Saturday, 18 February 2017

Onda's must see attraction: The Tile Museum

Tiles by Francisco Dasi 
I would highly recommend a visit to the Tile Museum (Museo del Azulejo / Museu del Taulell) in Onda for anyone who has a passing interest or more in history, art or local culture. There are over 20,000 tiles in the collection - although not all are on show at once! - which gives a fascinating illustration of technological advances and changes fashions in this region since Roman times. We learned that the combination of the right type of earth for firing, dense forests to provide firewood and the proximity of the ocean trade routes meant that this area, and Onda in particular, was perfectly suited for tile manufacture. Therefore this has been one of the main industries here for over two millennia. The Tile Museum does have examples of very early Roman and Visigoth tiles on display.

The Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) of Onda has recognised this history and its importance to tourism by building a fantastic new museum-conservation facility not far from the centre of Onda. Amazingly it is absolutely free to enter and we also received a nicely printed guide. Items in the gift shop are very reasonably priced too! Opened in 2004 I think, the museum not only displays important historic tiles and works by significant local and national artists, but also engages in conservation and restoration work, as well as holding workshops and events.

I loved walking through the aisles of tiles in the large permanent exhibition space. They are all arranged by age so we could easily see the evolution from pink sandstone coloured Roman tiles to brightly decorated 1970s to present day examples. We both loved the musicians tile mural pictured above, but I completely forgot to take a note of the artist's name. Please comment if you know!

Modernist tiles from the early 20th century 
A second permanent exhibition area is dedicated to tile manufacture. It includes various vintage machines and tools as well as a wonderful collection of black and white photographs of former tile factory workers. A nice touch is that as many as possible of these workers have actually been identified and their names are shown alongside each picture. I was fascinated to learn how tiles are both made and decorated. I was already aware that unique tile pictures would be artist-painted by hand, but had never given much thought to early methods of mass production. It turned out that the firing of blank tiles was a man's job, whereas women were employed as stencil painters. Several of the old photos shows rooms seating a couple of dozen women, each with a high stack of tiles, a paper stencil and a wide brush to paint a single colour. The photo below hows a series of tiles illustrating how these stencilled shapes build up to the finished design.

Finally we took a short walk outside, down the side of the museum building, to where a number of antique tiled public benches are on display. Designs ranged from a simple maroon and white check pattern to ornate pictures and I especially liked this yellow and green example with its repeating owl motif.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Our Valentine's Day in historic Onda

Almudin's Square 
Did we do something stupendously romantic for Valentine's Day this year? Well, er, no actually. For the first time we didn't even get each other a card although, to be fair, the Spanish don't go in for greetings cards in the same way Brits do so finding decent designs is a nightmare over here. We decided to put that cash towards a nice lunch out instead to celebrate our fourteenth Valentine's Day together (and Dave's eleventh anniversary of quitting smoking!)

A very nice lady at Oropesa Tourist Office told us about Onda, whetting our appetite to visit. We began by struggling to find somewhere to park in its maze of a one-way system and, that finally achieved, walked steeply uphill through the narrow streets of the old town towards the Moorish castle on the hill.

View from Onda Castle 
Onda's Castle 
Onda's Castle was first built in the 10th century and covers a large site overlooking the town. It has three distinct areas, the central one of which was the Alcazaba fortress-palace from the 11th century. The castle was once said to have a tower for each day of the year and although that wasn't quite true, its towers did number over three hundred in the castle's heyday. Now it is mostly ruins and an archaeological site with a few towers and walls renovated to give an idea of its former glory. Onda's castle is free to enter and there is also a small artefacts museum onsite although this wasn't open on the day we visited. It was still an interesting place to wander around. Informative placards explained the significance of much of what we saw and the views out over the surrounding town and countryside are breathtaking.

St Vincent Ferrer's Chapel 
We were given a small Onda map at the castle which included a suggested route through the oldest part of the medieval town taking in the old Muslim and Jewish quarters. Onda still retains a picturesque sense of its history in this area and we enjoyed a coffee in the arcaded Almudin Square (pictured above). Nearby streets retain a few heavy medieval wood doorways. The Muslim community lived in some 50 houses, an area known as the Moreria, until their expulsion in 1609. The pictured St Vincent Ferrer's Chapel was built on the site of the former mosque. The Moreria neighboured the Aljama, the Jewish community, until Jews were expelled in 1492. Nowadays only the remnants of a gate jamb remain to mark the old Synagogue Gate in the town walls. No one is exactly sure where the synagogue stood.

We got lucky with our lunch spot after a good walk around. I loved the decoration of buildings which includes painting and tiled frescos. Several of the restaurants were closed for the season and we didn't fancy resorting to pizza, but eventually stumbled upon La Taperia de Nati. This functional bar-restaurant was advertising a three course Menu Del Dia, but we had no idea what we would get! Unexpected lunch is what passes for excitement in my world! After some understanding of what we were being offered and some complete lack of comprehension, we ended up with two shared starters - Potatoes And Beans and Broad Beans With Bacon - two main courses - Bacalao for me and Pork for Dave - two desserts - coffee flan for me and chocolate cake for Dave - plus salad and bread, beer and wine, and coffees, for the grand total of €8.50 each. Incredibly good value and very good food!

Then after lunch we retrieved our car which, by accident rather than design, was just around the corner, and drove a little way out of town to the Tile Museum. Like the views from castle, I think this Museum should be an essential part of any visit to Onda - and I will blog about it tomorrow!

Thursday, 16 February 2017

The Roman Arch at Cabanes

The Roman Arch at Cabanes 
We spent our fourteenth Valentine's Day together visiting the historic town of Onda. I will blog about that tomorrow, but for today I want to talk about the diversion we took on our way home to see the Roman Arch at Cabanes. The Arch was built in the 2nd century AD and was probably originally a funerary monument connected to a (then) nearby villa. It stood on the Via Augusta, a famous Roman highway, and today is still positioned at the end of a long straight road from Cabanes so, driving towards it, we got a sense of how it would have appeared 1800 years ago. The road is now routed on a roundabout around the monument though. No one has driven under it since the 1800s.

How the arch originally looked 
The Arch is no longer complete however. This reproduction of a medieval engraving shows further blocks rising to a height of nearly six metres. These blocks had vanished by the 1600s when contemporary artworks show the Arch as it currently stands. The information placard on site claims that some of the missing blocks can be spotted forming part of buildings in Cabanes - if you know where to look! Interesting architectural notes are that the Arch is made from limestone on a base of granite blocks and that it retains its curve without the use of a keystone.

We drove about 2km outside of Cabanes village to get here. There is a good cycle path from the village too, but as we drove back over the hills to get to our campsite we were glad we had not attempted to cycle there. The CV146 is too steep and narrow for our abilities!

Looking back along the Via Augusta 

Monday, 13 February 2017

Top Five Etsy Finds - Hiking

Friedrich Nietzsche Quote Print by SnowdonPrints 
We always make a point of searching out walking and hiking opportunities wherever we go and already enjoyed great walks in Catalonia and Castellon this season. It's an ideal way to get out in the natural world and really explore a new area. For my February Top Five Etsy Finds I thought I would see what other Etsians have created to enhance the perfect hike or as gifts for hikers and walkers. As always, there's a fantastic variety on offer!

Many famous authors and thinkers were also obsessive walkers so my first choice is this apt Friedrich Nietzsche Quote Print by Alexandra Snowdon at SnowdonPrints in Manchester. It is available in a choice of three different sizes and four different colours Alexandra started out as a graphic designer, but then retrained and found her niche as an illustrator. All the lettering and illustrations for her prints are created by hand before being printed either by silkscreen or a giclee printer on Alexandra's kitchen table.

The Friedrich Nietzsche Quote Print is for sale from £12 for the smallest size, plus shipping.

Woodland Faerie Backpack by FolkOwl 
For a backpack with a difference you might like to visit FolkOwl in Whitstable. Angela Shannon created this gorgeous Woodland Faerie Backpack from vintage velvet and lined it with cotton, both dyed by hand, before embellishing the design with hand felted leaves and a handmade oak button. This bag truly is one of a kind and I love the rich teal colour! It measures 12 inches high by 12 inches across by 4 inches deep. Angela also makes similarly decorated hoods, cowls, capes and scarves and is happy to undertake custom orders.
If you're quick FolkOwl has a Valentine's Day sale running until the 15th of February. Buyers can get 25% off ready-made items only by using the checkout code LOVE17.

The Woodland Faerie Backpack is for sale at £100 plus shipping.

I Like Your Stile by ClareCorfieldCarr
I love the humour of this walking themed greetings card which would be ideal for outdoor-minded friends or relatives on many occasions as it is left blank inside. I Like Your Stile is inkjet printed from an original drawing by illustrator ClareCorfieldCarr who lives in Conwy. Clare draws all her illustrations by hand using fineliner and inks and then works into them digitally. She says, "I'm a very silly person at heart which reflects very much so in my quirky greetings cards range." 

I Like Your Stile is for sale at £2.95 plus shipping.

Chestnut Walking Stick
by MayflowerWoodCrafts
I never used to go walking with a stick, but since I bought a pair of hiking poles I wouldn't be without again. A stick makes traversing more difficult terrain so much easier and I have found that its use helps to alleviate backache after a long walk too. I would love a proper wooden stick and this hand shaped Chestnut Walking Stick is beautiful. It was made by MayflowerWoodCrafts in Colchester by steaming a length of stripped seasoned wood to get the curve. Currently the stick is 46 inches long, but can be shortened as required to enable use as a hiking staff, a farmer's market stick or a walking stick.

The Chestnut Walking Stick is for sale £45 at plus shipping.

Walkers Zipper Pull by ThimblesnObjectDart 
My final choice is the tiniest of the five and I think would make a fun addition to any hiker's outfit. This Walkers Zipper Pull is made by ThimblesnObjectDart who are based in Worcester. They cast their detailed motifs in pewter which is then antiqued and hand polished before the zipper pull itself is attached. The back of the motif is flat and hollowed out so it won't weigh its wearer down on those steep hills!

The Walkers Zipper Pull is for sale at £5.99 plus shipping.

That's all for my February Etsy Finds. I hope you love these items as much as I did, or at least they might inspire you to go for a walk!
Happy Valentine's Day for tomorrow

Saturday, 11 February 2017

The Les Santes walk through the Desert de les Palmes

Almond blossom 
The Ermita de les Santes is over the other side of the Desert de les Palmes from our Pico del Bartolo walk so we got to see completely different aspects to the natural park. The circular walk starts and finishes at the Ermita and is pretty easy going most of the way with just a short downhill section on the return stretch which was steeper and a little tricky. Our guide book indicated that the walk would take around two hours, but for once we finished well ahead of time in just one and a half hours! I think the route might take longer in Spring or Summer when more of the varied plant life hereabouts is in flower. We saw several orchard fields of blossoming almond trees, but otherwise most of the vegetation was evergreens or dormant. I did see my palms this time though! There are lots of fan palms along the Les Santes footpaths.

The route begins on a track right at the edge of the protected natural park so it was interesting to see almost impenetrable forest on one side of the track and open farmland leading to towering limestone cliffs, possibly the Marmudella, on the other. We also discovered that this side of the park is considerably cooler in temperature, perhaps due to the woodland although we were out in the open early on. Maybe the sun just doesn't get high enough over the mountains at this time of year.

Having previously read about it, we were keen to see one of the most geologically interesting zones in the park which is where the track leads over an outcrop of Palaeozoic slate. The slate apparently dates back some 230 million years! Unfortunately, while we are pretty sure we correctly identified this point as we walked over it, there wasn't really much to actually get excited about. Just a few metres of dark grey slate instead of the usual reddish sandstone.

So in lieu of a photo of ancient stone, here's one of our path spookily plunging into woodlands instead. I was a little perturbed that our guide book included a paragraph of instructions for what to do in case of a forest fire. We are used to being given blindingly obvious fire prevention advice such as not dropping matches or cigarettes, or discarding glass which can intensify sunlight to cause flame. I don't think we've ever told how to escape before though. We saw extensive evidence of the frequency of fires here. Most of the oldest trees aren't particularly large and along one stretch plant stems were still scorched black from a recent incineration which was a sobering sight. (Oh, and I learned fire tends to go uphill and downwind so we should head downhill and upwind. And, like in this tenuously relevant James Keelaghan song, Cold Missouri Waters, if necessary stand in an already burnt patch.)

This time we continued safely back to the Ermita pausing only to get out of the way of a gaggle of mountain bike riders heading up a very steep part-concreted part-rough track section of the route, and one man heading down the same on a vintage Royal Enfield motorcycle.

Ermita Les Santes 
The Ermita is dedicated to the Saints Llucia and Agueda and we saw photographs of the simple altar inside. The doors were firmly locked so we couldn't go in, but one of the doors in particular was amazing. Made of metal, it had been stamped by hand with hundreds of tiny dots to create shapes of religious figures. I am not sure exactly how old the original building is - around the early 1600s I think. It was renovated about twenty years ago and the work included the spring which is now piped out of a tiled wall into a beautifully clear pool. There is also a significant recreation area on terraces at the front which includes brick built barbecues and wooden picnic tables. The small car park was private to us for our walk(!) but probably gets busy during summer months and there aren't any parking options along the narrow 2km cami to the Ermita so then I would recommend either starting out early or be prepared to add twice the length of the cami to your walk.

Ermita door 

Fan palms! 

Friday, 10 February 2017

Two amazing new music Kickstarter campaigns - Peter Mulvey & Carrie Elkin

Two of my favourite singer-songwriters, Peter Mulvey and Carrie Elkin, emailed a couple of days apart this week to let me know they have launched Kickstarter campaigns for their new albums. Their music is different, but I love them both! I have (hopefully) embedded their Kickstarter videos into this post although they might be a little slow to load. Click through to the campaign pages for more information and to pledge...

Peter Mulvey is raising $17,000 for Are You Listening which he recorded at Ani di Franco's studio in New Orleans. He says "2016 was tough, people. And 2017 is turning out to be tougher. I have been launching little paper boats of whatever art, wit, beauty and tenderness I can muster onto the waters of this life for a long time, and I work to keep the faith that they make a difference. I'm doing my best and I thank you deeply for supporting my efforts."

Are You Listening?

Carrie Elkin has a target of $30,000 for The Penny Collector. This album is named for her father's hobby and it promises to be an emotional work. Carrie says "This year has been a profound one. As some of you may know, I lost my sweet papa 18 months ago. And then I had a baby four months ago. So it’s been a year book-ended by the most intense of human experiences. I wrote most of the songs on this record soon after my dad died, and right when I found out I was pregnant. At this intersection of joy and grief, I locked myself in a cabin in the mountains of New Mexico and wrote these tunes. The coming together of these emotions brought about a visual landscape in the songs that I would not have otherwise been able to write about. It was one of the most beautiful and telling times of my life."

Carrie Elkin | New Solo Record

If you haven't heard Peter's or Carrie's music before I hope these little Kickstarter videos tempt you to listen further. If you're already a fan, please get pledging!