Archive for May, 2009

08 May 2009

Cruz de Mayo – you guessed it … another Festival!

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On any given day you can bet there’ll be a Festival – religious or otherwise – somewhere in Spain. If you are travelling to Spain, make sure you come sometime between January and December and you are sure land smack in the middle of festival season.

Cruz de Mayo is celebrated in Granada and a few other parts of Spain. In the week preceding, many of the plazas and patios of Granada become construction sites. Concrete is poured, crosses are raised, stages are erected; and then everything is decorated with flowers, objects de arte and other things Spanish. Old and young work night and day preparing these beautiful tributes … and guard them 24/7 with their lives.

On the day, there are traditional dances, lots of music and thousands upon thousands of people take to the streets; bedecked in traditional costume, eating, drinking, and generally having a good time. It is hectic, a little crazy perhaps but lots of fun.

A few photos from the day – enjoy click here.

07 May 2009

World’s Largest Paella – aka Free Beer #2

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The Spanish are not the most likely contenders in the “world’s greatest, fastest, largest” stakes, being more than content just “being”, rather than being the best at anything; provided there is food, wine and song of course. The “Free” beer festival may have proved to be the exception.

We found a spot under the shade of an olive tree, on the side of a hill, overlooking a large field surrounded by olive groves on all sides. Just after midday, the main street (the only street) into the field began to fill with traffic from the neighbouring village: tractors carrying floats, quad bikes, vintage cars, trail bikes, cars with mascots, old trucks, horses, ponies, horse drawn carriages – you name it, all loaded to the nines with locals dressed in traditional costume. By 1pm, the field, now filled with at least 1,000 people, was beginning to look interesting, so we made our way down from our shady spot to see what all the fuss was about.

First stop: “Free” ice-cold beer in large plastic cups. Rafa, Ali, Andreas, Rebecca and I would be back many more times that day for more “Free” beer.

Next stop: Let’s see what’s going on with the Paella. We walked down to a spot in the middle of the field where a large purpose constructed Paella pan – about 2.5 metres in diameter and connected to an array of 6 gas bottles, no kidding – was being dutifully watched over by a couple of chefs. The stew of meat, fish and seafood bubbled away in the warm afternoon sun. People gathered around and looked on hungrily. 20kg sacks of rice stood nearby. By about 3pm, the Paella was ready and a long queue (although I should add, the Spanish have difficulty with the concept of queues) of people had formed, eager to get some Paella before it all ran out. It turned out there was enough Paella for everyone… and some to spare.

We camped in front of the heavy metal stage that had been erected on a float hitched to a tractor – with our plates of Paella and cold beers – and head-banged away to some bad Led Zeppelin and AC-DC covers. A bunch of heavy metal dudes, with long hair, and black-t-shirts that said “Rock, Drink & Fuck”, danced away happily alongside small children dressed in traditional costume, young lovers and elderly couples – it was all very “other worldly”. Try to picture a heavy metal concert, in combination with free booze and the general public, happening anywhere in Australia … and you would be reading all about the fights, the broken glass, the policing etc in the next morning’s paper…

Nine hours later, after the horse races had finished, the taps were closed, and the dancing had stopped; the crowds began to dissipate, hitching up their trailers, gathering their kids and driving off into the sunset, no doubt off to another Festival just over the next hill.

05 May 2009

Mental in Morocco

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Carpet heaven

Have you heard the one about the Italian, the Australian, the Englishwoman and the Peruvian finger puppet in Morocco?

Well they all go into this bar and the Italian says… er, no that can’t be right; there are no bars in Morocco which means when you spend a weekend in the company of 47 American students in an Islamic country, there is no easy way to calm your nerves.

Tour group hell in Tetouan

Gill and I managed to survive a 60-hour whirlwind trip to northern Morocco, including the cities of Tetouan, Tangiers and the mountain town of Chechaouen. In that 60 hours we spent:

  • 16 hours on a bus travelling to and from Granada
  • 8 hours on a bus travelling between towns in Morocco
  • 1 hour waiting for a ‘medical check’ at the Moroccan border to ensure none of us were importing swine flu
  • 2 hours on the ferry across the Med
  • 16 hours sleeping in average hotel (minus 10 mins for call to prayer at 4am)
  • 3 hours eating average hotel food in average hotel
  • 4 hours waiting for everyone else in the group to get their bags, find their cameras, have a ciggie, give money to small children, go to the toilet, pay 1 euro for a photo opportunity riding a camel in a car park etc
  • 3 hours free time to ‘shop’ in bazaars which sell the same things as the markets in Granada
  • 2 hours eating delicious yummy juicy tagines of veggies and meat
  • 0 hours, minutes or seconds drinking any wine, spirits, beer

Beautiful blues in Chechaouen

That said, the country is beautiful and fascinating and worthy of a decent visit. The mountains reminded me of the Andes, while the villages, markets and lush greenery of the countryside reminded Gill of Malawi.

Our guides were great and, when you could get close enough to hear them, you could learn a number of interesting things…

  • Morocco was the first country in the world to recognise the independence of the United States of America
  • The first university in the world was built in Morocco in 857 by… a woman
  • When a Muslim wants to get married he pays the dowry to his future wife, not her parents
  • Long nails are frowned on in Islamic societies as they hinder the cleanliness of your hands and feet
  • Blue paint protects you and your home and keeps the mozzies away

Ah, but it was good to get back onto Spanish soil, down a German beer and arrive home to Paul and Granada!

03 May 2009

Free Beer

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>Guest Post: We’ve had a pleasant few weeks: Our pomegranate tree is showing promising signs of first fruit; the cherry tree is laden with very green cherries and maybe, just maybe they will ripen so we can get to sample a few before we leave. Gill has kidnapped Al to go off on a hasty three-day tour of Morocco – think snake charmers; black scorpions; crowded markets, donkeys and clutching beggars – pass. I am sure the little rat will have something to say about it all when they return. Meanwhile, there is an open invitation out to an All Day “Free” Beer and Paella festival in a little village just outside Granada – it’s hard not to like Spain! – P

03 May 2009

Aussie Invasion II

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Breakfast in the garden with Kate and Chris

Kate and Chris-#2 arrived after a marathon 30+ hours journey – PER – SIN – LON – MAD – GRA and still managed to look a million $$$ and very aussie in their Billabong shirts, shorts, sweats, thongs & underwear perhaps?

They had expressed a desire to experience some Granada nightlife and after a long night’s sleep and a hectic day of sightseeing they were ready – and being Friday, as usual, we had several engagements – a couple of G&T’s with Alan and Anita, a few steps up to their tiny but magnificent roof terrace to take in the Alhambra Palace; dinner at home; then off to Matilde’s for early evening drinks; by midnight we were ready to party. First stop, a tiny little bar called Cebolla (Onion) packed to the rafters where they serve spirits in litre plastic cups and so crowded that you can count everyone’s nostril hairs and getting to the solitary pit toilet requires a 15 minute manoeuvre and more nostril hair counting.

By 2.00am we were getting bored, not to mention asphyxiated. Next stop – and we lost a lot of people somewhere along the way (Gill and Kate included) – was the Fondue Bar, where Chris, Carol, Sarah, Paul and I got stuck into some awful, icky, sticky and very expensive chocolate Fondue (I am still trying to get it out of my coat!) …. then it was off to the Booga Bar to boogie, naturally — and it all gets a little hazy from here. By about 4.30am a few of the usual suspects had arrived and if memory serves me correct we were all boogying away, speaking perfect Spanish and getting rather drunk. By 6.00am the Booga Bar was in full swing, everyone was looking beautiful – I think I might have had a conversation with a loudspeaker – and the night was young. We had promised the girls we would be home by 7.00am so we walked out into the cool morning air, the odd dog barking, the alcohol and fresh air a bad combination — and staggered on home.

Squeezy bar – Chris, Paul, Kate and Clare

Needless to say, Saturday was a lazy day, punctuated by long periods of sleep and relaxation.

And on Sunday, taking advantage of the best snow in 30 years we took the bus up to the Sierra Resort and spent the night; ready to hit the slopes as soon as the lifts opened the next day. Chris had never seen snow before. Private lessons were order of the day; Chris on a snowboard and Kate on skis. Chris was looking a bitty shaky at first, and spending a lot of time on his arse, but by lunch all was good and by early-afternoon he had turned semi-pro. Kate also was naturally good.

And then they were gone, off to Portugal, Norway and London, no doubt heading your way sometime soon.


Smiling before the pain sets in.

You do this strap up here. See.