Monday, 6 March 2017

Madrid by train

In February we did a trip to Madrid. One of the reasons for doing it was that Rafael really wanted to go on the AVE, or Spanish high speed train. I booked tickets in advance to get a good deal, also a hotel in the city. Leaving at nine in the morning we were in Madrid by ten thirty-five.

The train goes up to 300km/hour on some parts of the journey!
Then we had to find the hotel-a couple of stops on the underground, up the Gran Vía and there it was: Hotel Senator.
It was very nice and comfortable. Having dropped off our bag we headed off to our first destination, El Museo del Romanticismo. Through less salubrious areas, it took us a while to find. 
This is the outside

Here are some pictures of the inside

I enjoyed seeing the dresses displayed close enough to examine fairly well.

When that was over we ate. in the afternoon we went to an exhibition of the Dutch artist Escher. It was very expensive compared to the national museums.

Walking around in Madrid 
Apparently the view from the top is great, but it's closed for repairs.

One of the great Modernist buildings in the Gran Vía

a refreshing cup the Plaza Mayor

Yes, there are some giant legs coming out of the window!

The English College for  18th century Jesuits, I think.

On Saturday we went to the Archaeological Museum. It was really well arranged; all the national stuff in chronological  order from pre-history to the latest. From bones and stones to amazing and exquisite jewellery. We saw the famous Dama de Elche, whose real purpose they don't know. surprisingly, she wasn't absolutely unique. The have one full-body lady and another bust, but they are not quite as elegant as this one. 
 Roman mosaics

Gold! Lots of it!

Coins, jewellery, bright, shiny gold!
That was just about it. We were tired and footsore by the time we got to the station and took the Ave back to Zaragoza.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Sunday, 5 February 2017

A royal surprise!

One of my friends works in a cake shop in the Calle Mayor (High Street) in Jaca. Yesterday she posted a message to our Wassapp group: "The king and queen and their girls have just been in my shop!" They were looking for coffee, which they couldn't get there. Later someone from a bar at the other end of the street posted a couple of photos.
Not very good, but personal! The bar is called Las Tres Ranas, and they were taken by surprise! 

The monarchs chose a bad time to come; the weather has been horrible. It rained in Jaca all weekend, and as I left for Zaragoza this afternoon it was starting to snow; silly soft stuff but real snow. 
Apparently they spent the morning skiing in Astún. This is a link to the regional newspaper's photo-gallery. i hope they managed to ski as well as posing for photos!

Sunday, 29 January 2017

San Miguel de los Navarros

One of my favourite sights in Zaragoza is the tower of the parish church of San Miguel de los Navarros. It's Mudejar with a funny wrought iron construction on the top for the bells. It's called "The Bell of the Lost" and has a story. The old city wall ran just close to the church. Outside the wall the river Huerva made the land dank and misty. Zaragoza is often dank and foggy. People used to work out there and in the 16th century some got lost in the dark and died of exposure. Finally they instigated ringing the bell from dusk to night so people could find the way back to safety.
This is an old photo of the church with the city gate (Puerta del Duque) just next to it.

Yesterday we went to a family Christening in the church and were really impressed by the retable, a very fine Renaissance piece made by Damian Forment and started in 1519. 

This photo shows the whole thing, but you can't see the details, and that's what is interesting. You can't say scenes from the life of an Archangel, but scenes from the stories....we spent some time trying to work them out.
Michael and the devil contending for the body of Moses
 Why is it St Michael of the "Navarros"? This goes back to the time of king Alfonso I "The Battler" and the taking of the city from the Moors; legend has it that the Archangel fought on the side of the Navarran troops and tipped the balance in their favour. There are records of the church from the 12th century.

Saturday, 12 November 2016


 The village of Villanovilla in the Garcipollera valley has been almost entirely rebuilt. I think it was abandoned in the 50s with the forestation programme. It now consists of a handful of rather attractive stone-built houses, well-made streets and at least one rather scabby yard, as you can see below.
 The cats surprised me. In this photo you can just about see four ginger ones and a ginger and white one. I saw at least one more ginger puss elsewhere, as well. Is this common? This link will show some of the houses.
A note about ginger cats:
 The ‘ginger gene’ which produces the orange colour is on the X chromosome. Females have two X chromosomes and so need two copies of this gene to become ginger, whereas males need only one. This means there are roughly three males to one female ginger cats. Ginger toms father tortoiseshell or ginger females. If both parents are ginger, then all their kittens will be ginger too.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Search for a tower

One of the turnings on the road to Pamplona, Berdún, San Juan de la Peña is for the little village of Atarés. We didn't go to the village on our Sunday afternoon outing, we stopped just after the junction and headed up the footpath. When I say up, the path really was very steep in places, but we made it through the wooded hillside to the tower.

As you can see it's a total ruin, surrounded by oaks. They can't have been there in the 16th century when it was built or it would have been useless as a defence or for watching the Aragón valley from.
Anyway, it was a nice, short walk. When we got back to the car we picked a few blackberries; this year's crop is poor because it's still so dry.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Day trip to France

Although I've been living in Jaca for 20 years, it's always something a bit special to go to France for the day. It's 30 minutes by car to the border; there aren't usually any border controls, but I always take my passport-being British I don't have a resident's card any more. Perhaps when we do the Brexit thingy I'll  be given one again.
Anyway, our usual destination is Oloron Sainte-Marie, but this time our destination was Orthez, which is a bit further away; in fact the drive was two hours in total. Roads in the south of France are rather pretty and not terribly good in general. There is a great road in Spain from Jaca to Canfranc, then you drive 8 km through the Somport tunnel-5 km in Spain and 3 in France. It means you don't have to go over the mountain pass, but you can't avoid the drastic descent on the narrow roads that follow the Gave d'Aspe. Well it wasn't bad as we know that bit. Arriving in Oloron Sainte-Marie we turned left and drove along quite narrow rural roads until we finally arrived at our destination of Ortez.
Here's a screenshot of a Google map with the route we took marked in blue. It's only 121 km but the road is "picturesque" (wiggly).
Also picturesque is the town of Orthez itself. The French seem to be better at street flowers than the Spanish, and that always helps. We parked just outside the town and crossed over the river; one of the first things we saw was the beautiful medieval bridge. 

Then there was this tower; it's all that's left of a rather good castle.

This is what Wikipedia says: 


The Gave de Pau is crossed at this point by a 14th-century bridge which has four arches and is surmounted at its centre by a tower. Several old houses, and a church of the 12th, 14th and 15th centuries are of some interest, but the most remarkable building is the Tour Moncade, a pentagonal tower of the 13th century, once the keep of a castle of the viscounts of Béarn, and now used as a meteorological observatory. A building of the 17th century is all that remains of the old Calvinist university. The town hall is a modern building containing the library.


The spinning and weaving of hemp and flax, especially of the fabric called toile de Béarn, flour-milling, the manufacture of paper and of leather, and the preparation of hams known as jambons de Bayonne and of other delicacies are among its industries. There are quarries of stone and marble in the neighborhood, and the town has a thriving trade in leather, hams and lime.


During the 12th century, Orthez was the capital of Béarn, after Morlaàs and before Pau which is still the prefectural administrative capital. At the end of the 12th century, Orthez passed from the possession of the viscounts of Dax to that of the viscounts of Bearn, whose chief place of residence it became in the 13th century. Froissart records the splendour of the court of Orthez under Gaston Phoebus in the latter half of the 14th century. Jeanne d'Albret founded a Calvinist university in the town and Theodore Beza taught there for some time. An envoy sent in 1569 by Charles IX to revive the Catholic faith had to stand a siege in Orthez (battle of Orthez) which was eventually taken by assault by the Protestant/Huguenot captain, Gabriel, count of Montgomery. In 1684 Nicholas Foucault, intendant under Louis XIV, was more successful, as the inhabitants, ostensibly at least, renounced Protestantism, which is nevertheless still strong in the town. Another battle of Orthez occurred during the Napoleonic Wars on February 27, 1814 in which the Duke of Wellington defeated Marshal Soult on the hills to the north of Orthez. More recently, Gaston Planté, the French physicist, was born here on the 22 April 1834, his major claim to fame was the invention in 1859 of the lead-acid battery, the common car battery.

One of the main reasons we went to Orthez was to see the Musée Jeanne d'Albret. It is in a rather nice old house with formal gardens in the back. It's also called the museum of Bearnais Protestantism. You can see from the Wikipedia history that there were a lot of religious conflicts. People nowadays can't imagine how much some suffered. Here's what Wikipedia says about Jeanne:

Jeanne d'Albret; 16 November 1528 – 9 June 1572), also known as Jeanne III or Joan III, was the queen regnant of Navarre from 1555 to 1572. She married Antoine de BourbonDuke of Vendôme, and was the mother of Henry of Bourbon, who became King Henry III of Navarre and IV of France, the first Bourbon king of France. She became the Duchess of Vendôme by marriage.
She was the acknowledged spiritual and political leader of the French Huguenot movement, and a key figure in the French Wars of Religion
Reading on in her history, it seems she converted to Calvinism and declared it to be the official religion of her kingdom (Navarre) in 1560. She was the highest ranking protestant in France and resisted all sorts of threats from the Pope and the Inquisition to renounce, supported or at least didn't resist the Huguenots. Her son, Henri was willing to renounce his protestantism in order to become king of France. However, he signed the Edict of Nantes. 
The Edict of Nantes (Frenchédit de Nantes), signed probably on 30 April 1598 by King Henry IV of France, granted the Calvinist Protestants of France (also known as Huguenots) substantial rights in the nation, which was still considered essentially Catholic at the time. In the edict, Henry aimed primarily to promote civil unity. The edict separated civil from religious unity, treated some Protestants for the first time as more than mere schismatics and heretics, and opened a path for secularism and tolerance. In offering general freedom of conscience to individuals, the edict offered many specific concessions to the Protestants, such as amnesty and the reinstatement of their civil rights, including the right to work in any field or for the state and to bring grievances directly to the king. It marked the end of the religious wars that had afflicted France during the second half of the 16th century.
This edict stood until the time of Louis XIV, Jeanne's great-grandson when it was revoked and persecution of "heretics" was resumed. 
There is a display in the museum of the "Church in the Wilderness"
Once again from Wikipedia:
Emerging from the Reformation in the 16th century, the reformed Churches in France were organised independently and, by force of circumstance, clandestinely. The first national synod of the Reformed Churches was held in 1559; their first formal confession of faith (the Confession of La Rochelle) was composed in 1571. Recognised but restricted by the Edict of Nantes in 1598, the last official synod met in 1659; subsequently, the churches were suppressed in France by the Edict of Fontainebleau of 1685, which revoked the Edict of Nantes.
The revocation of the Edict of Nantes began a period of systematic state persecution known as in French as the Désert (wilderness), an allusion to the sufferings of the Hebrews when they wandered in the wilderness following the flight from Egypt. This was associated with mass emigration to other European countries, North America, and South Africa (les pays de Refuge). In 1787, the Edict of Versailles, issued by Louis XVI of France, ended most legal discrimination against non-Roman Catholics – including Huguenots. In 1802, the church was recognised in accordance with the Organic Articles (les Articles organiques) which followed Napoleon Bonaparte's concordat with the Roman Catholic Church. This permitted a local and non-national organisation of the church, which did not reflect its traditional organisation (synods, participation of lay members in the pastoral organisation of the Church, etc.)
In other words, systematic persecution of protestants from 1685 until 1787. They met in secret, exchanging tokens to identify themselves, made Bibles so small they could be hidden in a woman's hair. If caught, men could be sent to row in galleys and women were imprisoned.

That's all the history. Anyway, it was a lovely day out. Orthez is a beautiful town.

We found a "batcave"

near a rather nice old house.