We love Italy, that amazing country surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, home of the Occidental culture, a land of art and gastronomy. Italy is a synonym of good wine, better music and lots of romanticism. And the best part of it is that we are quite close to such a paradise. So there was no better way to celebrate Dídac’s birthday last summer than a short break to Tuscany.
Despite our trip mainly took place between Pisa and Firenze, we decided to rent a car in Pisa to spend a day driving (without map and without GPS!) to discover some hotspots in the region. In our plan we had two must stops: San Gimignano and Siena, but we still had time to end our day with a nice dinner in Monteriggioni.
There is one day in Catalonia that everyone agrees it is the best day of the year. Sant Jordi’s (Saint George) day (23rd of April) is maybe the most international celebration that Catalans have. All the country has a special atmosphere. In this day we commemorate Sant Jordi’s legend giving away roses and books. Sant Jordi is the Catalan Valentine’s day.
Once upon a time in the small village of Montblanc people were living with fear. In the near mountains there was a dragon and for many years it was devouring people and destroying houses and yards with its fire. One day the King decided that the only solution was to make the dragon stop feeling hungry by giving to him one person each day. This person had to be chosen at random. The coincidence made that the first person to be chosen was his daughter, the princess. Everyone in the village was sad because they loved their princess but the King, faithful to his decision, brought her daughter to the dragon cave. The sob of the princess, alone in front of the dragon, stopped when a knight came with a white horse and nailed the spear in the dragon. He killed the dragon and saved the princess. His name was Jordi. The King, thankful to the knight, decided to offer his daughter for marriage. But Jordi didn’t accept and left. There, where the dragon was killed, the blood leaked out into the soil making a rosebush to grow with the reddest roses in the world.
Since then, the tradition is that the man gives away one rose to the beloved woman and the woman gives away one book to the beloved man. (Giving away books was added to the tradition in the 30s). Nowadays many men buy also a book for their beloved women but men still don’t receive a rose.
This is the excuse to make the biggest day of the year. The streets are crowded with people searching for the best rose or the best book among hundreds of stands in the street. Cultural performances and contribution from all the Catalan society can be found everywhere in different manners. We have tried to catch the atmosphere and feelings of Sant Jordi’s day in the Catalan’s capital: Barcelona.
Some days ago we had the opportunity to visit Siurana during our Easter break. Siurana (also called Siurana de Prades) is a nice village located in the municipality of Cornudella de Montsant, in the Tarragona province. It is part of the Priorat region, the land that produces the well-known wine that is traded from Catalonia to the world.
We had always seen Siurana in photos: that fantasy village located at the top of a cliff (more than 700 metres high), with amazing views to the Montsant mountains, a place highly visited by rock climbers. So we couldn’t wait to plan a visit to the village and its region. You will also see a water reservoir placed at Siurana’s feet where you can practise some aquatic activities.
Nowadays, you will see that the Romanesque church of Santa Maria de Siurana stands out in the skyline. However, Siurana was the last Moorish bastion in Catalonia, and they say that knights of four counties were needed to conquer the village. In view of its incredible location, it’s easy to understand why.
Ferran El Valent (Ferdinand, The Brave) was having a rest under a Cork Oak. It was August in the old Castile, and Ferran had to stop in the midday in the only shadow he found before crossing towards the Kingdom of Portugal. A piece of cheese, a slice of bread and some wine, this was his lunch before falling sleep.
Coming from the capital of the County of Barcelona, part of the Aragon Kingdom, Ferran was looking for new adventures. He heard of a recent land discovery. It was the beginning of XVI century and America had been just discovered by Cristopher Colombus some years before. He had tried to board on a ship in Barcelona, but he was rejected. He had tried the same in Cádiz, in the southern part of the Kingdom of Castile, and the same result was found. He was lame. His disability made him to be one of the best horse riders in the Peninsula because the horse was like a natural extension of his body. However, this was not enough to join a ship towards America. His faith: to cross the Atlantic at the Kingdom of Portugal orders.
Six o’clock in the afternoon. Ferran took his hat, tied off his horse from the Cork Oak tree and started the last part of the journey towards Portugal. More than 40ºC under a yellow, almost orange, sun and riding to the west. Alone. A hope. A new Kingdom for him. Elvas was his first stop in Portugal.
We arrived at our hotel in a cold night of January after an intensive day visiting Brussels. We were staying in the city only for the weekend but the Belgian charm had taken us and we wanted to see a bit more of the country before leaving. Our flight departed the following day in the afternoon, so we had sufficient time to go somewhere from Brussels. We thought about potential destinations and found out that Antwerp was quite well connected with the Zaventem airport. We had not planned to visit Antwerp in that trip, but Google told us that there were certain hotspots there. So the next day, under a light morning snow, we walked to the train station and bought our tickets to Antwerp, where we arrived shortly.
We did not even have to leave the train station to get impressed by Antwerp. We found so much beauty inside Antwerpen-Centraal, the main railway station in the city, built between 1895 and 1905 and mostly designed by the Bruges architect Louis Delacenserie. After our visit we knew that Antwerpen-Centraal was regarded as one of the most beautiful train stations in the world. And we got there by chance!