Tag Archives: festivals

Historic and Tasty Jijona: Costa Blanca Day Trip

18 Dec
Jijona (Xixona)

Jijona (Xixona)

Another great day trip in the Costa Blanca area of Spain is a day in Jijona, a short drive in the hills northwest of Alicante. Jijona, also known in Valenciano as Xixona, is famous for its Turrón, an almond-based nougat.

 

Turrón is particularly popular at Christmas time in Spain. Jijona has a yearly four-day Christmas festival, which obviously features turrón, along with other Christmas- and winter-oriented gifts, like hats, scarfs, toys and more.

Jijona Christmas festival

Jijona Christmas festival

 

Turrón is typically made from finely ground almonds, egg whites, honey and sugar. It comes in a variety of textures and forms. There is one with a soft paste-like consistency, which, to me, had a gritty, not pleasing texture. There are soft and hard turrón bars, with pieces of almonds. I saw chocolate-flavored turrón, turrón-flavored gins and liqueurs, and many other non-traditional additions. Samples are generously provided from the Christmas parade of wooden stands located in the central market. There are also other Christmas-related exhibits, and food/tapas booths with adjacent seating where people can rest their feet, and enjoy a snack and beverage.

 

Turrón samples readied for festival go-ers

Turrón samples readied for festival go-ers

The Moors brought almond farming and turrón to Spain during their occupation of the area. During the 16th century, King Felipe II praised turrón, which increased its popularity. Historically, there were a few main families who dominated the turrón market. These decaying family mansions feature beautiful architecture and are visible on one of the main streets in Jijona: Monerris Planelles family home, Rovira family home, and Aracil family home. Only turrón made in Jijona and Alicante can receive the official seal of authenticity, “Consejo Regulador de Jijona y Turrón de Alicante.” There are tours available at the turrón museum and factory. Several other areas have a similar type of nougat like turrón, including Catalonia (Spain), France and Sicily.

 

Snow well

Snow well

There are other interesting things to see in Jijona including historical churches and a convent, the remains of a castle (destroyed in the Spanish War of Succession), “and snow wells” (thick walled round buildings located in the cool Carrasqueta mountain range which came into use in the 18th century to store snow for making ice cream.) In August, there is a Moros y Cristianos festival, which are very popular in the province of Alicante. Parking is typically a fair distance from the touristic areas, but are well-marked and on an easy, gradual incline.

 

 

Summer Fun in Altea Spain

21 Aug
Summer in Altea's Casco Antiguo with craft booths

Summer in Altea’s Casco Antiguo with craft booths

While Altea (Spain) always has many entertaining activities, summer brings additional fun offerings. Ever a music fan, I appreciate the variety of city-sponsored live bands playing at various outdoor venues, including 40’s style Big Band, jazz fusion with a Mohawk-sporting accordion and keyboard player, flamenco, regional (Valenciano) folk music, to mention a few. I also went to a rock jam session held on Sunday afternoon at a local tram station, which had an eclectic, inviting atmosphere.

 

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One of the 60 mural paintings hanging from balconies in Altea’s Casco Antigua

In Altea’s hilltop Casco Antiquo, (Old Town), the church plaza and the walkway to it, which are sparsely filled during the winter months (as exemplified my Facebook cover photo), are now packed with throngs of visitors and locals. This month in Casco Antiguo there are a display of 60 painted murals by different artists which hang off balconies, hence named Balconades d’Altea. Also during the summer in Casco Antiguo, there are many artisan craft booths featuring various types of original art, jewelry, leather and more. Most restaurants in Casco Antiguo are open for the summer season, with many types of cuisine available such as Spanish, French, Italian, and other ethnic cuisines.

 

 

 

L'Olla fireworks

L’Olla fireworks

In June, we had the San Joan (Valenciano) for St. John festival, which features water-inspired activities, including parades and midnight bonfires at the beach, which normally are prohibited. Another popular summer beach activity is the spectacular firework display, Castell de l’Olla, over the Mediterranean. People head down to the beach with beverages and/or picnics for the midnight show, which this year lasted over 30 minutes. Alternatively, people may watch the show from the comfort of their balconies or terraces, as I did, or a café in Casco Antiguo’s plaza.

 

During the summer, many people enjoy going to temporary, seasonal chiringuitos, beachside bars/restaurants, which offer full service food and beverages with tables, and shade, if desired. I recently went to bonavida, a great chiringuito on the beach where I love their fried fish and seafood plate. (I recently posted a short video from it on my Facebook.) On many of the beach areas, there are lounge beach chairs and umbrellas available for rent.

 

One of the water sports marinas in Altea

One of the water sports marinas in Altea

There are many water sports available with a number of seaside businesses offering such activities as snorkeling, diving, kayaking, boat rental, sailing lessons, fishing, kitesurfing, and more. I love snorkeling, and every Christmas school vacation, I took my three sons to warm spots with good snorkeling, such Australia, Belize, Hawaii, Mexico, and various Caribbean islands. The Mediterranean in Altea is warmest in July and August, reaching 25C/80F degrees. For me, that is an ideal snorkeling temperature, so I scheduled a boat snorkeling tour this past week. It was postponed due to unusual rain, so I went the following day. The water was not as clear as I was hoping and the sea life not as vibrant to those which I am used to, but it may have partially been due to the recent rain. I enjoyed it anyway. There are also places to snorkel right off the beach without a boat. The dive center from which I took my snorkeling trip was located at Greenwich Marina/ Pueblo Mascarat. It was my first visit there, and I discovered new restaurants, and live music venues, including one, Macao, with outdoor lounge seating, which I plan to soon attend.

 

In the towns adjacent or near Altea, there are also many activities. This week-end there is the three day Festes de L’Albir, (Fiesta of Albir) with a car parade, children’s activities, food and beverage stand, music, games, and walk to the iconic lighthouse. Several bars in the Albir beach area offer live music, including soul, Latin, rock, comedy to name a few. Bar Cuba is one of my favorite spots, which offers complimentary bachata or other types of Latin dancing at 2000 on Saturday evening, and live Latin music for dancing Saturday and Sunday evening. They also feature other dance lessons throughout the week such as kizomba, salsa, line dance, and mambo for a nominal fee. I enjoy the instructive and professional complimentary bachata

Salsa class at Bar Cuba with Ray

Salsa class at Bar Cuba with Ray

lessons with Andres Ledesma so much, I took some small class private lessons with him.

 

What are your favorite summertime activities?

Sant Joan Festival in Altea Spain

26 Jun

BOOM BOOM BOOM. The sounds outside were so loud as to cause my dog, Pepper, to run to hide under the bed. I peered out of my window which affords a view of the cathedral at the top of Altea’s old town, where I was surprised to see fireworks midday. The fireworks signaled the start of the day’s Sant Joan Festival.

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Waiting to be doused with water at Sant Joan festival in Altea

Sant Joan Festivals are very popular in Spain, particularly in the Province of Valencia where I live, as well as in Catalan-speaking areas, and Galicia. Sant Joan is the Valenciana and Catalan languages way of saying Saint John. The Sant Joan festival in Alicante is Spain’s largest, and one of Alicante’s most important festival. The festivals occur around June 23, the day of Sant Joan, typically with numerous days of activities that vary with the location.

In Alicante, there are large “Ninot” characters that are set on fire, much like the famous “falles” festival in Valencia in March. The Ninot are amusing parodies of famous people or politicians made of wood, cardboard, mud, and other items. This year’s Alicante festival occurs for four days. There are noisy early morning (for Spain) wake-ups, parades, costumes, music and many more activities.

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Sant Joan parade with masks

In my town of Altea, when I first heard about the impending festival, I had no idea what to expect. My initiation to the festival was the booming fireworks midday, followed later by a parade of locals with cartoon character heads. There have been three early morning wake-ups by noisy participants yelling, playing instruments, and more fireworks. My apartment is on the street where all the local parade participants go as they head up the hill to the cathedral in Altea’s main plaza. One afternoon, there was a huge pan of traditional paella cooked in the plaza for all to sample. One midnight during the festival, people wade into the ocean. After all, St. John is remembered for baptizing Jesus.

This festival requires stamina. The first group of parade participants, which included many musicians, continued to march and perform for more than 12 hours. During the second afternoon parade, the noisy participants of all ages wore torn t-shirts and were soaking wet as they made their way up the hill. There were two groups, each carrying a tall tree, many drinking from large jugs or other vessels of wine, while the people watching on from their apartments above dump and spray water on the giddy participants.

 

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Raising the tree

 

Once done with the procession, in the plaza the trees are hoisted to stand erect. Men attempt to climb the tree as high as possible onto the unstable trees to tie on their ripped t-shirt. An ambulance was waiting nearby for anyone who might fall. However, I think it is nearly as dangerous for the women who wear spindly high heel shoes while walking on the uneven, rocky plaza surface, or dancing when the late night band plays.

 

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Climbing the tree to tie on a flag

Today, Sunday, parade participants wore traditional costumes while trekking up the hill to the accompanying music followed by a “solemn” mass. There are numerous activities scheduled including more music processions. (Altea music schools for youth and a professional school for adults so music is always a prominent part of any festival.) There will be more fireworks, and in the plaza another giant communal paella, and disco music starting at 11:00 p.m.

 

What has been your favorite festival experience in Spain?

Retiring to a Fun, Inexpensive, Quality Life

20 Mar
Altea on a rare cloudy day

Altea on a rare cloudy day

Today I got up at the crack of noon. It’s not something I do every day, but it is a luxury I relish after those late Spanish nights out with friends. Yesterday, I had two Norwegian friends over to my house for a traditional American dinner, something they asked if I would do. Here in Altea, in the Costa Blanca area of central Mediterranean Spain, it is sometimes difficult to source some typical American food ingredients, but it makes for a fun challenge. When I wanted to make authentic Jamaican Jerk chicken and could not find habañero peppers, David, a chef and co-owner of my favorite local bar, AlteArte, volunteered to buy some for me at a commercial food market for restaurants. AlteArte is a local mojiteria (bar specializing in making mojitos) and arts bar.

 

After our American dinner, Daniel, one of my invited guests, was hosting his monthly movie night at AlteArte, so we took the short walk to it in the center of the historic old town at the top of the hill. We stayed late enjoying the busy, convivial atmosphere. The prior week Daniel had me to his house for a traditional Norwegian dinner. Both he and his roommate each created their unique regional specialty dishes. Being from north of the Arctic Circle, Daniel’s dish was roast pork with crackling skin. Delicious! I love the opportunities to meet new friends with whom I can exchange our different cultural traditions. Another particularly memorable experience I have had was when a Nepalese family invited me to their house for a delicious, homemade meal at their home. It was my first time eating traditional, homemade Nepalese food, and afforded me the opportunity to get to know more about their lives and culture in Nepal.

 

Seafood paella

Seafood paella

There are always challenges when trying to re-create and share American traditions to my friends in my new home country, Spain. However, mostly I embrace the new cultural and food customs here. Jamones (various types of ham and pork products) are a Spanish favorite, served simply as thin slices or often as an ingredient in many dishes, like steamed clams with pieces of ham. I have even found ham in the usually vegetarian gazpacho blended soup and in steamed clams. There is an incredible bounty of fresh fish and seafood from the local Mediterranean. I enjoy spontaneous daily forays to local bars where, in the evening, I get a free tapa with my glass of wine for as little as 1, 20€ ($1.32.) Inevitably, I encounter friends with whom I enjoy genial conversation.

 

Bar Cuba

Bar Cuba

Although I was an avid live music fan when I lived in the Central Coast of California, here in Altea Spain, there are many diverse activities, including the many regional Spanish festivals, live music, in addition to the time spent celebrating new cultural experiences with friends. One of my regular favorites is going with friends to Bar Cuba, for salsa and other types of Latin dancing to live music by Rafa, a friend who is originally from Venezuela. Bar Cuba is co-owned by Raúl and Nikki; Nikki is a friendly, competent businesswoman who originally hails from Jamaica. Other nights she schedules salsa and other Latin dance classes, karaoke, televised soccer games (fútbol), and specialty international dinners. Living in Spain allows me to enjoy traditional Spanish festivities, as well as experience cultural experiences from the variety of ex-pats who live here.

 

With the low cost of living in the Costa Blanca, I no longer have to work, and can focus on friends and fun. The Spanish are known for their many festivals, which offer spectacle and fun. Where I lived in California, it was nearly impossible to function without a car.

Moros y Cristianos festival

Moros y Cristianos festival

Here in Spain, I relish no longer having to have a car. I walk to all of my local activities, or take convenient, efficient, inexpensive public transportation to nearby towns, with unexpected health benefits. Instead of finding it difficult to even arrange a short monthly get together with a friend in California, here in Altea, rarely does a day go by where I don’t meet up with friends, whether planned or spontaneous. It is sometimes hard for me to believe that I live in one of the most beautiful villages in Spain, with such an inexpensive cost of living, and fulfilling quality of life.

 

Quirky and Different Customs in Spain

6 Feb

I love my new life in Altea Spain. However, there are some quirky and unexpected things which I have encountered or needed to adjust to.

 

I recently read that when local children were enacting a bull run using toy wooden bulls that this year they would not be allowed to have the bulls’ horns lit on fire during the run. Apparently this was perfectly fine in prior years.

 

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Tree on which people climb to tie on their t-shirt at the St. John festival

During the many Spanish festivals, people sometimes engage in dangerous behavior. At the local St. John festival, participants carry a tree to the church plaza while encouraging observers to throw water on them. Once in the plaza, they pull the spindly tree to a vertical position and fueled with alcohol attempt to make the perilous climb to the top. What I found particularly interesting was the ambulances that were waiting just a few feet away. One has only to think of the running of the bulls in Pamplona for another example. Or the “baby jumping” festival near Burgos, where people in costumes jump over a mattress on which lie babies born in the prior 12 months. This ritual serves to rid the babies of evil spirits and guard against illness.

 

As I have mentioned in prior posts, dealing with the Spanish bureaucracy is nearly always fraught with difficulties, often because what you are told you need to do changes with successive visits. Similarly, I have had my rental cars towed two of the four times I rented them. In one case, I parked in a handicapped spot and put up my disabled placard. When I returned to retrieve the car, it was gone. When I contacted the local police, they informed me I had parked in a handicap spot reserved for a specific car, as indicated by the numbers on the handicap parking sign. I said I have travelled to and driven in many countries, and have never seen handicap spots for specific vehicles. I received a blank look, and was told I had to fork over around $150 to get the car out of impound.

 

I have also previously mentioned the multiplicity of problems I have had in receiving packages sent from the U.S. One box arrived gaping open, with items missing. Then the postman asked me to help carry it because it weighed a lot. Another box of household items was twice returned to my son, first because I declared there was no monetary value to items which were only sentimental, and the second because they did not see the documentation that I had submitted the nearly 100 Euros customs fee. I have been trying unsuccessfully for more than two months to get a refund for that, and there is no chance of getting a refund on for the hundreds of dollars I spent in having the box mailed here twice.

 

The sidewalks in my village are made of attractive, but incredibly slick tiles, especially when wet. It is so precarious that people typically walk in the road when it rains. I see many more people here with arms and legs in splints or casts, which I would bet is related to the falls people have. I have jokingly suggested that maybe the tile sidewalks were the idea of the local orthopedic physicians.

 

Moros Y Cristianos festival 2015 in Altea

Moros Y Cristianos festival 2015 in Altea

The Spanish definition of opening early means 9 or 10 in the morning. Such opening times are understandable in light of the lengthy afternoon siesta, and businesses and meals occurring late at night. Often when businesses close for several weeks or months, there is no sign informing the would-be patron of the closure. Nor are there websites for businesses which provide that information. Businesses including grocery stores are closed for national and local holidays, which can sometimes last several days. After the several day local Moros y Cristianos (Moors and Christians) festival, all businesses were closed for the day, not for the holiday but for a day for people to recover from the festival. After four days of festivities and drinking starting at 8 or 9 in the morning, and ending around 4 a.m., they need a recovery day.

 

I find Spanish people generally genial, and polite. They always greet you when you enter their business. In their vehicles, they are very good at stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks. However, when walking, they may suddenly cut right in front of you or stop and block the sidewalk while conversing. When picking up my dog’s excrement from the sidewalk, I have had people step over my head, and roll over my foot with a stroller.

 

Sometimes there are what seem to be arbitrary rules. When we recently went to a high end musical and dance variety show which featured a choice of two dinner menus, we were told everyone in our group had to order the same menu. Otherwise, we would be placed at separate tables based on our dinner choice.

 

Have you ever encountered unexpected behaviors/customs while living in or travelling to a new country?

 

 

Entrada Cristiana (Christian Parade Entry): Altea

25 Oct

In my last post, I gave a brief summary of the annual Moros y Cristianos  festival, and showed some of the opening day festivities.  This post will feature a few photos from Entrada Crsitiana, and next post Entrada Mora.

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WEEK-END IN PASO ROBLES CALIFORNIA

8 Aug
courtesy sloballoon.com

courtesy sloballoon.com

Soaring slowly over the alluvial golden hills punctuated by mature oak trees and orderly rows of grapevines in a hot air balloon can be a transcendent, once in a lifetime experience. This is just one of the many offerings stay in the bucolic wine country in northern San Luis Obispo County.  Every month has its unique activities, so determining travel dates warrant consideration of when the weather and activities meet the needs of the types of travelers: families, couples, friends or singles.

If arriving on Friday, head for the Paso Robles City Park for the weekly 2013 summer concert series which occurs through August 26, starting at 5:30. Watch the concert from one of the restaurants that have outdoor seating just across from the park: Reservations can be made for patio seating just across from the park at Berry Hill Bistro, Estrella, La Cosecha, or Chico’s or take a chance without a reservation at Artisan or Villa Creek. Food and beverages are also sold at the concert. Bring a sweater or jacket as it sometimes quickly cools down in the evening.

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La Consecha charcuterie plate

“Paso” now boasts many of the best restaurants in the county. One of the newest, La Cosecha, (Spanish for harvest) Restaurant + Bar serves Spanish, Central and South American fare.  This casual eatery has the feel of a casual, friendly ambience of a neighborhood watering hole. They are open daily for lunch and dinner, with options of indoor regular or tall table seating, a communal table for large parties, and outdoor patio seating. Some of the highlights are the braised bone marrow appetizer, Iberico ham with figs, Honduran-style empanadas, Black cod mofongo and the delectable paella of the day. The bar stocks Spanish sherries, food-inspired wines and beers, and has a dedicated mixologist who concocts seasonal craft cocktails such as the seasonal caipirinha made with Brazilian chaçaca, St. Germaine, limes and blueberries.

Il Cortile

Il Cortile

Honduran-born Chef Santos MacDonal and his welcoming wife, Carole, also own one of Paso’s other best eateries, Il Cortile Ristorante, which specializes in rustic Italian food in their upscale, but comfortable restaurant. Dinner specialties include such creative appetizers as grilled octopus, crostini porchetta, pan-roasted quail with prisciutto-filled tortellini, and a bountiful selection of mozzarella cheeses.  Santos’ homemade pastas and, when available, pork osso bucco, are house favorites. Just a half block from the city park, they are open for dinner daily from 5:00 p.m.

Artisan serves locally-sourced, creative American Fare. Now open daily starting at 11 a.m., Artisan is now at their new location, a stylish modern building, just across from the city park. The Kobayashi brothers have added an outdoor dog-friendly seating area, a full bar with some new menu items such as pizza. Chef Chris has a knack for unique combinations that wow the palate such as duck confit salad, spinach, pt. reyes blue, smoked almonds, “fried egg;” abalone tostada, avocado, pork belly carnitas; hanger steak, asparagus, black trumpets, bacon tater tots; and Alaskan halibut, burnt flour orecchiette, peas, morels, green garlic. For a list of best restaurants in Paso Robles, including information about type of cuisine, which meals they are open, patios and whether those seats can be reserved, wine or full bar, family-friendly, and dog-friendly.

D'Anbino Winery and Tasting Room

D’Anbino Winery and Tasting Room

Paso offers an array of live musical and entertainment venues that appeal to varied interests. D’Anbino Cellars, a short walk from downtown, is one of the premier musical venues in the county, attracting local and nationally-renowned musicians who perform varied styles including jazz, bluegrass, blues, rock, funk, soul, and Great American Songbook. Their website provides information about events which include both afternoon and evening entertainment.  Presently, they offer salsa lessons Friday evenings from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. with an opportunity afterward to practice new moves. During the warm months, the Pony Club, the wine bar in the Hotel Cheval, offers nightly solo or duo artists which start in the early evening on Friday and Saturday, and at 5:00 p.m. Sundays. Listen on the outdoor patio under the shade of the large shade tree. Other local bars offering live entertainment include The Pour House, Pappy McGregor’s, and The Cattleman’s Lounge in The Paso Robles Inn. All of these music venues offer snacks or full meals. Also, many of the Paso Robles area wineries feature live music, especially in the summer. Vina Robles Winery recently opened their 3300 seat “boutique amphitheatre” which attracts big name acts like the Moody Blues, Darius Rucker, Tony Bennett, B.B. King, and George Lopez.

Festivals provide the perfect opportunity to experience local culture and food. The “First Saturdays: Wine and the Arts” occurs monthly from 5 to 8 p.m. They feature a wide array of art including mixed media, oil painting, jewelry, photography and quilting, with several wineries as participating venues. At the annual Olive Festival, this year on August 17, there are a number of entertaining activities for adults and children. There are many other family friendly activities in Paso Robles, as well.

 

Paso Robles City Park

Paso Robles City Park

One of the more popular festivals is the Classic Car Show Weekend, which occurs Labor Day week-end. It features members’ cars dating back to 1923 which are displayed at the car cruise and show. Starting Sunday September 29th at 3:00 p.m., The North SLO County Concert Association starts its 65th season, which will include 1930’s era vocalist diva Dawn Lambeth, a band featuring brass instruments, chamber music, and a vocal jazz quintet.

The celebrated Harvest Wine Weekend, October 18-20, visitors can experience the grape harvest up close; summon your inner Lucy for grape-stomping or enjoy more leisurely tours of wineries, many of which offer fantastic winemaker dinners and/or live music. The Paderewski Festival, scheduled for November 7-10, honors Ignancy Jan Paderewski, composer, virtuoso pianist, humanitarian, orator, and the first Prime Minister of Independent Poland after World War I. He visited Paso Robles on many occasions between 1914 and 1939, and owned over 2800 acres where he planted Zinfandel grapes, almonds and fruit trees. The festival features a variety of concerts, a piano master class, documentary, youth competition winners’ recital, and lecture. Traveller beware: some festivals and events can be very crowded, so take that into account when making plans.

Hotel Cheval

The best downtown lodging is the 16 room European-inspired, boutique Hotel Cheval. The cozy rooms have plush towels, quality bedding and many other amenities. Welcome cookies, bedtime organic chocolates and breakfast are included. Options for rooms include fireplaces, outdoor patios, sundecks, and for dog owners, pet beds and food and water dishes.   The inviting central outdoor patio has a fireplace that visitors can stoke. The historic Paso Robles Inn first opened in 1891 and is the only hotel in the area that still offers thermal hot springs in guest rooms. The comfortable rooms are family and dog-friendly. The outdoor area includes a large grassy area, Koi pond, brook and flower garden. Ask for the “locals rate.” Although not in downtown Paso, Tuscan-inspired La Bellasera Hotel and Suites has luxury suites which include fireplace, whirlpool and patios. The outdoor pool also has a fireside cabana. Spa services are available at all three hotels.

article courtesy: slocoastjournal.com