They must have run out of plaques when they erected this sitting man statue on the walls in Salamanca but a student told me it was the writer Unomuno. It’s not shown among the 20 most famous statues in that city of many statues, but I loved it.
Day something in the great lock down and my place is tidier than a monk’s cell so while I’m thinking of what past travels to write about, I’m sorting half a lifetime’s accumulation of trivia, travel books, cards and pamphlets kept from the last great tidying session when I downsized six years ago. It’s been hard, but hey, I’ve managed to throw out two books, and at least five pamphlets I’ll never read again and I have put some of the postcards aside to send to friends! The rest will have to stay put until the next national crisis. More I cannot do!
So here are just a few pictures that remind me of happy times.
Sifting through my memory box I relive and recall trips which have slipped to the back of my mind. These in turn encourage me to look out photographs, some prints, some transparencies which I must get down to converting to digital images one of these days. Black and white prints, slides, then coloured prints and finally digital prints and computer discs. And then there are the old family photos and my husbands wartime photos in Burma to be sorted through one day.
It was the early sixties when we discovered a little village called Castel de Ferro when the son of the owner of the only hotel there jumped out in front of our car to stop us and invite us in to see the new swimming pool. Those were innocent days when we politely stopped and they actually thought it was a good way to get tourists to stay with them.
And stay we did, for two weeks or so, during which time the local boy-goatherds followed me around wherever I went. They had never seen a ‘foreigner’ before and when my husband took them all for a ride in the green Austin van we had in those days, their giddy pleasure knew no bounds. We spent many hours with them and we’d supply a picnic as they were on the mountains from dawn till dusk with only a few scraps to eat, caring for the skinny goats. On the day we left all the little boys were crying and it near broke my heart.
Spain opened to tourism sometime in the fifties, and those of us who went then were greeted with warmth and friendliness. Franco had kept Spain out of World War Two (it was a broken country after the Civil War 1936-39 anyway) but as he leaned heavily towards the Axis’ powers help was not forthcoming to re-structure the country. Until the advent of the Cold War and the West’s fear of Russia that is, when the need for strategic military basis and airports ushered in the Marshall Plan, and Spain, along with other countries in Europe received aid, mainly from the USA, which helped it get back on its feet again.
It took a long time though, for the infrastructure to get into place. For many years the roads throughout Spain bore the chalked message “Franco, Mas Arboles, Mas Agua, Mas Carreteras” (more trees, more water, more roads). Not only were the existing roads in dire states but there were few of them. The above photo of the car breakdown took place on the main road between Valencia and Granada. Our car hit a rock or stone in the middle of the road and combined with driving on many untarmacked roads throughout our trip, it brought us to a halt. Local farm-workers helped move it and we managed to limp on until we came to a repair shop/garage.
Nowadays Spain has some of the best roads in Europe.
The photo of Benidorm is of the town before it became the biggest thing in tourism and the Avenida Hotel (still there) was one of only a handful in 1959. We stayed there in a room where our balcony looked on to the open air cinema which showed mainly very old, heavily censored films, but with a cheap bottle of wine and some nibbles to enjoy, it made for a fun night. I say ‘night’ because the cinema didn’t start until midnight or later – no-one worried about the possibility of people not being able to sleep. You either slept or you went to the cinema. What? You want another option?
I think I’d better stop there as the post is getting too long. I’ve still got a bunch of photographs on the computer which I hope to downsize and caption and I’ll put a few more up after I’ve tussled with the garden where the weeds are in a defiant mood. I’ve got to get them under control before they master me.
Just back from a trip to the Spanish Pyrenees, staying in a village high in the mountains where I endeavoured to improve my Spanish and conquer my fear of the subjunctive in the company of 5 other like-minded people! My once good grasp of the language was getting rusty and when I read about a course in the Basque area (Navarre), I signed up. The Pyrennean Experience promised mountain walks, good company, magnificent scenery and total immersion in the language and it delivered on all counts.
Our home for the period was in a farmhouse in the hamlet of Ameztia, 4km from the quintessentially Basque village of Ituren, located in the Baztan valley in the Spanish Pyrenean foothills, about an hour from the smart city of San Sebastian and approximately the same from Bilbao: Biarritz on the French side, was only 90 minutes away.
Located on a hill encircled by white-washed villages and ringed by mountain ridges, there was nothing near the farmhouse to distract from the learning process or the bonding of the six mature students, two teachers, and the owner and organizer of the Pyrenean Experience, Georgina.
What was a distraction was the constantly changing scenery, the glow of the bracken, the shadows on the beech and chestnut woods, and the intense green of the surrounding fields cropped to a velvety smoothness by flocks of sheep, the muffled sound of whose bells was the only sound to punctuate the silence of the valley.
To describe the views from the house as stunning is an understatement. From dawn till dusk the changing views from the terrace of my room were a constant delight. In the early morning, clouds nestled in the valleys below the mountains as the rising sun edged the clouds pink and the warmth of the red tiled roof attracted the house cats to snooze there for most of the day. In the evenings we watched the distant mountains darken and eagles wheeling in slow motion in the sky above.
Those nights looking out on the mountains and watching the birds overhead made it all too possible to believe in the Basque myths which the locals believe in, or pretend to. This belief helps keep alive the old traditions of appeasing witches and most of the houses in the vicinity will have pinned to their door one of the symbols said to repel witches (see image below).
Belief in witches in the villages of Navarre has existed for many years. Once socially functional, a means of explaining why strange things occurred, acting to discourage undesirable behaviour and used as a form of social control, it has a long history. Douglas Gifford in his book Witchcraft and the Problem of Evil in a Basque Village (1979) tells us that the phrase ‘bad neighbours‘ (malos vecinos) in the Basque region was synonymous with ‘bruja’, meaning ‘witch’, a belief that seems to have followed on from the witch hunts in the area during the Inquisition and from the 17th century influx of refugees from France who brought stories of the witches’ Sabbath and devil worship.
Back to the mountains! Daily circular walks were guided by Georgina, sometimes accompanied by one of the teachers, but we spoke Spanish at all times – an essential part of the teaching. The walks were graded from moderate to intermediate level, from lazy walks from village to village to high level ridge walks at over 1,000 metres. To walk in this virtually unexplored medieval landscape of the Basque Pyrenees is humbling: it is both beautiful and awe-inspiring, the hospitality of the people is unbelievable, and the flora will have you reaching for your camera every few minutes.
Ituren, the nearest inhabited spot, is a delightful village with a school, 2 bars, 3 restaurants, a village shop, a butcher, a chemist and a hairdresser. Hand-made bracken stacks along the road are a feature of the area as are the dry-stone walls which enclose the fields.
There was a wine tasting one evening, courtesy of a Navarre wine producer, an informal musical evening by a professional guitarist, and lots of late night conversations over bottles of unlimited wine.
Trips to other villages were made, visits to neighbouring farmhouses where we ate home-made cheese and drank home-made cider (the local tipple), and delightful lunches were laid on in outlying villages to coincide with walks and sight-seeing.
Meals were taken together, breakfasts being a ‘help yourself to whatever you want from the kitchen when you get up’, and Begoña, our cook, produced meals that satisfied everyone and even let us help sometimes!
The Basque area has been side-lined for decades and starved of budgets to promote itself. The dairy cattle industry has collapsed, as it has in a lot of other countries, and the farmers have now turned to sheep farming to survive. Artisans, artists, millers, and Michelin-recommended restaurants struggle to make a living because the world is hardly aware of the existence of this region of peace and tranquility with scenery to rival anything that Europe has to offer. Nearby San Sebastian hosts world-renowned restaurants, Bilbao has the Guggenheim Museum, and Biarritz has trendy shops so the area really offers everything.
What will take me back to that area again will be the sense of time-unchanging, the slow tempo of life, a dozen or more children coming together to play on the community Pelota Court, and above all, the silence of the mountains, the only sound the distant bells of the sheep in the fields or the horses coming from the farms.
My Pyrenean Experience was a house-party like no other I’ve experienced, a room with a view to die for, and the chance to walk on paths only traversed by animals and a few intrepid humans. What more is needed to heal the soul?
Check out the website to get an idea of what’s on offer. The photographs tell the whole story. If you like walking in the mountains, you’ll love this. No need to learn Spanish, you can just go for the walking, the camaraderie and a Spanish experience you won’t forget. www.pyreneanexperience.com Tel: 34 6507 13759
In Seville last week I had my camera stolen on the third day of my four-day break, a major blow as this time it was my zoom camera so the images I took were different to those I’d taken on my last visit and, I like to think, better.
However, after an evening of crying into my Rioja, I just had to get on with things and determine to be more careful in future. The loss was my own fault. I had the camera on a table at the Casa de Las Teresas bar, probably the most famous bar in Seville, moved to look at some pencil drawings on the wall in front of me which left the opening for an opportunist to walk by and whip the camera away. My travelling companion had been sitting there too but was looking out through the door at something happening in the street. It was a daring move to grab the camera from under our eyes like that.
We still had four glorious days in Seville which is a genuinely over-the-top city of bulls and flamenco, dark-eyed beauties and white-washed alleys, a blazing sun beating down from a dark blue sky and never-ending late nights. It’s the place to go if you’ve fallen for the romance of Carmen, Hemingway’s Toreros, and the lure of castanets and cante hondo, and if you want to drink manzanilla in a white-washed bodega late at night, or ride through the dappled park in a horse and carriage. Seville is Spain’s party town and I love it. I was seduced by its magic a long time ago and have never recovered.
We spent most of our time wandering the old streets of Santa Cruz, but we also managed to spend one afternoon at the Plaza de España, one of Seville’s show-offy bits, built for the Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929 (Expo 29) and located in Maria Louisa Park. The following photographs were all taken 3-5 years ago.
This massive building is the city’s most impressive edifice – after the cathedral – for its sheer grandeur. Some people hate it, thinking it overblown and ornate, a blot on the older Seville, but I love it. What is certain is that no one should miss it on a trip to Andalucia’s capital, along with the many pavilions in and around the Parque Maria Luisa.
The Plaza de España is a lavish Renaissance/neo-Moorish semi-circular brick building with a tower at either end, major landmarks as they are tall enough to be visible throughout the city, and it is said to be the size of five football pitches. In front of the building, following the curve of its façade, runs a 515-metre canal forming a moat on which hired boats can be gently rowed, a real pleasure when the heat is intense.
Elegantly curving over the moat are four bridges representing the four ancient kingdoms of Spain, Castille, Aragon, Navarre and Leon.
Their supports are made of brightly painted ceramic tiles, which add an extra zing to the architecture, and in the centre of it all is the Plaza itself.
On top of the ground level portico there is a first-floor balustrade with balconies stretching along its length. Along the wall by the canal are 48 alcoves with tiled benches, one for each province of Spain, each with a relevant tableau and map designed on colourful azulejos, the painted ceramic tiles so popular in this part of Andalucia.
In fact, coloured ceramics feature heavily around Plaza de España – the provincial alcoves, the walls, ornate bridges and balustrades being all covered in painted tiles.
The architect of this amazing building which swings around the plaza in a large semi-circle was Anibal Gonzalez who designed the Plaza to wow the Expo’s visitors and in order to showcase Seville’s talents in industry and crafts. Only this semi-circular pavilion remains from Expo ’29, the others are now used as museums: the Pabellon de Bellas Artes is now the Archaeological Museum, and the Pabellon Mudejar now houses the Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares.
For me, the best way to approach the Plaza de España is by horse and carriage. Touristy, I know, but a ride through Maria Louisa Park to this lavish display of Spanishness, is very Sevillana and highly recommended. Pick a carriage up near the Cathedral, or the bull-ring, and fix your price. It’s not too expensive (a 75 minute trip around the main sights of the city will only cost you €40 so you could do that and get off at the Plaza España: if there are two or three of you that makes it very reasonable).
And then it will be time for tapas again, a manzanilla or a fino. Losing my camera didn’t make me stop going to La Casa de las Teresas because the tapas were wonderful, slivers of acorn-fed jamón serrano draped over morsels of bread, little coquinas (clams), skewers of garlicky prawns and pungent tomatoes in a garlicky sauce, washed down with Manzanillo, the delicate wine from Sanlucar de Barrameda. I’ll be back.
N.B. The Plaza de España is situated inside Maria Luisa Park, near the Teatro Lope de Vega and the University. It is also near the Torre del Oro, embarkation point for trips on the River Guadalquivir (also highly recommended) and the Hop on Hop Off bus.
As Easter approaches, I am reminded of a visit to some Spanish friends in Malaga a few years ago when I joined in that city’s celebrations for Semana Santa (Holy Week), an unforgettable event. My photographs are not good, a combination of flashing lights, reflections, and crowded balconies and pavements: I apologise in advance.
Strictly speaking, Semana Santa is a religious festival, but with the solemnity comes carousing and fun, bars open until the early hours and entire families, from grandparents to babes in arms staying up until two and three in the morning. The two main Spanish cities in which to witness this extraordinary event are Seville and Malaga.
During Holy Week from early afternoon until well after midnight, elaborate floats – huge statues of the Virgin Mary and Christ swaying dangerously atop them – weave through the streets and alleys, carried on the shoulders of men called submarinos,hidden by the float’s draperies. They are accompanied by Brotherhoods and Penitents carrying candles and incense burners behind which come musicians playing hymns that have faint hints of flamenco. Good Friday is the climax.
With its aroma of burning candles, the mournful trumpets, the menacing appearance of the penitents in their white robes and white pointed hats, towns and cities across the region are literally transformed.
My friends had booked a room in a hotel overlooking one of the streets down which the procession came. The reservation included food and wine which were replenished throughout the night (I told you there was fun as well) and the party continued well into the early hours of the morning.
A bell tolled to herald the approach of a wildly swaying float supporting a statue of the silver-crowned Virgin Mary with a dazzling blue velvet cloak richly embroidered in gold stretching some six metres behind her. Hundreds of wax candles surrounded the statue, illuminating the golden float, the somberly attired attendants, and the onlookers.
Among the Brotherhood members, whose honour it is to support and carry the floats which can weigh up to six tons, can often be found celebrities from the Spanish film and TV world, but they will be incognito, the submarinos who support the float from beneath a curtain which hides them from view. During my visit I was told that Antonio Banderas was one such submarino, as he is known to attend most years.
In the hotels that line the route, the partygoers rush to the balconies as the clanging of the bell and the dull thud of the drums announces the passing of the procession. On tiered seats in alleyways, streets and plazas, the rest of the onlookers wait patiently, as they have done for up to seven hours, children, round-eyed and excited by the occasion, grandmothers fingering their rosary beads.
Those participating, whether as devotees or spectators, are often visibly affected by the rhythms of the music, the swaying pace of the bearers, the wailing of the sacred saeta (not unlike flamenco) and the build-up of emotion brought about by the statues of tear-stained Christ and Madonna figures.
Again, the bell tolls, and on a golden float lit by the candles carried by penitents walking alongside it, is a life-size statue of Christ carrying his cross on the road to Calvary, light catching the lavish gold embroidery on his scarlet velvet robe and glittering from the silver cross he carried on his shoulder. The costeleros sway to the slow rhythmic beating of the drums and the wailing of a flamenco song. The real Christ was not dressed in velvet stitched with silver as he carried a plain wooden cross on the road to Calvary but such details can be ignored on this occasion when to dress the statue well is to honour Christ.
Behind comes the Nazarenos, followers dressed in white or black hooded robes that cover the entire body, the headpiece a pointed hood with space for the eyes only, the whole scene reminiscent of a Klu Klux Klan convention. It could feel sinister were it not for the party atmosphere among the watching people.
Goya could have done justice to the scene in front of me, a scene where art and religion merged into one theatrical event reflecting the culture and spirit of the Spanish people.
It was an experience like no other I’d ever had. I must admit also, that there was a frisson of excitement, akin to apprehension, in that the floats swayed alarmingly in the narrow streets and I was fearful that the candles would catch the trappings on the tronos or the costumes of the penitents or Nazarenos.
In villages, towns and cities all over Spain – especially in Andalucía – processions take place from Palm Sunday to Good Friday. Religious beliefs are not needed for one to take part. To a visitor, it can be a fun-filled Fiesta or a week of reflection, but it will invariably be moving. The only thing to remember is to dress with respect, i.e. no tee shirts or shorts.
Seats should be booked early, either in a hotel with a view of the processions, or along the route of the procession.
SEMANA SANTAin 2018 Sunday, March 25th – Sunday, April 1st.
My one and only balloon trip was over the vineyards of Rioja and the town of Lograno in Northern Spain. It was both exhilarating and exciting but I’m not sure I would do it again! It was dark when we got to the spot and dawn was just breaking when we took off – it was magical, wonderful, and a time I shall always remember.
Here are a few photographs of the Ascent.
I apologise to the readers, I cannot get rid of the white space between two of the photographs. I shall have to work on this and try and re-edit.
It’s scary when the flame goes Whoosh (Is she praying, by the way?)
Just literally bridges. I thought of all sorts of ways in which to interpret the challenge, but when I started looking through my photos I decided to go with the obvious. It’s too hot for serious thinking today, so here is a selection of some of my favourite bridges.
Above – Sur le Pont d’Avignon
Amsterdam, Triana Bridge Spain, and Ponte Vecchio Florence, Italy
Rome, Italy: Pisa, Italy: and the famous painted bridge at Lucerne, Switzerland
La Somail, France, Linked houses in Strasboug, Williamstad, Curaco from our cargo boat.
The Daddy of them all – the bridge at Avignon, France.
I never thought I’d find myself on a bird-watching walk as although I’m fond of all feathered creatures, spending time in their contemplation is not something that I ever imagined I would do on holiday. Yet on my recent trip to Malaga with SilverSpain.com I became just as enthusiastic as any died-in-the-wool bird-watcher when I joined the walk through the wetlands of the Desembocdura del Guadalhorce Natural Park.
Desembocdura del Guadalhorce Natural Park. Photo Mari Nicholson
The name is quite a mouthful (it means river mouth of the Guadalhorce), but the simplicity of the place, the peace and tranquillity to be found just 20 Km. outside the city was something I hadn’t expected: nor had I expected the series of lagoons or man-make lakes, beautiful in the light of the setting sun. I had always imagined wetlands to be marshy, boggy areas, with tufted grasses being the main feature of the landscape.
How wrong I was. This area of five permanent lakes populated with fish and eels, supports a variety of plants that enjoy the presence of water and salt, the banks yielding tamarisks, giant reeds and rushes, with here and there scattered poplars.
SilverSpain.com had organized an expert in the field to guide us on the walk, Luis Alberto Rodriguez from BIRDAYTRIP. Luis was just perfect both in the pace he set and in his ability to spot birds before we did. SilverSpain.com had found someone who embraced their concept of the over-55s living an active life, enjoying varied and interesting activities often outside their comfort zone, and his enthusiasm for the area and its inhabitants infected us all.
The area is one of the most important stopover places for coastal migratory birds in the province and it is said that you can spot any bird at the river mouth during the passage periods. The Guadalhorce river estuary is on one of the main Mediterranean-crossing routes between Europe and Africa but there is no sure way to guarantee what birds you are likely to see as much depends on winds, storms, rains, predators – and our old friend, climate change.
The snowy plover breeds in the wetlands and at different times of the year you will see glossy ibis, flamingo, spoonbill, black stork, Caspian tern and coots. Present all year are the endangered white-headed ducks which have been successfully breeding in the estuary since 2003, little egrets, grey herons, Kentish plovers, hoopoes (above), and Cetti’s warblers. In summer the bitterns, Audouin’s Gulls and bee-eaters are welcome visitors and in winter the short-eared owl puts in an appearance. Ospreys, kestrels, buzzards and sparrowhawks wheel in the sky and the marsh harrier can often be seen among the reeds.
Of 350 bird species that have been recorded in Andalucia, 260 have been spotted in this Rio Guadalhorce Nature Reserve which covers 67 hectares of prime wetland. The Park’s five lagoons are backed by palm, willow, tamarisk, eucalyptus and poplar trees and in this woodland and by the lagoon’s edges five comfortable birding hides have been erected.
The area is also a popular place for mountain-bikers, hikers and those just looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Malaga for a few hours. Like these seasoned sportspeople, always make sure to carry water with you as there are no facilities nearby and you can de-hydrate quickly in the heat. Depending on the season, an anti-mosquito repellent would also be a good idea.
This bird-watching walk was only one event organized by SilverSpain.com during the week in which we ate healthy, but delicious, meals in restaurants and hotels, visited bodegas and bars dating from 1840, watched an equestrian show, a flamenco show and had a session of mindfulness in a tranquil retreat. Their website gives full details.
In the Andalusian region of Spain alone, there are a total of 22 Natural Parks and 9 Biosphere Reserves, but few can beat the accessibility and beauty of the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes (also known as the Garganta del Chorro), located not far from Malaga on the Costa del Sol. Just 50km northwest of that city and you are in another world.
This walk through the Gorge which is accessed from the village of Ardales is one of the activities on offer from a new company that is dedicated to helping the over 55s enjoy an active and healthy life, focusing on walking, exercising, a Mediterranean diet, and companionship. The holidays organized by SilverSpain.com will be available from October of this year but I’ve been lucky enough to have had a taster of what’s on offer. (Get Active & Healthy with Silver/Spain).
Here in the 2,016 hectares of the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes, the Guadalhorce river has sliced through slabs of Jurassic limestone and dolomite to create a 3 km long gorge with sheer walls that tower up to more than 300 metres in places. The Desfiladero de los Gaitanes is one of the most spectacular landscapes in the Subbetica mountains of Malaga famous for the Caminito del Rey, a vertigo-inducing, cliff hugging pathway, located some kilometres above the floor of the gorge and one of Malaga’s best attractions.
Your senses are assailed by the perfume from the rosemary, thyme and fennel growing beneath the Aleppo pines, willow, eucalyptus, poplar and olive trees. Overgrown pink and white oleander vie with rock roses, yellow gorse and pink broom to colour the landscape, and closer to the river are rushes and reeds among which butterflies dance.
Wheeling in the sky above the high gorge walls are golden eagles, kestrels, peregrines and griffon vultures, just a few of the wide variety of birds (nearly 150 known species) which nest here. Smaller birds to look out for are red-billed choughs, crag martins, blue rock thrushes, owls, herons and crested tits, and in spring and summer the ubiquitous swifts make a return.
Keeping an eye peeled, it is possible to spy rabbits, Iberian hares, foxes, bobcats, and wild boars and it is said that Spanish ibex inhabit the gorge’s more inaccessible parts, so the shy animals are usually only seen by climbers.
In addition to the massive slabs of limestone that form the walls, the river has carved caves and chasms in the gorge. There are over 20 caves in the area, and in nearby Ardales, paleolithic rock art can be seen in more than 1,600 meters of galleries.
But forget the history, the archaeology and the paleolithic past, and just enjoy the sheer beauty that surrounds you on this walk through the park. The pathway is easy to negotiate (but perhaps not after heavy rains) but do wear sensible shoes. Look around you, smell the forest scents, look above you to see if you can spy the golden eagles, and look down at the turquoise river flowing below and marvel at this natural landscape.
Afterwards stop off at Mesón la Posada del Condefor a meal of locally sourced items, (or you can reserve rooms here if you wish to spend a few days in the area) which you will enjoy with local wines. Their salads are huge and the ingredients so fresh that I would have been content with only this but I worked my way through some delicious plates of chicken, jamón, vegetables and dessert. Another walk through the gorge was called for!
Postscript:Von Ryan’s Express Starring Frank Sinatra and others, used the limestone gorge and the area around the Camineto del Rey to film the railway sequence at the film’s conclusion. As Michael Caine would say, “Not many people know that”.
I am Brangien [Brangaine] of Weisefort, Ireland, lady-in-waiting to my cousin Isolde, who became promised to King Marc of Cornwall. His nephew Tristan escorted us to England by ship. But Tristan and Isolde fell in love at sea. As ye may know, or will find out, they cite the philter they drank as the cause, over which I was supposed to keep vigil. I would like to share my perspective of how I have created good in the world through my herbs and observations. There is much to tell, including how I have adopted this odd language. In good time. My life is in God’s hands. –Inspired by the modern French translations of the Tristan and Isolde texts