Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category

Spanish Roadtrip Chapter 1: Ronda and Gibraltar


2010
04.16

About one year ago, I officially declared that a Spanish road trip was THE perfect way to end a European one-year adventure. Take in as much sunshine as possible with me over the pond or something like that.

So, with the help of spanophone friends living in Granada at the time, we started to plan our journey,  taking the five of us to every corner of Spain. Quickly we realised two things: we were too short on time to explore an entire country and we would certainly have to wash dishes at some point if we actually went to all those places.


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We decided to stick to four major places: Andalusia, Cuenca, San Sebastian and Barcelona. Yes, we did decide to actually cross the country but on a much more realistic journey than initially planned, starting south and slowly making our way up north and ending on the East coast.

Road block, Spanish style

We landed in Malaga at around 11 in the morning on a beautiful Andalusian day, meeting our Granada friends there. Drove straight to Ronda, which is about an hour and a half drive. In theory. In practice, however, things turned out a little bit different. Driving to Ronda isn’t exactly a walk in the park; roads are sinuous and steep most of the times, making the travel sick people, well, sick. It took around three hours in total, but not just because of my faint nature. At one point, the road was blocked by wild goats. We stopped for awhile and took a few pictures because it was quite an unusual sight for us urban birds.

Ronda bridge

Finally got to Ronda at around 3. We had a small gazpacho at Restaurante Flores, right by the Plaza de Toros. The whole street is actually an outdoor terrace where you can hardly tell the difference between restaurants. They might as well have a communal kitchen for all I know. Wandered around the city and took lots of pictures of the famous 120 meters tall bridge, which is the main attraction.

Then, we hopped back in the car and drove to Gibraltar, stopping a few times along the way to enjoy our surroundings. This time the journey was much smoother and we made it to our destination by 7. Crossed the border (which actually is a runway) without having to open our passport - apparently showing 5 Canadian passports is enough to get in Gibraltar. The customs officer told us the Upper Rock reserve was closed for the day. Shoot. Well, why not drive to the top and take a picture just to show we were there, we said.

Cutest monkeys ever

Now, again with the transportation problems, but this time on a whole other level: not only are roads very narrow and sinuous, but you can literally see the bottom of the Rock, right there, at your feet - 400 meters below. Yes, that’s scary, especially when sitting on the wrong side of the tiny, tiny car. Got distracted at one point by my friend who started yelling something about monkeys. Through my nervous and exhausted tears I didn’t get it a first, but then - what, monkeys? Oh my God, monkeys ! Everywhere ! Luckily, the observatory gate was still open and unattended. Not only did we get in after hours, but we saved some serious bucks and had a truly unforgettable experience - alone with monkeys, in Gibraltar, overlooking the sea and catching a glimpse of Morocco, at dusk. We just couldn’t get over it.

After a while on top of the Rock, it was time to call it quits and head back to our friends place in Granada for the night. We had a GPS (tenderly called Albert) who indicated us to go that way - but of course we decided to go the other way because it looked much more simple. So we drove down the Rock for 5 minutes only to face the worst possible scenario: locked gate. Someone, somewhere, must have been really upset we didn’t respect the rules. We couldn’t go any further. And no,we definitely could not

Gibraltar

turn the car around and drive back up. May I remember you that the road was about 2  meters large, merely enough for a car, let alone the fact that the sea is right there below us without any sort of protection other than a half-foot high cement block. We did the only possible thing to do: we drove in reverse, back up the hill, not knowing whether another car was coming behind us or not.

Probably one of the scariest experience of my whole life. We had no idea where we were supposed to go and the darker it got outside, the more nervous we were, Gibraltar not being recommended for tourists at night (especially in such a vulnerable situation I guess). We drove into another lane, but this time we sent two members of our team in search of locked gate before going any further, which they found. Back on reverse mode. At one point, we met a couple driving down the Rock too, only they knew exactly where they were going. We followed them and finally got back to Spain - exhausted, high on adrenaline and with what we knew was going to be a good story to tell our grandchildren one day - if my heart doesn’t fail from facing a similar situation again, that is.

Needless to say we had a good night’s sleep when we finally, thank God, arrived in Granada.

Up next: Granada, Cordoba and Malaga.

Semana Santa en Sevilla


2010
03.10

Ze place to be for the Holy Week is arguably Spain, more specifically in Seville, Andalusia.

Brotherhoods (associations of Catholic laypersons, called Cofradías) organise processions which basically are public religious displays.  Some are silent, some are musical. They start at the home church of their brotherhood to Seville’s Cathedral and back, taking the shortest possible route, as decreed in the rule of the ordinances by Cardenal Niño de Guevara in the 17th century.

It can be a very long procedure, anywhere from a few hours to a whole day, regrouping hundreds or thousands of nazarenos.

Around 60 processions are scheduled from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, the most important one being right after midnight on Good Friday. Known as La Madrugá, this tradition dates back from 1340.

Procession - courtesy of WikiCommons

There are similarities in processions:

-Having a Great Cross open the way

-Nazarenos: group of people wearing habits and pointed hoods (capirotes), holding candles

-Acolytes wearing holy robes and holding candles and incense

-Penitentes: people holding wooden crosses and making public penance

 Interesting info:  The hoods worn by nazaneros were once a way to inflict themselves corporal punishment and ask for penance without being recognised. Rest assured, although costumes are still there, the tradition is now far from what is once was.

Pasos are present in every procession and are unique to Seville. They are highly elaborated lifelike sculptures of Holy scenes, usually made from wood and are carried by costaleros, which are hidden under the structure to give the impression that it is moving by itself. Some  pasos are considered important works of  art.

Usually, the most interesting processions are: La Madruga, of course, El Amor, La Candelaria, Los Panaderos and Los Negritos.

Apart from processions, keep an eye on women wearing a mantille on Maundy Thursday. It’s a traditional costume consisted of a black mid-knee dress and black shoes, a rosary and most importantly, a black lacy scarf worn over a high comb, covering both the head and the shoulders.

This year, Semana Santa is from March 28th to April 4th.
Readers who are attending or have attended this event, please comment!

Worst hostels


2010
03.05

Ideal Hostel, Barcelona
C/UNIÓ Nº 12, 08001, Barcelona

What a nice play of words. Definitely the worst hostel I’ve seen. It is filthy, unsafe and a total rip off.

Rooms: You have to walk sideways to circulate between the beds. There are no steps to climb on to the top bed. There are no fans in the room. Anybody can walk in as the locks don’t actually… lock.

Bathrooms: Oh. My. God. Communal and unisex showers. Basically it’s just a huge, dark (no lights) and filthy corner of the bathroom where anybody (guy or gal!) can walk in while you’re showering. And there was vomit on the floor for the two days we were there.

Living room: I had bought some stuff to cook dinner back at the hostel kitchen but as I started to empty my grocery bags, the kind Indian man at the reception gently told me to bugger off as the kitchen closed at 7PM. For God’s sake, who in Spain has dinner before 7PM? I argued with him and he told me to fuck off. And the staff also tried the “you don’t have reservations, we’ll charge you double the price” trick on me, which didn’t work because I had the printed receipt. Plus if you absolutely have to use the Internet, be prepared to stand for a long time as one of the computers is always off service hence the long queues and there are no seats whatsoever, even for the person actually using the computer (looking for another hostel, most of the time).

I could go on and on, but basically, just don’t stay there.

Hostel Rosemary, Prague
Růžová 5/971 , 110 00 Prague 1 - Old Town, Czech republic

Now, this is probably just because I’m not used to Czech architecture but getting to the reception of this hostel is scary. The street is very dark and off the main road. Plus, finding the hostel is hard because there’s only a tiny, tiny sign outside. Once you’ve entered the building, you have to cross a non-lighted corridor to get to the reception area and up the elevator. It just doesn’t feel safe at all.

The rooms are actually very nice, lots of windows. The bathrooms are nice too.

The only problem with this hostel is the luggage room, which is located in the basement. Perfect setting for a horror movie. No lights whatsoever, cement walls, floors and ceiling. Broken wooden door at the end of the room. Staircase actually going into the ground to what I guess would be torture chambers. It was cold and filthy and noisy with all sorts of Czech insects.

Didn’t leave my luggage there.

Please comment if you’ve had bad experiences too!

Visiting Cordoba


2010
02.26

Cordoba is a very special place in the world; not many cities can claim to have been the capital of a Roman province and the capital of an Arab state and a Caliphate.

Festival de Patios

If you plan on visiting in May, do note that accommodation will be hard to find and very expensive. Consider taking a day-trip to Cordoba and actually sleeping in a nearby city, such as Grenada or Sevilla.

If you do visit in May, make sure to attend the Festival de Patios, where people just open their courtyard for everyone to see. It’s a great activity since Spanish gardens are very pretty and colorful, creating a nice contrast with the white walls. Runs during the second and third week of May. It’s totally free and it allows you to stroll through the numerous narrow streets around the Mosque, the nicest one being Calleja de las Flores.

Now, the real jewel of Cordoba is the Ancient City, a very important witness of the Arab occupation of Andalucia in the 10th century. La Mezquita (the Mosque) dates from 1236 and is the third largest in Europe, as around 20,000 people can pray inside. Do not miss the column forest. Entrance is free from 8:30Am to 10AM, then it’s €8.

Plaza del Triunfo

Another interesting sight is the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos,a Christian (although it does look Islamic) fortress used by Isabella de Castille and Ferdinand II of Aragon. That’s where Christopher Colombus prepared his trip to the Americas in 1492, and where Napoleon Bonaparte kept his troops in 1810. €4 and €2 for students.

Visiting Cordoba is a cheap way to explore Spain, especially when sleeping in another city, as the main sights are not very expensive to visit. You can get to Cordoba by bus from surrounding cities for very few euros.