Holy Days of Obligation

You HAVE to go to Mass, it’s a Holy Day of Obligation.  Get there smartly, don’t slinge.

The standard answer to “Mass again? But, why….???” when I was a skinny small teenager with a big fat attitude.  So, sulking, we would dutifully slinge up that hill to St Mary’s and stand outside the back door, acting as cool as we could under the circumstances.  One of us having drawn the short straw would be sent in to hear the message from the homily, so we’d all have the same answer when we got home – sort of singing from the same hymn sheet I guess.

Today is yet another H.D.O. in Spain.  Puente del Pilar – the pueblo church bells of San Miguel are ringing as I type, but I think there will be more than just a few blue rinse jobs there today, as it’s also the day of the Spanish military celebrations.  Any excuse for the Guardia Civil to tuck their trousers into their mirror-shined boots and wear the three cornered hat.  I find it intimidating to be honest – but I guess that’s the idea.

It’s also Hispanic day for the Spanish speaking world. Día de la Hispanidad commemorates the day Columbus first set foot in the Americas  – so there’s plenty to celebrate today.

copyright Carol M Byrne

For our village, it’s another opportunity to come home to the countryside and be fed by Mami, a reason for the Abuela to to grin toothlessly, another day to be spoiled for the Nieto.

The village Great and the Good will be invited to the local police station to have a few bevvies, denuncias and feuds forgotten for a few hours, at least as long as the Brugal flows.

Then, as full as proverbial ticks, they’ll weave their way home to sleep. Tomorrow it’s back to normality.  Quiet once again, the square chimneys will send blue spirals of smoke to fight the chilly autumn evening.  The scent of Almond wood will hang heavily in the air, and the sound of tractors and chainsaws in the distance.  Until the next fiesta – it won’t be long!

Abuela – Granny

Nieto – Grandson

Brugal – Popular Spanish Rum

Puente – Bridge – or extra day off work tagged onto the weekend for post-shenanigan sore heads 

Our Favourite Granada Hotels – their best bits!

There are all sorts of reasons for a mini break.  Any parent savouring the delicious liberation that teenagers bring when they reach the magical age of fending for themselves will know of at least one.

Where we live is a rural and lovely holiday spot – one for kicking back and relaxing, with some of the cleanest air in Europe surrounding our mountain-top village.

But, sometimes we want more… We love a quick city break – eschewing the rolling mountains and countryside of the Alpujarra and injecting ourselves with a little much-needed carbon monoxide.

Granada makes the grade

Granada is not only on the doorstep – it has everything we ask for.  Architecture, culture, jazz clubs and gin joints.

Choosing a hotel is usually the second thing we do, after checking to see what’s on.  Sometimes we go for one we have previously strolled past and liked the look of.  A Patio Andaluz is usually a deal-breaker.

I’m often asked to recommend places to stay – which is difficult, ‘one man’s meat’ etc.  Here are some we have stayed in this year – and their best bits!  So, here’s what they say, and what we say:

Gar Anat


The Blurb:

This charming boutique hotel in a converted 17th-century pilgrim’s hospital with running balconies surrounding an interior courtyard is a 6-minute walk from Granada Cathedral and 3 km from Alhambra’s medieval complex of palaces.

Quaint rooms with beamed-ceilings feature décor themed around novels and poetry. They all have free Wi-Fi and TVs, plus room service. Some have balconies, Jacuzzi tubs and antique furnishings.

Continental breakfast, served in a stone-walled cellar, has a surcharge. Afternoon Teas are complimentary There’s a stylish lounge with a library of books in English and Spanish, as well as a computer for guest use.

Address: Placeta de los Peregrinos, 1, 18009 Granada
Our view:  The friendliest place we have ever stayed, staff who were chatty and knowledgeable, without that creepy servile attitude you sometimes encounter. Great room with double aspect windows, large bathroom and excellent toiletries. Centrally located in the Historical area.  Indian food stockist next door was a bonus!



The Blurb:

The Vincci Granada Hotel is located in the centre of Granada, Spain. This is a modern establishment equipped with all the comforts of a four-star hotel and the latest technology which makes this hotel, one of the best hotels of Granada.

It is ideally located so that both tourist and business travellers can enjoy this historical city.

The Vincci Granada offers the visitor a modern hotel, cosy and exquisitely decorated, which upholds the idiosyncrasies of the city. Of course, its hallmark is the personalised treatment and care for details which make any stay here unforgettable.

Avda Constitucion, 18 Granada , Granada , 18012, España | 902 515 555 | +34 93 269 11 26

Our view:  It’s not in the centre, it’s a 10 minute ride away.  But there’s a great secondhand clothes shop next door which sells designer labels and high street brands for a fraction of their cost, so worth a rummage.  The Vincci is actually a little old-fashioned, but the black and white décor and slightly Jeeves-ish staff shouldn’t put you off.  It’s cheap, and more than cheerful, with big rooms and beds, and a choice of pillows.  Bear in mind though, that the rooms start on the 11th floor – so no ground floor rooms available. Not for you if you dislike heights – great if you love Granada views.


View from our room on the the 14th floor of the Vincci

Abades Recogidas

The Blurb:

Decorated with art showcasing Granada’s history, this modern hotel is an 8-minute walk from the Granada Cathedral and 1.9 km from the Alhambra.

The trendy, earth-toned rooms and suites feature free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs and minibars. Suites add separate sitting areas.

Amenities include a bar/lounge and a rooftop terrace. The hotel offers a breakfast buffet at an additional charge.

Address: Calle Recogidas, 7, 18005 Granada

Our View: Like the Vincci, we return to this one regularly.  It’s spotless, modern, art-themed, with huge showers on the second floor – small shower over bath affair on the 4th.  Slap bang on Calle Recogidas, opposite Zara so ideally placed for the sales, for nightlife, for discovering Granada.



The Blurb:

The Hesperia Granada hotel is an elegant old building with an unbeatable location, right in the historic heart of Granada. It’s a short walk to the city’s most popular tourist spots, and it’s also very close to the city hall and the business district. Plus, you can walk to the Alhambra Palace in around 20 minutes. 

  • Central location in an elegant historic building
  • Close to the city hall, the cathedral, and Granada’s best tapas bars
  • 20-minute walk to the Alhambra Palace

The hotel is built inside an historic tenement block, so all our 68 guest rooms are unique. They’re spacious, with large bathrooms and sleek hardwood floors. Each one is decorated in a classic Andalusian style, and some of the Junior Suites and Superior rooms overlook the small square at the front of the hotel.

  • Rooms decorated in classic Andalusian style
  • Fully equipped bathrooms
  • Some superior rooms and the junior suite look out across an attractive square

The hotel serves a sumptuous buffet breakfast every morning. We also have 3 beautiful Andalusian-style courtyards, as well as private parking and free Wi-Fi .

Reservations: +34 91 6008146
Tel.: +34 958 018400
Our View:   Loved it.  Simple as.  Friendly, great value, spacious room that felt like home – or that we would like home to feel like!  Really friendly at the desk, a tranquil and very cool place to stay.  Will go back.  Wonderful wine bar opposite, gin joint to the right a few doors down, where Federico will pour until you stay stop. *There’s Cava and Oysters too 🙂
My top tips:  Always smile and ask for an upgrade at check in, if it’s quiet they’ll more than likely give you one.  Booking.com is brilliant for late great deals, the more you use it, the better the deal.   If you want a late check out at your chosen hotel, then ask – again if they’re not that busy they usually don’t mind. What are your favourite Granada hotels?

Allergic to E?

Nooo, not that sort of E.

Life provides enough hallucinatory satisfaction.

Sandra Danby @sandradanby on Twitter has nominated me for this:

And sooooo 

‘What Fun!’ – I thought. 

A task, a summons, a trial. 

To scrawl an account of script minus that non-consonant symbol twixt D and F. 


Possibly a tad arduous, laborious than first thought. 

This is a situation for much constraint –  an additional hour por favor? 

I challenge Sue, Matthew and Jo

The difference between Spanish and Expat parents

kids calm

Well, can you spot the differences?  An example.

Idling around a quiet hotel pool recently, the only sound to break the idyll was a gentle murmuring from other guests, and just the scrape of a sun-bed being positioned, or the ppffft aerosol of more SPF applied and of course the laughter of happy kids in the water.


The low wail that led to a screech like a fire engine, sudden and LOUD, made us all sit up and focus towards one end of the pool, as the lifeguard jumped in with a panicked splash and emerged with a girl of about 7, hands to her face and blood gushing forth.

Her parents were next to us, Padre slowly levered himself up putting down his book and Madre walked with no particular hurry to the shower area where the lifeguard was sluicing the kid down.

She had smashed her front tooth – and was inconsolable.  Wails of “I want to go home” and “I miss my friends”, “I’m ugly now” mingled with snot, sobs, tears and big shuddering intakes of breath.  Madre placated, cuddled and crooned, and after 5 minutes pushed her off and told her to shut the F**k up. Padre went back to his book.


Which is about typical.  I had to giggle – she was pushing for the underage Oscars.  Everyone nodded, smiled and went back to sunbed arranging and SPF application  The kid shut up.  She forgot about her tooth and went back in the pool.

I turned over to face the sun and spied an expat couple who sat at the side of the kids pool (about 1 foot deep) whilst their kids played. Constant cries with loudly projected voices of “Play nicely Thomas”  “Be careful Jake” “No splashing your brother” accompanied them.  When they left, flustered, anything but relaxed, with their equipment and kitchen sink, kids in all-in-one suits and Tintin-type swim hats – it was only about 22 degrees –  Mum and Dad fussed and held their hands and instructed not to walk too close to the pool. They were just short of a lead.


What if they had fallen in?  Well, I guess someone might have fished them out.

Have we become fussier?  What happened to risks and tough love? When I fell over as a kid  – most days – I got a splash of iodine, a sugar sandwich, and was sent back out to play, the blood hastily wiped as it ran and congealed into my once-white sock. A lovely big knee scab afterwards that would itch and beg to be picked along the edges as it healed.  Like a big fruit pastille.  I still have the lumps and marks today. My mother was right about the picking.

So, can you spot the difference?

50 Granada Haikus

Sharing a little poetry this morning from awayfromthenoise.com #Granada

Away From The Noise

After having written a few posts here, I thought I’d try something different today and so with this in mind, it seemed like a good idea to post a blog of the daily haikus I wrote in my first three months in Granada last year.

For those who may not be familiar with haikus, there are a number of different types but the one I have focused on is essentially a poem of 17 syllables, divided into 3 lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables. I first learnt about haikus at school and have always liked their simplicity and have also found the ‘restrictions’ of the syllables strangely liberating when writing.

I’m not a natural photographer and so moving to a new country seemed like a good opportunity to get into writing haikus again to ‘take a picture’ of the moments we would have. These haikus cover the period of arriving, the…

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Hybrid crumble

They had me at crumble…

Notes on a Spanish Valley

This is one of those recipes that we cooked on the run, part-making-do, part amalgamation of well-loved recipes. crumble mix on the spoon 28-7-14a pear 22-7-14 (2)Pears… because we had a huge bowl of pears to use;

Citrus… because we love the citrus sauce from an Ina Garten fruit crisp recipe;

Almond… because there’s a Nigel Slater almond crumble topping we’ve been wanting to cook. It didn’t disappoint.

crumble – cut into 28-7-14Pears, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
For the sauce:-
Juice and zest of an orange
Juice and zest of a lemon
1 heaped tbsp plain flour
For the topping:-
120g plain flour
85g cold butter, cut into cubes
4 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp ground almonds

Set the oven to 180°C/Gas 4.

Put the pear chunks into a bowl, add the citrus juice and zest. Stir to combine. Add the tbsp of flour. Stir again, then tip into your baking dish. pears in the baking dish 28-7-14butter 28-7-14To make the topping, put the flour and butter into…

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It’s oh so quiet…..

Ssssh….everyone’s asleep.It’s 4 something am, and through the inky blackness of the window Orion is winking back at me. The hills and mountains quiet, perhaps just the odd family of Wild Boar down below my house, foraging and lucky to have escaped the trigger happy Puente-enders.

Just Marco for company here, rolled into a tight ball by my side and snoring lightly. A hand to his head makes him do that little stray-dog flinch – they never lose it. He’s never even been told off in 8 years of gracing us with his presence, but still has that reproachful look.

Why am I awake? It might be that bottle of white I greedily guzzled. It might be the fire crackling and hissing outside the bedroom – meaning Stan is also awake on the sofa, Kindle in hand, Jeremy Kyle idly wondering who might be the father of a choice of 27,ooo…ah throw a coin in the air and forget the Lie Detector. Why is he so addicted to that dross? It depresses me no end.

What else? Thoughts of The Boy, thousands of miles away. Did he go out? Did he remember his insulin, something to eat? Maybe it’s The Girl, growing up too fast, the novio just a little too close for (my) comfort these days. I’m not so old, I know an avaricious or lavacious look a mile off.  Yeah, I know, I’ll have to shut up and roll with it.

But I’m still wide awake. My father, who always sits on my shoulder this time of year, perhaps it’s him. Blame the Da. The last couple of days I can smell and taste his 6am fried brown soda bread, and strongly stewed tea, placed on the old long knocked-out tiled hearth of home. “There you are, Car – fire’s lit.” A dollop of congealed Chef sauce, a heavy hand with the salt. Hey, maybe even a rasher. Thanks Da for the high blood pressure, it was worth it.

I don’t know…it could be my throat. Not a lurgy – but a potato 🙂 I choked – not to be dramatic, but almost to death – on Sunday when one lodged in my throat. I managed to hurl it up. Sorry it that’s put you off lunch. When I came back from the bathroom, eyes red, clutching my neck, Stan was still chewing, Isobel still texting. Imagine, all the disasters I have avoided in life by a hair’s breadth and I choke to death on a bloody roast spud. Imagine the epitaph…She Went Back to Her Roots.

Enough of this, I may as well get up. There’ll be a girl for breakfast and there’s soda bread to make. 🙂

All change – full steam ahead

are just ahead Josh! (1)That short train journey called life is pulling in at a new station. Time for us to disembark – and let you go on ahead.

Tomorrow you leave for someplace new, and there’s no map, no compass: this time you’ll have to discover your own way there. Safe trip.

We’ll help to pack your suitcase, and into the corners we’ll tuck some hope, lots of good luck and plenty of love. Hopefully there’s a pocket stuffed with adventure, and the happiness that comes with travel and new discovery.

Your worries can be left here at home, with your laundry (thanks for that) and your childhood possessions.

Your small and warm child’s hand has long outgrown my outstretched palm, but the safety of home will always be wherever we are – some things always stay fast and true.

Remember to take big ideas, optimism, and lots of fun.

We’ll see you soon – bring back some Welsh cold and damp air to this Spanish mountain for Christmas, and tall tales of what you saw and what you did.

Remember this: It’s never adios – but always hasta luego….x


No weddings, just a funeral

Early evening beer means the company of the proprietor’s daughter and the ubiquitous telly. A read of Ideal Granada, a chat with the coffee-drinking blokes in for a caffeine injection after work.

Sometimes, there’s news from the other world, you know, not Andalucia.

Sometimes our opinion is asked for, especially if the TV is blaring out something from under the cloudy skies of northern Europe.

 Carol, who’s that?

Swivelling my barstool around and inclining my head towards the screen, I spotted a picture of the recently departed Ms Geldof.

 – Bob Geldof’s daughter.

 Blank stares

– Is she famous?


– For what?

– Emmm, not sure. Because her Dad is.

– Who is he?

 – you know, from my Pueblo in Ireland. Boomtown Rats (quick pogo and a few bars of Rattrap)

 – Nope

-Yeah you do. Live Aid. Africa. Starvation. Give us your fookin’  money.

 Uh huh

– Well anyway, that’s his daughter, she died, only 25.

 – Why?

 – No idea, could hazard a guess, but whatever, it’s very sad. They’ve had their share of tragedy.

 – What’s her name?

 – Peaches

More blank stares

 Peaches….like, you know…Melocoton

 – Melecoton? For sure? Now, that is sad…………..

My family, and other animals

Renovations here, inside and out. It all started with an attempt on dog damage limitation, with a swap between the ‘office’ and the TV room. Soon there were more boxes than a house move, and even the big communal street bin had to be relocated by the front door – a bit of purging of ‘stuff’. We do collect here in the Johnston household – grand purveyors of tat, we are.



A  (another) New Year resolution then, trips to the weekly Almunecar rastro will mean throwing out 2 items for every new one that enters the house. That’s the idea, anyway!

We desperately need to decorate, inside and out, it’s time for paint – the yards of books can no longer hide the crumbling plaster – work is on the agenda. MIL announced yesterday she would like to visit for Semana Santa – so a deadline is now in place – that’s good, it’ll spur us on a bit.

Wonder how she’ll like it here? A first visit in the almost eight years we have lived in our lofty mountain Andalucian retreat.

The cats (2) will be generous, they love to bring visitors gifts, usually dead and sometimes wriggling – ratatouille, then it will be for supper…!


Supper. Another dilemma. Someone used to potatoes and meat at half past midday, when we tend towards pigs innards at midnight. I guess we can cater a little differently for a short period – please do not panic if you are reading this 🙂

The dogs (5) will misbehave, of course, I can see them planning it already – practising their separation anxiety uni-howl – that’s usually if we move to another room.

The kids (2) – hopefully will be nice. Teen girl with her Goth eyes and door slamming might manage to curtail her moodswings for a week. (I’d better be half careful here, recently my action of a mere like or share of a pic on social media gets me blocked and banned – who is she like?!)

Boyman will be fine – he has an inbuilt knowing when to behave button, and will only profusely swear in Spanish.

They will both promise to hold off on killing each other temporarily. Or I’ll take away their thumbs. (quite necessary for phones, ipads, xbox)


Good thing MIL does not. Speak Spanish I mean. Octogenarian neighbours tend to begin every sentence with ‘Oi, Coño…’ and that’s when they’re being friendly.

So, on with the clearing and cleaning and throwing…it’s cathartic, this spring cleaning business. I think. Ask me after Easter.