Tag 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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Filed under Andalucía, Spain, Travel

[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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Filed under Madrid, Spain, Travel

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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Filed under Just for fun, Spain

[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

[Catching Up] Carnaval Take Two: Down comes the rain.

Nearly four days of almost total bed rest later I’m ready to start filling you all in on the last six weeks worth of adventures. Let’s go back to where I left off, Carnaval.

As you may remember, in Asturias there are two weekends for Carnaval, the last weekend before Lent and the real Carnaval, and the following weekend when Oviedo throws its own party.

By the second weekend of Carnaval I have to admit I just wasn’t feeling the motivation; the all-night dancing and freezing cold dawn Navia wanderings had taken their toll and I wasn’t feeling very well. So rather than hit up Carnaval with the other twentysomethings and repeat the partying and dress ups, I decided to enjoy the family-friendly version of Carnaval.

So I meandered down to the centre of Oviedo early in the evening to check out the parade of groups wearing fabulous, bright costumes. The parade finished at the Plaza de Alfonso II, otherwise called the Plaza de la Catedral, where there was a big stage set up for the costume competition, complete with D-grade local celebrities to judge (there was a female judge dressed up as a dominatrix I’m pretty sure, she was even prancing round with a riding crop… It was all kinds of weird). As the parade wound up the Plaza filled right up with people and the competition got under way. My personal favourite was the Oreo biscuits complete with box (typical of the sweet-tooth, right?).

However I didn’t ever find out if they won the group section as during that section the heavens opened. And properly opened. I have never seen such a large crowd dissipate so quickly! People were sheltering in doorways or under balconies from the heavy rain and rising puddles or braving it and getting drenched (that was me, I forgot my umbrella. Stupid, stupid thing to do; in Asturias you never ever leave the house without your umbrella!). Halfway home the thunder and lightning started and I experienced my first, albeit brief, Spanish thunderstorm.

All in all it was a fun evening, the effort that goes into the costumes is remarkable and the monetary value of the prizes likewise!

The Mythology Society even had a dragon


The Oreos


The Plaza de la Catedral starting to fill up

TTFN.

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Filed under Asturias, Carnaval, Oviedo, Spain

Carnaval Take One: Dancing till dawn.

The first weekend of Carnaval, with nothing going on in Oviedo, I headed out to the Western side of Asturias for the first time to a pueblo (small town) called Navia. After a two hour bus ride I arrived in the seaside town to meet up with another language assistant who lives there.

Navia might be a fairly small town but for Carnaval it seems that everyone under 25 dresses up in outrageously good costumes and hits the town. I was very under-dressed in my peacock costume that entailed a mask with peacock feathers and green and blue clothes, if I’m ever in Spain for Carnaval again I will have to make much more effort. There were groups of girls dressed as Andalusian señoritas or Minnie Mouses, a couple dressed as Ken and Barbie (in boxes!), Lady Gagas with questionable genders, the whole cast of Grease, vampires and zombies, Wallys from Where’s Wally? books, super-heroes and the list goes on. A lot of the costumes are rented from shops, leading one of my private students, a 12-year-old boy, to very succinctly dismiss Carnaval as “una fiesta para los comercios” (a festival for the shops).

Still, it isn’t every day that you get to go to a “botellón” with a ninja! A botellón is when a huge crowd of young people meet in the street to stand around and drink alcohol they’ve brought from home. This is totally normal behaviour in Spain and happens every weekend, rain, shine or freezing temperatures, such as the weekend of Carnaval. I sometimes wonder how bars and clubs make enough money to survive, because at last count I have bought a grand total of three drinks at such establishments and have very rarely seen anyone at the bar of a club. Instead, everyone is outside at the botellón drinking their “calimocho” or “tinto de verano”, red wine mixed with cola or lemonade respectively. No, I am not joking.

Once everyone was sufficiently lubricated at the botellón, and we had frozen half to death, we eventually made our way to the real fiesta: a former cinema turned into a night club for Carnaval, DJ and cheap drinks included. Considerably warmer, we danced the night away, only pausing to watch the costume competition. They give out real money as prizes to the best costumes for individuals, pairs and groups, and I was starting to understand all the effort with the costumes! The music was good, some apparently universal English-language classics and some Spanish party classics thrown in together. The stamina of the Spanish when partying is quite something to behold, the place was packed until about 6am, and when we left a bit after 7am there were still quite a few people going for it and bartenders dancing on the makeshift, trestle table bars. When in Spain, party like a Spaniard, and dance till it’s light outside.

The next day, after grabbing a couple of hours sleep, I got to see Navia by daylight. My friend showed me around and we went down to the beach to enjoy the sunshine and warmth. I feel really glad to still be living quite close to the sea, and the coastline up here is gorgeous. In Navia the beaches are mostly at the feet of small cliffs, one little bay actually reminded me a lot of Green Bay at home in Port Elliot. Navia is also on a river and has beautiful views of the hills around it.


That evening I took the bus back to Oviedo, catching up on some sleep as I did so, and started wondering what I would wear to Carnaval Take Two the following weekend.

TTFN.

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Filed under Asturias, Carnaval, Navia, Spain

At the halfway mark.

Today marked an important halfway point for me. I have finished my first tube of Vegemite. I brought two with me and at breakfast this morning I finished one of them. So, I am halfway through my Vegemite supplies.

I am also now about halfway through my stay here (if you can believe it!) so really, it all lines up quite nicely.

TTFN.

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Filed under Mi vida española, Update