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Published: March 22nd 2008
Semana Santa - not a Button's egg in sight KATE
This week is Spanish Semana Santa
otherwise known in English as Holy week. Here the holiday is the week before the U.K, from Palm Sunday until Easter Sunday. Spain being a traditionally Catholic country means that Easter is a big deal here. There's none of the chocolate eggs, easter bonnet competitions and decorating eggs theme that there is in the U.K, followed by the traditional drunken bank holiday weekend. Instead there are religious processions to celebrate Easter throughout Spain, but the most impressive of these is apparently in Andalusia, in the South. Here parades of people in outfits very similar to those worn by the Klu Klux Klan accompany teams of men carrying huge sculptures of Jesus and Mary through the streets to the sounds of brass bands. It sounded like something we wanted to experience, and coincidently, we had the week off work. So we took a bus to Granada for a few days to seek out some typical Spanish Easter parades.
Granada was the last stronghold of Islamic Spain and the Moors ruled there for 2
1/2 centuries. After the important Islamic cities of Cordoba and Seville were lost to the Catholics, the Muslims sought refuge in Granada, which became one of the richest cities in Europe. The last ruler, Boabdil, finally surrendered Granada to the Catholics in 1492 but the imprint of Moorish rule is still obvious in the architecture and style of the city. Granada is dominated by the Alhambra palace, a huge fortress on one of the hills above the city. Its a beautiful building and the views of it are made more breathtaking by its backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains behind. These mountains include mainland Spain's highest peaks at 3000m and are a popular ski destination. There is still a lot of snow on top at the moment and it's an amazing contrast to the dry landscape and climate of the rest of Andalucia. There are many other remnants of the Moors around the city. On the hill facing the Alhambra climbs the winding, narrow, maze like streets of the Albayzin, the old Muslim quarter. The cobbled streets open out onto little plazas holding old churches and mosques; and the more recent additions of tables and chairs from the many little
bars and restaurants. The old city walls snake up into the hills, surrounded by olive trees and scrubland. Some of these bars have an Arabic theme; serving a million different types of tea, shisha-pipes, tagine and cous cous, in little metal tea-pots and terracotta dishes, on sofas covered in multi-coloured throws and cushions, with low lighting and mother-of-pearl embossed tables. Next door to the bars, little shops sell all sorts of hippy stuff that you also see in Khao San Road in Thailand, scarfs, wraps, fisherman trousers, juggling balls, shisha pipes and curly-toed shoes. In contrast, there are tributes all over the city to Fernando and Isabelle, the Catholic monarchs who kicked the Moors out of Granada and united the Spain we know today. There are lovely and interesting contrasts all around the city. I liked it a lot.
We stayed in a cheap backpackers hostal beside the Alhambra. For 35 Euros a night we got a double room with it's own bathroom, arbite a very tiny room with an increadibly tiny bathroom, there was no moving about in the shower and an extra bit had bit added to extend the door out into the room so you could
actually sit on the toilet. But after all that time in Asia, we are used to cheap and cheerful and it was fine. Admittedly, cheap and cheerful in Europe is a hell of a lot more expensive than cheap and cheerful in Asia, what you can get for £20 a night there.....(I'm talking about accommodation, don't get any other ideas). The area around the Alhambra is lovely, lots of well maintained gardens and little paths with fountains in.....and great views. The one downside, the hill. Hills are great because you get good views from the top...but you have to climb up them. And the path up to the Alhambra is steep
. And long. And we had to do it several times a day. It's particular challenging after a couple of glasses of sangria, particularly given the trip hazards mentioned below....Luckily no limbs got broken....
Falling Down KRIS
Granada is dogged by one difficult problem. It has the most uneven surface of any city I've ever visited. Combine this with steep gradients and you have a recipe for disaster. Okay, it's old and historic and the stone pavements are likely to be worn and wonky,
but we even found you had to be careful where you trod inside buildings. It was a continuing theme. Take our guest house. To get over the threshold you had to step over a 6 inch block of stone. It was the same getting in the shower. Then, as you left the corridor there was a surprise slope that fell as soon as it rose and completely took me by surprise on ever occasion. Whilst wandering the picturesque, narrow, cobbled side streets all these hazards finally ran their natural course and Kate slipped down some steps in a slow-motion, rather comical manner, adopting a clown-like facial expression of mock-horror as she descended. When I stopped laughing I realised she'd hurt her foot. She survived though and I doubt we'll be suing the Granada council and demanding the place is levelled and tarmacced. It might detract from the scenery I guess.
So during our stay in Granada we thoroughly explored. Unfortunately we didn't get tickets for the Alhambra, they sell them in advance on the internet and they were sold out weeks in advance. I guess that's just something we can save for another time. We went to the cathedral
and the Royal Chapel where the Catholic monarchs Isabelle and Fernando are buried. You can actually go down into the crypt and see their coffins. It's a little gory in my opinion. It's a bit odd to build a tomb with a chapel to surround it for yourself when you die. I wonder whether they realised when they commissioned it how many people would still be coming for a gog at it 500 years later. We wandered around all the little lanes of the Albyzin and saw some amazing views from the top. We also had some nice drinks on little terraces in the sunshine, and some more beers at night in some of Granadas many tapas bars....
Bagels - not the most traditional tapas?
Granada is famous for its tapas. While you get tapas in Madrid it can often consist of a bowl of nuts with your
drink (though certain places give hearty banquets!). In Granada the tapas reputation has spread far and wide. In fact, when I told my SPanish students that I was off to Granada the 1st thing they told me about was the fact that I'd never have to buy
Imagine eating this plate every time you drink half a pint....
dinner because the tapas are so big. They bearly mentioned the Alhambra palace complex or Moorish history. We were intrigued and indeed, it lived up to the hype. Our 1st drink (2 beers in half pint glasses) came with a ham and cheese bagel each and a pile of chips. Cool! But I'm still a bit peckish.... 2nd drink and 2 mini hamburgers and a pile of crisps turn up. That's better. But...stay for another drink (remember, by drink size standards we're only talking a pint and a half consumed) and it's another plate piled with food. Soon I was actually turning down more tapas, with barmen looking at me bemused and telling me it's free. Anyway, it's a very good anti-overdrinking strategy. Imagine if every time you had a pint of beer you were forced to eat 2 ham and cheese bagels and a plate of chips. You'd fill up pretty quickly. Then again, if it was introduced in the UK it probably wouldn't help much with getting rid of that obesity problem.
Anyway, my students were right and we didn't buy any food! We survived on tapas. Cool. The portions are huge and it's great to visit.
Lots of bad hair....
Strangly Khao San Road-esque style people hanging out at the viewpoint in the Albyzin...selling jewellery, playing digereedoos and drinking beer out of litre bottles....
I just wonder if I lived in Granada if I could stand the sight of a bagel or if I'd be 5 stone heavier....
Spanish Hair KRIS
There is something quite odd about the Spanish sense of style in the hair department. This is something that I have noticed and, indeed, has already been pointed out to me in Madrid. There is a high percentage of odd mullets and random dreadlocks and weird braids. On one occasion, standing during a busy period on the Madrid Metro, my eyes fixated on one bloke's barnet. Dressed in a suit, bespectacled and with short-back-and-sides, he seemed to epitomise the conservative businessman. Except...hold on...what's this....? A teeny thin plait of hair about 1 foot long sprouting inexplicably from just behind his right ear. Lovingly tied off with a ribbon. Why??? I stared a little longer than I should have thinking just that. I Longed to step forward and snip it off with scissors and explain I'd done him a favour, he looked like a dick. But I didn't, of course.
Anyway, our investigation into the Spanish misadventure with hair (Yeah, I know I'm no Nicky Clarke, but I see
who by the time this was taken had produced an acordian and a clarinet...later the clapping man found a guitar.....
that as a positive thing) continued in earnest in Granada. A girl we spotted on the bus from Madrid was a prelude for things to come. I'll describe her hair. Ready? While the sides of her head were shaved close to the skin, she sported very long, traily side-burns, a curly mullet including several random dreads...a fringe down to her eyebrows....all topped off with a mohican. Is it me, or is that a little too many hairdos? If I had a hidden camera I would have snapped a pic. Ah well, you'll just have to take my word for it. Well it got worse in Granada. The town is full of hippy types hanging about on street corners and the standard hairdo is a shaven head with several long thick dreads hanging from the back. Dreads are as popular as mullets actually. In fact, the most unlikely people have a totally random dread woven into their hair. Okay, get dreads! But don;t get a random one knitted into one part of your head. It's bizarre to be passed by a seemingly quite trendy, attractive Spanish girl with straight smooth hair...to spy a random dread in the back of her hair
One of the square in the Albyzin
where we had a drink and listened to the live flamenco guitarists....how very Spanish!
as she passes. We christened them "secret dreads" and looked for them in many people we saw in bars and around town. We got quite good at finding them. Luckily, we don't seem to have developed any...
Impromptu musical performances
So there we are on our 1st night in Granada sat outside a very pleasant bar in one of the winding streets next to the old Arabian area. All of a sudden a guy in a big group of people to our right starts playing an accordion - much to the appreciation of his mates. Seconds later, another bloke in the bar has produced a trumpet and is jamming along. Then another with a clarinet. This all started getting a bit surreal, but it didn't stop there. Seconds later and the original accordion player was accompanied by a trumpet, a clarinet and an electric guitar and bass - plugged into an amp that appeared from under a table. Needless to say, my and Kate's quiet conversation was impossible. A crowd soon gathered to watch and we sat amid this mass of musicians - feeling a bit like we wished we'd brought something. A small banjo secreted into the
View from the top of the Albyzin
The Alhambra with the Sierra Nevada mountains behind....yes, that's snow!
lining of my coat perhaps. Or a nose flute surreptitiously slid from a shirt sleeve. Even a kazoo from the pocket. As the music continued the instruments got more elaborate and we wondered where everyone had been hiding them. I was betting a grand piano would appear, previously masquerading as a table. No such luck on this one, but we did get a last highlight. A middle-aged woman walking her tiny, rat-like dog stopped to take in the show. Suddenly she couldn't contain herself and was whooping, clapping and stomping her heels flamenco-style...right in front of our table. It was quite an event. By the time it had subsided, we had forgotten what we'd been talking about when the accordion first fired up. Oh well.
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