A Street Altar in Valencia

Street altars are a major part of the festivities during the fiesta de San Vicente Ferrer in Valencia, Spain.

As elaborate and grand as a real altar, a Valencian street altar is constructed complete with religious symbols and imagery but it is not one intended for prayer.

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It’s Fiesta de San Vicente Ferrer in Valencia, Spain

Today, April 16, the city of Valencia, Spain is celebrating the Feast Day of San Vicente Ferrer. The fiesta is much less known than the world-famous week-long Valencian festival known as Las Fallas, which is by all indications a huge, rowdy, fiery celebration (hence its popularity particularly with the college-age crowd).

The Fiesta de San Vicente Ferrer is more laid-back and the focus of the festivities is on the city’s patron saint, with such activities as the Offering of Flowers and the so-called Street Altars. It is a good time to visit Valencia, if one hopes to take part in some cultural traditions and see the locals (instead of hordes of fellow tourists) in a more relaxed but still festive atmosphere.

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Postcards: La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

My first glimpse of La Sagrada Familia was almost a letdown.

I had looked forward to seeing the basilica considered by some to be one of the most beautiful buildings in the world and I held my breath in anticipation as we walked up from the underground metro. But the first things I saw were cranes. Cranes, scaffolding, safety screens and other construction equipment.

Huh.

I knew before I went that the Sagrada Familia¬†is yet to be finished (construction was started in 1882 and it is not expected to be finished before 2026). But I wasn’t prepared for the near-chaos of what seemed to be an ongoing major construction site.

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Postcards: El Raval, Barcelona

I had some ‘alone’ time in Barcelona and decided to take a solo stroll along the streets running to La Rambla. Our hotel was situated at El Raval, a densely-populated¬†barrio or barri that used to have a seedy reputation but is now considered ‘hip’ with its restaurants, cafes, boutiques, a museum and a cultural center.

I only snapped a few pictures though, because I soon found myself in front of a heavenly-smelling pastry shop that we’d seen the day before and could not resist going in for some savory/sweet bread. I walked on with that in one hand and a drink in the other, window-shopped at some boutiques, browsed in a vintage record shop with a poster of Bob Marley out front, and bought some stuff at the CCCB bookstore.¬†My camera stayed inside my bag.

I had a great time. ūüôā

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Postcards: La Rambla, Barcelona

Between Madrid and Barcelona, it is only three hours via high-speed AVE train. But the differences in the cultures of the two major cities of Spain are so distinct that Barcelona could very well be in another country.

It’s not only in the languages spoken (Spanish and Catalan). While Madrid has a cosmopolitan, ultra-sophisticated vibe, Barcelona’s is highly eclectic. It seems the city lives and breathes the Arts. Art is everywhere in Barcelona and it shows in the architecture, the music, the festivals and theater, even in the way the locals dress. (It’s quite possible to stay in Barcelona for only a few days and be seduced enough by the Arts that one goes home resolved to start wearing colorful trinkets and embroidered tunics to one’s job at a bank. :))

Barcelona’s La Rambla is probably Spain’s most famous street. It is a pedestrian mall with kiosks selling everything from flowers to art prints to magazines, Real Madrid/FC Barcelona scarves, ice cream, birds, souvenirs and the aforementioned trinkets.

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Postcards: A Walking Tour of Madrid

After visiting Sevilla and Granada, we only had three full days to explore Madrid. Madrid is the kind of city that is so huge and so rich in culture and history that, as first-time visitors, we decided that the best and easiest way for us to get a good introduction to it was to join a guided tour.

Some web surfing led us to¬†Sandeman’s New Madrid Tours which offers a free half-day ¬†walking tour of the city. Yes, free. (Tips, though, are very much appreciated — and deserved — by the tour guides.)

On the day of the tour, we slathered ourselves with sunscreen and walked the short distance from our hotel to the Plaza de Espa√Īa.

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Postcards: La Alhambra, Granada

When Washington Irving wrote Tales of the Alhambra, the Moorish compound was a place seen only by few people from outside Andalusia. It was even then surrounded in myth, despite its almost decrepit state. Irving had the very good fortune of being allowed to live within the fortress and he had the luxury of exploring the buildings and gardens at leisure.

Such privileged adventure is no longer possible. The Alhambra has become one of Spain’s most popular tourist attractions, with thousands passing through its grand arches and gates everyday. Nowadays, instead of the rambling but romantic expedition taken by Irving, one is more likely to get to Alhambra via a generic tour bus and be deposited outside the entrance where several buses will be disgorging even more tourists.

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