Category Archives: Spain

The ‘Creaking’ Horror

Great Pumpkins!  I nearly missed out on doing a Halloween inspired post this year.  Nearly……but not quite.  I have been absent from the blogosphere because I was on a righteous quest to destroy the undead creatures of the nightmare dimension ……. ummmm….because I was traveling.  Ah, but now I am back and you cannot escape my Halloween expose!

Here it is…….the secret lives of Ghosts!

ghost criminals

But on a more serious and creepy note, let me tell you now, the story of the ‘Creaking Horror’!

A long, long time ago ……well, not that long ago……..actually last week, I found myself in what is rumoured to be the oldest hotel in the world in continuous use.  I refer to the Parador de Santiago de Compostela or, as it is also known, Hostal dos Reis Católicos.

Santiago de Compostela is at the end of the long distance trails that has been traversed by pilgrims since as early as the 9th century.  The object is to reach the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela which is said to hold the remains of St. James the Apostle of Christ.   Coming from Portugal, Spain and as far as France to this town in Galicia in the north-west of Spain, pilgrims could be walking in excess of 800 km.  The difficult journey was part of the spiritual experience.

Needless to say, things were a whole lot more difficult and dangerous during the ancient times and many pilgrims would arrive in Santiago de Compostela in a bad state.  So, in 1486, the Hostal was set up by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel to give shelter and aid to these road weary pilgrims.

My own journey there was by car and I arrived there on a dark, wet and foggy night.  The place was huge, ancient and quite imposing in the dark.  After checking in, we went through dark corridors with long shadows and creaking wooden floors.  Sometimes, the ancient timbers felt soft underfoot as if it might fall away due to rot but we couldn’t tell as it was covered by heavy carpets. Well, this is creepy, I thought to myself.

After dropping off our luggage in our room, which also felt every bit as ancient except for a very modern bathroom, my wife and I went snooping around.  By now, the lights had come on and most of the corridors were dimly lit.  We could also look out over the balconies onto grand courtyards.  But the place was confusing.

There were a number of courtyards and after a while you could get quite turned around, not sure how to get back to where you started.  All the time, as we walked, the sound of the creaking floor would resound along the dark, empty corridors.  Here and there, some brightly lit areas appeared.  Some were outside other guest rooms and some were outside larger rooms that had been re-purposed into small meeting rooms. And there was sometimes a plaque on the wall to tell a story or two about the rooms.

We found these plaques quite interesting.  There was a room where one of the Pope’s stayed on his first visit to Santiago de Compostela and other rooms to tell of famous digntaries, clergy and even musicians that laid their heads to rest there.

As we were moving along, we found a particular meeting room and the plaque duly informed us that many pilgrims used to arrive in critical condition and many were not even able to attend mass at the cathedral at the end of their pilgrimage.  For them, their journey would end in this room, where they could hear the priests carrying out mass in the courtyard below one last time before they expired.

Hmmmm.  This place has served as a hostal for over 500 years.  But a hostal was not just a place to find shelter, it had also served as a hospital, a hospice and invariably as a morgue at the same time.  And, over 500 years, many, many, many died there.

We don’t believe in ghosts and we reminded ourselves that as we hurried along the maze of darkened corridors (the creaking horror) trying to find our way back to the light……….

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Editor’s Note: Despite the squirrel’s mad Halloween tale, this is actually a very beautiful and historic 5 star hotel.  If you have the opportunity, stay here.


Sur-ro-gate (verb \ˈsər-ə-ˌgāt, ˈsə-rə-\ ).    According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, when used as a noun, a surrogate is one who is appointed to act in place of another or one that serves as a substitute.

As a Christian, I have never been happy with the commercialization of Christmas where the celebration of God’s love gift of Christ to the world has been substituted with a message of crass consumerism and materialism;  where the joy of giving has been replaced by the lust of receiving and where Christmas has been replaced by X-mas.

But this year, I have a new gripe.  I went to my local shopping mall today and as usual, all the normal over the top Christmas decorations were up. However, there was no jolly ol’ Santa entertaining the children;  no plump  fatherly character with a white beard and bright red suit;  no red nosed reindeer or friendly North Pole elves.  Good Grief, there were not even any Santa-rina’s in short skirts!

Instead, jolly Santa was replaced by the Grinch!  The Grinch, was decked out in Santa’s red costume and wandering the mall yelling out, “Merry Christmas” while doing some kind of dance.  Occasionally, he’d stop, bare his big yellow teeth and pat some child on the head.  The Grinch was not alone.  He was accompanied by what appeared to be a white faced Chinese Martial Arts Swordsman and a leprechaun. The theme apparently was “Christmas – Tis the time to be Fable-ous”.


My, my green you look!

Most years at this time, I usually include some pictures or videos of Christmas lights, celebrations or decorations.  This year I am using the illuminated Font Magica Barcelona located at Montjuic, Barcelona as a surrogate.  Enjoy.


Font Magica Barcelona (Picture by LGS)
Font Magica Barcelona (Photo by LGS)
Font Magica Barcelona (Photo by LGS)
Font Magica Barcelona (Photo by LGS)
Font Magica Barcelona (Photo by LGS)


Carolina Squirrel & the Holy Grail

There is a small, quaint and ancient cathedral hidden in the twisting alleyways of the Spanish town of Valencia.  The building itself is a strange oddity reflecting a variety of architectural styles ranging from early Romanesque, subtle Renaissance, heavy Baroque and the more restrained Neoclassical.

The intrepid Carolina Squirrel (Squirreldom’s equivalent of Indiana Jones; a dashingly handsome and rugged archaeologist/adventurer squirrel) followed the clues laid out by an ancient manuscript that he had decoded which is known as  “Lonely Planet – Valencia” and found himself outside this unique cathedral.

Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady of Valencia (Now that's a mouthful!)

Upon entering, Carolina Squirrel found a strange religious ceremony taking place in which two people carry out a public sacrifice of their freedom and swinging singlehood in a ritual known as a “marriage”.  While, Carolina Squirrel was mildly entertained by the local natives dressed up in their ceremonial robes, he was not deterred from his search.  With his squinty eyes, he scanned the dark recesses and elaborate carved decorations of the cathedral.  Then suddenly, he saw it!

Wedding Party

The Holy Grail!  The holy relic said to be a cup used by Christ at the last supper was here.  Dan Brown and his Da Vinci Code placed the grail as buried under the small pyramid at the Louvre in Paris.  Pffft!  He got it wrong!

The grail has been in Valencia since the 11th Century.  Tradition holds that Saint Peter brought it to Rome in the first century and then it was brought to Spain by Saint Lawrence in the third century.  Archaeologists have determined that the artifact is a Middle Eastern stone vessel which does in fact date back to the first century.  It now sits on top of an Medieval era ornate stem and base of  alabaster, gold and gemstones.   The cup was the official papal chalice of many popes and was most recently used by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006. 

The Quest Has's the Holy Grail

Having triumphantly solved this mystery, the intrepid Carolina Squirrel is off to find Aladdin’s magic lamp.

*(The grey squirrel is known scientifically as Sciurus carolinensis.  Hence the choice of Carolina Squirrel in place of Indiana Jones.  “Carolina Squirrel and Aladdin’s Lamp” coming soon to a cinema near you ….as soon as I can get some %@*# backers with vision to fund its filming!)

All pictures by LGS

Basilica of the Holy Family

I am not normally impressed by large cathedrals. I know this may just be my personal bias but I find beauty more in the simple places of worship where the focus is on the majesty of God instead of the works of man. I may be wrong but I feel as those places seem to elevate man rather than glorify God especially when you think of how much was spent on things like silver altars and golden lamp stands; funds that could be spent helping the needy.

But there is something special about the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain which was just consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI last weekend and honored with the designation of Basilica. I really think it is special. It has been a labor of love for God starting with architect Antoni Gaudi who gave his all to the erection of this church and it has been a labor of love since for all who have worked on her for more than 100 years. The work began in 1882 and is expected to be finally completed in 2026. For most of this time the funding has been raised through public donations and entry fees from its 3 million annual visitors. I have paid the fee twice so I am fairly sure there is a brick with my name on it somewhere.

If I were to summarize Sagrada Familia in one sentence, it would be “This has been an act of worship through the loving creation of a work of living art modeled in stone.” I have posted before on this and there is a video which I put together and both can be seen here.

Apart from the Pope’s consecration, it was also noteworthy as being the first time the central nave was used for a service. Until now, services had been held in Gaudi’s crypt. Hence this post to mark an important milestone in this Basilica’s story. Enjoy the pictures (all taken by LGS).


The Intricate Sculpture that is the Sagrada Familia
4 of 18 Spires
The Graceful "Forest" of Columns in the Basilica's Interior
A Sense of the Heavenly Inspiration

Ramblin’ on the La Rambla

Here is another post in my series on Barcelona, Spain. I had previously done an introduction to Barcelona entitled “Barcelona Unoand had also posted on the amazing work of art and architecture which is Sagrada Familia.

This time, I present for your viewing pleasure, a video on La Rambla which is a 1.2 km long tree-lined pedestrian mall which stretches from the old Barri Gotic to the El Raval part of town. More importantly, it is a street alive with interesting architecture and exciting city life. A favorite with locals and tourists alike, it is like walking on the pulse of the city.

If you ever get to visit Barcelona, this is as good place as any to start orientating to the local lifestyle. This video highlights the attractions on the street including architecture, crafts, food, street performers, monuments and the famous Mercat de la Boqueria (iconic fresh produce market). Also keep a look out for my wife who will be “cleverly” hidden thoughout the video cause she is “internet shy”.

Oh, by the way, someone has done a photo portrait of the Lone Grey Squirrel. Please drop by using this link, Portrait of LGS, and let me know what you think.

Squirrel’s Secret Spot 13: Sagrada Familia

This post was meant to be my second post about Barcelona, Spain but I reconsidered because the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família deserves to be part of the Squirrel’s Secret Spot series (for the others, look for “Secret Spots” in my topics panel on the right column). I have been fortunate to visit this place twice and would love to visit again in another 5 years or so as it gets closer to completion. Yes, this cathedral which began construction in 1882 is still an on-going work.

More commonly called the Sagrada Familia, it was designed to be the Temple of the Holy Family. The main architect which has been responsible for the vision and design which is Sagrada Familia was the eccentric genius, Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926). He worked on the project for 40 years and most of the design which is being carried out even today is based on his drawing and plans. The current director for the project, Jordi Bonet i Armengol, has introduced computers to help with the design and construction work since 1980. While this has sped up the work, it has made for cleaner modernistic lines which while are beautiful in their own way, cannot compare with the original work of art which was Gaudi’s work. This can be clearly seen by comparing the wonderfully complex and creative Nativity facade by Gaudi and the more modern interpretation as represented by the Passion facade.

In my opinion, this should be on the list of modern Wonders of the World. This was obviously the ultimate work of a passionate and visionary artist. When I look at it I am awestruck and find it difficult to take in all the creativity, craftsmanship and symbolism. Parts of the building seem almost organic in nature; like a living growing organism. Some parts resemble giant works of sculpture rather than a functioning building. This monument in worship of God is truly awesome.

The only way to really enjoy this building is to visit it yourself. I hope you will have that opportunity to do so. For now, please enjoy my humble video.

Barcelona Uno

Barcelona is an amazing place. I had the good fortune of staying there for about two weeks last year while on work assignment and I used what free time I had (which was not that much) to explore and experience this vibrant city.

It may not be a particularly financially rich city when compared to other European economic powerhouses but it is rich in many other ways. It is blessed with a location on the Mediterranean Sea on Spain’s north-eastern coast. It has a rich history, both as the heart of the people of Catalonia as well as its importance to modern Spain. The Catalonians are proud of their own history and they remain distinct from the rest of Spain even today with their own language and significant autonomy.

From this city, many artistic geniuses emerged. Pablo Picasso spent his early life here and his art was influenced by fellow Catalan artists. The Picasso Museum (Museu Picasso)is currently housed in several converted medieval palaces in old town Barcelona. Other modern art greats include the artists Joan Miro and Antoni Tapies.

The city is also rich in architectural heritage. It has its ancient wonders and its modern wonders co-existing side by side. The old town that became rich at the time of the Spanish discovery of the New World remains largely intact with wonderfully romantic, narrow cobbled streets with fascinating buildings from that era appearing at regular intervals like jewels on a crown. The new buildings are innovative, daring and striking. However, the highlight must be the work of one man whom experts consider as being on the knife edge between inspired genius and insanity but whose buildings are awe-inspiring works of art; Antoni Gaudi.

Food is another good reason to spend some time here. It has a great selection of the food from all regions of Spain. The seafood is of course particularly fresh and spectacular. Tapas of all descriptions are waiting to be discovered in quaint little bars within historical buildings. Of course, there is paella, the quintessential Spanish rice dish flavored with saffron. This is the place to try it.

The city also has a sporting history and legacy. It hosted the 1992 Olympic Games and the Olympic facilities remain impressive. I am not a soccer fan but if you were, then the home base of the Barcelona Football Club would be a pilgrimage site.

I found it a great place to wander about and just about everywhere you can go, you will be within a few steps of art, culture, great architecture, history and good food. The beer wasn’t too bad either. Over the next few weeks, I shall be posting more specifically on some sights and sounds of Barcelona. Suffice to say that Barcelona is now the latest addition of a very short list of cities that I have for cities that I would not mind visiting again……and possibly again.


All Pictures by LGS. Clockwise from upper left: a) Decorated Building,
b) Old Bull Ring, c) Sagrada Familia (Cathedral), d) Artwork on building on La Rambla
e) Monument to Columbus and f) the modern office building, Torre Agbar.


All Pictures by LGS. Clockwise from upper left: a) relaxing at Park Guell,
b) replica of the Catalan flagship Galley at the pivotal Battle of Lepanto in 1571, c) food on sale at the Mercat La Boqueria, d) Spontaneous dancing of the Sardana,
e) Decorated shop along La Rambla and f) the cobbled streets of the old town.

All Pictures by LGS. Clockwise from upper left: a) Seafood Paella,
b) Monument to Columbus, c) The Meditteranean coast, near the Forum,
d) fresh grilled seafood, e) a Flamenco Tablao and f) the waterfront.

World Food Spot 5: Horchata, the Elixir of Tiger Nuts

I read about it in some travel book and was intrigued by the way the writer raved about it. So when I had an opportunity to visit Valencia, Spain, I was on the look out for this mysterious white drink. At first, it looked like I might be disappointed. This drink is popular served ice-cold in the summer and Valencian’s like their horchata made relatively fresh. I was there in winter which was the wrong season for it. Almost at the end of my stay, I found a couple of places that still kept some from the last summer. Although the thought me mad to request the drink in winter, they obliged and served it to me. I imbibed. It was quite unlike anything I had drunk before. This squirrel was bowled over, which I suppose makes it a four paws-up recommendation.

“Horchata” today, is used in reference to several vegetable beverages made from ground almonds, rice, barley or tiger nuts. The name is believed to be derived from the Valencian “orxata”, which itself may have arose from “ordiata” which means “made from ordi or barley. Mexican and Central American horchata is normally based on rice and may be flavored with almond paste, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, orange or lime. The version from Ecuador uses ground sesame instead of almonds while the Salvadorean version includes also cocoa and the Morro seed.

It is clear that the drink in the Americas was brought there be the conquering Spanish. The Spanish in turn were introduced to the drink by the Muslim Moors who controlled Valencia from the 8th to 13th Century. The drink in Valencia was derived from tiger nuts.
The practice of making drinks from tiger nuts is actually believed to have started from the region of Chuf, Sudan where tiger nuts or “chufas” were cultivated.

King James I of Aragon (the Conqueror) captured and liberated the city of Valencia from the Moors on the 28th September 1238. Legend says that since capturing cities was a thirsty business, soon after the King sought liquid refreshment and he was offered a milky beverage by an Arab maiden. He asked the name of the drink and the maiden replied that it was the milk of chufas. Impressed by the refreshing qualities of the drink, he is reported to have replied “Això is not llet, això is OR, XATA” (“This is not milk. This is gold, girl.”). Which is how legend explains the name Orxata de xufes (Horchata de Chufas), which is now used to describe the drink made from tiger nuts.

With regards to an earlier post in which I had mentioned horchata, Tai asked me “what were tiger nuts?” I did not know. Well, I looked it up and surprise, surprise, they’re not nuts at all. Tiger nut, Cyperus Sculentus, is a vigorous plant with leafs in rosettes. They are actually a kind of tuber, like a potato. Most of these tubers are grown today under the strict control of the Regulating Council of the Denomination of Origin, Chufa de Valencia. Only a small group of 16 villages produce the tiger nuts and the village of Alboraia is well known for the quality of the tiger nuts.

Why are they called tiger nuts? Well, they do resemble small nuts. I would like to think that they were named “tiger nuts” on account that these small nuts pack an impressive taste with a kick in it. Try it if you have the chance in eastern Spain. See if you would agree with King James I that it is liquid gold.