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Posts in ‘Things to do in Spain’

La Tomatina, Buñol – A Sanctioned Tomato War

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Buñol is a small, quiet town about 38kms from the Mediterranean Sea and the city of Valencia.  It has a population of about 9,000 souls.  Every year on the last Wednesday in August it goes crazy with an influx of mainly British, French, German and Spanish tourists who come to indulge in a tomato fight of epic proportions.  This year the tomato-fest is on the 28th of August.

The tomato fight started in 1945 when a group of young men were not allowed to participate in the local festivities, which involved costumed figures of gigantes y cabezudos, or “Giants and Big-Heads.”  They staged an impromptu tomato fight in the Plaza del Pueblo.  This was instantaneously popular; repeated the next year and has been carried on till today becoming a traditional, free-for-all, fun sport with an international flavour and participation.

In 1980 it became an official event with the local authorities organising the spectacle. In 2012, about 40 tonnes of tomatoes were trucked in from the Extremadura region as ammunition for the festivities.  La Tomatina has even acquired religious sanction.  The tomato throwing is now done to honour San Luis Bertrán and the Mother of God of the Defenceless (Mare de Deu dels Desemparats- another attribute of the Virgin Mary), patrons of the city of Buñol.

La Tomatino begins at 10am, with a greasy, two-storey pole climb.  The pole is coated with soap and a ham tied to the top.  Whoever reaches the ham gets to keep it!  As the climbers attempt to slither up to the prize, the crowd sings and dances, all the while being showered with water.  Once the ham prize has been acquired, the tomato fight begins, signalled by a loud shot.

That is the ideal situation but most times it takes too long to get to the ham, sometimes not at all.  So the fun part – throwing the tomatoes – begins regardless.  There are no teams and each man has to fight his own tomato battle.  The pandemonium lasts for an hour when another loud shot is fired to signal the cessation of the tomato war.

By this time the whole town square is a gory, pulpy scarlet and so are the participants, of course.  Fire trucks shower the players and the streets to remove the tomato paste.  A side effect of the festivities is that the cobblestones in the square and surrounding streets become spotlessly clean because of the tomatoes’ acidity!

You would think that indulging in the messy pleasure of throwing tomatoes would be a simple affair.  Well think again.  There are rules, instructions rather.  They are:

  • The tomatoes have to be squashed before throwing to avoid injuries.
  • No other objects except tomatoes are allowed.
  • Participants have to give way to the trucks.
  • The festival doesn't allow ripping off T-shirts.  (This one is seldom adhered to.   The players will often tear each others’ shirts off – man or woman.)
  • After the second shot signalling the end of the tomato battle, no tomatoes should be thrown.

Here are couple of tips when going into this purée making battle.  One is – wear goggles to protect your eyes or take a cloth to keep them clean.  The other is – for heaven’s sake; don’t take your camera in to the square.

Last year some 50,000 people showed up for the festival.  That was a tad too many for the limited confines of the square.  So this year (2013) the town authorities have limited the number of entrants to 20,000 people and are issuing entry tickets to the square.  The town residents get 5,000, while outsiders get 15,000.

The tickets are not free, of course!  They will cost €10 each.  Tickets can only be bought online from the town’s official website.  The ticket will take the form of a wristband.

I wonder if a few rebellious souls will stage a parallel red war to protest the regulations and limitations placed on them.  Will 1945 repeat itself?

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Montserrat – A Rocky Ensemble

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Montserrat monastery

There are many reasons to visit Montserrat. It could be religious, musical, architectural, historical, ‘must see; must do,’ discovery, hiking, rock climbing, or just good old fashioned sightseeing. Whatever your compulsion you will be gratified and probably get more than you expected.

Montserrat in Catalan literally means "saw (serrated as the teeth of a handsaw) mountain."  They are the handy work of nature’s sculptural efforts over millions of years. The multiple peaks rearing up to its highest 1,236 metres (4,055 feet) at Sant Jeroni are simply spectacular.

This rocky ensemble is just 50 kilometres (31 miles) northwest of Barcelona. The trip takes about an hour by train or ninety minutes by road. The route takes you through some truly beautiful Catalan landscape and along the Llobregat River.

Once you get to Montserrat itself there are a number of ways you can get up to the various delights that the place has to offer. You could drive up; take the cable car or the rack railway.

The Aeri de Montserrat cable car is a dizzying 5 minute ride. Since these are always full you could wind up squashed in the middle and miss out on the stunning views as the car crawls up to the halfway stage. The Montserrat Rack Railway is a 15 minute joyride taking you back to child-like thrills. Or you could take the road – bus or car.
 
The first phase of your rise up to the Montserrat experience ends at the roughly halfway mark. This is where the 1,000 something year old Montserrat Monastery (Benedictine Abbey) and the Montserrat Basilica home of “La Morenta,” the black-faced Madonna have been built.

Viewing the Madonna can be a bit of a chore. It has been placed in a tiny alcove reached by a narrow corridor and up a staircase on the right side of the Monastery. You may have to inch your way forwards for more than an hour. More than two million people visit the shrine every year and you only get a few seconds in front of it before you are forced to move by the visitors behind. If you can get there by 9am then there are not many people around.

The Basilica is where the Montserrat Boy’s Choir (l’Escolania) sing every day at 1pm.  Their musical performance is enough to fill your soul to overflowing. Across the Basilica and underground is an extraordinary museum with a superb collection of paintings by the likes of El Greco, Caravaggio, Sisley, Picasso and Dalí. It also houses valuable artefacts and items from ancient Egypt.

From the plaza in front of the Monastery you can go to the top of the mountain via the Funicular de Sant Joan. This is a veritable archaeologist’s delight. The mountain face is pockmarked with the caves of hermit monks who once populated the place. There are also several chapels, stairs and pathways.

The Funicular de Santa Cova is another rack railway that takes you down to the cave, which is the original location of “La Morenta. This grotto is where visitations by the Virgin Mary were first reported back in 880 AD.

If hiking is your thing, then the slopes of the Montserrat hills will be a joy for you. There are six recognised hikes with the longest one to Sant Jeroni. The walk starting from either the mountain base of the top of the Sant Joan Funicular will reveal breathtaking views of the surrounding plains and the Pyrenees.

There are interesting features for nature lovers because of the geology and plants along the way. All of the trails offer amazing views and the locals boast that on a really clear day you can see Mallorca.

Just so you are prepared keep in mind that the funicular railways don’t run in March and carrying a coat is advisable. Montserrat often has strong and chilly winds.

For me the trip to Montserrat was the highlight of my visit.

 

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San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain

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San Fermin

The fiesta of San Fermin is a deeply-rooted celebration —held from 6 to 14 July every year—in the city of Pamplona, Spain. It is celebrated in honour of Saint Fermine, patron of Navarra, and is locally known as Sanfermines.

The festival is a celebration of many traditional and folkloric events including the most popular encierro, or 'the running of the bulls'. Its events and worldwide fame, along with its attraction of a vast number of visitors from around the world are closely related to the description in Ernest Hemingway’s book, The Sun Also Rises.

The rave-up basically is about the consumption of large quantities of alcoholic beverages (sangria), music, bullfighting and partying.

The ceremonial process

The San fermin Festival starts at noon on 6 July each year and is marked by setting off the pyrotechnic chupinazo – a ceremonial rocket or the explosion of rocket from the balcony of the city hall at midday.

From the 7th to the 14th, the encierro – letting loose the bulls through some of the streets of the old part of the city take place when the clock on the church of San Cernin strikes 8 o'clock in the morning. From then on risk and excitement go hand in hand with high spirits and non-stop fun.

Running with the bulls is free but extreme caution must be exercised as it is an extremely risky sport, even considered male-only tradition. It has had 15 deaths since 1925 and most insurance don’t cover it – so you may only participate at your own risk.

The fiesta carries on with clear broth chocolate (caldico), long doughnuts (churros), the ceremonial giants (Gigantes), the aperitif and the fireworks at night; which then give way to all-night partying.

The dress code for the festival is red and white. And so for the next nine days, the streets turn into a celebration — of friendship, music, non-stop partying and open-air dances to the rhythm of the charangas and the peñas.

Tickets for the bullfight can cost anything from 25 to 70 Euros.

Closing

On the final day, i.e 14 July, thousands of people once again gather in the Town Hall Square with lighted candles and singing "Pobre de mí" (Poor me), to send off the Sanfermines until the next year.

Although most tourists know the festival as ‘The Running of the Bulls’, it is actually the party atmosphere, the celebration of life and the overall experience of the full-on Spanish fiesta that makes visiting Pamplona during San Fermin such an exciting and memorable one.

Have you booked your tickets yet?

Image credit: Rufino Lasaosa

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Entertainment at the Benidorm Palace

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Night show at Benidorm Palace

Benidorm is a town that sits on the coast of Spain’s western Mediterranean region. It was once a sleepy fishing village. But today it is a whole different kettle of fish. It is now a playground with a large hotel and tourist industry catering to visitors who come for the beaches and the entertainment. Make no mistake entertainment is the main attraction here. And no one provides more excitement, razzmatazz and fun than the Benidorm Palace.

Benidorm Palace is a nightclub, cabaret, restaurant and variety show venue all rolled into one. Spending the evening and night there is a great way to get best of all entertainment worlds. The various acts and performances at the Benidorm Palace change every year, which is terrific because you are in for a different treat on every holiday. It has also earned itself the reputation of having one of the top shows in all of Europe.

The Palace is large, spacious and stunningly decorated (a trifle too loud for me – but then it is a nightclub!) and fitted out. It would seem that no expense was spared.   

The dances are spectacular with the beautiful exotic dancers feathered, fabulously costumed and most times topless (joy for the boys!). Shows typically last for about two and a half hours and feature several different acts. There are laser light shows, juggling feats and choreographed dances with styles including Flamenco and influences ranging from Ireland to Egypt. There are comedians, acrobats and live bands.

It would be advisable to make an advance reservation for a good table. Otherwise you could have a long wait to get it and that takes away from the fun. At €5 a head it may seem steep but the measure is worth the price as the place can get rather crowded and good viewing places can make the difference in your enjoyment.

Besides the regular entertainment the Benidorm Palace regularly engages a variety of top artistes from around the world to perform concerts. Do check before you go or you might find that you are not going to get the famous regular nightclub reviews.

A few tips to take into consideration in order to enhance your enjoyment. You get one free drink on your ticket – after that you pay. You could have a meal at the Benidorm but the food can be a bit of a mixed experience. It is sometimes excellent and other times the quality slips. It also takes a long time between ordering to arriving at your table. If you are vegetarian you could have a very restricted choice and you have to request it. The focus is non-vegetarian.

The Benidrom Palace opens on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays all through the year. In the summer they also open on Wednesdays.

Doors Open at 8.30pm; dining commences at 9pm and its – Showtime at 10pm!
 

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Aguamar Water Park, Ibiza

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Aguamar Water Park

Ibiza is blessed with many beautiful sandy beaches and the glorious azure waters of the Western Mediterranean Sea lap its shores. So you have to ask yourself, what earthly reason could there be for spending a rather expensive day at a water park? The answer, for me at least, is that this Ibiza attraction is for the kids and young adults. And it has several conveniences that make for a pleasant (or exciting) day.

The park has a wide variety and levels of water slides and pools that will keep you occupied.  The Aguamar Waterpark has seven series of water slides for older children and adults.  Some are fairly regular in that they are straight and are a relatively gentle ride down. Then there are the water spewing, scream-inducing fast, twisty slides with unexpected corners that have you spinning around with your heart in your mouth.

They even have names for them, which are pretty indicative of what the slide has in store for you.  Judge for yourself – The Kamikazee, The Black Hole, The Spiral, Rio Ventura and Spiro Tubo – and ride. Then there are several gentler, smaller slides for the little ones. Just in case hurtling down a slide on your rear only to end up in a crazy frothy wet splash is not your idea of having fun, then you could just float or stroke around in the swimming pool.

The add-ons that give the Waterpark little edge over beach is the excellent bar and a cafeteria with a fairly interesting menu choice. A great thing (and a money-saver) is that they allow you to bring in your own lunch or snacks.

Another enticement that the park offers is that your ticket is valid for the whole day. That means you can wander off into Ibiza town or walk down to the beach and return later without having to pay admission again.

There is one hidden cost though that is not mentioned anywhere or told to you at the time you buy your ticket or enter the gates. After you have spent a couple of hours in the facility a member of the staff will approach you and charge you €2.50 for every sun bed you have taken! If you have gone with the family then it could seriously lighten the wallet. So be warned.

Taking all this into account, the Aguamar Waterpark is a great place to spend half a day and give the kids a good time.
 

Image credit: shelly-jo

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Things to see at the Alhambra

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Gardens of The Alhambra
The Alhambra is a beautiful collection of buildings and gardens. Its location is one of rare natural beauty that commands a view of the city and plains of Granada. It remains the most perfect example of Moorish art.
 
The Palace is made up of numerous beautiful courtyards, fountains and buildings that served as living quarters for monarchs. The shady tree-lined walks, abundant streams and fountains are blended with extraordinary architecture and embellishments.

Broadly speaking, the Alhambra is composed of three parts:  The Royal Palace, The Gardens of Generalife and the fortress of Alcazaba.

The Royal Palace, the most famous building of the complex, consists of the Mexuar – enclosing the striking Golden Room – where the sultans conducted every day business.  The Serallo, which served as a reception area and its very attractive Patio of Myrtles and its view of the Comares Tower, and the intriguing Lions' Court. The Hall of the Ambassadors is the largest and finest room in the palace, where King Fernando discussed Columbus’ attempt to find the sea route to India. The Palacios Nazaries is the high point of the palace. It has ensured that the entire edifice is one of the finest Islamic architectural compositions in Europe.

The inspiration for The Gardens of Generalife is supposed to be the Koranic description of Paradise. Running water and plenty of shaded areas together with all sorts of plants reminded the rulers of Granada of their past in the hot deserts of Africa. A 700 year old cypress tree shades The Patio of the Cypresses. The Walk of the Cascades consists of a superb piece of hydraulic engineering that has water flowing along a shaded staircase. The ticketed areas are basically the 'garden palace', but huge sections of the garden are free and don't require tickets. The gardens are absolutely gorgeous with all kind of herbs, roses and myriad scented plants and flowers growing. Water is a key theme.

The fortress of Alcazaba (the Citadel) is the oldest part of the Alhambra and consists of the impressive Torre de la Vela (watchtower).

The massive, if out of harmony, Carlos V Palace (Palacio de Carlos V) was built by destroying an original wing of the Alhambra. The building is of the Renaissance style and was built after the Reconquista (reconquest) by the Christians.

Overall this tour is a treat for gardeners: the designs are fantastic; the symmetrical Arab features have been copied around the world.

Tickets:  Are strictly limited, so booking in advance is highly recommended.

Night Visits:  Entry from 20:00 to 21:30 from November to February, 22:00 to 23:30 at all other times. Price: 12€
 

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Top Holiday Destination: Spain

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The website 101holidays.co.uk revealed the  the top 10 of holiday destinations in Britain. Over the next couple of days, we will tell you about the wonderful things you can experience in each of these holiday-destinations. We’ll start at the top and work our way down.

Holiday destination 1: Spain

Madrid
flamenco-dancer-by-flydimeThe capital city Madrid is ideal for a city break.  Book a bike tour in Madrid and explore the city by bike in small groups with a local tour-guide.
If you are a culture-vulture and in Madrid for a couple of days, it might be worth investing in a Madrid card.  Valid for 24, 48 or 72 hours, it will grand  you one-time entrance to more than 50 museums, unlimited use of a tour bus, free entry to a number guided tours and  attractions like Zoo- Aquarium  and Faunia Theme Park. Museums to visit in Madrid include Prado National Museum, Reina Sofia N Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and the Royal Palace of Madrid.
Spend one night in Madrid enjoying the Spanish twist on dinner and dance:  attend a night of Flamenco dancing at the Florida Park.

monteserratBarcelona
The rugged mountains of Montserrat have inspired stories:  Parsifal is supposed to have found the Holy Grail here and St Peter himself left a statue of the Virgin here. Discover Montserrat by taking an afternoon tour from Barcelona and visit the shrine of the Black Virgin – patron Saint of Catalonia.

antoni-gaudi_barcelona_8160_4Many of the extraordinary buildings in Barcelona were built by Antoni Gaudi, a visionary Modernist architect. Seven of  his buildings have been listed as World Heritage sites. Take a Gaudi tour to discover more about Passeif de Gracia, the Park Guell, Casa Museu Gaudi and Sagrada Familia church. The tour only runs form April to Oct.

.

tapas-by-the-foodie-gift-hunterSeville
Tapas (small plates of appetizers) are integrated in the culture of Seville – going on a tapas crawl is how many a night is spend. Seville has hundreds of places to eat tapas: make it easier for yourself by going on a real tapas tour. Your local guide  will introduce you to the best tapas places around.

Photography enthusiasts will enjoy the Seville photography tour. Discover the picturesque side to Seville and take pictures of the architecture and markets with the help of your guide a local photographer.

scooter-ride_mallorca_8043_2Mallorca
The only way to explore Mallorca is by scooter. Drive around, fully insured, in small groups and see Palma Bay, the historic centre of the city and discover the fishing culture by Paseo Maritimo. There are enough refreshments stops along the way – but you do need an international driving license to join!

aguamar-water-park_ibiza_3616_3Ibiza
A perfect alternative way to spend the day on Ibiza: visit Aquamar Water Park. One of the islands top attractions the waterpark has plenty of pools and slides to keep everyone entertained for the day. There is a cafeteria and bars for refreshments or go to the picnic areas if you like to bring your own lunch..
.

beluga-whale-by-mike-johnstoneValencia
In Valencia is the City of Arts and Sciences: a complex devoted to scientific and cultural dissemination in Europe. The complex itself is worthy of a visit with its many exhibitions and activities and one of the buildings not to miss is the Oceanographic park. An underwater city, where you walk through several habitats of the world, teaches you about biodiversity and the ocean’s eco system. You can see aquatics animals, mammals, birds and fish and even enjoy a dolphin show.

el-diablo-by-sylviane-mossLanzarote
We finish with a dinner offer you can’t refuse: a volcano bbq in Timanfaya National Park. It is the largest volcanic region in the whole of the Canary islands. A guide will lead you via the Lunar route to the famous El Diablo restaurant in Lanzarote.
Take in the gorgeous views while the food is grilled on volcanic heat. The evening is completed by music from local musicians.
A perfect night out in Spain.

Photocredit: Flickr Flamenco dancer -Flydime/ Montesserat- Catedrales e Iglesias/ Tapas- The Foodie Gift Hunter/ Beluga- Mike Johnstone/ BBQ- Sylviane Moss

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Alhambra Palace Tours

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alhambra

Arguably the most impressive landmark in Spain, and perhaps one of the most spectacular in all the world, The Alhambra Palace sits in the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountains and epitomizes Moorish architectural splendor. Inside the fortress, many have marveled at the palace’s intricate elements, such as its ornate ceilings, impressive stucco work, beautiful mosaics and cupolas. On the palace grounds, even more exquisite offerings await visitors, including marble structures, tranquil pools and fountains, and pavilions that offer stunning views of the mountains that surround the fortress. continue reading

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Alternative Travel in Spain

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Spain’s busiest beaches and exciting cities have been hot tourist spots forever. Independent travellers and those looking for an adventure will revel once in these buzzing centres but will soon crave more unique experiences on the Spanish peninsula. How about a road trip through one or more of Spain’s distinct regions, sampling culture and cuisine and staying in historic Paradores hotels?

continue reading

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Special Easter Offers at Isango.de

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isango!‘s German site isango.de has published two press releases about its special Easter offers. German isango! distributes discount codes, which enable the customers to get 10% off the original price. They simply mention the code in their booking and receive the discount automatically. The offers are an Easter present from the German isango! team.
One Easter bargain is the Alhambra in Granada, which is Spain’s most popular attraction and very popular among the German customers. The discount code CSCRUUJ can be used to book Alhambra tickets (Alhambra Eintrittskarten) for 10% less. The ticket gives visitors access to the Alhambra and includes a 2 ½ hours long guided tour of the Alhambra palace and its beautiful garden.
Alternatively isango.de offers cheap New York helicopter tours (New York Helicopter Touren). Any of the three helicopter tours can be purchased for 10% less with the code CSPBHP7. The flights are the perfect way to discover the Big Apple and guarantee tourists an unforgettable experience in New York.

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