Tag Archives: Spain

Pamplona Impressions

25 Apr

Although best known for its bull running event, Pamplona is so much more. Following on the heels of our visit to Zaragoza the contrast is striking and left us wishing we’d chosen to spend longer here than this flying visit. With just a couple of hours to explore, not even long enough to have a meal, we raced around the beautiful narrow streets, a photogenic view at every turn.

They say that we subconsciously remember smells and that they trigger memories. For Seville that will certainly be from the orange blossom. For me, Pamplona will for ever be associated in my mind with the green fragrance of the new growth of spring. And, perhaps, the tangy sweetness​ of lemon ice cream.

Shady, green park

Beautiful buildings

Open, sunny Plaza 

There’s even deer grazing, protected by the city moat

Zaragoza

18 Apr

It’s perhaps unfortunate that we visited Zaragoza so soon after spending time in Seville. It seriously doesn’t compare. But perhaps I shouldn’t be too harsh, particularly if, like us, you want to break up the long drive from the Mediterranean coast to the the ferries in the north.

There are two cathedrals for a start, not to mention the fortified palace of the Aragon Court. We visited the latter on our first evening after failing to be able to walk to it along the riverbank. It’s pleasant enough although so restored it resembles a stereotypical toy castle. It must have been splendid in its day but little of that splendour remains and we left after half an hour feeling we hadn’t been allowed to access most of the building.

Then there’s the food. The tapas bars get rave reviews but I feel like the boy who said the Emperor was “in the altogether”. I’d have been grateful for a Macdonald’s, to be honest. And everybody is so incredibly unfriendly to the point of rudeness. Yes, they’re busy and they are serving idiots who are stupid enough to eat in a place where the waiter insists you don’t ask him for a particular item on the menu, just tell him the number. I sympathise but it doesn’t help. Oh, and you’ll pay far more than anywhere else in Spain that we have visited.

Ok, maybe my judgement has been clouded by accidentally stepping with both feet into a water feature shortly followed by walking into a glass door that turned out not to be a door – the only time I saw a local laugh. I decided that the dire food was the third of the “these things come in threes” event. Nevertheless, I’ve been very careful to hold handrails while going up and down stairs!

Our second day restored my faith in Zaragoza. For a start we found somewhere serving fresh bread at reasonable prices for breakfast and the busy waitress managed to both smile and be friendly. It’s amazing how something like that can change your day. After losing it slightly when I was served warm white wine (they quickly realised it was a good idea to get me a fresh one!) we decided to change our eating intentions completely and hunted out a lunchtime Menu del Dia in the shopping district, completely abandoning the idea of tapas. Thankfully that worked, too.

We managed to visit both cathedrals, some Roman ruins and a quirky exhibition of huge illuminated lanterns at the Museum of the Crystal Rosary (Museo de los Faroles y Rosario de Cristal). Apparently these huge illuminated lanterns are carried around Zaragoza in October which one review we read described as a sort of collision between Blackpool Illuminations and Semana Santa. Now that would definitely be something to see.

So would we return? As an overnight stopover – probably.

Sevilla

7 Apr

We never made it to Seville on our sail from Plymouth to Greece (http://www.sailblogs.com/member/serenmor/) but I’ve wanted to go ever since. This winter we were determined to finally make the trip and, being weather-obsessed sailors, looked for a suitable weather window even though we were driving. We wanted dry and sunny but cool enough to walk around and last week looked perfect.

Of course, it didn’t go entirely as forecast. Leaving a Jávea bathed in sunshine in a car still dusty with wind-blown pollen and sand, we arrived wet and shiny after a long-threatened torrential downpour just as we arrived in the Seville rush hour traffic. However, the trusty satnav took us straight to our hotel and we were soon pounding the streets under the faintest hint of “trying to rain”.

Having got our bearings and timed the walk to the sights in preparation for the the following day, a few drinks were called for sitting outside, naturally, encased in our wet weather gear and under a parasol just in case – well we are tourists, you know. We visited enough establishments to establish that you don’t get given any crisps, let alone tapas, with drinks in Seville (you can dine off freebies in Granada) so we headed indoors for something more substantial. And thus began a three night stay of fabulous food indulgence.

I won’t bore you with all the details of the sites we visited over the next couple of days (I’ll let the pictures do that!). This blog has never been a travelogue. All I will say is that Seville lived up to expectations and then some. It enchanted me. The weather gradually improved so that by our last evening we were happily dining outside well into the night. One for the bucket lists.

The Cathedral with its bell tower on the right, glowing in the sunlight

Inside it’s gold that makes the cathedral glow. Polishing the already dazzling alter ready for Easter 

A fitting place for the tomb of Christopher Columbus 

Posing in the square outside the cathedral 

A courtyard in the extraordinary Alcazar 

A small part of the gardens of the Alcazar, filled, like much of Seville at this time of year, with the scent of orange blossom

Intriguing courtyards can be glimpsed from the narrow streets of the old town, hinting at far more space inside than the exteriors would suggest

Of course, you can’t escape the tourist tatt but some are drawn to it 

The Fallas (Again)

17 Mar

This is the third time I’ve blogged about the Fallas in Dénia so I won’t go into much detail just share the pictures. You can read more here or several entries on Sailblogs (find at bottom of page 1 of contents list and top of page 2 http://www.sailblogs.com/member/serenmor/contents/1)

The detail is extraordinary

They can get quite saucy 

Love the expressions

Some are startlingly explicit for a family occasion! 

But in the end, it’s really one long party (this was about 10am) 

Almond Blossom and Sanitoriums 

9 Feb

In all the time we’ve spent in Jávea over the years we’ve never managed to go to the Jalón Valley when the almond blossom is in flower. Less delayed than expected by this year’s unusual weather, as soon as we heard the blossom was out we changed all plans and drove to this lovely area away from the coast.

Finding a narrow, winding road almost by accident gave us the most beautiful views at every turn and so quiet that stopping to take photos wasn’t that difficult. In fact I wish I could have recorded a sound track: a dog barking in the distance, a cockerel trying to impress the ladies and, close to, the steady hum of bees. Of such moments are memories made.

Deciding to drive further afield into the Val de Laguar we came across Fontilles up in the surrounding hills. In such a beautiful location in the middle of nowhere, why did this small village seem to contain only hospitals and sanitoriums (sanatoria?)? A bit of Googling revealed that the original Sanatoria of San Francisco de Borja had been founded by a Jesuit Priest for the treatment and research into leprosy. Well, that makes sense, then. http://unitingtocombatntds.org/endorsement/fontilles

If we learnt anything today it’s that there still so much more to explore in this area. We have to go back. Soon.

Snowy Spain 

18 Jan

Like most yotties I tend to be a bit (OK, a lot) obsessed with the weather. You may have noticed. Well, here is another weather post. I hope you’ll excuse me because this is something that really is a bit out of the ordinary.

Of course it snows in Spain, there are ski resorts about three hours drive from here, but Jávea is the northern Costa Blanca. It has its own microclimate, or so I’m reliably told. We had lunch in the garden on Christmas Day which is nothing exceptional. Today there was snow on the beach. Although a dusting on the nearby mountains is not uncommon, the general consensus seems to be that the last time Jávea saw snow like this was 1983. As you can see from the pictures it wouldn’t have been a big deal at home in the UK but, believe me, here it is something special. A red alert for snow is in force for the next two days which means there may well be more to come. 

So I had to post some of the pictures kindly shared on Jávea Connect. I think they are all perfectly lovely. I hope you agree. 

Dry January? 

5 Jan

Yes, this really is a thing. If you’re not from the UK you may be unfamiliar with the concept and unfortunately, no, it doesn’t refer to the weather. The idea is to not drink any alcohol at all for the whole of the month of January.
It appears to have been started by Alcohol Concern who registered the term as a trademark in 2014 and teamed up with Public Health England in 2015. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dry_January It takes advantage of the general feeling of over-indulgence, not to mention hangovers, most people experience on New Year’s Day along with the traditional making of resolutions that often include cutting back, losing weight, getting fit or eating healthily. Alcohol Concern have a calculator on their website that claims to measure the impact of your weekly alcohol consumption on your weight (calories) and on your wallet (cost) while raising your awareness of how much you drink in a week. There’s an app you can download and, oh yes, raise money for them. http://www.alcoholconcern.org.uk/dry-january Other charities have also jumped on the bandwagon along with lots of other app makers.

Am I starting to sound a bit cynical? While that’s probably my default setting but I do remain to be convinced. Aimed at social rather than dependent drinkers, I’m definitely in their target range and who wouldn’t be tempted by the claimed benefits of losing weight, saving money, sleeping better and having more energy?

With alcohol containing almost the same amount of calories as pure fat, abstaining for a month should reduce weight. I’m told fat accumulates in the liver as a result of drinking and that two weeks abstinence can return your liver to good health, reducing the risk of alcohol-related liver disease. As for improving sleep, well, that’s something I could really do with. Sure, I want all of that. But I like wine. I don’t particularly want to be drunk although the evening tends to be more fun if everyone is a bit “merry”. And there’s the rub.

Alcohol, wine in particular, is a fundamental part of my social life. “Drinking White Wine in the Sun” is not just a Christmas song, it’s a lifestyle choice. When we meet up with friends eating and drinking is involved. What do you drink with a meal if not wine? The only suggestions seem to be smoothies, sickly, sweet mocktails, fizzy drinks or water and, for me, plain water is the only one that is bearable with food. Wine positively enhances the flavour of food while anything sweet is just a non starter. And sugar is the new smoking, right? Aren’t we supposed to be ditching that, too? Maybe if you’re a beer drinker the availability of alcohol-free makes this a choice and it has improved in flavour over the years but alcohol-free wine doesn’t really exist and certainly not in Spain.

So I decided to do a bit of research, just a casual bit of googling. What I found was that last year there were lots of articles popping up that were having the debate about whether abstaining from alcohol for a month was a good thing or not. This year I couldn’t find a single item in the popular media that wasn’t overwhelmingly positive. So case proven? Well, that just makes me suspicious.

I read an article recently http://health.spectator.co.uk/the-great-alcohol-cover-up-how-public-health-bodies-hid-the-truth-about-drinking/ and it made alarm bells ring. Last year the Chief Medical Officer for the UK reduced the recommended guidelines for alcohol consumption. Upon announcing this, she also asserted that there is no safe level of drinking and that the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption were ‘an old wives tale’. The article goes on to say

“… in order to trust this latest piece of health advice from our Chief Medical Officer, we must believe not only that every previous Chief Medical Officer got it wrong but that every other country in the world has got it wrong. That requires a degree of patriotism that I am unable to summon up, particularly since the current advice bears no relationship whatsoever to the scientific evidence”

“What is a safe level of drinking? Sally Davies says there isn’t one. In so doing she is encouraging the public to believe that the only safe level is zero. But that is not what the epidemiology shows at all. It would appear that you can drink significantly more than 14 units a week — or two units a day — and have a lower mortality risk than a teetotaller. Why would she misrepresent the evidence?”

Interesting, eh? I really do recommend reading the whole article.

You may well say that I’m looking for reasons not to give up alcohol for a month and you are probably right. Friends have done it, felt the benefits and will be doing it again this year. Nevertheless, I won’t be joining in. Reducing my intake is certainly a good idea but I would have done that naturally after Christmas and all that goes with it. We already have at least two completely dry days a week (5:2 diet) and usually more.

All I know for sure is that we’re in Spain where Dry January is never going to catch on. For a few short months we have some of the best food and wine in the world on our doorstep and I don’t want to miss a month of enjoying all that it has to offer. Maybe I’ll go for a “Damp January” – one day at a time.