; then we shared some gyoza (dumplings) and karaage (fried chicken). The restaurant is not cheap, but the food makes up for that, it is very authentic Japanese food.

Collage. A dish of breaded fried chicken, some dumplings, and a bowl of ramen, with the ingredients floating - algae, half an egg, noodles, pork meat and spring onion

Though P***o had to leave early, the rest of us headed off towards the bullfighting-ring-turned shopping centre Arenas de Barcelona. There, we climbed up the terrace for views, then sat down for drinks and a long chat. We also popped into the local comic store, since it was convenient, and eventually we headed off to the station.

Collage. Shopping centre las Arenas, a round building that used to be a bullfighting ring, there are two pictures, one by daylight and another one at night, lit up. There's a picture of the views- two clock towers leading to a palace; finally three glasses together showing brightly coloured drinks - yellow, orange and dark pink

The train ride home was surreal. People playing music on their phones, yelling, talking loudly and making the footrests squeak – apparently there had been some kind of sporting event for kids and a lot of families were coming back home. All in all, not a bad couple of days, lots of laughs, I got to see dear friends and eat nice food, and listen to cool music – in the CCIB, not on the train.

11th August 2022: 21 hours straight of ups and downs in London {England, August 2022}

The first thing I had to do was waking up for a 6:30 flight – though considering I did not sleep very much that night due to the heat, I’m not sure if that it counts as waking up. The previous day, the airline had sent warning emails about arriving at the airport early – three hours before the flight would have meant being there at 3:30, so… not really. I arrived at the airport around 5:10, and I was at the gate by… 5:20, I’m not even kidding. While I normally do not queue to enter planes – the advantages of backpacks, I just kick them under the seat – I had been assigned seat 1A, which meant I had to put my luggage into the overhead compartment. I had decided to take a small backpack too, because I would be carrying it around for a while, and it would get searched in a couple of places.

Surprisingly, despite Brexit, the Ryanair strikes, airport chaos, and the fact that apparently the automatic passport reader cannot cope with my new look, I made it into the United Kingdom first and straight to London without a glitch. Not only that, I managed to get my Oyster recharged without any problems, and as soon as I had bought some food, I was on my way to the first stop of the day: Crystal Palace Park, for which I got to ride the shiny new underground line, the Elizabeth Line, then the Overground. Even though there are another couple of landmarks (that might warrant a visit when / if the restoration project finally goes through), what interested me in Crystal Palace was a collection of Victorian sculptures – the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs.

Though Ancient Greek already knew about fossils before the current era, it was in the 19th century when it hatched as a “science”, according to some spurred by Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”. Fossil hunters ran amok, excavating and spoiling the North American badlands. In England itself, Mary Anning kept discovering cool things. There was a sort of a “Dinosaur fever” – the Victorians became fascinated with all things prehistoric. In 1852, a number of extinct animal reconstructions were commissioned to be erected in the gardens of the Crystal Palace, after the World Exhibition. Using the knowledge available at the time, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkings, a natural history illustrator and sculptor, who did his best according to scientific knowledge at the time.

Not all the animals represented are real dinosaurs, but the nickname stuck. From today’s standards, most of the reproductions are extremely inaccurate, with some exceptions, such as the ichthyosaur (discovered by Mary Anning around 1811), and the plesiosaur (of which Mary Anning also found a skeleton in 1823, and then another in 1830 – I love that woman). Today, the park is organised in several “islands” where you can see the sculptures, though the water was a bit down due to the heatwaves:

  • Amphibians and therapsids: Dicynodon and Labyrinthodon
  • Marine reptiles: Ichthyosaur, Mosasaurus, Plesiosaur and Teleosaurus
  • Dinosaurs and pterosaurs: Hylaeosaurus, Iguanodon, Megalosaurus and Pterosaur
  • Mammals: Palaeotherium, Anoplotherium, Megaloceros and Megatherium

I have been aware of these sculptures for a long time – since I was a child and started liking dinosaurs. However, only recently did I find out that they really existed, and where they were. I arrived at Crystal Palace station a little after ten (making whole travel from the airport about two hours). I walked by a small farm with typical fauna such as… an alpaca, then I ate my sandwich overseeing the first island.

A collage showing differet statues of prehistoric creatures. Some try to be dinosaurs, and they look almost comically wrong, like giant iguanas or chameleons. There is one plesiosaurus looking rather acurate - it has a long neck and flipers. Finally, some mammals: a deer with huge antlers and a tiny horse-looking creature

I walked around for about an hour and then I set on my way back. Though I had planned to have a relaxed day at first, I had to adjust due to cancellations and train strikes. It was around that time that I calculated that I could actually cram my original Thursday and Saturday plans onto Thursday, plus the alternative plans I had made if I tweaked the time a little. So I back-rode for another hour towards the city.

Near Tower Hill stands the Sky Garden, on the 35th floor of the 20 Fenchurch Street building, designed by Rafael Viñoly. Sky Garden is considered the highest garden in London, and a fantastic viewpoint of the city. I almost accidentally came across the option to book a free access ticket for this – while I had not wanted to pay for any morning / early afternoon activities in case my plane was delayed, I figured out that I could book this for free, especially as they go stupidly fast! I made my 12:30 timeslot with a few minutes to spare, but I was let in after a queue, ID check, X rays and metal detection.

The Sky Garden features two terraces full of plants (landscaped by Gillespies), a couple of restaurants and bars, and an “open” gallery which has glass above your head so the feeling of opening dissipates – the glass is stained and scratched. It was one of the “must-do’s” in London I had never visited before, so I thought it would be a good opportunity. Fortunately, they have relaxed the rules on no bottles because of the unusual high temperatures.

After wandering around for a bit, I continued onto Saint Dunstan in the East Church Garden, the ruins of an old Wren church destroyed by The Great Fire of London and destroyed again during the Blitz (World War II bombings). Dating back to the 1100s, it was opened as a public park in 1970. Aside from being a very cute building park I wanted to see for a while, a music video by the band VAMPS was filmed there.

Ruins of a gothic church turned garden, with hanging ivy and bushes overgrowing the walls and windows

As it was lunchtime, the park was bustling with people, so I just had to move on rather quickly, and went back to the underground to get to the area of Westminster. I had originally booked tickets for Saturday (back in May) but then they were cancelled due to “repair work” going on that day (I do wonder if it was a security measure related to the strikes though).

But of course, first I feasted my eyes on the very new Elizabeth Tower clock tower aka Big Ben – though Big Ben is one of the bells in the tower, but nobody really cares about that any more.

Elizabeth Tower, shining gold with the restoration. It almost looks fake. The clock marks Quarter to two.

The Palace of Westminster or Houses of Parliament is the centre of the United Kingdom’s turbulent political life. The current palace was built after the previous one was destroyed by a fire in 1834. The new palace was erected in the Neo-Gothic style, and it was mostly finished by 1860, although it did open to be used in 1835. There was a competition regarding the design, which was won by sir Charles Barry. The Palace of Westminster holds the two chambers where the British government meets – the House of Lords and the House of Commons – alongside the Norman Porch, St. Stephen’s chapel, and the different corridors where the MPs vote or discuss state matters. I’ll forever be amused that “for security reasons, photography is not permitted in these chambers with dozens of cameras for TV broadcasting and Internet streaming”, but alas. The woodwork on the Norman Porch ceiling is fantastic, and some of the decoration choices, such as Churchill’s sculpture are… interesting. It is noteworthy that it is part of the UNESCO Heritage Site “Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s Church”.

Collage: a view of the houses of parliament (London), with the Elizabeth Tower on the left. Two shots of the Norman Hall, a huge ward with an intrincate design of wooden ceiling. A gothic corridor with a wooden door and some coloured glass panels

Afterwards, I just found my way to the hotel – though I had to wander a little to find the nearby supermarket, bugger those never-ending attached-house neighbourhoods, rested for a little and then went to the station to go to the theatre – I wanted some extra time to check out where my airport coach would leave, so I gave myself 45 minutes for a 22-minute trip. It turns out there was train trouble and I was barely on time, taking an alternative route instead of the direct one.

When I realised my flight timing would give a free evening in London, I booked tickets for the Apollo Victoria Theatre to watch the “Wicked”. This musical tells the story of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” from the point of view of the witches, and somehow gives the “Wicked Witch from the West”, Elphaba, an amazing personality and backstory that resonates a lot with me. For the same price as the ticket I was eyeing back in the day, I found a VIP upgrade just one seat over, so I was entitled to a drink and “snacks”, an early entry, along with access to the “Ambassador Lounge”, a tiny reception hall with access to a private restroom.

“Wicked” was great. The actress who plays the main character, Elphaba (Lucie Jones) came out a little yelly though in her solos. The duets with the other female singer (Glinda, Helen Woolf) were fantastic, and the male love interest’s (Fiyero, Ryan Reid) song was absolutely great, even though he is a character I have never cared for.

Apollo Victoria Theatre: the inner theatre, showing a dragon and a closed curtain showing a map of Oz. The outer theatre: there is a sign reading Apollo Victoria Wicked, and everything is lit green. The VIP lounge, with a glass of soda, and some chairs. The cast at the end of the show, taking their goodbye bows.

By the time I was out, the trains were running again, and one-to-three-minute delay on a line that runs every five minutes or so, and I was at the hotel by 23:00, absolutely beat. The room was extremely hot, because London is absolutely not ready for heat, so I had a snack in front of the fan, took a shower and then got some sleep – 21 hours on the go were over. Funnily enough, by the time I went to bed, I had that wobbly-world jet-lag feeling I have after my first day in Japan. It must have been the barely sleeping the night before. I fell asleep very fast.

Walking distance: 30.52 km / 46192 steps

21st August 2021: Fossil tracks and Roman ruins {Spain, summer 2021}

Enciso is a couple of hours away from Sos del Rey Católico, but to be honest it is barely even on the map. It is a tiny little village in the area of La Rioja that I had not even heard of a year ago. But at some point during this year I became aware of it – and its palaeontological importance as it is the reference point for a dozen or so sites where ichnites have been found. Ichnites or fossil tracks are marks left by dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals on the mud that eventually become fossilised. In this little village in the middle of nowhere there are around 1,400 dinosaur foot tracks. When we were in Albarracín, we saw a bunch of fossils from the time Spain was submerged under the ocean. During the Mesozoic, the area of La Rioja, and the neighbouring Soria (Castilla y León), were somewhat swampy, which lead to a lot of mud. When dinosaurs and other animals moved through the mud, they left trails that sometimes became fossilised.

Our first stop in the village was the palaeontological museum Centro Paleontológico de Enciso . This one we could have skipped – it has next to no original pieces, and it basically just has a few infographics and reproductions of different types of dinosaur legs, but we had to start somewhere.

We visited two fossil track sites. The first one was a long strip of rock called Yacimiento de Valdecevillo . In this site, there are tracks of theropods (carnivores with three fingers, usually bipeds that left clawy marks), ornithopods (herbivores with three fingers, also bipeds, that left somewhat more rounded tracks), and sauropods (four-legged dinosaurs with less-defined fingers). Some of the tracks are very easy to identify (especially the ones fenced off), others are chalked on, and sometimes they even cross each other.

Next to the rock formation, a few reproductions have been built, in order to illustrate what dinosaurs roamed the area. A family of iguanodon has been clearly identified. The sauropod looks like a generic brachiosaurus, but it could have been a turiasaurus, even. I have to say though that the carnivore theropod needs a bit of an update – but it looked adorably like those that they drew when I was a kid back in the 80s. Oh, and we also saw a real-life present-day minisaurus (aka lizard, maaaaaaaybe Spanish psammodromus Psammodromus hispanicus).

It was too hot to walk around the trail, so we hopped onto the car and drove off to the other site, Yacimiento de la Virgen del Campo.
In this formation you can “feel” the mud – the rock has ripples (water marks), and here is even a small mud collapse from an earthquake. Here we saw foot tracks again, marks of skin, and even tail trails left by ancient crocodiles. In this site there are indications of a carnivore attacking a herbivore, represented by 1:1 sculptures (maybe a ceratosaurus and an iguanodon).

Around 13:00 we got back on the car and drove off to the town of Garray for lunch and a rest near the river…s. Río Tera, a smaller current, joins one of the most important rivers in Spain, Río Duero (Douro River) under the unnamed stone bridge.

We managed to have lunch in one of the few restaurants in town, in front of the municipal fountain and the church of Saint John the Baptist Iglesia San Juan Bautista. After lunch we stayed at the river bank for a while before we moved towards our next stop.

The archaeological site of Numantia Yacimiento arqueológico de Numancia holds the remains of a Roman town, built upon an earlier Celtiberian settlement. The Celtiberian town was the centre of a number of hostilities against the Romans in the second century BCE – the Numantine War, the third of the Celtiberian Wars broke out in 143 BCE. After a decade, the Romans sent one of the heroes of the Third Punic war to suffocate the rebellion. The general cut down all the trees in the area and built a barrier around the settlement, in what has been called the Siege of Numantia, in 133 BCE. The town was completely cut off the rest of the world and after eight months of siege, the inhabitants set the town on fire. Most of them committed suicide in order to avoid being taken as slaves.

After the Roman conquerors levelled the ruins, a new town emerged, and a Roman settlement existed in the area between the first and fourth centuries CE. The last remains date back from the sixth century before the town vanished from existence and memory until it was located in the late 19th century.

Today, the site holds remains and patterns for several houses, and it has a reconstructed Roman house, an Iberian house and two pieces of the wall. The most visual building is a Roman house of the later period which still keeps a couple of columns. Unfortunately, this was 16:30 and the guided visit was long and full of useless and dull information – guess who got a sunburnt, even under an umbrella?

When we were done with Numantia, we decided to skip the complementary exhibition in Garray and drove off towards Soria, where we would be staying the night.

The Parador de Soria, our hotel, is the first modern Parador I’ve stayed in, though it stands on the mountain where the castle used to be, and the views were astonishing (I also almost forgot my stamp!!). We had dinner in the parador, which included some freshly-fried torreznos de Soria. Torreznos are a pork-based snack especially typical in the area. The pork belly is marinated with salt and paprika, cured or smoked, and finally fried – delicious but for sure a “sometimes food”. After dinner, we went to our rooms to compare the day-view with the night-view and admire the moon.

Total driven distance: 196 km. Total walking distance: 6.57 km.

19th June 2021: Dino World Expo in Madrid (Spain)

Upon finding that the exhibit Dino World Expo was opening in Madrid on the 18th, I decided to book myself a ticket for the first pass on Saturday morning, 10 AM. I guessed that it would not be too full since it was the first weekend, early, and before school was out for the summer and all the reviews popped up so everyone found about it and brought their kids.

The exhibit was held in Madrid’s fair grounds, IFEMA Espacio 5.1, a short drive away, and aside a small mishap with setting the Sat-Nav. When I arrived, about 15 minutes later there were about ten families with little kids. I walked around for a little and came back when the doors opened. There were several types of tickets, the basic one was 13.50€. The exhibit included an extra “Virtual Reality experience for 3€” (it was 4€ if you bought it during the exhibit itself), so I decided to get the “premium entry ticket” which for 23.50€ included entry, a printed picture (10€ otherwise), the VR experience, a lanyard and a poster – both of which have been distributed around kids who might have want them.

When my ticket was scanned, the system roared and I was given my “VIP lanyard”, and told that I just had to show it around. Then again, let me tell you that I almost called this post “normalise people doing stuff alone” but that would go into the ranting territory and I did not want to do that – it is enough to say that from the beginning to the end of this exhibit, every staff member gaped at me for being in a dinosaur exhibition alone / without kids.

Upon entrance I got my picture taken, then had to wait a little with a couple of families before me until the first room cleared. We got an explanation about the audio-guide app and the exhibit rules. The exhibition itself was composed mostly of animatronics that moved and roared – when they had remembered to turn them on, some of them were still asleep. Aside from the life-sized animatronics, there was a CGI film and at the end of it, the VR experience which… was okay I guess. I learnt that I am not a VR person, as I got more than a bit queasy from the “flying” with the pterodactyl, swimming with a few anachronic species, and then following the T-Rex hunting.

From the shop I got my picture and the promised poster, although I had to show my ticket, not only the pass, in order to do so. All in all it was a cute little experience, but not really worth a detour if you are not in the area – one day I’ll learn that “for all the family” means “kid-oriented”, but that day was not today. On the way back the Sat-Nav got me confused and I took the wrong exit (“stay left on exit 9A” is not the same as “take exit 9A and then 9B to the left” in my books), but I was home by noon, and of course I took a lot of pictures.

Approach

Entrance

dinosaur animatronics: diplodocus

dinosaur animatronics: carnotasaurus and brontosaurus

dinosaur animatronics: pteranodoon

dinosaur animatronics: iguanodoon and Eustreptospondylus

dinosaur animatronics: feathered dinos

dinosaur animatronics: T-rex and triceratops

23rd & 24th April 2021: Mental Reset Half-weekend: Cuenca (Spain)

With everything going on, travelling is almost impossible, but the stars aligned for a tiinny bit longer than day trip – from Friday to early Sunday morning, with every precaution possible, of course. We ran away to Cuenca for a day and a fifth. As days are becoming a bit longer, when we arrived there were still a couple of hours of light left. We checked in and dropped off the car at the Parador de Cuenca. The Parador hotel chain might be more expensive than standard accommodation, but truth be told, it is upholding the strictest hygiene protocols, even though their hand disinfectants give me allergies. Truth be told, it was spectacular.

The Parador stands in a repurposed monastery, the old convent of Saint Paul, just at the edge of the historical centre of Cuenca. The hotel has a covered cloister and a newer building, and the adjoint church has been turned into an art centre.

Parador

Room

Gorge

The core of the town stands between two rivers, River Júcar and River Huécar. As the area is rich in karst – calcite rocks, which dissolve in water – the rivers have dug parallel gorges around the historical dwellings. The walled city has been declared a UNESCO Heritage Site and one of the keymost point is the hanging houses, Casas Colgadas (now home to the Museum of Abstract Art). While the houses are now rather unique, they used to be the norm in the 15th century. In order to cross the Huécar gorge Hoz del Huécar, there is a(n also) hanging bridge. The bridge of Saint Paul, Puente de San Pablo, was built at the beginning of the 20th century in the typical cast-iron architecture of the time.

Puente de San Pablo

Looking back to the other side of the bridge, you see deceivingly high hill, Cerro del Socorro, carved out of karst. I say deceiving because when you actually look at it, you’re half-way up, and you can look down to the bottom of the gorge. At the top of the hill stands a religious pillar to the Catholic Sacred Heart, Monumento al Sagrado Corazón.

Cerro del Socorro

Monumento al Sagrado Corazón

Casas Colgadas

We went on walking towards Main Square and the Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace and Saint Julian – Catedral de Santa María y San Julián de Cuenca. The cathedral is one of the earliest Gothic buildings in Spain (although the main façade has been rebuilt in style). However, it is not the typical Spanish Gothic style, but it is more similar to the Norman buildings in the north of Europe. It was unfortunately not open for visiting though (it’s the third time I’ve been to Cuenca and I’ve never been able to walk in (≧▽≦) ).

Catedral de Cuenca

There also stands the Ayuntamiento de Cuenca or town hall, a three-arched Baroque building erected around 1760 after the designs of the architect Jaime Bort. The building closes off the square and is the gateway to a maze of chaotic traffic of one-way streets and directing traffic lights.

Ayuntamiento de Cuenca

We turned towards the gorge, Hoz del Júcar on the other side of the town for a view of the sunset, but the clouds seemed to be hiding it.

Hoz del Jucar

As we continued on, we stopped by a nun convent Convento de las Esclavas. This Catholic nun congregation leads a contemplative life and they are perpetually praying to the Eucharist – at least some of them, as apparently they bake and sell confectionery to sustain themselves. You can see a nun praying in the church, and to be honest for a second I did not realise she was there, it felt like there was a ghost all of a sudden. The building was erected between the 15th and 16th centuries.

Convento de las Esclavas

Convento de las Esclavas

We found the monument to a medieval king Monumento a Alfonso VIII. During the Christian and Muslim wars, the king was the one to conquer Cuenca for the Christians, and assimilated it into the Castilla crown.

Monumento a Alfonso VIII

Another sculpture we found was, conversely, erected to honour the traditional shepherd from one of the old streets in town, a bronze statue named Monumento al pastor de las Huesas del Vasallo and located next to the bridge.

Monumento al Pastor

We also got treated to some nice views as the sun came out the second we turned out backs on it.

Sunset

After dinner – a really good club sandwich in my case, I walked out to take some pictures of the bridge and the hanging houses after dark, expecting them to be lit up… Which they were. I mean, I was really not expecting the green colours.

Night

Casas Colgadas

In the morning we had breakfast at the old dining room of the convent, the refrectorium, which still keeps its old allure.

Refrectorium

Later, we headed out to the local palaeontological museum Museo de Paleontología de Castilla-La Mancha. The museum was inaugurated in 2005, recycling, so to speak, a previous building that overlooks the city of Cuenca. The museum has an inner area with some reproductions and pieces from the different palaeontological sites around the area, and several models of the animals, organised in eras.

MUPA

MUPA

The outer part also holds replicas, and it gives a very Jurassic World feeling for a second, when you take the view with the dinosaurs. We had booked first thing in the morning, so we were leaving when the kid-crowd started to arrive, in order to see both the extinct and the extant dinosaurs (a.m., we found a mallard minding his own business at one of the ponds).

MUPA

We drove back, and unfortunately the Sat-Nav got us lost. However, we dropped the car safely off a the hotel and decided to take the plunge and walk into the museum of Spanish abstract art Museo de arte abstracto Español, home to a number of… works… by Spanish artists from the 1950s and 60s in the Hanging Houses / Casas Colgadas. I… have to admit I am not the biggest fan of abstract art, so I was not terribly impressed – I mean I had been there before and it had not imprinted on me, like at all (≧▽≦).

Museo arte abstracto

After the museum we headed back to the Parador for lunch and some rest – and I have to say that the curd I had tried the last time was nowhere to be found any more. Sad.

cuajada

But not to be deterred, we soon moved to the city museum Museo de Cuenca, which highlights the Roman origins of the city. There are displays from Prehistory to the Middle Ages, but there is either a surprising lack of Muslim artefacts, or they were in the closed-off rooms.

Museo de Cuenca

After this, we wanted to check out one of the churches, and on the way we passed by a viewpoint towards the gorge Hoz del Huécar.

Hoz del Huécar

We also came across the “Christ in the Alleyway” or Cristo del Pasadizo, which is related to the legend of two lovers – he went to war, she stayed behind and moved on, and then everything ended in tears because how dare a woman in Christian Middle-Ages Spain try to be happy. Anyway, here’s the alleyway and the Christ figure.

Cristo del Pasadizo

After that we ended up at another museum of contemporary art, Fundación Antonio Pérez, located in another former convent built in the 17th century. Honestly? It was slightly interesting but mostly claustrophobic. The majority of rooms do not have windows whatsoever and the fact that there is a one-way itinerary due to Covid, and how dry the air was, made it stressing to an almost ridiculous level.

Arte contemporáneo

It was early evening when we came out, and the second we put a foot outside it started pouring, so we headed back – it also made for a few spectacular pictures.

Rain

Rain

Some cool ones were also taken on Sunday morning just before we drove off early because there was stuff to be done throughout the day.

Casas Colgadas + Puente de San Pablo

7th – 10th February 2020: Paris (France) for DIR EN GREY & BABYMETAL

7th February 2020: Through the Strikes

I had an (amazingly convenient) flight that left at 9am on Friday (and that had cost me 35€), but it turned out to be weird. When we boarded, it turned out that it was a big plane, an intercontinental plane. Which meant it was huge, and more importantly, it had on-board entertainment. Thus, as we waited for the go-ahead, I set up to watch an action film. Then, the pilot told us that we were going to have to wait something between one and two hours to be able to take off due to the strikes. But hey, at least we were flying and I had an action film to watch (the newest X Men, Phoenix one. I did not become a fan).

We took off at 10am and our big plane made the jump in just one hour, as opposed to the 2h10 minutes of estimated travel, which meant we were almost on time! Of course this did not sit well with the strikers, who had us wait first for the parking spot, and then for the stairs. Finally, I made it to the train and was downtown Paris at about 13:00. I came out at the Notre Dame stop to inspect the damage caused to the Notre Dame Cathedral by the 2019 fire. My first impression, looking at the tower, was optimistic, but as I walked round the cathedral, I could see the real damage and reconstruction efforts. Furthermore, it still reeked of burnt wood, probably because they are still pulling out debris.

Collge of Notre Dame showing the cranes and scaffoldings in the repairs

As it was sunny, I decided to go to the Sainte-Chapelle and see its windows in good weather. The Sainte-Chapelle is a small two-level chapel inside an administrative building in the Isle de la Cité smack in the middle of Paris and not far from Notre Dame. The chapel has a lower early Gothic level, and an upper level with impressive stained-glass windows that I love. As the sun was shining, I got really lovely views and pictures. It is a UNESCO Heritage Site.

Collage. Sainte Chapelle: outside showing the spire, inside with some colourful windows and pointed arches

Collage of the upper floor of the Sainte Chapelle. It shows different angles of the long gothic windows, covered in colourful glass

The weather was great, and the forecast for the following day was bad, so I decided to just walk along from the Isle de la Cité towards the Arc de triomphe (some 5 km away). On my way I walked by the Louvre, Les Tulleries, the Grand Palais, the Petit Palais, the Alexander III Bridge, and into the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

Collage with different landmarks of Paris - the river, neoclassic palaces, Luxor obelisk, Champs Elysees...

Finally I got to the Arc de triomphe, where I took a train to the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur area, where my hotel was. After dropping my stuff, I walked up the hill to have a look at the basilica and I caught a glimpse of the sunset with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

A view of the Sacre Cour with a classical carousel in front of it

A profile of the Eiffel Tower in a blurry sunset in orange tones

As my last adventure for the day I went to see the Moulin Rouge from the outside (because inside was too expensive to even consider) – and I listened to KAMIJO’s ムーランルージュ.

The Moulin Rouge cabaret, all lit up in bright red for the night

8th February 2020: Louvre and DIRU

The forecast was accurate and on Saturday weather went down the drain. I decided to go to the Louvre Museum, even if I had been there before. I got predictably lost and I’ not even sure how. In the end, I managed to see everything that I wanted, which began and finished with the Victory of Samothrace, my favourite piece of art ever.

I have a love-hate relationship with Louvre, mostly based on my utter lack of sense of directions and the way the palace-museum is organised, with the exhibits in different wards and floors. In the Classical Greece sector, however, I overheard something strange. I was looking at the Sleeping Hermaphroditus, and I overheard a random guy explaining to a little kid that Hermaphroditus was designed to represent the “most important sacrament of them all, marriage between a man and a woman”. I had a very WTF moment and I was too shocked to address the guy because, seriously? I’m all for Christian art representing Christian beliefs. However, pushing those onto a culture that a) had completely different values, b) was 100% all right with homosexuality, and c) whose goddess of marriage (Hera) was consistently cheated on? I mean, yes, there was a connection between Hermaphroditus and marriage in how they became intersex, but let’s face it here – the Greek mythology had too many erotic undertones to be able to push the Christian values onto it.

As you can see, I am pretty much biased…

A collage with several Louvre pieces of art - Winged Victory, sitting scribe, the three graces, Diane wasing her hair, Hermaprhodite sleeping, Psyche and Eros kissing, Liberty guding the people, Venus de Milo

I spent three to four hours in the Louvre and then went back to the hotel to get ready for the DIR EN GREY concert and VIP experience in Élysée Montmartre, which could have been a better experience if my head had not been hurting and the weather had been nicer – I could have totally skipped the downpour while waiting. Oh, and if the stupid chick from behind me had known how to behave. But hey, it was a great excuse for a much-needed mental break. DIR EN GREY or “Diru” is a Japanese heavy metal band formed characterisede for its dark themes and scenography that I thought I needed to check at least once. I don’t think I’ll need to repeat the experience, though I don’t regret attending.

A dark stage with a drumset. Letters projected on the screen behind the stage read Dir en Grey Tour 20 This Way to Self-Destruction

After the concert I headed off to the hotel to catch some sleep (I had booked a very close hotel because I remembered the area being rather… unfriendly from the 2015 trip).

9th February 2020: Destroy the Bastille!

Sunday morning felt like 2ºC and it was windy. I lingered in bed for a while and then headed out to see the Bastille monument and its remains. Like, the four rocks remaining. I searched for KAMIJO’s Bastille on the mp3 and hoped that the device lasted another season.

Monument to the French Revolution

A few brick stones forming a circle, considered the last remains of the Bastille

Then, as it was cold, I headed off to the Galerie de Paléontologie et d’Anatomie comparée (Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy Gallery) which was a short walk away. I’m still trying to decide whether it was amazing, or the materials nightmares are made of.

The first floor holds a “Cavalcade of Skeletons”, along with dissected specimens and a “gallery of monsters”. The museum was founded in the 19th century, and it keeps the atmosphere – and the charm – of the old exhibitions. There are stands and wooden cases, and the smell of dust and old paper. It was enchanting, but at the same time deeply disturbing.

The second floor hosts the dinosaurs and other fossils, including a very cool mosasaurs. Most of the fossils are either moulds or reconstructions – I swear I’ve seen that Irish elk at least three times before. Also, the T-Rex skull was adorably flawed.

The third floor is… ammonite-land.

Shots of the museum. Skeletons of animals - fish, oxen, crocodiles, elephants, whale. Fossils: Dinosaurs, fish, toothed whale, shark teeth, snails

After I was done with the museum I decided to head off to yet another one, the Musée national des arts asiatiques Guimet (The National Museum of Eastern Arts or Museum Guimet), which holds pieces of art from Cambodia, India, China, Japan, Korea and so on. Behold my favourite Shiva (which is not as cool as the British Museum sexy bodhisattva, but still).

Different pieces in the museum: Dancing Shiva, sitting Buddha, Caligraphy in the shape of a dragon, ellaborate kimono, samurai armour, Indian goddess

After checking out the four floors, I left the museum and walked towards Trocadero to take the underground. I snapped a few pictures of the Eiffel Tower and saw a bunch of peddlers swinging people away from their money (up to 400 quid. Live and learn (O_O)!)

The Eiffel Tower in front of a cloudy sky

Finally, I decided it was too cold to continue walking around and headed back to the hotel to get ready for the BABYMETAL concert. Truth be told, had I known they would be adding Madrid to their tour, I would not have bought that ticket but as things went, I found that they were going to be in the same venue as DIR EN GREY just a day later, so it made sense to try to stay. It worked out. BABYMETAL is one of those insanely-profitable Japanese marketing stunts involving cute girls that had never really been in my radar until I found a cheap ticket to see them. The crew was quite different from DIRU’s, including good ol’ metalheads and families with little girls. It was entertainingenough, and it seemed very lucky timing.

A group of girls dressed in black dancing in front of a logo that reads Babymetal

The concert was short, so I was back at the hotel before 10pm. Thus I got a good night’s sleep before I left.

10th February 2020: No bells of Notre Dame

My plane boarded at 10am so I had to leave early for the airport. The weather was rainy again, so I took the underground to Gare du Nord and then to the airport, where the staff was super nasty. In the end, I made it to my plane, where I settled down to watch Jurassic World on the way back. As I was riding the train, I had a nice view of the Paris as it was dawning, but the bells of Notre Dame were not tolling, and my inner child was sad about that.

I only had three days, but this trip was a very welcome getaway, and even if the weather did not help, I got to do a lot of stuff. I had to scratch out a few plans due to the weather (and the stupid headache, I think I might have put in the left contact wrong again), but there’ll always be April… Because yes, I’m coming back to Paris for the Saint Seiya Symphonic adventure and that’s going to be epic. And heartbreaking because I found out too late to get VIP tickets (≧▽≦).

7th August 2019: Dragons & kappa {Japan, summer 2019}

It is by now a tradition to go Ueno [上野] and the National Museum of Nature and Science, Kokuritsu Kagaku Hakubutsukan [国立科学博物館] to see the summer exhibition this time it was about kyouryuu [恐竜博], “fear dragons” aka dinosaurs – this year the exhibition was called 恐竜博 2019 THE DINOSAUR EXPO 2019. So it was a must-go for me (^o^)/

And then of course I wandered a little around the evolutionary wards of the museum, because of course I did.

I came out and I turned right instead of left, so I walked right into Kaisan-do (Ryo-daishi) [開山堂 (両大師)] (which on google maps appears as Rinnoji. Note to self: explore the area beyond next time over.

Then I crossed above all the railways leading in and out Ueno station.

I continued on until I got to Sogenji [曹源寺] also known as the temple of the kappa, Kappa-dera [かっぱ寺]. There is a legend related to a raincoat maker who was helped by a kappa when he wanted to build a drainage system in the area. There are a lot of kappa in the temple.

They also populate the nearby area, Kappabashihon [かっぱ橋本].

After that, I backtracked back to Ueno and from there I took a train to Ikebukuro [池袋] to do some window shopping. Then I looked at Tokyo Tower [東京タワー] from Roppongi [六本木] before D****e and I had dinner and called it a day.

Walked distance: 13384 steps / 9.57 km

2nd January 2019: Jurassic and 19th Century Madrid (Spain)

I was in the middle of winter holidays and a couple of family members asked me if I had plans – I said I was getting tickets for a dinosaur exhibit in Madrid, and they jumped in. We made arrangements to head over there on the 2nd of January and spend the day in Madrid. I don’t think they really realised what it meant to be around me and the “terrible lizards” (≧▽≦). But off we went.

The Jurassic World: Exhibition was held in Madrid. The whole thing is organised in-verse, as if you actually visited the island.

After you walk in, there is first a small introduction on the “boat” as you travel towards Isla Nublar. There you are given the instructions (mainly, keep your hands to yourself), the boat makes dock and you are let into the Park. Keeping in touch with the spirit of the films (not the book though *giggles*) there’s a Brachiosaurus there to greet you, just like the first animal you see in Isla Nublar (and later the last).

You also catch a glimpse of a Parasaurolophus.

Then you get to the “stables” where you get to see a Triceratops mama with her baby.

Afterwards, there is a small room that represents the laboratory where the dinosaurs are made – I could have made it out with a critter but there were only baby Iguanodon.

Next, you walk into a tiny museum with some fossil reproductions and actual scientific information…

… right before everything goes to hell and back when you’re shown a hologram of Owen Grady talking to his velociraptor Blue and you get a… guy in a velociraptor costume prancing around (≧▽≦).

The next room shows the Tyrannosaurus rex cage (by the way #TeamTRex here, in case you did not know) behind her cage, menacing and staring.

The final room is another garden in which you get to see a Stegosaurus being stalked by the made-up Indominus rex.

And at the end of the exhibition, after the shop even, you find the velociraptors, which have apparently escaped and are ready to attack!

All in all, being the dinosaur geek I am, I had a blast. I’m not sure that my poor family members that had wanted to tag along with me knew what they were bargaining for (≧▽≦).

However, they were still willing to put up with my for a little longer, and together we drove off to the centre of Madrid, and somehow ended up at the Museo Cerralbo. They asked if there was something I wanted to see, and the Cerralbo Museum was running a couple of Japan-related specials. The museum stands in the Palace of the same name, and it holds the collection of the late Marquis Cerralbo.

The museum is… crammed and chaotic, but interesting in its own way. It holds thousands of pieces, from worthless-looking mementos to priceless paintings by masters such as El Greco. Art experts say that the Cerralbo collection was the most valuable of its time.

The museum was holding a designated route focused on the Japanese pieces it has, including samurai armours.

Furthermore, there was an origami exhibition on the lower floor.

After the museum we sat down for lunch at a fusion Asian-Japanese restaurant, because the family members “wanted to try” – although they were rather scared of the food. Eventually they managed to enjoy it too, and even have seconds – however I needed to make a run to get my tablet serviced.

Once it was up and running, and family had come to find me, we walked towards the shopping centre in Principe Pío for dessert – yoghurt ice cream with berries and smarties. A great way to end the day!

23rd & 24th June 2018: London Express (England, Great Britain)

I took some family members over to London for the weekend, and they asked me to organise something so they could see a lot of things. We took the red-eye flight so we were downtown London something around 8:30. Our first visit had tickets for 10:00, so first spot was a Costa Coffee for breakfast! (≧▽≦)

Afterwards we saw the Tower Bridge over the Thames.

Then, at the right time, we walked into the Tower of London, where we wandered around visiting all the areas, including the White Tower, the dungeons, the Crown Jewels vault and the raven nests.

Once we were done, we took the underground to the British Museum for a quick visit through the most important collections, along with a few of the less known but interesting things – in the end we saw the Babylonian, Grecian, Egyptian collections, and had a glimpse at a few of the Chinese artefacts and the Hoa Hakananai’a from Easter Island.

We had lunch in-between and then went to the hotel to drop our things off. After that, we took off again and, via underground, we reached Trafalgar Square. We walked towards Piccadilly and on the way we stopped at Legoland and M&Ms shop. Then had dinner in an Angus steakhouse in Leicester square, and to end the day, we had a look at the lit Piccadilly Circus.

We got back to the hotel, and honestly, I had not realised how close to the centre we actually were until I looked out of the window.

The next morning we woke up early and headed off to have breakfast on the go – actually the weather was super nice so we got ourselves some Nero coffee and sandwiches and ate them in front of Westminster’s Abby. As it was Sunday we could not visit the Abby, but we saw the scaffolded Big-Ben, and walked around the Houses of Parliament.

We went to visit the Monument to Emmeline Pankhurst because the youngest person in the group needed to be told about a period in history in which she would not have been as free as she is today.

After that, we crossed over the Thames, then moved on to the London Eye. Half of the group wanting to go up, the other half being not fans of heights, we divided and conquered – two of us went to the London Aquarium while the other three enjoyed their VIP ride in the London Eye. I know you are not surprised I picked the side with the sharks instead of going up.

This guy judged us, very hard:

After our riverbank separation, we regrouped and headed off towards the Natural History Museum where we first saw the Butterfly carp that was installed outside it – they were extremely pretty and beyond friendly, because we were landed on quite often.

When we had finished the walk, we stepped into the Natural History Museum itself to wander through the dinosaur area for a bit, and then around the animal collection.

We decided to head out to the restaurant to have a bite to eat, and as we were walking through the marine invertebrate area (the room with all the crabs and so on), there was a nice lady showing items. And that’s how I ended up holding a megalodon tooth and fanbying like there was no tomorrow. Don’t judge me. Or do so, I don’t care ☆⌒(ゝ。∂)

As they walked into the insect / general creepy-crawler gallery, I walked around the gallery that held “less impressive” fossils, including the ones discovered by Anne Manning. We had lunch in the NHM, then moved on.

A short underground ride later, we were at St James’s Park, where we took a bit of a walk towards Buckingham Palace. As the weather was nice, we got to see a lot of the local fauna, even the local swans.

We hung around for a while as we saw Buckingham Palace, then headed off back towards the airport. Although we had a couple-of-hours delay, we made it home without further complication.

9th & 10th June 2018: Wicked London (England, Great Britain)

This will be the last work-trip, at least for a while. I might change my mind later, but for now I’m done with them (although there’s an upcoming family trip rather soon…). Again, we flew in early Saturday morning, and we went to walk around the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge.

Then we went to the British Museum. I left them for a couple of hours there and I went to visit some of the lesser-seen galleries.

We had booked tickets for the musical “Wicked” in the Apollo Victoria Theatre at 14:30, so we headed over there. Wicked is a parallel story to “The Wizard of Oz”, focusing on the story of the Wicked Witch of the West, who becomes a social outcast due to her tendency to speak her mind and the strength of her magic. I had really wanted to watch this for a long time, so I used this chance and convinced the group to get there. I absolutely loved it ♥.

After the show, we dropped our things at the hotel. The group wanted to get some rest, so we stayed there for a while, then got out again. We took the underground towards London central and we were in Trafalgar Square for a while.

Then, we went to Chinatown for dinner.

Later, we walked around Piccadilly Circus, checking out some shops and so. We even stopped for cake.

On Sunday morning we went to Saint James’s Park, where we got to meet the local fauna, especially a very adventurous squirrel.

Then we dropped by Buckingham Palace. Although we did not watch the Guard Change, we did see one of the relief marches.

We walked from there to Westminster, saw the Houses of Parliament and the Big Ben, along the outside of Westminster Abby.

We visited the Monument to Emmeline Pankhurst and stayed for a while in the Victoria Tower Gardens.

As a final visit, we went to the Natural History Museum.

Finally, we headed off to the airport, and the icing of the cake was that we got caught in a controllers’ strike, so we had like a three-hour delay on our flight and it took forever to get home (;¬_¬). All in all, this was a very… strange trip, and without a doubt the highlight was going to see Wicked, which is something I had wanted to do for a long time, and gave me a couple of hours of enjoyment to myself.

27th March 2018: Turiasaurus riodevensis {Dinosaurs in Teruel, 2018}

In the morning we walked back to the Torre del Salvador because we had learnt that you could climb it up.

Inner structure of the tower + views of the city

Then we dropped by the Museo de Arte Sacro de Teruel (Christian Art Museum).

Former cloister with a glass roof

After having lunch we drove off to Riodeva to visit the Dinópolis mini-museum, called Titania. Riodeva is a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, but in the palaeontological site there scientists discovered the biggest European sauropod, the Turiasaurus riodevensis. It is believed that the Turiasaurus, which lived in the Jurassic period, could be almost 40 metres long and just under 50 tonnes.

The guide here was nice, but horribly misinformed, claiming unscientific facts – such as scientists believing that Megalodon still prowls the ocean, and I might have got into a small discussion with her. Don’t get me wrong, aside from being #TeamTRex, I love megs from the bottom of my heart, but there should be a limit on how many urban legends you can claim as true in an educational facility, and that limit is zero.

Turiasaurus fossil pieces + head reproduction; crocodile head; megalodon tooth

Finally we drove back to Teruel and the next day (28th) we were off home first thing in the morning as I had a medical appointment that had come up after the trip was booked.

26th March 2018: Dinosaur bones and Lover mummies {Dinosaurs in Teruel, 2018}

We got to Dinópolis so we could be there when they opened in hopes to ditch the families-with-kids crowds, but to our confusion, we were told that even if the park was open, the palaeontology museum would not be for another hour. Furthermore, the only option to see the museum was with a guided tour. We did not care much about the 3D cinema, but there was literally nothing else we could do until they opened the museum part. We spent the morning in the park. We had to watch the first film, and somehow ended up doing two rides (Viaje en el tiempo & Último Minuto) and a show (the T-rex one), but the big things we cared about were the museum and the so called “Tierra Magna”, where the 1:1 reproduction stand.

The museum has a direct view to the lab, and while it has very few original and unique exhibits, is really good and informative. The big problem was, in my opinion, that it was only guided-access and those stress me out. Why can’t I just roam to my heart’s content and have to listen to a poorly-trained guide? We somehow managed to ditch the tour when the second and third groups came in and a bunch of people mingled around.

A collage showing different fossils and replicas from Dinopolis

It was cold outside, so we only had a quick stroll around “Tierra Magna”. We had lunch and decided we were done. If I had to rate this, I’d say it is a decent palaeontology museum with a lot of kid-friendly stuff around it – the latter is completely skippable, too, but I guess it brings money.

Life-size reproductions of dinosaurs outside Dinópolis Teruel

In the afternoon we headed off to see the cathedral, Cathedral of Santa María de Mediavilla, but I did not manage to sneak a picture of the famous wooden ceilings.

Outside view of the Cathedral

Later, we had a reservation to see the Complex of the Lovers of Teruel, which included the Iglesia de San Pedro (Church of St. Peter), its cloister, and the gardens.

Nave in Saint Peter church

Cloister in Saint Peter Church

Finally we got to the Mausoleum, el Mausoleo de los Amantes. The story tells that she was a rich heiress and he was a poor man, so he left to gain riches. While he was away, she was given off to another man and married, and when he came back she could not be with him because she was loyal to her husband. He died of a broken heart after she refused him a kiss, and she died after kissing his dead body. The bodies of the lovers were buried together afterwards. The two mummified bodies were found in the church of St. Peter, and they were thought to be the lovers, so the tombs were sculpted – if you crouch, which by the way I didn’t, you can see the mummies through the marble. The tombs were designed so that the lovers’ hands are very close, but they don’t really touch, albeit their shadows superimpose, as if they did.

Mausoleum of the lovers - they lie next to each other, hands reaching for the other one, but only the shadows touch

After this, we walked around town for a while and found the third tower, the Torre del Salvador.

Salvador Tower

We finished the tourist day at the monumental Escalinata de Teruel (the Grand Staircase).

Monumental Staircase

As we walked back to the hotel, we saw a beautiful sunset.

Golden sunset

25th March 2018: Main roads that feel like secondary {Dinosaurs in Teruel, 2018}

We arrived in the Albarracín area after driving for about three hours. Some of the roads were horrid and I was secretly glad my offer to drive had been rejected. We arrived in Albarracín around 11:00 and our first stop was the first Dinópolis mini museum, called the Mar Nummus (Nummus Sea).

As this mountain range used to be sea bead (like 150 million years ago), a bunch of marine fossils can be found in the area. Dozens of ammonites fill up the museum, along with the skull of a Liopleurodon, a marine reptile of the order of the family Pliosauridae, quite obviously a carnivorous one judging by the teeth. As a matter of fact, it was the apex predator of the Middle and Late Jurassic oceans.

Mar Nummus building, featuring a life-size liopleurodon + the skull of the liopleurodon + a lot of ammonite fossils

The visit did not take long, and then we moved on to drive to the Mirador de la Escombrera (Slagheap Viewpoint, don’t ask me) to watch the pineforest Pinares de Rodeno. We decided against walking through the forest because the shortest route was a couple of hours already.

Sandstone cliffs + pine trees

Instead, we drove back to Albarracín and walked throughout the historical centre, a medieval nucleus of streets and houses dedicated to shops and restaurants catering to tourists.

Albarracín, a Medieval city in reddish tones. It is surrounded by a wall

We had lunch, then drove the short 40 minutes to Teruel, where we found our hotel. After dropping our things off, we walked to the centre of the town – which was barely a ten-minute stroll away. Carlos Castel Square is widely known as the “little bull square”, Plaza del Torico.

Teruel is known, aside from dinosaurs, from its Mudéjar style buildings, such as the Towers or the Cathedral. Mudéjar style was used by Iberian Christians between the 13th and 15th Century. It incorporates motifs, decorative elements and construction techniques that were common in Muslim Al-Andalus (such as archways, porcelains, bricks, and so on…). On the first day we saw two of the Towers: Torre de San Pedro (left) and Torre de San Martín (right).

Mudéjar Towers

The second architectural characteristic of Teruel are the Modernist houses, built in the 1910s, such as the ones in the Plaza del Torico – Casa La Madrileña (left) and Casa del Torico (right).

Plaza del Torico: a little bull standing on top of a column. Behind it stand two Modernist Houses at dusk

After this we had dinner and we headed back to the hotel.

11th March 2018: An old-fashioned museum and a strike in Madrid (Spain)

I was looking at a work-related trip and wanted to use up Sunday morning to visit “a couple” of museums, then meet some relatives for lunch. Unfortunately, I was caught in the middle of a public transportation strike, so in the end I had to walk for a long while instead of doing what I wanted! Anyway, what I managed to do was getting to the Museo Geominero Nacional, the “Geomineral Museum” in Madrid. It is located in the headquarters of the Geological and Mining Institute of Spain, in a classical-looking building finished in 1925. It was designed by Franciso Javier de Luue. It is a classical-looking museum with wooden cases and an impressive stained glass ceiling, comprised by a central room and three surrounding balconies.

The access is through a marble staircase and the first corridor is already packed with display cases, even before you get to the main area. These cases show small and not-so-small fossils and replicas, displaying the first taste of the evolution of life on earth.

Once in the main room, most of the floor is taken up by the standing cases holding minerals, fossils and meteorites.

In the centre of the room lie the remains of a mastodon, located in the area of Ciudad Real in the 20th century, one of the crown jewels of the museum.

Of course I have been able to locate the collection of megalodon and shark teeth that are on display on the balcony.

Other displays on the upper floors include Spanish mountain goats, cave bears, and a human-evolution collection. Unfortunately, those did not photograph well due to the sun reflection.

And finally, my favourite piece of the collection is the Tyrannosaurus rex skull replica that presides the museum for the second floor.

When I came out, public transport was not running any more, so I had to walk through the Madrid backstreets until I got to the area where we had arranged to meet, and we went to a restaurant called El Escarpín, where I had an awesome pan of… wait for it… gratin meatballs with molten cheese on a bed of potatoes (Albóndigas gratinadas con queso de tetilla sobre cama de patatas). Amazing! Either that, or I was really ravenous after my hour and a half walking. Serves me right for not keeping up with the news! I learnt my lesson!

14th – 16th October 2017: Vienna, Austria

14th October 2017: Arrival and the Inner ring: Butterflies and Dinosaurs

Between flight and transfer to the city on Saturday morning, I arrived in the city of Vienna at 1pm. As my hotel was between the station and the city centre, I took my chances for an early check in and I was lucky – it was. After dropping my luggage I headed off to walk around Vienna’s Inner Ring, the Ringstrasse, which is a big boulevard that runs around all the old city of Vienna (UNESCO Heritage Site). A bunch of things were on my way and it seemed easy enough to find one’s way around. My hotel was located in a building close to a park, and had three floors, on the 11th, 12th and 13th floors of a building, which gave me some views of the city.

On Saturday the plan was wandering around, but as I am who I am I ended up improvising. My first stop was the outer Vienna State Opera, the Wiener Staatsoper, where a young man dressed as Mozart tried to sell me tickets for a show.

I continued on my walk and I saw the Albertina, a modern art museum, but I was actually heading to the Imperial Palace greenhouse, which is the home of a café and the Schmetterlinghaus, or Imperial Butterfly House. This is an area of the greenhouse where a bunch of butterflies are free to fly around and feed on a bunch of flowers, plants and pieces of apple. I was lucky enough to catch a few good shoots and I was very happy to have decided to go in (albeit I have to say that I was really keen on going there since I had seen that it existed). I really had a blast and enjoyed this, so it was a must that I don’t regret having missed, especially since the 6.50€ for the ticket. I spent around forty minutes in there chasing butterflies.

Then I saw the Austrian National Library, the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek.

After that I back I walked through the Hofburg Palace, Hofburg Wien, and the Michaelerplatz or Saint Michael Square.

After that I crossed the palace in the opposite direction and ended up at the Heldenplatz, which gave way to Naturhistorisches Museum, the Natural History Museum to see dinosaurs, because there were dinosaurs, which is the home of the Venus von Willendorf, a tiny statue of stone dated back 29,500 years. The museum also holds a collection of minerals, meteorites, preserved animals, dinosaurs, an animatronics dinosaur and a multitude of artefacts from Prehistory to the Middle Ages. I also saw the same dunkleosteus that they have in the Tokyo Kokuritsu Kagaku Hakubutsukan. Have I mentioned dinosaur animatronics?

Following the museum I continued down the Ring boulevard and it did not take me long to stumble up the Pallas Athene Brunnen (Monument to Palas Athena) and the Austrian Parliament Building, Parlamentsgebäude. The latter was under reconstruction.

I continued my walk until I found the Vienna Town hall, called the Rathaus, where there was a kind of Videogame trade fair or something going on.

Then I went on walking towards the university and the church of Votivkirche, a neo-gothic building next to the university.

Afterwards I went down to the hotel because this is not summer vacations after all, just a weekend escapade and I seriously did not have that much energy. On my way I walked past the stables of the Spanische Hofreitschule (Spanish Riding School) stables and I saw some pretty horses.

And even from the hotel (literally from bed), as my room had views, I could take some pictures of the sunset and the lit buildings. And then I went to sleep at a horribly early hour because I was beat and for some reason I managed over 8 hours of sleep.

15th October 2017: Palaces, churches and the Cinema

Because my hotel was **** for a change (I have to say that when I think about the whole weekend the word “decadent” is what comes to mind), I had a kettle and instant coffee ready for me – this was my breakfast. After that I did the online for my flight the following day and of course running into technical difficulties, and I left the hotel at around 9:30, which was a bit later than I had intended.

I was coming up to the Belvedere Palace, and on my way there I took a diversion to see the Karlskirche or Karlskirche (St. Charles’ Church), which I could see from my hotel and illuminated at night. This is a baroque church that sometimes holds classical music concerts.

After taking a wrong turn once or twice this I headed out to my original target, the Schloss Belvedere (Upper Belvedere Palace). This is a Baroque Palace (seriously, Vienna is full of Baroque) that has been turned into a painting gallery. The most famous author in this gallery is Klint, but if I have to be honest, I’m not too appreciative of him – must be my likings for the realists. In the end, I liked the palace itself better than the painting collection, specially the reception room and the staircase.

As I had bought a three-combo ticket including Upper and Lower Belvedere and the Winter Palace, I walked down the Belvedere Gardens to the Unteres Belvedere (Lower Belvedere), which holds the “Medieval Treasure” and temporal exhibitions. The best thing was the gold and mirror room and the marble gallery.

Then I headed off to the centre of the city to see the Winterpalais des Prinzen Eugen (Winter Palace of Prince Eugene), which was not the best thing ever but hey it came within the three-museum combo.

Then I headed off to Domkirche St. Stephan (St. Stephen’s Cathedral), which is the gothic Catholic cathedral. It is not Baroque but Gothic. The entrance was free, but it also had a paid area, including the catacombs. Unfortunately I was too late for the current tour and too early for the following one, so I decided not to stick around, else I would have got the combo for the catacombs, the tower and the treasure.

As it was, I saw the cathedral and then headed off down different streets and saw the outer area of Katholische Kirche St. Peter (Catholic Church of St. Peter).

And then headed out to the Michaelerplatz to check the inside of the Michaelskirche (Catholic Church of St. Michael).

I checked the Spanische Hofreitschule (Spanish Riding School) for tour tickets, but I was late for that and it was all sold out, so I decided to go to the station and buy some food in the supermarket for both lunch and dinner. On the way I crossed the Stadtpark to see the floral clock and the Johann Strauss monument – Johann Strauß Denkmal.

Finally, I headed off to get some rest at the hotel, and have a shower. At 18:15 I walked down to the cinema at the corner of my hotel building, the Gartenbaukino, because in the end that was the reason I was there – to attend the Austrian premiere of the X JAPAN documentary We are X as Yoshiki was going to be around for a Q&A session afterwards.

There had been a small mix-up with the ticket numbering (all of them had been printed out with the same seating number!), which was solved efficiently. We watched the documentary We are X and then there was a Q&A with Yoshiki himself. There were emotional moments as the fans thanked him for everything he had done and for his music.

After the Q&A some of us stayed talking at the cinema gate and the manager, who had solved the ticket problem, came out to close – and he told us where Yoshiki would be leaving from. And that’s… the story of how I got to talk to Yoshiki, I got his autograph and took a picture with him and I will never, ever, ever forget the rush of that.

I have to say I did not sleep much that night. All the excitement caught up with me and I kept replaying the scene in my head over and over again. in the end I think it was around 2:30 that I could turn the lights off.

16th October 2017: Airport Monday morning

After checking out of the hotel I walked back to the train station and took the CAT towards the airport. I had taken an earlier train than I had already planned and boy was I glad to do so when following arrows at the airport took me as much as 20 minutes. Something I learnt in this trip is how friendly Austrian people are, and that they have a great sense of humour, as apparently one of their star souvenirs is “no kangaroos in Austria”. The return flight was not as good as the first, but it was on time and I could arrive to work smoothly for a crazy week.

Note: There is a longer commentary of the We are X / Q&A event over at
SemiRandom

16th September 2016: Some Madrid (Spain) Museums

I woke up one morning, a silly weekday that I did not have to work for some reason and I decided to wander off and take a day trip to Madrid to see some museums, just because I could.

My first stop was the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, the museum of natural science. The museum is divided into several buildings. The first building holds the “Biodiversity” collection. This includes preserved specimens – in better or worse shape, mostly stuffed, and some skeletons.

Then I walked over to the palaeontology and mineral museum, where at the moment most of the collection is composed of replica, sometimes it feels that you see the same diplodocus or arsinoitherium (two-horned rhino) skull everywhere. Of course, however, I hunted down every megalodon tooth on site and sight.

After this, I walked around the mineral collection and walked down Castellana Avenue until Colón Square, where I had lunch somewhere before I walked around to see the Museo Arqueológico Nacional – National Archaeological Museum. There were a few things that interested me there.

My first goal was to study the Iberian stelæ . Nobody really knows what they are or what their meaning is, but it is thought that they were funerary monuments, maybe of fallen warriors.

An interesting thing to see in this museum is the sculpture of La Dama de Elche, the Lady of Elche, the limestone bust of an Iberian lady dated back to the 4th century BC. It is supposed to be a woman who belonged to the aristocracy that was later revered as a goddess, or maybe a reinterpretation of the Goddess Tanit of Cathage. The back part has an opening, which suggests that it could have been a funerary urn. It was originally polychromated, but it has lost its colours. I really like her expression, and probably due to the Hellenistic influence. I have a thing for Greek sculpture, after all.

A second “lady”, the Dama de Baza (Lady of Baza), stands next to the first. This one still keeps some of its colours. This one is full-body, also carved out of limestone, and it traces back to the fourth century too. This lady seems to have been designed in pure Iberian style, without Hellenistic influences.

The last key pieces of Iberian sculpture in this museum are the verracos – sort-of headless boars, pigs or bulls (depending on the interpretation), but it is commonly accepted that they are symbols of protection of cattle routes. Most of them are… visibly male.

Once I had seen what I really wanted to see I wandered over the rest of the museum, stumbling upon the currency exhibition, which was strangely interesting.

I walked past the Medieval rooms and then I found the Egyptian area, which is humble, but has some interesting things like the X-rays of a mummified falcon. Finally, I checked out the classical Greek area before calling it a day and making it back home.

12th July 2016: 海のハーンター! (Hunters of the Sea) {Japan, summer 2016} {Japan, summer 2016}

First thing in the morning… I slept in because I was beat, but second, I went to pick up my JRPass, really hoping to compensate it since this time it is for 14 days. The JR Pass allows for unlimited travel in most JRLines. I wanted to get it and activate it, but I realised that I felt better activating it the following day to have some more margin after my long trip (more on that another day).

The JRPass lady complimented my Japanese and asked me where I studied Japanese. I think this was the first time someone made small talk with me aside from friends (^ν^). It felt good to be able to do that, especially as I was not feeling too encouraged at school.

Anyway. I was in Ueno [上野] and the Kokuritsu Kagaku Hakubutsukan [国立科学博物館], Tokyo’s National Museum of Nature and Science, was running the temporal exhibition called ‘Umi no Hunters’ [海のハーンター] (Hunters of the Sea) Would you have doubted me heading there head first? No? Thought so (^_^)☆

So there I went <・ )))><<, and I had a lot of fun. The first part was a small introductory video and a very cool evolution chart of different predatory species in the ocean. The second focuses on ‘predators of the past’, making mentions of the Dunkleosteous (and I was so happy that they had put the huge Dunkan head they’ve got before a light background for good pictures. Then they had a few fossils, including a very curious double-predation one (both fish killed each other in the process and were fossilised that way). I could already peer above me one of the most exciting things of the exhibition, the model of the Megalodon. And boy, it was great. The only problem was that it was hanging from the ceiling with very bad angle to be caught in pictures. I tried. Repeatedly.

Then they had the whole set of teeth, which of course would not belong to the same shark, but one can dream (^◇^;) And yeah, there were other birds and stuff, but Megalodon! And teeth!

Then the exhibition moved onto present day animals. I get the feeling that they just brought together every taxidermy they had lying around that could be related to the sea. Some were much better done than others, truth be told. They divided the stands in the different areas – deep sea, open sea, shallow area.

One of the things that surprised me the most was the size of the sea elephant. I have to own up that for a few second I did not know if it was real or just something that someone had put there to troll visitors and I had this urge to pat it to check whether that was real hair, but of course I could not do that. The young women minding the exhibition would have gotten a heart attack or twenty. So I was nice and respectful – and really if I have to get deported from Japan, I think it would not be for patting a giant seal. Nor for stealing one of the Megalodon teeth they had at the exhibition and that I really, really wanted.

The coolest thing, of course, because I am not going to hide that I am horribly biased were the sharks. I was so taken with them that at first I did not realise what was closing the the tour.

I was going to need a bigger camera.

They had a preserved Great White Shark (ホホシロサメ)which you could not see in its great splendour because someone had not thought too well about the tank and the preserving liquid but… Did I mention Great White Shark?? Apparently it was washed ashore dead in 2014 and had taken this long to get it preserved. There was a video explaining about the process (as a matter of fact, there were several videos throughout the exhibition, sorry I got shark-ried away.

After this the plan was to get ramen in Ueno station, but there was a huge line and I did not think I had the time to brave it. However I still had time so I decided to wander around and head off to Ikebukuro [池袋] where, guess what? Got the wrong exit. As always. But made it back to school with plenty of time.

20th August 2015: Still life, moving life {Japan, summer 2015}

As predicted, the 20th dawned rainy and not too inviting, so I headed off to Ueno Park to visit one of the many museums there. I heard that the collection of the Kokuritsu Kagaku Hakubutsukan [国立科学博物館], Tokyo’s National Museum of Nature and Science had been renewed and I wanted to have a look. In the end, not much had changed, but I still had a fairly good time, because I am a geek like that. There were about three million primary school classes there, though, and a few high school ones, which was a bit annoying – and loud – but nothing too bad.

Some of the wards mix science with mythology and culture, for example the earthquake science area has an ukiyo-e of the god Suzano keeping Namazu, the giant catfish which causes earthquakes, still. As much as the bio area is cool, I think my favourite part of this museum is the fossils collection – which is scattered in different wards in what I assume has some logic but I am yet to find it. I am particularly taken by the Dunkleosteous glass panel, and of course (insert everyone who knows me going ‘duh’ here) the Megalodon teeth.

But kinda a lot of things are cool. Like dinosaur fossils. Which make you giggle when you’ve recently watched Jurassic World. There is a plesiosaur (which, by the way, is not a dinosaur). What is a dinosaur is, of course, the T-rex (#TeamTRex) – completely irrelevant information: it is a cast of Scotty, the largest T-Rex ever found.

After finishing in Ueno and getting into the wrong station – of course, that must happen at least once when I am in Japan, I headed off to Tokyo Skytree [東京スカイツリー] in Sumida [墨田] just because I could.

I did not want to climb it up, but there was something there that had been on my to-see list, Sumida Suizokukan [すみだ水族館], Sumida Aquarium. Apparently there is a tacit agreement among Japanese aquariums so each one has a super cool thing that only they’ve got. So they are like pokemon, you gotta see them all if you wanna catch all the cool things. In this case I was aiming for the giant isopods. But of course, I never say no to sharks, even with annoying kids screwing up the pictures.

And then there was sushi, and that was goooood.

… Maybe I should have titled this post “fish in every form”?

21st June 2013: Ueno and Ebisu {Japan, summer 2013}

As last year, 2013 visiting started on Ueno Kōen [上野公園], as it is an easy-enough place to reach and has a few museums that offer indoors entertainment. It was raining cats and dogs, which should have made me cranky. Nevertheless I was paroling around with this stupid grin on my face as the general tourists bitched about weather XD

You might remember Hanazono Inari Jinja [花園稲荷神社] from last year:

Unfortunately the Sakurazukamori was nowhere to be found again – although I have to admit that the atmosphere changes quite a bit in the rain. Thus, I headed into the Kokuritsu Kagaku Hakubutsukan [国立科学博物館], Tokyo’s National Museum of Nature and Science, after being thoroughly confused by the Japanese arrow system once again.

The museum has two buildings, and an impressive collection of preserved animals, along with a very cool evolutionary tree, a collection of dinosaur fossils, an exhibition on human evolution and some repeated casts that they hope really hard nobody notices.

The animal life exhibition gave me a glimpse of how biased I can actually be, as I rather felt like “monkey, cat, human… FISHY =D”. Most of my pictures are sea-life related XD

Like ever other Science Museum there was Foucault pendulum hidden in a corner:

And the last exhibition was about methods of science, units, and had an amazing periodic table with samples. Whomever designed the exhibition deserves a lot of kudos.

Later I headed to Ebisu [恵比寿] where D****e and I were meeting with some of her Japanese friends for drink and food. All in good fun. It was raining when I checked out Ebisu Garden Place [恵比寿ガーデンプレイスタワー], so I could sympathise with MatsuJun’s mysery XD”