Spanish Road Trips: Happy in Valladolid

Lovely though it is on our mountain way up in the Alpujarra, sometimes we need to come down and go exploring, and see more of Spain! Usually its a quick weekend in a nearby city to soak up some carbon monoxide and culture, or if I stamp my feet I can wangle a relaxing coastal chill-out; the pebbles of the nearby Costa Almería or Costa Tropical rounding off my laptop shoulders and returning my smile.

No 1 Son was over from wet Wales for Easter, and because he turned 21 recently, and also happens to also be the No 1 UD ALMERÍA fan, we opted for the next available away match as a getaway destination. Having browsed the fixtures, that turned out to be Valladolid. Unfolding the map and hopping into the car, we discovered one sure thing. It’s a blooming long way!

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About Valladolid

Valladolid is the de facto capital of the Spanish region, Castile and Leon. It supposedly had at one time the highest number of Franco’s supporters living there, but I may need citation on that! However, don’t allow that fact to put you off – or perhaps turn you on…as you’ll see, we encountered some fabulous folk.

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With a population of half a million, first impressions are of an northern industrial town (indulge me, going all Billy Bragg there 🙂). Rows upon rows of dingy rust coloured high rise flats, it looks a bit depressing after the calm, flat and green La Mancha landscape we were lulled by, on the way ooop north. But then again, it was raining, hard. It would all look better in the sunshine.

I’m not going to go all Wiki on you, but you can read more of the facts here if you wish. However, the strong links to the Catholic Monarchs, Columbus and Cervantes are of more than passing interest.

Heading past the stern exterior, we drove on without a problem – a well-signed one way system that’s easy to navigate –  straight into the centre, following the rail line, and into the Old Town, where we had booked some accommodation (see below). Brimming with history and superb renaissance architecture, we perked up, even if the weather did not. But I’m Irish, and sure what harm is a soft day? 🙂

Sightseeing

You’ll love Valladolid for sightseeing. Be prepared to walk and crane your neck a lot. Top of our list – and possibly yours –  will be Casa de Cervantes (where Quixote lived) Christopher Columbus Casa/Museo, the Cathedral, the National Sculpture Museum and although we didn’t go in, there’s an interesting looking Oriental Museum too. The Plaza Mayor is a great meet-me-if-we-get-lost spot, and looks amazing at night with all of the buildings around the square, illuminated.

 

Casa de Cervantes is FREE on Sundays. It has as a fantastic book collection of editions of THAT book from all over the world. The rooms are restored as per in Cervantes’ time. The Columbus museum is modern and interactive, and more about the discovery of the Indies than the man, not hugely interesting if you don’t speak at least a little Spanish.

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The parks, open spaces and many-spired skyline and bustling streets of city life in Valladolid are as interesting as the guidebook sights.

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Best Bars

Head for the Plaza Mayor and you’ll probably find it difficult to get round all the bars there, as they’re numerous. Prices are more than reasonable, so although you may pay for tapas, it’s no more expensive for a round than it is with free food back here in Granada, the beer is cheaper and we drank Estrella Galicia which seemed to be served everywhere.

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To watch a match, head to the Be Bop Bar (Plaza de Martí y Monsó) where the glamorous owner will chat you up and keep the party stoked. We were there to watch El Clasico (between Real Madrid and Barcelona) so it was a busy and fun night!

Afterwards, you’ll have no trouble finding a Gin Joint and someone to sing you a song…

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Shopping

The pedestrianised streets are a pleasure to shop in, where you can buy a purple Valladolid home shirt, or explore the boutiques nested between the usual big-name brands. For inclement weather – which I suspect is a lot of the time – there’s a large shopping centre just outside Valladolid, the Rio Centre.

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Food

Meaty! It’s all sausage and a bit of a meat-feast in Valladolid. Los Zagales de Abadía was recommended to us, as both a bar and for it’s award-winning tapas. It’s certainly different! We found it a little overpriced, slightly pretentious and not particularly tasty, though the presentation was phenomenal. It’s all smoke and mirrors. For example, a well known chocolate Spanish cake bar was replicated as a rolled up fried bread slice with Morcilla and cream cheese sandwiched in the centre. I’m still nauseous at the thought!! It has, however, won many national awards, so perhaps I am just a foodie-heathen. Have a look if you’re in town. Anyway, the sizzling lamb chops were delicious…

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You may wish to browse the Trip Advisor list of Top 10 best restaurants in Valladolid.

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Folk

I can’t emphasise this LOUDLY enough. The words solicitous and friendly were perhaps invented just for the happy people of Valladolid. They are so NICE. Shops, bars, on the street for directions, they’re a matey, polite bunch. The girl at the take-away artisan croquetas shop on Plaza Espana almost came home with us to cook them, she was so helpful – and they were delicious. The main tourist office has super friendly Sonja, who wants to chat and take you all over town. Smashing place to visit – with welcoming and warm, sociable people. Even at the Estadio Jose Zorrilla, where as away fans we are used to being segregated, we were all sitting together. It says something about the friendly atmosphere of Valladolid.

Where we stayed

We booked La Pintada, a second floor spacious apartment in an old walk up, right in the centre of things on Calle Nogal. Sleeps 4, fully furnished, centrally heated, spotless, quiet, everything perfect *apart from the communal WiFi, so be prepared for that*.

Urbano –  the owner –  has an office on the same street, is super-friendly, will mark everywhere of interest on a map for you, and is well worth calling if you want a home-from-home with a lot of space in the city centre.

We paid €200 for 2 nights.

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Where you might stay

Let’s look at prices for a weekend in May, one night for 2 people.

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Annual Ferías and Fairs

Here’s a list of 2016 dates for the annual Valladolid shindigs and fiestas.

 

Bring home…

Ribera de Duero wine, quality Sheep cheese, chocolates and elaborate little cakes.

Would we return?

Yes – we would. Valladolid – despite the long drive for us – is one of those easy to explore, friendly small-enough-but-interesting cities to return to. You won’t feel swamped or lost, and you’ll love exploring it and getting to know it a little more each time you go.

And the footie? Meh. We drew…but remember –  UD Almería, nunca se rinde!

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7 signs of Spanish springtime

For the rest of the world, springtime and the definition of any season is officially marked by  the Astronomical or Meteorological seasons.

The science behind the seasons

What’s the difference?  Astronomical seasons refer to the position of Earth’s orbit in relation to the sun (taking into account equinoxes and solstices). Meteorological seasons are based on the yearly temperature cycle and calculate the meteorological state as well as timing with the calendar to determine a clear and definitive transition between the seasons.

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Spain is different

Got that? No, nor me. It’s far simpler in Spain – and as we all know: Spain is Different. 😉

There are 7 clear signs that Spring and warmer weather have arrived – Spanish style. It’s like the flick of a giant imaginary switch. Perhaps you recognise these signs, or perhaps you know a few more? Let’s see…

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Changes afoot

The floor tiles INSIDE the house change from icy polar old to reasonably warm overnight. You’re no longer in danger of losing your toes from severe frostbite for misplacing your slippers. Hey, bring on the flip-flops. Ah, I see, you never took them off… Time to paint those toenails.

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Raising the Parasols

Parasol – the clue is in the name of course. Into storage go the patio heaters, up go the parasols. Bars look alive with busy terraces. Yes, hold that comment,  I know they have outside terraces all year round down there on the coast, but we’re at the top of a mountain 🙂

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Hearty stews be-gone

Bowls of spicy, tasty Callos and pig’s innards are whisked away, and tapas is replaced by little mounds of Russian Salad (which incidentally can be either a soft and creamy delight or a splendid saucer of cat vomit).

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You ate THAT?!

Wash that down

Red wine? No Camarero, mine is a Tinto Verano – ropey red over ice topped up with lemonade and splash of Martini if you’re lucky. Very refreshing it is too…

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The smiling Cura

Ah yes, the Vatican’s best envoy, the Parish Priest, has a noticeable spring in his step, and he’s wearing a slightly creepy benign smile. Why? It’s the start of fiesta season – which means a substantial leap in the number of congregates, and a louder jangle of coins in the collection basket.

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Step talk

A better gathering than Mass. The scrubbing of front steps and the scraping of chairs means the start of ‘doorstepping’ season. From the plaza to our front door is a 3 minute walk but it can take 3 hours with a delicious stop or twenty to sip the proffered wine and (literally) chew the fat. . politics, religion, football, farming and family are discussed at length.

Besides, how on earth would anyone know anything without the front step gossip? Sheesh. Yep, that’s my step. 🙂

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The Birds and the Bees

Big blue carpenter bees, chatty and fat Swallows, busy Housemartins, they all back, and they’re all keen to start a new family. Sit back, pour another Tinto Verano (don’t wait for summer) and just enjoy springtime, in fact ANY time, in Spain.

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Going hunting in Spain (No shootin’, no fishin’)

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Blinking against the intense white light, made even more effulgent by the snowy frame of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, I curse the fact I have yet again forgotten my sunglasses. Looking down instead, where the already dried out wild herbs of thyme and mountain sage crackle and snap satisfyingly underfoot, I begin my hunt, the search for orchids. Watching my step too, the uneven ground needs no help to send me flying, I am increasingly awkward with age, and do not welcome another ankle impairment.

I note where the wild boar have already visited this morning, a sounder of swine in party mode, turning over earth, rummaging through the herbs and grasses with vigour. I wonder what they found? Some edible root delectable to swine taste? Who knows? Perhaps a yet to be discovered Michelin-worthy wild ingredient.

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A gunshot bangs closely – too close – and I shudder.  I have no entanglement with the local love affair of blasting the wildlife from this land. I hope the trophy is not our tusked friends. Probably.

I look across the valley, my corner of Spain.  North to snow-capped Mulhacen, south to the Mediterranean, the white villages like handfuls of sugar cubes in between , folded in to the mountain sides. The stretches of pollutant plastic down below the line of smog that is the Costa Almería. No sign of the great white hunter at least from where I survey, and I continue my own pursuit for the first, early orchids.

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I’m rewarded with a coterie of Giant Orchid, with many promising yet to unfold from their shining, stocky green leaves. A very early Mirror Ophrys –  Ophrys s.Speculum – makes this type of hunt completely worthwhile, looking like an ancient Chinese swordsman in full warrior costume. Well, that’s what I see!

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Woodcock or Sawfly (can never tell which) make up the day’s discoveries, as I walk back to the quiet mountain road, passing Grape Hyacinth and treading the perfumed prickly carpet of herbs.

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A deep breath, a good look around, a lungful of pure air. The best remedy for scrunched-up shoulders, tired eyes and a mind that tends to lean to despondency for no reason at all.

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If you’re exploring the Alpujarra, contact me and I’ll happily show you/send you guides to the best local spots for orchids – as long as you’re careful to respect the area, watch where you tread, and unlike some half-baked guests we once hosted – don’t pick them!

 

The 10 commandments for expats in Spain

Thinking of a move to sunny Spain and wondering where to start? Once you have all the travel arrangements and new home sorted out, and finally unpacked, you should then find out how best to fit in. Confused? Then follow some simple rules, and feel more at home in Spain. After a decade here in the Alpujarra region of southern Spain, we have fallen foul of at least a few of these ‘rules’ – so be prepared!

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Commandment 1.

Thou shalt give blood, sweat, tears – and another Xerox copy.

When you go to finalise paperwork (a bit of an oxymoron as there is always more, and never a ‘final’ ream of paper to get through) always remember to bring many, many copies of absolutely everything that pertains to the subject at hand. A vial of blood may also be handy. Add approx one ton of patience and you’re almost there.

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Commandment 2.

Thou shalt punish the liver – an evil organ.

Party etiquette. Your child  – settled in school and lisping like a local – has been invited to a friend’s birthday. Yay – a couple of free hours. Wrong. Forget pinning the tail on the mulo, or birthday games of any sort. You will also be expected to attend. The kids will be kicked into the street to play (whatever the weather) while the adults eat Russian Salad and get completely sloshed on home-made wine. There will be many of these – prepare your liver now.

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Commandment 3.

Thou shalt not poison thy neighbour’s wife.

Foreign food. Never bring a non-Spanish dish to a party. It may as well be labelled ‘radioactive polonium’. Everyone will ask you to explain what it is, what’s in it, how did you make it – but NO-ONE will eat it. You’ll be encouraged to bring it home again, where it can sit in the fridge looking reproachfully at you for 3 days before being slung in the bin. As for curry – ha.

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Commandment 4.

Thou shalt not get frustrated.

Never assume a free morning is the ideal time for popping to the bank, the doctor and the Town Hall. One thing at a time. Always. Listen to everyone’s aches and pains in line at the bank, their marital troubles in the doctor’s, and be prepare to be surprised at the Town Hall – Ayuntamiento – where you’ll be presented with another bill or ten you hadn’t known about.

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Commandment 5.

Thou shalt not arrange anything in August.

Never attempt to get anything at all done in August. Spain is closed. The roofer, gynaecologist and lawyer you desperately need to speak with are all at the beach.

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Commandment 6.

Thou shalt stay pale and interesting.

Oh no. Never go to the beach in August. In addition to it being packed out with all of the above  – see Commandment 5 – you’ll feel hopelessly, pathetically under qualified when you take out your sandwiches. Mama and extended familia next to you will have salad, wood fire cooked Paella and cold beers, coffee and cakes, and a tablecloth on a table to seat 20.

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Commandment 7.

Thou shalt be assertive.

STOP being so polite. Please and Thank You gets you nowhere. If you want another drink, bang your glass hard on the counter. Shout louder, harder, stronger.

No, we still can’t do it either.

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Commandment 8.

Thou shalt become a supergrass.

Be prepared to tell everyone in a room how much you earn, how much you owe to the bank, how much you weigh, and the details of your sex life. In detail. Ya Está…

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Commandment 9.

Thou shalt honour the little people.

Never expect to find somewhere to eat a quiet, romantic meal, with all kids tucked up in bed. Noooo, kids stay up as late as everyone else, and are happily ignored as they scream and run in close proximity to your prawn cocktail. Grin and bear it. Tell one off at your peril. That might be a hanging offence, I’ll have to check…

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Commandment 10.

Thou shalt remain smug.

Enjoy yourself, turn your face to the sun, and your back on stress and worry. Never worriedly say “but what if…” instead wait until it might happen. Have a healthy respect for football and local fiestas, take the generous gifts of fruit and vegetables with gratitude, and you’ll soon settle into your new life in Spain.

Good choice, by the way 😉

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Photographs author’s own, Google free images and from Pixabay.

 

Soho Málaga: Street Art and Boho Living

Last Monday we dropped No. 1 son back to Málaga airport, and the first leg of his trip back to Bangor Uni and his waiting exams. Christmas and New Year done and dusted, we chose Monday to check in overnight in Málaga (a date now better remembered as the day Ziggy Stardust checked out of planet Earth).

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We love a short city break, a chance to breathe a bit of carbon monoxide and eat nicer tapas than is served up in the Alpujarra hills of home (which is admittedly a bit hill-billy and decidedly porcine). With fish tapas on our minds, and the idea of a cold Victoria beer or twenty, we booked the fairly modest 3* Soho Bahia Malaga, aiming to explore that area for a change.

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It’s a very cool Bohemian area, minus the polished glamour of a few streets across, and filled with buzzing little bars, many sex shops, boutique hotels, and lots of brilliantly executed graffiti – so a colourful area by anyone’s standards 🙂

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©carolmbyrne.com Yo Tupac!

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We checked into our room on the 7th floor of the hotel – a bargain at £35 for 2 with an admittedly awful breakfast – and admired our terrace views of the iconic Art Deco buildings, Málaga cathedral, the Málaga ‘eye’, and a ridiculously large cruise ship in the port. The hotel itself sports a 7 floor high mural of Venus and a sailor by Okuda and Remed.

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A few steps away next to the river is CAC – check out the temporary exhibitions if you’re passing. We were sent into a dizzying spiral by JOSÉ MARÍA YTURRALDE’S Meditations on the Void.

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The eagerly anticipated terrific tapas didn’t disappoint, crab croquetas and a cone of crunchy deep fried camarones were devoured at the colourful and burstingly fresh provisions market, cold Málaga beer washed it all down. Other stops included Tagliatelle with pesto, clams and mussels – alive, alive, oh – more big gambas, great cheese, and a few glasses of wine.

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In Málaga soon? It’s for much more than the Costa and the airport…so(ho) see for yourself!

 

A Tale of a Princess

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, on December 2nd at 16:16, a Princess was born, with golden hair and bright green eyes. (Okay, blue eyes, but they eventually turned green).

She lived with her mother, father and brother in a big, big house at the top of a big, big hill, in a strange country where the sun never shone and it always rained, and the people spoke a strange language, without vowels. (Come on, cwtch??)

This was where she learned to torment her brother mercilessly, and wrap her father around her little finger. The Evil Queen was a little harder to manipulate, but succumbed eventually.

The Princess went to school where she learned to write all her ‘d’s and ‘b’s back to front perfectly, and where she met her BFF.

She led a charmed life, stuffed her pockets with slugs and spiders, and made the Queen terrified of laundry and pockets. She wore her shoes on the wrong feet, and her favourite colour was blue. She liked to decapitate her dolls and save them for the health visitor who came to see her brother.

She went to ballet (think elephant) art (she was, and is, very arty) and made everyone very, very happy. She prayed once a week at the high altar of the Pick ‘n’ Mix counter of Woolworths. (She actually cried when she heard it closed down).

Once, she went to see a real Queen, and insisted on dressing herself and putting her shoes on the right feet. She gave the real Queen and Prince an eyeful as their car passed. Later, the Evil Queen discovered that the Princess had forgotten to wear her knickers.

One day, the family decided to move their Kingdom to a land where the sun always shone and where it never, ever rained. The Princess told her teachers and they all cried. She told her BFF, who howled and broke all our hearts. The BFF’s parents were extremely angry and stamped their feet, but were happy enough with a pilfered light fitting and a few bottles of left-over booze from the abdicating King and Queen.

The BFF was inconsolable. The Princess moved anyway. She learned a new language  – with far too many vowels – and grew even more tall and beautiful. She still tormented her brother, but loved him a bit more as time went on.

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She found new BF’s – but there’ll only ever be one BFF, L.G. x – and discovered that boys are way less complicated than girls. Except when the Princess fell in love – then boys became really complicated.

She learned to dream and think in her new language, and swear profusely. She grew up to be kind, willing, very untidy, love all creatures (2 legged and 4 legged) however mangy, and bring them home, and she still keeps the King wrapped around her little finger. She’s not terribly keen on the Queen these days, but that’ll pass, and they love each other really.

They might, possibly, all live happily ever after.

Happy Birthday

Today, as it happens, she’s 17, her lucky number, and her lucky year. Happy birthday Smelly, have a great one. xxx

 

Witchery Pokery in Spain

I am aware Hallowe’en has passed, yes.

I can hardly believe its December already though, the curse of growing older and watching time speed past me. If anyone speaks fluent Fly please let them know to buzz off for winter – we appear to have an entire grist upon us, despite living at altitude here in the Alpujarra.

Back to the witchery pokery of the title…Have you heard of the Sabia, or white witch, often found in these little white, rural villages? We have, she lives right next door in fact.

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The Sabia

Traditions and superstitions abound in the pueblos of Andalucia . The story of the Sabia or white witch is one that still endures.

Known to have powers that could cure where the village doctor failed, known to be good with nature, and often with a history of spectacular healing where traditional medicine has failed, she is regarded with esteem and never extorts money. (Although I think her palm is often crossed with silver 🙂 )

Busier than any local bar, her door is opened with regularity, especially at the weekend or during the holidays as folk from far and near – often travelling great distance – come and see her. Asking around, I’m told she once brought a child – a little girl –  from death’s door back to the here and now – the doctor’s couldn’t help her, there rests her ‘proof’, and her good reputation.

Have you heard of the Sabia before? Do you have one in your pueblo?