Thursday, May 31, 2018

Palau de la Música Catalana: A Magical Music Box

The only concert hall in the world to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Palau de la Música in Barcelona was designed by the architect Domènech i Montaner as the home of the Orfeó Català choir. Funded by public donations, the Palau de la Música is one of the most iconic examples of Catalonia's architectural and musical heritage, and the only concert hall of it’s kind, mixing glass, ceramics and stone arts in a perfect marriage between Music and Architecture. There’s a master behind every genius, and there would be no Gaudí without the talented Lluis Domènech i Montaner, hailed as the most modern of the modernists, notably for his mastery of lightweight steel construction. A magnificent example of the Catalan modernist style, with a design that presents an abundance of curved lines and dynamic shapes, as well as a sumptuous decoration that uses a number of nature-related motifs, the Palau may be one of the most truly Catalan buildings there are in the city due to the fact that there was an express request made to the architect that he use materials and techniques that represented the Catalan character. To make sure that he fulfilled this request, Montaner gave much creative freedom to the craftsmen and artisans who were carving the famous and detailed façade and interior of the building, thus providing a unique Catalan profile associated with the building. 

The façade itself is one of the most stunning parts of the building, combining elements of both Spanish and Arabic architecture, being richly decorated, and mixing exposed brick with mosaics, iron, stained glass and glazed tiles. Inside, the breathtaking concert hall is dominated by an enormous organ over the stage crowned with a spectacular stained glass skylight portraying the sun, the hall is an overwhelming explosion of colour. A mystical, paradoxical space, with figures representing the muses which surround the stage, a bust of Anselm Clavé on one side and Beethoven on the other, and natural motifs, including flowers, palms or fruits, the Palau de la Música is one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world and represents an essential landmark in the cultural and social life of Catalonia. Many famous soloists, directors, composers and orchestras have been performing in the beautiful main hall of the Palau including Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky, Richard Strauss, Herbert Von Karajan, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Woody Allen, to name few.

Wonderful glazed ceramic flowers on the exposed brick columns and arches of the foyer 
in keeping with the architects tribute to nature

The Café foyer where we met for our guided tour of the Palau

Glazed ceramic flowers and tiles are found throughout the building

The rehearsal hall for the Orfeó Català choir and gathering point for guided tours with an introductory film on the history of the Palau de la Música

The grand staircase of the Palau de la Música 

One of the most beautiful concert halls in the world, the Palau de la Música is an architectural jewel and the only concert venue in this style to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The ceiling is an inverted bell of stained glass depicting the sun bursting out of a blue sky 
and designed by Antoni Rigalt 

The exquisite interior with famed pipe organ built by the prestigious German firm Walcker in Ludwigsburg, which we were able to hear during a private concert during our tour

Bust of Anselm Clavé, a famous choir director who was instrumental in reviving Catalan folk songs

Closeup of the carved arch with young ladies singing a traditional Catalan song

One of18 half-mosaic, half-relief Muses appear out of the back of the stage, 
representing the styles of music, sculpted by Eusebi Arnau and mosaics by Lluís Bru

Stained glass window of the cross of St Jordi (St George), the patron saint of Catalonia

The outdoor balcony of the Palau de la Música with gorgeous columns 
symbolizing a garden of flowers

The façade is one of the most stunning parts of the building, combining elements of both Spanish and Arabic architecture, richly decorated and mixing exposed brick with mosaics and glazed tiles

Handcrafted mosaic columns of the exterior loggia with floral motifs and winding leaves

The Palau de la Música is a glorious culmination of the work of local Catalan artisans and craftsmen

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

El Palace Hotel in Barcelona: The Fabled Ritz

Opened in 1919, the El Palace Hotel Barcelona is one of the oldest hotels in the city, reminiscent of the palaces of the 1930s, when grand hotels known for their hospitality, luxury and service reigned supreme. Centrally located near the Gothic Quarter, Las Ramblas, Paseo de Gracia and famous landmarks such as the Picasso Museum and the Sagrada Familia, the El Palace Hotel has witnessed much of the modern history of Barcelona and Spain. Once the royal dwelling of King Alfonso XIII of Spain and King Emmanuel III of Italy, it is still known by Barcelonians as the fabled Ritz. Characterized by it’s neo-classical façade and grand public areas, this Belle Époque gem recently completed an impressive two year €20 million restoration while still retaining its original charm and timeless elegance, from marble colonnades, ornate moldings, richly upholstered drapery, tufted sofas, crystal chandeliers to its gilded ceilings, handsome étagères and impressive Old World service. Opulent public rooms include the stunning lobby lounge, bright Parisian-style Brasserie serving extravagant buffet breakfasts, elegant Restaurant L'Éclair for tapas and afternoon tea, Mayan-themed Spa and the legendary Bluesman Cocktail Bar for smart cocktails and a stellar lineup of celebrated jazz and blues bands. The hotel’s elegantly appointed rooms and suites are all sumptuously decorated, including the famous Salvador Dali Suite where the painter and his wife Gala once lived for a while. The beautiful rooftop Winter Garden Restaurant showcases Chef Marc Mallasén's haute Andalusian cuisine and overlooks the lovely outdoor summer swimming pool and Pergola Ciutadella herb garden added in 2016, with magnificent panoramic views over all of Barcelona.

The Old World luxury of the El Palace’s stunning lobby lounge

Richly upholstered drapery, tufted sofas, crystal chandeliers and gilded antiques add to the timeless elegance of this Belle Epoque gem

The Parisian-style Brasserie-inspired Breakfast Garden with black and white chequerboard tiles and oversized wrought iron lighting serves extravagant buffet breakfasts

Freshly baked breads and croissant to fruit smoothies, custom omelettes and steaming cappuccinos make breakfast a sumptuous start to every morning

Chef Marc Mallasén

Éclair Citron et Framboise with Ivorian chocolate, strawberry, cream of lemon and meringue

El Palace's rooftop terrace Wintergarden Restaurant

The tranquil rooftop pool with spectacular views over Barcelona

Rooftop telescope for viewing Barcelona's iconic sites

An urban oasis during the summer season, The Winter Garden opens its doors with candlelight dining overlooking the rooftop swimming pool

Decorated in the finest of inviting hardwoods, the Bluesman Cocktail Bar is the only place in Barcelona where you can enjoy a cocktail while listening to jazz or blues

Refurbished by interior designer Jaime Beriestain in 2009, the Bluesman Bar is without doubt one of the most spectacular spaces in the city

Ronnie Woods of the Rolling Stones, who lives part of the year in Barcelona, is one of the backers of the Bluesman Cocktail Bar and often performs here

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Sevilla Tapas Crawl: Patanchón & Casa Román

The Seville April Fair which officially begins at midnight on a Monday and runs six days, ending on the following Sunday, includes a public holiday to allow local Sevillanos time to take part in the annual festivities, which means most shops and museums are closed, but many restaurants remain open. A gloriously warm and sunny day, it was the perfect time to wander aimlessly through the the heart of Seville's old town, strolling through the narrow, winding lanes of the Barrio Santa Cruz, the old Jewish Quarter of Seville, stopping periodically for a cold drink and bite to eat, which grew into a day-long tapas crawl, sipping sangria and nibbling our way through the barrio.

Chalkboard menu of signature tapas at Patanchón, 
was once home to the great bullfighter Fuentes Bejarano

Thirst quenching jug of Spanish Sangria with fresh fruit

Full of character, the service at Patanchón is warm and relaxed with a great tapas menu

Inside chalkboard menu of daily changing tapas

A collection black and white mug shots of notorious American gangsters and criminals line the walls, including Al Capone, Ma Barker and bank robber 'Pretty Boy' Floyd 

Patanchón beer and wine menu

Paella de Marisco: Seafood Paella

Jamón as a cultural icon and everyday indulgence

Croquetas de Gambas: Prawn Croquettes

Tortilla Española con Patata: Spanish Potato Omelette 

Street musicians playing outside the restaurant

Bodeguita La Parihuela in the Barrio Santa Cruz

Glass of Sangria with sliced orange and apple at Bar las Teresas

A chilled crisp and dry Barbadillo Solar Manzanilla

Calamares fritos: Fried Calamari

Pinchos de camarones a la parrilla: Grilled Shrimp skewers

After an extended afternoon tapas crawl through the Jewish Quarter, 
we strolled back to the hotel passing by the spectaular Seville Cathedral 

Arriving at the Alfonso XIII where we had a swim and nap before continuing 
on our tapas crawl into the evening

A wonderful swim in the pool charged our batteries before heading out for the evening

Having had a great lunch at Casa Román with our guide Álvaro Carmona a few days before, 
we decided to return for a tapas-style dinner 

Casa Román menu of traditional Andalusian tapas 

The charming age-old interior with legs of Iberico Jamon hanging from the wooden beams

Glass of chilled Albarino 

Cold glass of Manzanilla

Boquerones en Vinagre: Marinated Anchovies

Croquetas Caseras con Jamon: Homemade Ham Croquettes

Choco Frito: Fried Cuttelfish

Jamón ibérico de Bellota

Bacalao Frito: Fried Cod

Caña de Lomo: Sliced Pork Loin Sausage

Tortilla de Jamón: Ham Omelette

Cola de Toro: Oxtail Stew

Delicious and reasonable  - a rare combination