Metropol Parasol: The Largest Wooden Structure In The World

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The largest wooden structure in the world is surprisingly hidden in a quiet neighborhood of Seville, Spain. Called the Metropol Parasol, the 490 by 230-foot monstrosity floats casually above La Encarnación square like a space ship landing in the middle of a city. Underneath, Spaniards siesta and carry about everyday life oblivious to the intrusion, while visitors can ride an elevator up to the top of the structure and explore the flowing architecture. Make sure to explore market underneath the Parasol as well – though it’s got a modern layout reflective of the parent structure, there’s plenty of Iberico jamon and Rioja to remind of you of the old world.

[Photo Credits: Grant Martin and Liz Telschow]

GQ Names ‘Most Underrated Cities’ In Europe

Have you ever touched down on your hard earned vacation only to find you’ve landed in a tourist trap? GQ decided to help ensure none of their readers stands in a long line again. As part of their August issue, the magazine has put together a list of cities where travelers are guaranteed to escape the crowds. It begins:

Europe’s mega-cities have their justly enshrined Famous Things You Must See and Do-but it’s easy to grow weary of the obligation (and the traffic, and those damn sightseeing buses). This is when you turn to the second cities of Europe, those middle siblings and funky cousins of the overcrowded capitals that are both less familiar and more knowable, offering a release from the pressure of hitting all the right places.

The article goes on to list atypical places to go and things to see in Germany, England, Spain, Italy, France, Sweden, Ireland and more. Many of the places GQ suggests-including Porto, San Sebastian, Seville, Corsica and Valencia-have already been chronicled by Gadling writers (are you surprised?).

When you travel, do you prefer checking landmarks off your bucket list or disappearing into small towns? If your answer is the latter, is there a second city in Europe you’ve discovered? Help your fellow traveler out by spreading the word in the comments below.

Image of Padova, Italy by Italy Travel Experience, flickr.

Photo of the day – Plaza de Toros

plaza de toros

Millions of Americans are suffering through an almost intolerable heat wave. So why not add fuel to the fire this Friday with an image that speaks to a dry and unyielding summer heat?

In addition to suggesting extreme warmth, this image of the Plaza de Toros (properly the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla) in Seville, Spain by Flickr user magnusvk is gorgeous. The image is simple and beautifully composed. Bullfighting fans will already know that the Plaza de Toros is the oldest bullring in all of Spain.

Got an image you’d like to share with a wide audience? Upload said image to the Flickr Gadling Group pool. If we like your photo we might choose it as a future Photo of the Day.

A new nativity scene: Jesus, Mary, and a Pile of Poo

nativity sceneWhen I was little, it was my Christmastime job to arrange my family’s nativity scene on a shelf for all to see. I would ponder how the birth of Christ must have gone down, where the wise men had stood to get the best view, and whether camels and sheep got along. The one thing I didn’t think about was someone needing to take a dump. That was mistake number-one.

It was my first holiday season living in Seville, Spain. And there, the nativity, called the Belén (or Bethlehem), is the cornerstone of the holiday decorations, depicting the entire city of Jesus’ birth. So while I missed the snowmen, Christmas trees, and Macy’s storefronts of my Chicago home, I was glad that I would still be able to set up a nativity scene in my temporary one.

In the Plaza de San Francisco, a huge square in the city’s cobblestone center, was the annual nativity festival. I had never seen the plaza so full-full of white tents, of artisans, of families.

There, it’s also the kids’ jobs to assemble the nativity. Each winter the kids pick out new figurines to add to their scenes. On tiptoe, they peer over the edges of the makeshift booths, thrusting their little fingers at the characters and set-dressings they want in their Belén that year. Some buy miniature pig legs, rabbits, and morcilla (blood sausage). Others buy miniature gardens, loaves of bread, and tables. Observing the tradition amid the throngs of shoppers, it looked to me as if the children were preparing tiny, ceramic feasts for their tiny, ceramic Jesuses.nativity sceneFinally, I reached the edge of the plywood booth and surveyed the miniature rivers, mountains, stables, and farmers that stretched for at least 15 feet on either side of me. And that’s when I saw him: a boy, bent over, pooping. He was holding the sides of his jeans around his knees.

I furrowed my brow, blinked a few times, and moved on from the rogue pooper. But soon I realized he was not alone. He and his minions were everywhere. They came in all shapes, sizes, and styles. Some were small, simple cartoonish; others were large, ornate, and lifelike. But all assumed the ill-famed position-a Hershey’s Kiss-shaped plop of poo under their exposed hind ends. Some were exhibitionists, and others bashful, hiding their deed behind a haystack.

I decided to purchase my Belén from an artisan with a collection of fun, juvenile-looking figurines. They were small enough to fit into my suitcase without worsening my already abysmal luggage fees (I don’t travel light).

After dwelling on the mischievous pooper for several days, I finally summoned the courage to ask my brash host mother why the little guy was defecating in front of the Christian savior.

“So, I went to the nativity fair the other day and saw figurines of boys and men pooping…” I hesitated. “Well, we have nativity scenes in the United States, but I have never seen that figurine before,” attempting to ease into the inquisition. “Who is he?”

“Just a guy,” she responded, not getting my point. “He could have been a shepherd, a stable boy, or anyone else.”

“Well, what is he doing pooping?”

Cocking her head to the side, she let out a little chuckle, reminding me that I, the stupid American, had emerged once more. “Well lots of things happened at the birth of Jesus,” she began. “The three wise men came with gifts, the shepherd tended his flock, and probably someone had to poop. We call him the caganer.”

I stared at her, waiting for further explanation. There wasn’t any. So I turned to my pocket Oxford University Press dictionary. Shitter. Caganer means shitter.

The following winter, in my family’s Indiana home, the Plaza de San Francisco and my host mother’s frankness were distant memories. It was a week before Christmas, and Frosty, the Douglas-Firs, and Silent Night felt like the holidays. And as always, I assembled the nativity scene. My family’s reaction was a mixture of shock, disgust, and crude delight.

But now, to my family, the caganer is a staple of the Christmas season. He’s a reminder that Christ was-and is-here with the angels, with the wise men, and with all of us, even in the biggest of dumps.

K. Aleisha Fetters is a Seed.com contributor.

Are the trains in Spain faster than the planes?

If you’ve ever had a chance to travel around Europe, you’re probably familiar with its various high-speed rail networks. In France, the TGV and AGV lines whisk passengers between Paris and points beyond including Brussels and Lyon at speeds over 200 miles per hour. And in Spain, the AVE rail system connects Madrid to Seville and as of 2008, to Barcelona as well.

According to a recent post at Wired, the new high speed link between Spain’s two biggest cities has had a dramatic effect on the country’s transportation network. In 2007, the airline route between Madrid and Barcelona was the busiest in the world, carrying over 70 percent of the passengers traveling between the two. Yet upon the opening of the new Barcelona rail line last year, that percentage has already dropped to 60 percent, and experts predict the number of plane and train passengers on the route will be equal within the next 2 years.

Aside from the obvious environmental benefits of traveling by rail instead of air, there’s a significant convenience advantage as well. As heavy airplane traffic continues to choke airport runways worldwide, it’s likely many of us will be turning to the railways for trips shorter than three hours. And when you think about it, by the time you’ve made it through TSA clearance, located your gate and fought for an overhead bin spot, your quick two hour plane trip has often turned into four or five. Here’s hoping the U.S. continues to look into similar high-speed rail solutions like Acela. It’s no AVE yet, but certainly a good first step.

[Via PSFK]