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    Zeitz MOCAA : Africa finds its voice

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    The art at the Zeitz MOCAA museum in Cape Town turns the Western perception of African art on its head, which of course was the intention of the 39 curators involved at this world-class centre. That’s of course not counting the unbelievably photogenic architecture of the converted old grain silos. The sliced-open hollow tubes that create ovals and circles and curvatures wherever you look were once giant storage cylinders.

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    Spain-Portugal Road Trip Map & Highlights

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    It was the second week of May, just ahead of the Spanish summer, when we touched down in Madrid to embark on a road trip, a kind of pear-shaped circle, around Spain and Portugal. It was our first time in this part of the world (although it had been a long-standing place-marker on our wish list), we were armed with only a cryptic guidebook or two, with no expectations.

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    San Sebastian Spain

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    It’s named after a saint. It’s on the Bay of Biscay in the north of Spain. And it’s near the French border. That’s San Sebastián. Europeans love the city for its powder-sand beaches. When the sun shines, the sea is the colour of Indian turquoise. So, yes, there’s kind of a surf culture here. But there’s also a gentle elegance to San Sebastián with its Belle Epoque flourishes.

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    Bilbao Guggenheim Spain

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    When you mention Bilbao, most people think immediately of the Guggenheim Museum designed by Canadian-born architect Frank Gehry. It is quite awe-inspiring. Daring. Almost architecturally impossible with its supple metal curves gleaming gold, copper, silver, depending on how the light strokes its surfaces. And, indeed, this building was what really lifted Bilbao out of its bleak industrial slump of the 1990s.

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    Haro Rioja photo essay

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    Haro (silent ‘h’) is all about Rioja wine … those luscious, juicy Tempranillo, Grenache and Carignan (among other cultivars) reds. Hey, Ernest Hemingway liked it enough to hang out for a while. And where else is there a yearly Batalla del Vino, a battle of wine, staged on a nearby mountain where the townsfolk dress in white, then raucously lob fermented red juice over each other from buckets and wineskins?

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    Porto, Portugal

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    It’s the funniest thing … the towns I got the least excited about are the ones that have turned out the best (and the longest) as photo essays. What gives? Perhaps in Porto’s case, it was the miz grey skies that got me down — but when I look at the pictures, the city didn’t hold back from offering up offbeat photo opportunities in every corner.

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    Salamanca Photo Essay

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    Ah, Salamanca. I can think of no other city with an identity so entwined in learning and graceful university architecture and boisterous student life … the one simply doesn’t exist without the other. Certainly, we’re talking of the Old Quarter here, but that’s where the soul and heart of Salamanca lie.

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    Coimbra Portugal photo essay

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    Coimbra has had a long complex history. Celts lived here. And the Romans. So did the Barbarians (those non-Greek-speaking invaders of abroad). Then came the Moors, and later the Spanish. But most guidebooks focus on Coimbra as a university town; tour buses consider it worthy of half a day, disgorging their travel troupes there for just a morning or an afternoon.

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    Palatial Lisbon

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    Because the Portuguese were such a seafaring (and colonising) nation, they came into contact with many different cultures and societies, absorbing and assimilating their tastes and styles. And of course, the conquering Moors from North Africa left a very rich architectural heritage throughout Portugal and Spain. And so … Lisbon has its French-inspired Versailles in the Queluz palace.

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    Monumental Lisbon

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    It’s a bit like a seesaw … some of the most appealing attractions lie at opposite ends of the city, with Lisbon the central pivot. Witness wonderful Belém all the way to the west and the captivating Azulejo (Tile) museum all the way to the east. And yet both these destinations were highlights of our stay in Lisbon. Belém, particularly, snuck into our hearts.

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