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One of Madrid's tourist attractions is the bullfighting ring, Las Ventas. It is Spain's biggest bullfighting ring and the reputed home of bullfighting. While we don't condone the killing of animals as a sport, bullfighting is a part of Spain's culture (well, parts of Spain anyway). We decided to take to take a tour of the bullring to learn more about bullfighting and also to have a closer look at arena itself.

Las Ventas


The bullring is a big red brick arena designed in the Neo-Mudejar style. It's called Las Ventas —The Windows— because of the windows that encircle the building. These windows are the form of horseshoe arches and are decorated with colourful tiles. It's quite a striking building.

Our guide gave a tour of the arena describing all the different areas and what happens during a bullfight. I was impressed as he delivered his descriptions firstly in Spanish, then English and then French. These multi-lingual people still amaze us.

Arena


A Spanish bullfight runs as follows:
  • In a traditional bullfight, three matadors fight two bulls each. The bulls are at least four years old and weigh between 460 - 600 kg.

  • Each matador has 6 assistants - two picadores (lancers) on horseback, three banderilleros (flagman) and a mozo de espada (sword page).

  • The picador enters the ring on horseback and aims to stab the bull in the neck with the lance. If the picador is successful the bull is injured and will hold its head and horns lower during the following stages. This makes it less dangerous for the matador.

  • The banderilleros then enter the ring and attempt to place sharp barbed sticks in the bulls flank as close as possible to where the picador stabbed the bull. These further weaken the bull's shoulders and neck muscles and cause further loss of blood.

  • The matador then enters the ring alone with his sword and cape. He will use his cape to attract the bull and perform a series of passes which will manoeuvre the bull into a position where he can stab it through the shoulder blades and into the heart.

  • If the matador is judged to have fought particularly well, he will be awarded the ears and the tail of the vanquished bull.
You've gotta feel sorry for the poor bull. Supporters of bullfighting say that they see the bull as a worthy adversary, deserving of respect. However, it seems little respect is shown to the bull in the ring. They are tortured and exhausted until it is safe enough for the matador to face the bull. Then they are killed. A Bullfighting guide warns those attending bull fights to "be prepared to witness various failed attempts at killing the animal before it lies down."

And yet, it is still a part of Madrid's culture. While we were at the arena there was a line of people queuing up to buy tickets to the next bullfight. Around the arena there were posters on the walls of present-day bullfighters. These posters looked like posters teenage girls might post on their bedroom walls. (One bullfighter was grinning triumphantly, holding up the ears of a bull.)

Queue Las Ventas Waiting for tickets

You might be happy to know, that sometimes the bulls get their own back. Bullfighting is still a dangerous sport for matadors. Many matadors have died after being gored by a bull. In the bullfighting museum at the arena, several uniforms of matadors who have been killed are on display. Some of the uniforms still showed the blood stains from the wounds. Apparently the Spanish have a taste for the morbid.

After our tour of Las Ventas, I decided that I wasn't keen to see a bullfight and didn't agree with it as a sport. A 2002 poll found that 70% of Spaniards expressed no interest in bullfighting. The older generation seem the keenest, with 50% of those over 65 interested in bullfighting. Maybe it's a dying cultural tradition. Let's hope so.

More photos on Flickr.

Our visit to Las Ventas was part of Tapas Travels: The Wilsons + Daleys do Spain. Mum, Dad, Andrew and I did a 3-week road trip around Spain with a few days tacked on in Portugal at the end of the journey. Other entries from this trip include: Toledo, Wouldn't it be nice if the world was Gaudi?, La Mezquita, The knee bone's connected to the thigh bone, La Sagrada Família.

jess - 18th Jan 2009, 11:12 tags: spain madrid tapas_travels travel


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Not much to see in Toledo, just a cathedral, an alcazar, a synagogue and a monastery. This is actually a pretty standard list for Spain. So why go to Toledo? Well, because it's a beautiful medieval city built on top of a steep hill. Being able to walk through and experience this beautiful city is reason enough. It was the capital of Spain until 1561, and it seems not much has changed since then.

While in Toledo, we did visit the cathedral, alcazar, synagogue and the monastery, but my favourite memory has nothing to do with the tourist attractions. One evening, we watched the sun set over the city from the rooftop terrace of our hotel. The oranges and pinks in the evening sky complemented the dusky hues of the city's buildings. Overhead, small sparrows darted here and there chasing bugs. The call of the birds mingled with the bells of the cathedral striking the hour. Gathering memories like these is why we travel.

Toledo at Sunset


Our hotel in Toledo, Hotel Santa Isabel, was the best hotel we stayed in on the trip. Very modern rooms and a roof-top terrace. Highly recommended. Booked through Booking.com.

Our visit to Toledo was part of Tapas Travels: The Wilsons + Daleys do Spain. Mum, Dad, Andrew and I did a 3-week road trip around Spain with a few days tacked on in Portugal at the end of the journey. Other entries from this trip include: Wouldn't it be nice if the world was Gaudi?, La Mezquita, La Sagrada Família, The knee bone's connected to the thigh bone.

jess - 7th Nov 2008, 10:27 tags: nablopomo travel spain tapas_travels toledo nablopomo08


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After being amazed by La Sagrada Família and awed by Casa Battló we decided that Gaudí's other works of art were must-sees. On our recent visit to Barcelona, Parc Güell was definitely on our agenda. Originally designed as a housing estate, Parc Güell is now a park open to the public. Gaudí's fantastic imagination is once again evident in all elements of Parc Güell's design. Wandering through the gardens is like wandering through a fairy tale.

The two houses that flank the entrance reminded me of Gingerbread houses. The undulating white tiled eaves look like frosting and the windows are decorated with colourful circular discs that look just like smarties. The houses are even the same colour as gingerbread.

Gingerbread House


Surely the most recognisable of Gaudí's works, the dragon guarding the park's entrance is a symbol of Catalunya.

Where's Ox?


On the terrace, a bench covered in colourful mosaics snakes its way around the perimeter. It is supposed to represent a sea-serpent.

Parc Guell Parc Bench Take a picture...


Parc Güell is another beautifully designed work of art by Gaudí. He had such a unique vision. To think that gaudy means garish and tastelessly showy. I think it would be nice if the world was Gaudí.

More photos on Flickr

Our visit to Parc Güell was part of Tapas Travels: The Wilsons + Daleys do Spain. Mum, Dad, Andrew and I did a 3-week road trip around Spain with a few days tacked on in Portugal at the end of the journey. Other entries from this trip include: La Mezquita, La Sagrada Família, The knee bone's connected to the thigh bone.

jess - 14th Oct 2008, 21:44 tags: travel tapas_travels spain barcelona


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Cordoba's main tourist attraction is the Mezquita (spanish for mosque). A Church, which was once a Mosque (which was actually originally a Church.)

What makes it interesting is that it is still part mosque while being a church. There are rows and rows of rose-coloured columns topped with stripped yellow and red arches. There is a mihrab decorated with glittering mosaics. The mosque is a leftover from a time when a Muslim Emir controlled southern Spain.

Arches the Mihrab arches

Well at least the architecture is part mosque. Smack bang in the middle of the Mezquita is a Roman Catholic cathedral nave decorated in the baroque style. In 1236, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella recaptured Cordoba from the Muslims. At this time they simply re-consecrated the mosque as a church (abracadabra!). Later on, when they thought about tearing the mosque down and building a proper church there was a bit of an uproar. Some families in the town had their chapels inside the current mosque and did not want them destroyed. So in the 14th century, the king had a new church built, right in the middle of the mosque. It's rather at odds with the rest of the building.

Dome of Mezquita

Reputedly, when Carlos V saw what he had authorised he said "You have destroyed something that was unique in the world." And yet, without the church in the middle of it, the Mezquita might not exist today. Its conversion to a church probably saved it from the Spanish Inquisition. So, although incongruous, we are thankful for the chapel. Thankful that it's there and therefore we're still able to visit at least part of this beautiful building.

Inside the Mihrab

More photos on Flickr

Our visit to La Mezquita was part of Tapas Travels: The Wilsons + Daleys do Spain. Mum, Dad, Andrew and I did a 3-week road trip around Spain with a few days tacked on in Portugal at the end of the journey. Other entries from this trip include: La Sagrada Familia and The knee bone's connected to the thigh bone.

jess - 7th Oct 2008, 04:19 tags: travel tapas_travels cordoba spain


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In March, while we were back home in Australia, we spent an afternoon with Mum, planning our trip around Spain and Portugal. Of course, we all had cities that were already on our personal agendas. Barcelona, Madrid, Cordoba, Granada, Seville were all instantly placed on the itinerary. To plan the rest of the route, we skimmed the guidebooks and looked at the places in between the must-dos. That's how Évora made the cut.

Below is the paragraph that tempted us to Évora:

"What draws the crowds though is the Capela dos Ossos, a mesmerising memento mori (reminder of death). A small room behind the altar has walls and columns lined with the bones and skulls of some 5000 people. ... There's a black humour to the way the bones and skulls have been carefully arranged in patterns, and the whole effect is strangely beautiful."

Chapel decorated with Bones! Gross!

The chapel was definitely an eerie place. Bones cover the walls and thousands of skulls feature in the decorating. This means a lot of empty eye sockets are staring at you as you walk through.

The monks who created the church thought that the chapel would be an ideal place to think about the fleeting nature of life and to help one reduce the focus on material possessions. Death is certainly something that is on your mind in a room full of bones. This message is emphasised by the greeting that welcomes you to the chapel... "We bones in here wait for yours to join us."

Capela Dos Ossos Capela Dos Ossos
Capela Dos Ossos Capela Dos Ossos


More photos on Flickr...

jess - 21st Aug 2008, 17:01 tags: travel quirky tapas_travels evora portugal


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