Fifty million light years from where I want to be
but also exactly on the the spot
down to a pinpoint atom
Choices breed like rabbits
but short life confines them
a cruel corral
but there's a gap in the barbed-wire
wait til dark
wounds heal quickly
there's no blood without a strong, beating heart
fear nothing other than contentment
that this is enough
This poem has also been published at www.garagebandwriters.com.
Nazarene Palace, Alhambra
Andalucia (Andalusia in English), one of the autonomous regions of Spain in the south, likely epitomizes most people's ideas about Spain; bullfights, Flamenco dancers, the history of siesta. As my family and I have been living in Barcelona, I can honestly say that I don't feel like we live in Spain...we live in Catalunya. And what we are now familiar with, and part of, is a very strong Catalan culture. Seeing the resin and ceramic toros (bulls), flamenco dolls and Spanish flags in the tourist shops of Barcelona gives one a very false impression of the area. Bullfighting is now illegal in Catalunya, flamenco originated in the south (although you can catch a flamenco show in Barcelona), and you will be hard pressed to find a Spanish flag flying anywhere in Catalunya other than the airport. The yellow and red striped flag you will see flying everywhere in and near Barcelona is the Catalan flag. And, if you stay in Barcelona or other parts of Catalunya longer than the average tourist visit, you will begin to see that it does not feel "Spanish" at all. We have had the grand opportunity to explore Catalunya beyond Barcelona, as well as the Basque region of northern Spain (also did not feel "Spanish" at all) and the Baleric islands. It was time to finally see "Spain", or at least the south of Spain to really get a taste of "Spanish" culture.
With three days to burn we took a flight from Barcelona to Granada. Relatively cheap flights, for as little as 35 euros each way (ours were more expensive because we booked at the last minute) can be found on Vueling, EasyJet, Iberia and other commuter airlines. We took a cab to Los Jeronimos hotel (http://www.hotelosjeronimos.com/
) near the city center. We paid only 59 euros per night. We got what we paid for...a 2 star hotel with nothin' but the basics...beds, a small desk and chair and a bathroom. Oh, and the worlds smallest TV which we never watched. It didn't even have shampoo or conditioner. Instead there was a single dispenser of "all over" wash for body and hair, in the shower. This type of generic wash is pretty common in Europe, even in nicer hotels. The hotel did offer free internet (which paradoxically is usually an extra cost at more expensive hotels), and was perfectly located with only a 10 minute walk to the city center and offered a free "breakfast" of toast, bread, or croissant, fruit juice and coffee. Would I have preferred something nicer? Umm, yeah. However, we made the most of our days and were out from morning until very late evening and really only needed to sleep, so it was just fine. The star rating in Europe is quite representative of the quality of a hotel. A one star is usually a hostel, a two star something like a La Quinta or Motel 6 in the US. It only goes up from there. I suspect a 3 star hotel would have been perfect for what we had in mind.
We headed straight to the Ahlambra for the 2-6 pm entrance time. We were warned to purchase tickets in advance online so we did at the link below. Theoretically this is a good idea, but in practice did not work out for us. Tickets that included the Nazarene Palace were sold out online so we purchased tickets that included only the Generalife (pronounced hen-er-al-ee-feh) gardens and Alcazaba. I would not recommend doing this. After you purchase the tickets online you will need to go to a ServiCaixa ATM or the ticket office at the Alhambra to get the actual tickets. Read the instructions for picking up tickets very carefully. I can now say that there is no point in seeing the Alhambra without seeing the Nazarene palace. I was not about to leave Granada without seeing it so we ended up buying new tickets (13 euros per person) and got no refund on our internet tickets. Final word of advice...if you can get online tikets that include the Nazarene Palace, get them. If not, purchase them onsite at the Alhambra. There will be a long line for sure and the time you want (morning vs afternoon) may be sold out . There is also a night visit available or private day tours. We took the public bus (1.20 euros per person) to get around. From the Granada Cathedral take the #30 or #32 bus to the Alhambra. You could walk but it is at the top of a very large "hill". Take the bus. Go to the bathroom before you enter. There is another set of bathrooms and snack and drink machines near the Nazarene Palace but these are few and far between. So, when you do come upon a bathroom, use it, even if only prophylactically! The Alhambra was worth every penny, including the extra tickets we bought and didn't use! Words are insufficient to describe it so see the pics below. By the time you are done with the Alhambra you will definately be hungry. There are many nice restaurants for lunch (2-4 pm) and dinner (9 pm onward) where you can order tapas or from the menu. A great bit of info to know about in Granada is that if you buy a drink (usually beer) you get a free tapa!!!! We took in a flamenco show (28 euros which included 1 drink) in the Sacromonte area. This is the gypsy area. I spoke with a Granada native who has lived in Barcelona for the last 20 years. His advice was to avoid the Sacromonte because it was a tourist trap of the worst kind. However, I read in one of our guidebooks that while this used to be the case and tourists frequently got swindled, the gypsies "cleaned up their act" and it is now decent. I have to say I was quite happy with the show and we got a nice 20 minute walking tour afterwards which included a gorgeous view of the Alhamra. http://www.alhambradegranada.org/en/info/buyalhambratickets.asp
For our second day we planned to take the Renfe train from Granada to Cordoba. Unfortunately it was sold out of regular seats. The only seats available were in 1st class private cabins that would have cost 55 euros per person each way. No way, Jose. We opted for the bus which was only 15 euros per person (7 euros for kids under 10). The bus ride was about 2 hours on a nice tour bus with a bathroom. They even give you a little snack bag with water, peanuts and a small pastry thing. The bus was a fabulous way to see the surroundings. If you don't have this opportunity I can tell you that basically you will see literally millions of olive trees and olive oil factories. Seriously. Every available piece of earth between Granada and Cordoba has an olive tree on it. I read somewhere that some of them have been around since the time of Ferdinand and Isabell. The thing to see in Cordoba is the Mezquita. Again, we took the public bus from the main bus station. The Mezquita is a huge mosque with a Catholic church built right in the middle of it. Of course the brochure (made by the church) slants the story in favor of Christianity. Both the mosque and the church are quite beautiful, and Christians and Muslims (among others I'm sure) visit the site. You can buy tickets on site for 8 euros per person. I could only find expensive tour tickets online. After the Mezquita we had a nice lunch at a nearby restaurant. For lunch menu del dia (menu of the day) is a set price usually 10-12 euros for a 1st and second course, drink and coffee or dessert. Alternatively you can oder tapas (small plates) for about 2-3 euros each. We walked through the town and across the main bridge before heading back to Granada on the bus late at night
Our third day was spend walking around Granada. The 3.50 euro/person ticket to the Granada Cathedral was well worth the price. They also have a nice bookstore and giftshop. We picked up some nice books on Granada and the Alhambra for 4-6 euros. The cathedral itself was quite impressive and more massive than it appears from the outside. There are spice markets in the surrounding area where the spices are every color of the rainbow and don't come in little glass jars labeled McCormick. We wanted to have tea and maybe smoke a hookah (already crossed off of my bucket list) at a nearby Moroccan teteria. We actually found a very nice one and sat down, but had to abort the mission to head to the airport to catch our plane. http://www.andalucia.com/restaurant/teterias.htm
The trip overall was fantastic and I would recommend everything we saw in both Granada and Cordoba.
A few related tidbits...
1) It helps if you speak even a tiny bit of Spanish. Especially if you want to take public transportation. However, you can probably still get by with gestures, grunts and drawing if you have to.
2) I have read (don't always believe everything you read) that the Spanish "ole" (pronounced o-lay) came from the Moorish (Muslim) "Allah".
3) Andalucia is from the Moorish Al-Aldaluce.
And a few more unrelated tidbits...
1) Europeans do not drink beverages in their cars...ever. As such, European cars don not have cup holders.
2) All - yes, all - European cars are stick shifts. Automatics require a special order.
3) Many new cars shut off when you stop. That's right, the engine stops. It comes back on as soon as you press the clutch.
Generalife (pronounced hen-er-al-ee-feh), the Alhambra, Granadam Andalucia, southern Spain
Granada, Andalucia, southern Spain
The Nazarene Palace of the Alhambra, Granada, Andalucia, southern Spain
View of Granada from the Alhambra
Inside the baths of the Nazarene Palace of the Alhambra
View of Granada from the Nazarene Palace, the Alhambra
Courtyard of Nazarene Palace, the Alhambra
Nazarene Palace, the Alhambra
Nazarene Palace, the Alhambra
The Alhambra gardens
Flamenco in a cave in the Sacromonte (gypsy) area of Granada
The Mezquita, Cordoba, Andalucia, southern Spain
The Mezquita, Cordoba, Andalucia, southern Spain
The Mezquita, view of the church from the mosque
The Mezquita courtyard
The Mezquita courtyard
Carriage, Cordoba, near the Mezquita
Men's restroom, Tabernas Masquevinos, tapas restaurant, Calle Tundidores 10, junto Zacatin, 18001 Granada, Andalucia, Spain
Los Tres Reyes (The Three Kings)
Nativity Caganer (see post from 12/11/2011 for an explanation)
Graffiti, Tel Aviv
Graffiti, Tel Aviv
What a mix Israel is...contradictions everywhere! Horse and cart with cars, mosques and synagogues, really, really old and new. Tel Aviv.
Sweet treats, Old Jerusalem
Old (original) Jerusalem, the walled city...
This is not the actual Western Wall...just the sign for it.
Shopping area next to Old Jerusalem
Fast food, Tel Aviv
Ghost Horses, Tel Aviv
1) A "Cohen" revolving door can be found at the entrance to any location that may contain dead bodies... just in case someone with the name Cohen might enter...anyone with the Cohen name is sacred (or at least extra special) and cannot be in the presence of dead bodies. The door serves as a buffer for people carrying this last name in locations where dead bodies might be present. Do not ask why I know this.
2) There are special Shabbat elevators here that automatically stop on each floor so that the person riding in it is not violating religious law by pressing a button to control the elevator on the days of rest.
3) The weekend in Israel is Friday and Saturday, not Saturday and Sunday.
4) Men and women are separated at the Western Wall in Old Jerusalem by a fence...men on the left, women on the right. The proper procedure for praying and/or leaving a note at the wall is to walk straight up to the wall, pray and/or leave wish note, and walk backwards - never putting your back to the wall back to the entrance.
LOL...an actual excerpt from an email written by German Lady (name withheld to protect her privacy) who is helping with Ebro...
"Yesturday I brushed Ebro, let him enjoy the morning sun for 15 minutes and walked him a bit around.
When I put him bak in his box, he didn't agree with this and tried to escape !!!!
He turned around and passed me (standing in the doorway) quickly and went (walking slowly!!) towards some green grass.
My heart almost stopped beating !!!But Martha came from the other side and like this I could aproach Ebro without any problems.
Thank God nothing happended and he didn't move in a dangerous way for his injury.
I think, this is a "good sign", that he feels good again and missed his "freedom" !
Of course, today I will immediately close the box door behind me, before taking off his head collar!"
Our Caga Tio.
The two of you who have actually been following my blog (thanks, you know who you are ;) undoubtedly remember my post on the Cago Tio last Christmas. Well this is a Catalan holiday tradition worth sharing again with the rest of the world. Remember, I cannot make this stuff up. Seriously.
A Caga Tio is a small wooden log that has 2 front legs and a happy decorated "face" and that wears a red hat like the U.S. Santa's. Every Catalan family has one and the children have to cover him up at night and keep him warm. On Christmas eve or day, the kids beat him hard with a stick and sing a song imploring him to shi..um...poop presents for them. While I was away in the U.S. my husband and kids happened upon a giant Cago Tio in downtown Barcelona. My daughter said there was a line of kids a mile long waiting to see him. You know, like the line for Santa at the malls in the U.S. Once it was a kid's turn in line (s)he was given a stick with which to beat the Caga Tio, while a volunteer (Or was he paid for this?) pulled candies from under a blanket over the Caga Tio's rear end. I'm still not making this up. A picture of the life-size Caga Tio covered in a red plaid flannel blanket, the Wikipedia link, and a few versions of the Caga Tio song are below...
song:"Caga tió,caga torró,avellanes i mató,si no cagues béet daré un cop de bastó.caga tió!"
hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
if you don't shit well,
I'll hit you with a stick,
An alternate version goes something like this:"Caga tió,tió de Nadal,no caguis arengades,que són massa saladescaga torronsque són més bons!"
log of Christmas,
don't shit herrings,
which are too salty,
which is much better!
To continue with the Catalan obsession with pooping in the context of Christmas, the tradition of the Caganer is also worth mentioning. A caganer is a small figure posed in the act of pooping. Wait for it...wait for it...it is widely placed in the traditional nativity scene right alongside the baby Jesus
. Seriously. Actually, it's usually hidden somewhere in the nativity scene and kids think it's great fun to find it. Don't think it's a strange joke played by a few people every year. Oh no, it is wildly popular and found in most homes. In fact, if you find yourself at the Christmas market in downtown Barcelona you can choose from thousands of Caganers offered for sale. The traditional Cagner is a guy in a white shirt with a little red hat. However, you can find Caganers of Barca players, presidents and political figures and other famous people. My daughter couldn't resist buying a Caganer wearing a Barca (the Barcelona futbol team) jersey recently. Below is the Wikipedia link...
Life-size Cago Tio. He is facing away from the camera but you can see it is a large log covered with a blanket.
A Traditional Cagner
I had my first chance to go visit Ebro today since my return from the U.S. His hay and grain has been cut significantly because he has almost no physical activity whatsoever and he's "hot". For you non-horse people this means that, true to his thoroughbred breeding, he tends to be pretty hyperactive and needs daily exercise to vent his excess energy. And further, that when he doesn't get it, he's a little bit... shall we say, loco. He's even a bit loco when he is getting daily exercise. Due to his hip injury, we have to strictly limit his physical activity for about 2 more weeks. He's a bit of...no...he's a total carrot slut and greedily gobbled them down today. I could just hear him saying as I approached, "Hey lady, there you are. Where in the hell have you been? Where are my carrots? And what the hell took you so long to bring them?" Clearly he doesn't see me as the loving horse-owner and partner I am, but rather as his carrot dealer. Like a junkie strung out on crack, he wants nothing more than his next carrot fix.
I put the new western-style rope halter on. The advantages of such a halter are that it lacks any metal hardware that can break and it's made of rather narrow - but soft - rope that gives a bit more of a signal to the horse to behave when he acts up. You can imagine the sharper sensation a thin string wrapped around your wrist would give if it was pulled tight, versus that of a wider cloth band.
I took him out of his stall to assess the situation. First, he wasn't limping. Second, the swelling in his right hind leg has gone down considerably with the daily hand walking he gets from German lady. And third, that after only 2 weeks of stall rest, he has already deconditioned significantly and the beautiful muscle tone we had built up riding in the hills Barcelona's Coserrola forest has virtually diasappeared. His topline and back are weak. As I walked him around a small ring and down a short dirt road and back, and let him eat some grass, the only thing I could think of is how in the world I'm going to ride him for the first time after he's been confined for a month. Usually I can longe him on a long line before I ride so he can buck and squeal and run around like he's insane before I get on his back. But once he can start physical activity again it will need to be gradual and calm, and of the non-running, bucking and squealing variety. I guess we will cross that bridge when we get to it.
I travelled back, sans family, to my Arizona hometown this past week for work. I stayed awake during the entire 18 hour journey (flights and layover) which meant virtually no jet lag for the whole week. The huge traffic lanes and lack of driving chaos in my hometown actually made me nervous. I have grown used to driving in lanes that are approximately 1/3 the size, having a jillion scooters weaving all around me, and traffic "suggestions" rather than enforced laws. Work went well and I also managed to see some great friends, visit my grandmother and parents, and eat Mexican food and some other hometown favorites. If you ever visit Tucson, El Charro Mexican restaurants are worth the visit (http://www.elcharrocafe.com/). The picture above is an El Charro birria green chili chimichanga enchilada style, with Mexican rice and refried beans. This can only be ingested about once per year. I was blessed with the beautiful Arizona sunset shown above the evening before I headed back home to Barcelona. I had to buy a new large suitcase to accommodate all the stuff I bought in the US to bring back with me...food, and socks and underwear for my kids. The former consisted on things we can't get (or are very hard to find) in Barcelona...regular Cheerios, instant oatmeal, Goldfish crackers, Cheez-its, Kool-Aid, instant gravy mix, pancake syrup (about $3 for a big bottle in the US vs. about 13 euros/about $16 in the import aisle here for a small bottle), American candy and all things spicy...Cholula's Hot Sauce, Red Hot Cayenne Pepper Sauce, Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce, and Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce. The socks and underwear cost about 1/3 the price in the US. I maxed out the weight allowance on all of my checked bags, hoped for the best and was happy to find that everything survived the trip home. And it really did feel like home during the taxi ride from the airport. I arrived at 8:30 this morning and spent the day in downtown Barcelona with my husband and kids.
New Barcelona factoids and recommendations...
1) There is a great English language bookstore called Come In Libreria Anglesa at Balmes 129 Bis. http://www.libreriainglesa.com/catalog2/
2) There is a fantastic traditional Catalan chocolate shop called Bomboneria Mauri that has been in business since 1929. The address is Rambla de Cataluña, 102, 08008 Barcelona, Spain. The white "Bon Nadal" (Merry Christmas in Catalan. Bone Festes - pronounced sort of like Bo-neh Fest-ehs - and one other phrase I can't remember also have the same meaning) chocolate cups above were purchased there.
3) Alarcon is a cool, inexpensive home decorating store with 3 locations in Barcelona. See www.latiendadealarcon.com
4) You will often hear locals refer to, and see the bathroom labeled as, el Lavabo (pronounced la-bob-o, literally translates as "sink") rather than el baño (pronounced bon-yo, which literally translates as "bath"). Either will work, but I hear the former far more often than the latter.
5) The ratoncito (tooth mouse) is the Spanish equivalent of the tooth fairy. He also leaves money or presents.
6) Barcelona (affectionately known as Barca, pronounced Bar-sa) is playing futbol (soccer) against Real (pronounced ray-al, meaning royal) Madrid right at this very moment. Barcelona just scored and the requisite fireworks, which sound like gun shots, just rang through our neighborhood. One of our dogs always goes nuts.
Random Italy factoids:
1) a piadina is an Italian flatbread that looks almost just like a Mexican tortilla, but I am told tastes slightly different. I haven't tried one yet and haven't seen one in Spain so far.
2) Passito is a delicious, very sweet wine made from raisins. We had one that was bright yellow (not limoncello) as an after-dinner drink like a liqueur.
After breaking part of his hip in a fall recently, Ebro is confined to stall rest for a month. However, the vet has given the go-ahead to hand walk him daily to decrease the swelling in his left hind leg. He is no longer lame at the walk and is handling the stall rest and extra attention from German Lady very well. I bought a western-style rope halter with no breakable metal hardware while I was in the states for future use on Ebro as a lot of what I've read argues that it's better for the halter not to break with horses who have a habit of pulling back...so long as a quick release safety knot is used if they really get into trouble. Until Ebro is given a clean bill of health we will not tie him at all.