Sunday, December 9, 2007

Cuenca and Ciudad Encantada

View of Cuenca

Cuenca, the capital of Cuenca province is exactly between Madrid and Valencia (165km either way). It is built on top of a rock above the rivers Huécar and Júcar.

Cuenca is divided into the historical part on top of the hill and the new part at the bottom. In the new part are plenty of cheap hostals and shops, but otherwise not much else to see. We stayed at Posada los Tintes for 35 € a room. Nothing special but clean.

The historical part is a steep walk, we only discovered later that you can actually drive and park all the way up.

When you walk across the San Pablo bridge, you get the best view of the Casas Colgadas, the 'Hanging houses' which are built literally into the rocks.

You get to the Puente de San Pablo via Plaza Mayor. Plaza Mayor is also very pretty and very touristy. The cathedral has Gothic and Renaissance elements and is certainly worth a visit.

The Casas Colgadas from the Puente de San Pablo

The most fascinating attraction of Cuenca Province is Ciudad Encantada (The Enchanted City), about 25km northeast of Cuenca city. It is actually not a city at all, it is an area of amazing rock formations formed by water and weather. It is like a big park and after a small entry fee of 3 € you can enjoy a relaxing walk (1 ½ to 2 h) in a magnificent environment.

Most of the rock formations are labeled according to what they look like.

El Hombre (The Man)

Los Osos (The bears)

El Puente Romano (The Roman Bridge)

Las Barcas ( The boats)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Segovia in one day

Segovias impressive Gothic cathedral on Plaza Mayor in the Old City.

Segovia, capital of Segovia province is situated northeast of Madrid. It is about 1000m above sea level, which makes a noticeable difference to the climate. It is usually a lot cooler than in Madrid or Castilla-La-Mancha. Although on our visit in late October it was T-Shirt warm.

There are two main attractions you have to see in Segovia. One is the 29m high aqueduct that crosses Plaza del Azoguejo, the other one is the Alcázar, which is at the west end of Segovia where the rivers Río Clamores and Río Eresma meet.

The old part of the city is pleasant to walk through with its cafes and bars, churches and interesting old buildings with storks nesting on the top. And it would not be a true Spanish City if it didn't have a Plaza Mayor. On our visit the square was covered with colourful market stalls and yelling vendors. In the background we could see the impressive cathedral, that usually dominates the square.

The Roman aqueduct with 118 arches goes across Plaza del Azoguejo.

The Alcázar and its numerous towers seems like a fantasy palace.

The palace is built on top of a hill, so you don't have to go up the towers to get a spectacular view.

The markets on Plaza Mayor with the cathedral in the background.

Like most cities in Spain, Segovia has its own style of facades. Here are two of the patterns you find all over the city.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pool story

Here's a story about how two people (and the occasional days brick laying help from friends), built their own swimming pool.

My wife and I built this pool directly next to the house (which we also built, but isn't finished yet) on our property in rural Toledo (Spain).

I'll start at the beginning, those of you who cant wait to see the final result just scroll down.....

Our house is situated on the top part of a sloping section. There is room to put a swimming pool in front of the house but as we have a horse who lives on our land (its only 500m2) we needed to leave room for him. We also want to fit the horses house and a double garage on the section, so decide to build our pool directly adjacent to the house.

This also meant minimal digging because the section was already sloped. Because of the location of the proposed pool, we couldn't get a digger in, so dug out the hole needed by hand. We only needed to dig a small amount out at the shallow end (top part of our section), but make no mistake, it took months! You can see the hollow that we dug out on the right side of this photo:

(left: the view looking down the section, right: from the bottom of the pool looking back up)

After building a 20cm brick framework at the bottom, we filled the base with concrete. Lucky that Mike and Kim were there as I ordered too much concrete and we had to scree the pool plus move the extra concrete to a useful position before it all set (in Spanish weather concrete sets FAST!).

Luckily Jesus (one of our neighbours) helped so after a small miracle the pool base was finished.

Then we laid the bricks. All walls were made from rows of single bricks and a space in between where we later put steel re-enforced concrete. Here are some photos from that construction phase which lasted about 1 and a half years (because we had a baby in the middle of it).

My father in law (right) and I (left) hard at work bricking. He helped for a week and a half and managed 3 rows of bricks (which is actually alot).

Here you can see the side wall almost up to height. Note the space in the middle for the concrete. Our son looks on from his play-pen.

Here is the pool up to height. Note the black waterproofing done between the pool wall and the house. The concrete inside the brick walls also has a water proofing additive.

This was my first ever cement rendering job. The cement render also has waterproofing added (we weren't taking any chances). Smooth huh?

Here is the pool cement rendered. My wife Karin is standing in the deep end to give it some scale. Up the shallow end its just about a meter deep.

The last step was to put on the tiles and grouting, install the slabs on top of the sides and then fill the pool with water. We couldn't fill it all the way because there was no support in front of the deep end (which is completely out of the gound). Nevertheless after doing all that the pool was more or less finished.

We have no in-between shots after the pool was cement rendered, instead, hold your breath and scroll down to the finished pool.

---scroll down to the finished pool---

---scroll down to the finished pool---

Go here for more on how we built our Spanish swimming pool

Monday, May 21, 2007

Our Holiday in Australia and New Zealand

Karin and I were recently in Australia in New Zealand. Kind of funny that I live in Erope and sometimes holiday in my home country. Anyway; here are some photos from our trip. We had a lot of fun kayaking and boogie boarding on the sunshine coast of Australia.

We also went to the zoo made famous by the late Steve Irwin. Australia zoo. It was fantastic. Nicely laid out, very well kept and organised. The enclosures were great too, the animals have plenty of space to live in and they live in the most natural way possible. Consideration was made for the humans too, who were able to view the animals from every angle in the most non intrusive manner.

We were able to stroke the Kangaroos and Koalas (something you can’t do in New South Wales).

In Sydney, We caught up with Michaels and My friend Alex (he was also at Mikes wedding, so some of you may have met him), and some other close friends, Joe, Gatana, Otto and Marina.

It was great; I really enjoyed catching up with my friends and the effort they made to catch up with me. It was much appreciated.

In Sydney of course we did all the standard tourist things, Sydney Opera House/Harbor bridge, Bondi beach, Darling harbor, Paddy’s markets etc.

I really loved being stopped in the street for directions by some Germans who weren’t expecting such an accurate reply in their native tongue!

New Zealand was great. We met most of the family again, some of which Karin hadn’t yet met (Melody and Barry – she had met Rachel at D&M’s wedding), some of whom we’re completely new (Marlon).

Was also took time out to go for a ride in a helicopter. Wow, no wonder my brothers mad on them. It was great fun. It felt like God had picked us up by the scruff of the neck and carried us around (just like a mother cat would its kittens).

Mike and Kim’s wedding was beautiful. A lovely open air ceremony outside. Cosy reception with good food and wine and great company. Here are some photos. Enjoy.