Viva la vida, and then dance me to the end ….

‘Viva la vida’

 First we ruled the world, we lived life. We were probably the oldest people there, but it was good, it was fast and rocking at the speed of sound, the clocks stood still for a while and Chris and the boys gave as life in technicolor for one evening; it was paradise.

It was a long and warm September evening, the venue was Rhein Energy stadium in Köln and it was full, so full. From the stands we were watching and they, the band, did not freeze. They rocked. They jumped and danced. They sang.

Each and every person in the stadium had an armband like this which was controlled by radio frequency and integrated with the digital choreography; stunning effect

The stadium was full of energy and the technicolor armbands handed out at the entrance were all responding in syncronisation on the radio frequency orders transmitted to them by the show engineers. Flashing, multicolored armbands strapped to each person’s wrist became part of the choreography and was responsible for a spectacle of note.

The previous rock show of this magnitude I saw was U2’s 360° tour in Soccer City, South Africa and its understandable that the likes of these giants such as Coldplay and U2 can put together spectacular productions which include the full Monty of digital effects and no limits on volume control. We were on the stand a full soccer pitch away from the main action, and still the youngsters in front of us attended a rock show with earplugs deeply squeezed into there ears. Sissies!

As can be expected from German organisers, I was mightily impressed by logistical ease of getting to and from the stadium, with plenty of extra trams scheduled, the easy entrance into the stadium and the many food- and drink stalls serving the thirsty rockers. However, what I cannot understand living in the so-called first world is how far behind they are to South Africa on a health and consideration-for-other-people issue such as no-smoking rules in public areas and in presence of children. This is one really important area of community enhancement where most of Europe are still years behind South Africa.

‘The maestro says its Mozart, but it sounds like bubblegum ….’

And then, two days later, we were probably the youngest groupies at Hockeypark, Mönchengladbach for another brilliant show, but this time at completely different pace, to nostalgically get carried away by that master Leonard Cohen. Leonard was born 78 years ago in 1934 but he still gives a performance (including a singing voice of unmatched caliber), which is remarkable, and adding the timelessness of his music, it made for a perfect nostalgic outing for Heleen and me.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Leonard and believe that the poetry in his lyrics is already worth raving about, and then he adds his voice. This was proved to be correct at this show too. Many of the people around us were not English speakers at all, but from the singing and pure joy it was evident that they all new every word of every song Leonard performed. I was taken back to Heleen and my visit to Budapest way back in 1994. We stayed in the real local suburbs after we brokered an accommodation deal with Kati at the Budapest train station after arriving early morning from Vienna. The added advantage of this accommodation was that it meant we could go to the suburbia local restaurants, far away from the known tourist areas. That night in that restaurant it was not Leonard Cohen, but Chris Rea’s ‘The road to Hell’ playing over and over again, with the waiters singing along in perfect English. However, when we ordered, it was clear that they did not understand one word of English; not even ‘one’ and ‘yes’ was understood. The result of the evening was a stunning outing with good music and excess excellent food. I ordered a whisky, Heleen and Lizette ordered wine, I ordered goulash soup and Heleen ordered salad for starters, we received three of each! After our amused giggles the waiter and us learned and we all ordered the same main dish, schnitzel, and we only received three dishes for three people. They were humungous, but delicious. Talking about that night, I wonder what eventually happened to our R10 note, which we donated to their collection of international currency behind the bar, counter.

‘I’m not looking for another as I wander in my time,

walk me to the corner, our steps will always rhyme

you know my love goes with you as your love stays with me,


Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye’

But this time it was Leonard and the Germans and Dutch singing happily along in very good English, especially when ‘we take Berlin’.

Leonard, you’re a legend!

‘I’ve heard there was a secret chord

That David played, and it pleased the Lord

But you don’t really care for music, do you?

It goes like this

The fourth, the fifth

The minor fall, the major lift

The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah’


Viva España! (2) But this STILL is not España?

‘Once through the Picos, we headed east to Zaragosa as a sleepover before hitting the sights, sounds, sun, siestas and soccer of Barcelona. But that’s another story.’

And this now is that other story.

If you’re visiting Barcelona for the first time, and you’re worried because you don’t speak Spanish, relax, neither does Barcelona. Barça is the main city of Cataluña and as is the case with the Basque country, conflict between Catalan independence seekers and Spain has been going on for many years. Of the 5.7 million Catalans, some 80% are Catalan speakers.

The Arena once was for bull fighting, now its for shopping

So not Spanish are the people of Cataluña that they abolished steer fighting and changed the Barcelona bullring to a Mall, causing a political stir due to the ‘un-Spanish’ sentiment this signified.

Barcelona, with ‘such a beautiful horizon,’ was our destination for the second week where we had a small (read small) apartment booked in the most ideal location in La Barcelonetta. La Barcelonetta is that triangular piece of Barcelona bordered by the harbor, the city and the Mediterranean. The apartment was a mere 50m walk from the ‘playa’ La Barcelonetta, the beach which gained prestige as ‘the best urban beach in the world’ and overall ‘third best beach in the world’ according to the 2005 Travel Channel show World’s Best Beaches. Thus, Heleen secured a prime location, which in a sense proved disadvantageous as well. So good was the ‘beach holiday’ that we did miss out on some other ‘must do’ sights in this magnificent city. Blasé-ly I suppose, I can say that since we have been to Barça previously, it was OK to afford ourselves a more relaxed pace in coping with the humid and high in the 30° days.

Nowadays in our home, FC Barcelona is probably the biggest attraction when you talk anything Spanish, and thus we were fortunate enough to be able to fit in two Camp Nou matches into our relaxed schedule, one of which was a sell-out ‘el Clasico’ versus Real Madrid. Utilizing the well-known reference books such as Eyewitness, Lonely Planet and others, I realized how hugely underestimated attending games in a venue such as Camp Nou is in terms of tourism value. A visit to the Estadio Camp Nou, including attending a ‘big match’ such as a la liga encounter must rate as one of the highlights available to any tourist visiting Barcelona. My advice is to add this to your bucket list immediately.

Camp Nou fever

Antonio Gaudi is the name, when visiting Barcelona that simply pop’s up time and time again and for good reason too. Gaudi was the genius architect of so many landmark architectural creations in Barcelona, of which the ‘Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia’ is probably the most well known of them all. I visited the Sagrada de la Familia for the first time in 2007 and was slightly disappointed then. At that time, the entire inside was still scattered with scaffolding and I could not appreciate the architecture and grandiose of this church in full.

This is truly stunning architecture

Thus, with the five years’ earlier experience as reference, it was with slight hesitation that we took the trouble to actually take the kids to the most famous of Barcelona’s sights. And am I glad that we went? The interior is now finished, with no scaffolding and workman around, and wow!, it is magnificent. Some areas on the outside are, although stunning, grotesque in design and in traditional cathedral frame of mind not what you would expect. But sit down, stare, scan and take it in, and then it makes sense and it awes you. The finished inside is just simply beautiful and my limited writing ability and words can never do justice to it. Of course it’s not traditional. Its Gaudi, for Pete’s sake!  Nothing Gaudi is traditional and he did spend about 16 years as a semi recluse in the cathedral while working on it. But it is incredible, huge, beautiful and awe inspiring. Marietha, you should visit it again.

The first stone was laid as far back as 19 March 1882. And the current project plan states that it will only be completed in 2026. It is always unfortunate though, that these monumental places of worship are such tourist attractions with the common tourist behavior and masses spoiling the dedicated atmosphere, which should reign.

Among Gaudi’s many architectural relics is also the Parc Güell. Industrialist and friend of Gaudi, Eusebi Güell had the idea of building an estate (let’s say Midstream like) with 60 stands amongst a natural park environment. He entrusted the design of the park to Gaudi and though the estate never realized and only three plots sold, the park and the Gaudi relics are something from out of this world. Due to the topography of the land, he designed a system of viaducts, all supported by interesting incline columns as to preserve the natural land, but still provide roads, to service the entire park. The location of the park in the mountain overlooking Barcelona makes it a favorite late afternoon destination where people flock to enjoy the views and lazily sit around while people watching.

People watching, needless to say, goes down very well with sipping something, soaking the sun, sometimes even staring and a bit of swimming or splashing, but in this sea never surfing and then siesta. Since we arrived in Europe in October 2011 we never sat still (refer this blog upwards) as we were so keen on simply utilizing the availability of travel in the Europe. This summer week in Barcelona turned out to provide a few good hours of actually relaxing at a slight slower pace, sort of to catch our breath and as the Kalahari Bushmen says ‘to allow your soul to catch-up with you’. It was necessary and hugely rewarding as the Barcelonetta ‘playa’ is scattered with cafès with a good view across the beach.

Sipping something while enjoying the sights and sounds of the beach

Man’s nature when traveling is to squeeze as much as possible into the time available and I often think of how much enjoyment you sacrifice this way. There is a huge trade-off between photos taken in front of things/places and then being ticked as visited versus experiencing things and places by spending time and absorbing sights and sounds. We used the Barcelona leg of the Spain trip successfully to slow down the pace and experience and enjoy more rather then rush and pursue more. So often less is more.

And this, I believe contributed hugely to this Spanish holiday to be one of the highlights of our past 12 months in Europe. And maybe, it will set the (lack of) pace for many more trips like this to come.