Category Archives: Spain

Semana Santa in Andalucía

Let’s cast our minds all the way back to April and Semana Santa (Holy Week). You may already be familiar with the famous processions that are held in Spain during Holy Week, from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. In Andalucía, they typically feature huge, heavy floats supported by lots of strong men and a lot of people wearing pointy hoods reminiscent of a certain American clan.

Semana Santa
To witness these processions first-hand (the tradition doesn’t really exist as far north as Oviedo) I used my lovely ten days of holidays from school to travel to Málaga, Granada and Córdoba in Andalucía.

An excruciatingly long overnight bus trip (including a stopover in the early hours of the morning in Madrid bus station) and I made it to Málaga. The weather was warm, the sun was shining and I was exhausted. Málaga turned out to be a great spot to relax for the first few days of my holidays. I did a little touristy sight-seeing, a lot of old, tiny street wandering (I could never, ever find my hostel), sat in the sun at the beach, spotted a few processions and joined the crowds to watch, and then ate ice cream. It was so good to see the sun for the first time in months. Sadly, most of the rest of my trip to Andalucía was shrouded in cloud and drizzle as the good weather didn’t hold out.

After a few nights, I hopped on another bus to Granada. Granada turned out to be the absolute highlight of my trip, not just because of the Alhambra (which needs a whole post of its own), but because the whole city is utterly gorgeous. I had a fabulous time there, in spite of a very, very early start one morning to buy tickets to the Alhambra (book in advance! Especially if you are visiting at one of the peak holiday times!) and a subsequent cold from sitting around in the cold and wet at 7 am. I spotted a few more processions, had my palm force-read by a gypsy, went on an excellent walking tour of the city and bought handmade dulces from a convent.
A sneak peek photo from the Alhambra for you.

My last stop, and sadly only for one night, was Córdoba. I visited the famous Mezquita cathedral-turned-mosque-turned-cathedral and the magnificent gardens of the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, the castle/fortress of the Christian Monarchs, ie King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella who reconquered Spain from the Moors in the late 15th century.

The trip back to Oviedo was another long, overnight bus ride. I arrived home at 6 am on Saturday morning and spent the rest of the Easter weekend sleeping off my cold. I couldn’t say it was a relaxing Easter break but, in light of the things I saw and did, totally worth it. It was a bit of a different Easter, but certainly refreshing to see barely any Easter eggs (unlike the way they seem to pop up in supermarkets in Australia the day after Christmas) but to see a religious focus instead, albeit a very Catholic one with all those floats of the Virgin Mary.

If you fancy it there are photos from Málaga and Córdoba over on Flickr.

TTFN.

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[Catching Up] Madrid: Day Three

(I can’t believe I’m still writing about April…)
On my last day in Madrid I was all by myself (my amiga was on the plane to Barcelona) and had a lot of activities to fit in.

I started early and headed to the Museo de la Reina Sofia for the Sunday morning free entry. The Reina Sofia is a gallery of modern art and its most famous piece is Picasso’s Guernica, his large, black and white, cubist depiction of the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. It is a very striking piece, taking up almost a whole wall. Even in the cubist style (which I confess I don’t really ‘get’) the anguish and pain on the faces is very real and very scary.

My next stop was the Museo de Sorolla, a gallery of paintings by Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla. As it was a nice day and because I am pig-headed, I decided I could walk there and save myself the Metro fare. The gallery is in the painter’s house, which he designed in an Andalusian-style with a lovely patio garden. The artworks are displayed inside the house, including in his studio. I love his wonderfully bright and light paintings and highly recommend that everyone checks them out.

By this point my art quota had been well and truly met for the weekend so I skipped the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, the third major gallery in the capital (behind the Prado and Reina Sofia). Instead I went to the Parque del Retiro, a great big open park with plenty of grass, trees and even a pond for boating. I ate an ice cream and soaked up the sun.

Lollipop trees


Boating

One smooth train ride that evening and I was back in Oviedo, in the rain.

TTFN.

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Sunday session of sol y sídra

On my last weekend in Oviedo, after Kyle had joined me, we went out on a beautiful, sunny Sunday for a bottle of Asturias’s specialty: sídra.

Sídra is an alcoholic apple cider that requires a very particular manner of pouring and drinking. The cider is still, rather than sparkling, so to aerate it a small amount must be poured into a glass from a large height, hitting the inside of the glass on the way down, and then drunk quickly like a shot. The pouring is a skill, but the bartenders in Asturias have it down to such a fine art that they barely even look at what they are doing, and can pour with three glasses in hand.


I have to admit I am not a huge fan of the flavour, and I am terribly bad at drinking it all down in one go. Still, it is refreshing on a sunny day (although I found there were only about three of those during the whole of May) and it is an important part of the regional identity. Plus, it is super cheap: two bottles (which equals about six of the small glasses per bottle) for €5.20.

TTFN.

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[Catching Up] Sunny Saturday in Segovia.

On Saturday of my weekend in Madrid we took a day-trip out to Segovia, a little town about 90 kilometres away from Madrid. After Renfe, the national Spanish train company, made things slightly difficult, we ended up on the slow, but cheap, train to Segovia. The weather was marvellous, a perfectly clear sky with lots of warm sunshine, both things I have come to appreciate so very much living in rainy Asturias.

Walking in to the old town from the train station the first spot we came across was the Aqueduct that originally dates from Roman times. Even taking into account the fact that it has been rebuilt and restored a number of times, it is very impressive. It has beautiful, even arches, lovely stone work and a Virgin hiding away in a little niche. With clear, blue sky behind it, it could not fail to be very picturesque.

We found the best way to see the town was to cut a path from the Aqueduct on one side, through the tiny, cobbled streets and the Catedral de Santa María in the middle, out to the Alcázar (fortress) on the other side of the old town. This took us to the three main attractions and we got a lovely walk in between. So from the Aqueduct we took some back streets and meandered down to the Plaza Mayor, which is somewhat overshadowed by Segovia’s Cathedral.

The Cathedral boasts the usual plethora of side chapels and ornate choir stalls but it also has some great artworks. After the bright sunshine it was a little chilly though!

From the Cathedral we really only had to keep following one street to wind up at the Alcázar. We decided to skip the Artillery Museum inside but I did buy a ticket to climb the Torre de Juan II (one of the fortress’s towers), laughing at the warning that the 152 step staircase was “not for unhealthy people”. Turns out the spiral staircase is more unsuitable for claustrophobic people or anyone bigger than about a size 12. It was a tight squeeze! Especially with people walking both up and down and trying to pass each other. However the views from the top, looking back towards the Cathedral towering over the old town and the snow-capped mountains in the background, were magnificent and worth the effort.

One delicious lunch later and we were back on the train to Madrid. One siesta later and we were heading out to dinner and our last night together before my lovely friend headed off to Barcelona the next morning. We ate in the Plaza Mayor, which turned out to be much more touristy in the evening but beautiful all the same. A chocolate con churros each later and we were very ready to sleep! The next day was to be my last in Madrid and I still had plenty left to see!

TTFN.

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[Catching Up] Madrid: Day One

I finally made the trip to Spain’s capital back in early April when I made plans to meet a friend visiting from Australia for the weekend. I took the train from Oviedo on Thursday evening, and it turned out to be a very comfortable, pleasant journey of approximately 6 hours. I got to read, stretch out my legs in the tons of leg-room and watch first the mountains of Asturias and then the plains of Castilla y León pass by. My point here: trains are awesome! (My cross-country bus trips in Semana Santa really proved this too).

The next morning we started out with few fixed plans, just a generally idea of walking in a vague direction and seeing a few of the sights. We started out at the Plaza Mayor, which was lovely in the early morning without so many tourists and touts (except for Minnie Mouse who seemed to think we were famous because she kept wanting to have a photo with us…) We also headed out to the Palacio Real and climbed up the dome of the Catedral Almudena next to it for a lovely view over the city. All of this seemingly organised sightseeing was interspersed with copious amounts of aimless wandering but it was nice getting to see the city, something you miss out on if you just take the metro from your hostel to your chosen tourist attraction.

Plaza Mayor


View of the Palacio Real from the Catedral de la Almudena

After a yummy lunch involving delicious tortilla española and a good dose of caffeine, we spent a large part of the afternoon exploring the collection of the Museo del Prado. Madrid has three world-renowned museums, all located within the so-called ‘Golden Triangle’, a little corner of Madrid. The Prado is the most famous and houses European art spanning the 12th to 19th centuries. Famous Spanish artists such as Velázquez, Goya and El Greco have lots of paintings on display, as do Ruebens and Bosch. There are also a few paintings by my favourite Spanish artist Sorolla (but I got to see many, many more at the dedicated Museo de Sorolla later that weekend). The Prado is very big, not anything like the Louvre, but it would take you a long time to see everything properly.

An early evening siesta later and we headed out for more tasty tapas and Spanish wine. We had an early night though to get ready for our early train out to Segovia the next morning!

TTFN.

PS: No surprises, Mum picked all of the right royals from the last post. They were (in no particular order): Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh, Catherine and William the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Camilla Duchess of Cornwall, Charles Prince of Wales and Prince Henry who is more commonly known as Prince Harry!

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The Royal Wedding through Spanish eyes.

This past Friday I was grateful, not for the first time, that I don’t have to work on Fridays! Instead I spent the morning indulging in Twinings tea and coverage of the Royal Wedding. Of course this was coverage with a distinctly Spanish air. Mostly it was the morning programs showing the Wedding, complete with a panel of raucous, over-dressed commentators. Naturally the English vows, the service and the music didn’t mean an awful lot to them, so after the arrival of the bride and the most important part of the whole day (the Dress) it was back to loud, heated discussions about who was the best dressed, who was the worst dressed, what the Spanish royal family was wearing and so on. Still, it was an experience, and I learnt a whole bunch of new names for the members of the royal family. With that in mind, it’s time for a new competition: guess away at these Spanish versions of the names of some of our royals.

Reina Isabel II
Catalina
Duquesa de Cornualles
Guillermo
Carlos, Príncipe de Gales
Príncipe Felipe, Duque de Edimburgo
Príncipe Enrique

TTFN.

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[Catching Up] A home-cooked lunch.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that grandmothers are in the business of feeding people. Spanish señoras seem to be particularly renowned for this habit. A few weeks ago my landlady took us to lunch at her mother’s house in her pueblo (village) called Salas. ‘Us’ is the three of us foreigners living in my landlady’s properties: myself, a girl from Guatemala and one from Mexico.

After the usual hair-raising drive we arrived in the little town of Salas on a fine, Spring day. We took a short stroll around the town before stopping at the bar for a quick drink in the sun while I tried my best to keep up with the conversation, and even – gulp – participate.

Tower from the old castillo in Salas

Just around the corner was our hostess’s house and we arrived to find red wine, ham, chorizo, cheese and croquetas (little deep fried balls of ham and cheese) ready and waiting. Then it was time for the first course: traditional Asturian fabada, a very rich bean stew with chunks of pork, chorizo and morcilla (Spanish blood sausage) mixed in, and fresh bread on the side. Second course: fried salted cod and salad with pork. Finally for dessert there was a huge dish of arroz con leche, literally rice with milk, essentially rice pudding. I cannot stress enough just how much food there was, nor how much of it was consumed! Our lovely hostess must have had leftovers for days.

Eventually we rolled from the table and back to car. On our way back to Oviedo we made a few stops in sweet little seaside towns, even getting out and stretching our legs in one: Cudillero. It was a gorgeous little town, on a hillside sloping right down into the sea, with the houses clinging to the land.

Houses in Cudillero


The seafront in Cudillero

It was a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday and a great experience to have of real Spanish home-cooking, which I can certainly attest, in this case at least, is very delicious.

TTFN.

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Filed under Asturias, Food glorious food, Spain