Sunday, 14 September 2008


Oh dear - I've just realised this is another whingeing blog about our recent visit to Spain. We did have a lovely holiday, honest. But each time we came across a disappointment or other, my other half says, 'You have to blog this'. So here goes, and I promise to write something more cheerful next time.

Anyway, one of the frustrations of holidays is visiting places to find they are in the process of being refurbished, rebuilt, or that their collections have been moved somewhere else. I recall many such experiences when I travelled around Europe on my month-long ‘Inter-Rail’ ticket: finding the twin towers of Cologne Cathedral wrapped in scaffolding being one of the more memorable and irritating.

More recently, the tower of Frankfurt's great church was similarly clad, although I have no doubt that lots of visitors to these shores have been saying the same thing about St Paul's Cathedral in London over the last few years (and they still haven't finished).

Now, of course I understand completely that old buildings need a lot of tlc to keep them in prime condition, and that museums have to refresh and reorganise their collections from time to time to keep them interesting. But there’s no doubt that some places seem more prone to this than others.

Having travelled a lot around Spain in recent years, it seems particularly prone to the ‘closed at short notice’ syndrome, with even the local tourist office unaware that a site or collection is currently undergoing refurbishment. Among the many joys of a recent holidays there, this happened twice.

The first was a visit planned to a restored archaeological site – a prehistoric Iberian settlement, in fact - on the edge of the resort of Calafell near Tarragona. We had visited a sister site a few days before, and been given information about this site, among others. We asked about opening hours and so forth, and were assured it was open.

Fortunately, it wasn’t too far to travel there when we visited a few days later – and just as well, as the main entrance was firmly closed, with a photocopied notice informing us that it was being refurbished and would reopen after the tourist season, in October. Quite why this timing was felt appropriate wasn’t clear – why reopen after the tourists have gone home? Still, we got to peek from outside, and it looks worth a look on our next trip.

Anyway, the experience was repeated a few days later at another site, fortunately only half an hour’s walk from where we were staying in Vilanova. This is a large and very imposing mansion on the edge of town, called Masia d’en Cabanyes. It was one of the houses belonging to a wealthy 18th-19th century family, whose son, Manuel de Cabanyes (1808-1833), became a noted poet. His life and poetry must wait for another day – it’s worth a blog in its own right – but suffice to say that this one of his family’s mansions is now a museum to the Catalan Romantic movement.

Unfortunately, the museum seems to suffer particularly badly from ‘temporary closure’ syndrome. For starters, it’s only open on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 2pm, so catching it open requires planning in the first place. But, even so, it has a knack of being closed. We’ve now been five times, and still never got in.

The reasons are always wonderfully clichéd: a shortage of staff due to illness (can’t they provide cover?); staff on annual holidays (er – ditto – and can’t this be planned in advance...?); and, on this occasion, sudden problems with the electrics - requiring a week’s unplanned closure. Each time there has been the hurriedly prepared print-out on a piece of paper, taped over the entrance board. It’s always very nicely apologetic, though.

We should have learned our lesson by now, of course, and telephoned ahead, just to check, but I have the strange feeling that things could go wrong between putting the phone down and getting there. Perhaps they’re just shy?

Strangely, this doesn’t seem to happen to other museums in the town: the Railway Museum and Library-Museum are doggedly open as planned, and the Can Papiol Museum (another mansion) is undergoing an elaborate and very planned closure until the end of 2009. Clearly, this seems to affect certain places more than others.

However, I'm not one to give up easily, so shall write a blog as soon as I succeed in undertaking a visit. In the meantime, don't hold your breath...

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