Casa Rosales

Casa Rosales

Thursday, 30 April 2015

The brave and the good - Part Two. El the rain!

After the fascinating visit to the Dolmens in Antequera, we reboarded our bus and set off up into the hills and mountains to the south.
As we began to climb the winding road, it was rather like being in the north of Spain - Asturias - where the weather is often damp, the countryside very green, the hills very steep and the roads exceedingly bendy.

And as often happens in Asturias, we drove into a cloud. A thick, wet, dense cloud. This wasn't what we'd ordered for the day but Juan Carlos kept us in a cheery mood by telling us what we couldn't see to our left...and here is a photo I found on the web to share with you.

El Tornillo de Torcal

Image result for el torcal

This is one of the more extreme examples of the rocks in the area. Originally under the sea, the landscape is now visible as layer upon layer of rock - some of which have worn away over the millenia into these strange shapes. The meaning of this rock's name is the 'Screw' of El Torcal - and you can see why it has this name. However, we couldn't see it.

We drove up to the Visitor Centre and the car park and were quite amazed to see it busy despite the weather. It's a very exposed place and I can imagine that not many people will visit in the height of the summer when the sun is very fierce but there was a bigger turnout than expected for such a foul day!

The good news was that there was a bar at the Visitor Centre so we were assured of a coffee after the walk...I hadn't had time to have one before we set off and was a bit worried about where I might get my fix. I am, I confess, addicted to coffee. Especially that first one in the morning.

A few not so brave souls decided to give the walk a miss...the stones were unbelievably slippery and the mud in between was both slippy and sticky. (FR gave it a miss and settled down with an Edward Bond script and a coffee in the bar area.) Another young couple had decided to buy themselves matching rain jackets in the visitor's shop and this delayed them for so long (can't understand why - there was only one type and it was blue....that's what they bought in the end) that they missed our party's departure. FR witness the argument that ensued between them afterwards but I'm glad to say they were friends again by the time we returned.

SO, the brave and the good from Alcala la Real set off on the 'Easy Route' around El Torcal.
Big broody rocks..

One of the brave and the good

Muddy paths and grey skies

Love this matching couple, not the two who were left behind, but a retired couple
who were definitely very brave and who stuck together and avoided any accidents on the
treacherous stones, literally sticking to the mud - and with mud sticking to them!

Brave AND good - and you can't see the amount of mud that covered the back of
her legs and trainers...

These were just the rocks we could see...I have no idea how far this landscape extended!

Our noble guide, sense of humour intact, informing us of what lay behind the screen of fog...

Mateo named these 'The Cliffs of Insanity' ..if you know
'The Princess Bride', you'll get the reference.

I love this picture because it adds a brightness to the landscape. My camera was definitely pleased to be able to pick out some cheer - it seems to have really emphasised what colour there was!

The brave, huddling beneath more looming rocks.
I have absolutely no idea how long the 'Easy Route' took us but I remember seeing a signpost that said that the Visitor Centre was 600 metres away and I did feel rather relieved. But that last 600m seemed an incredibly long way!!

But we all made it back safely and without incident or accident and there was quite a sense of elation to it all.

And then I had my well-deserved cup of coffee. I'd been brave and it was good.

There's more to follow! Part Three sees us setting off again, in search of flamingoes and paella...

Monday, 27 April 2015

The brave and the good set forth...Part one. The Dolmens of Antequera.

This will be a blog post in three parts. I have lots of photos and want to share the whole adventure with you but there's a lot to take in in one go!

A friend of ours runs an eco-tourism business. He's incredibly knowledgeable about nature, wildlife and birds and his guided tours combine education and information with photography, walking and birds. (Do check out the website - all the photos are by Juan Carlos - he's an incredible wildlife photographer!)
He often takes the school children on local rambles and they return with plants and notes and full of enthusiasm. Romy is really good friends with his son - they love playing together and Romy often spends weekends with the family even though she's now at another school.

I got a message last week from his wife to say that there would be a day trip to El Torcal near Antequera, which is inland Malaga. This is a natural park, formed by incredible rocks which rose up from the seabed many millions of years ago and which have eroded into weird and wonderful shapes, and showing the many distinct layers that went into creating them. Mateo went on a school trip there a few years ago and was deeply impressed, so we decided we should take the opportunity for a guided tour and go all together.

I booked our 5 seats and we made sure all homework and tasks were completed on Saturday and the packed lunches were made and ready to take - we had an early start on Sunday morning.

The weather forecast was poor...without doubt we were going to get some rain, but we were prepared for that and the trip set off in good spirits (- but without our guide's children and the time Tere had told everyone about the trip, she discovered all the seats were booked and there was no space left for her and the children! However, they'd been many times before so it wasn't the end of the world.)

Our first stop was to view some Dolmens, which were located just outside to an industrial estate, actually. Apparently, until around 10 years ago, these incredible relics were just part of the landscape, unmanaged or monitored and people could access them however and whenever they wanted. Now, there's a car park, the area is fenced and kept natural and there's a good visitor centre where you can see an informative video about how the Dolmens were possibly built. And then, you can actually go into them!
Despite being open to all and sundry all this time, there was no graffiti or obvious vandalism anywhere at all - apart from a few crosses carved into the entrance of one of them - but these had possibly been there for a good thousand years or so...

The first, discovered at the beginning of the 20th century, around 4000 years after its creation, faces east as is customary for dolmens. It's a long corridor-shaped dolmen with a small chamber at one end. Twice a year, at the Summer and Winter Solstice, the sun shines directly along this corridor to reach the chamber at the end. The stones, despite their huge size, fit carefully together...goodness knows how this was achieved.

Surrounded by wild flowers.

The second dolmen we visited, known as the Dolmen of Menga, is actually considered to be the largest structure of its type in Europe and is definitely impressive.

When it was discovered in the 19th century, many hundreds of skeletons were discovered inside.

What makes this more interesting is that instead of facing east, as dolmens usually do, it faces directly towards a most fascinating geological feature of the landscape. Check out the photo below and then look at the closer version that I managed to the clouds and the rain began to close in on us!

Observe the large mountain in the middle of the photo - then look at it again in the next photo....

Does it not look rather like someone's profile? Mother Earth asleep, perhaps?
Well, this is probably what the ancient people thought - I could be convinced myself. It is incredible, although the more common name is 'El Indio' nowadays, as it does look rather like some American Indian Chief on the horizon.

Entrance to the Dolmen...big stones!

Inside - 25 metres long.

More big stones....
The well was discovered some years ago and although it's not know whether the prehistoric people knew about it, it was clearly used, as there are footholds carved into the sides. The well is the same depth as the dolmen is this a coincidence??

View of Mother Earth rock from the entrance. 

 And as we emerged from the tomb, it began to rain....

The flowers smelt amazing

Umbrellas went up - the skies darkened.
And were delightful to look at.
 And we climbed back onto our bus.......more in Part Two!!

Monday, 20 April 2015

A musical interlude

On Wednesday this week and quite by chance, FR noticed that there would be a piano recital here in Alcala la Real on Thursday evening and he thought it would be a good idea to go.

I have to say, it was definitely one of his better ideas!

Icono de actividadesThe pianists were two had reached the second round, but not the semi-final, stage of the big competition that was ongoing in Jaen. This is the 57th year of this international and very prestigious competition, though I'd never heard of it before. There were 19 pianists at this stage and I think it is an excellent idea that the 13 that didn't reach the finals spent the next few days doing recitals in local towns in the province. These included concerts in Ubeda, Linares, Baeza, Huelma and our own town, where they came to the beautiful old building that is home to the 'Pep Ventura' Music Conservatory, part of the local museum.

We went with Ruy and Romy, and as we waited in a rather small recital hall with children aged between about 8 and 15, plus a few parents and some of the teachers, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. As it turned out, we were in for a real surprise. The two young pianists - one Russian, one Japanese - played Prokofiev's 4th Sonata - quite a heavy work - and Ravel's 'Gaspar de la Nuit', a notoriously difficult piece, respectively and both pianists held us spellbound. I was really impressed with both of them and staggered at the level of their performances. These were two who hadn't reached the semi-finals....
I also had quite a cathartic moment when the Japanese pianist returned without too much encouragement to give us an encore. He played a Chopin Etude which I knew exceedingly well, it being a piece my ex used to play a lot. I honestly don't think I've listened to a live piano recital in the last 20 years since we split up and I couldn't quite contain the huge emotions it created in me. I cry very easily at music, always have, but this felt to come from very deep down. I hasten to add, I don't miss the ex at all but I do miss hearing him play - possibly more than I realised. It was a very powerful moment. Afterwards, I was able to speak to both musicians, though the Russian said his Spanish was better than his English, and to tell them how wonderful they were. I came home quite on a cloud.

And still on the cloud, I did a bit of research about the competition and found that the final was to be held the next day in Jaen. However, all the tickets had been sold...but a bit more digging uncovered the information that the winner of the competition would play a concert in Granada on the Saturday. It didn't take too much persuasion for FR to book us some of the very last tickets available. It is quite to our shame that thus far, we haven't taken our children to a 'proper' concert but this felt like the perfect time to put that right.

So we set off on Saturday evening, parked at the Alhambra, as you do and mooched down through the beautiful old streets next to this glorious Moorish palace to the Manuel de Falla Concert Hall.

It's not a bad setting to go and listen to music....

View towards an incredible hotel (centre) where my friends Denise and Jim stayed
when they were visiting last year.

Walking towards the concert hall - gorgeous colours as the sun starts to set

View of Granada

Lovely courtyard and yes, that 'man' in denim top left is Mateo....
(Our family is rather like a group of cats...they all wander off in different directions
as soon as they're given a second of freedom!)

As for the concert - well, the winner of the competition was a 16 year old girl from Canada, Anastasia Rizikov and she was going to play Chopin's 2nd Piano Concerto. Only 16 - and the winner not just of the competition but also the two additional prizes for the best interpretation of Spanish music and also for contemporary music. We had a feeling she must be good.

I was so unprepared for the confidence and absolute mastery she had of the instrument. She was a consummate performer, showing not the slightest amount of nerves but communicating an excitement at playing. I don't think there would be anything she couldn't play and she deserved the fantastic response that brought her back to perform two encores,

You can't see much on this photo as I just wildly pointed and clicked just before she left for the last time - she's the little figure at the front in a red dress!

Here she is at the ripe old age of 12 - and if you check her out on YouTube, you can see why she's been performing since she was 7. Truly incredible talent. I can't imagine the hours of work she's put in and how incredibly musically mature she is. Maybe some people are just born to play the piano...

The rest of the concert was also lovely and we heard a modern piece, which I quite enjoyed for its orchestration but which didn't appeal too much to the younger members of the family...but they were impressed when, at the end, the composer left his seat in the audience to take a bow. And then, to finish, we had the glorious and uplifting Schubert 5th Symphony. The orchestra was excellent and the conductor, Paul Mann, a real pleasure to watch. (We were behind the orchestra and so had a really good view.) As we left, Mateo thanked me for 'forcing' him to go....he absolutely loved it. (I didn't force him really, but I told him not to make any other arrangements for the evening and it just so happened his friend was in town that day...visiting from Granada, ironically.)

And what could be better? Well, Romy's come home with the desire to start playing our electric piano and she spent several hours yesterday willing to listen to and follow my instructions and by the end of the day, had mastered the scale of C, both hands and two easy duets that we played together. I am delighted.

Note to self....MORE MUSIC PLEASE!!!

Saturday, 4 April 2015

A promise fulfilled

Some time ago, although I don't actually remember when, I promised Romy that we could go to a funfair one day. For the day, not just a couple of rides when the fair comes to town. To a proper place.

The Easter holiday seemed to be the time to fulfill that promise. I have to say I am not a fan. FR is even less of a fan. Mateo has never really been a fan. But a promise is a promise.

So, yesterday, Romy, Ruy (who is quite a fan) and I set off in the morning to make the trek to the coast and Tivoli World. It's not a huge place and has no outlandish rides but it is the nearest permanent fairground to us and for fair-deprived children, like mine, it pretty much hit the spot.

Blue skies, palm trees and just the right temperature
Apart from having to submit to the incredibly inefficient ticket system, which, despite having bought our tickets online, meant we had to join three different queues and wait for a total of 45 minutes before the required wristbands were applied. These bands provided access to all but a couple of the attractions in unlimited repeated turns.

There was a little moment of being underwhelmed as we set off to explore but the park is cleverly laid out to appear much bigger than it is and many of the attractions are not immediately visible.

I won't describe all the rides...(phew, I hear you say) but despite trailing around after my children for about five hours, carrying rather more than I had intended, we had a great day and they thoroughly enjoyed it. Ruy reckons he had probably around 100e-worth of rides on the Dodgems....

Here's a selection of fairground photos - always colourful but especially nice when the sun is shining!

A nice gentle Jurassic tour to start the day...

Following a spin on the Roller Coaster.

Probably Ruy's favourite - dodgems!

Clearly here, it's called the Techno Jump..but since we've lived in Spain, we know it as 'La Rana' or the Frog. 

Not sure if I took this before or during Romy's spin on it...

A rather uninspiring photo of what was the best ride - the Aqua falls - this was just after the infamous soaking!

And yes, they went on several times! Dried off quickly in the sun though. 

And another treat - a kebab...both still soaking wet but unbothered!
And having driven all the way to the coast, we had to visit the sea. Benalmadena was too busy and difficult to stop in so we drove along the coast to Torremolinos. It's really rather a lovely place despite its reputation. I always like this long, clean beach where you can mooch along and find lovely shells.

I wasn't remotely tempted but my children did their usual strip and waded in without hesitation. They confessed it was VERY COLD!!

How Ruy is chunking out...his voice is on the verge of breaking and he spends his time shouting 'Harry!' in a brilliant copy of Ron Weasely's voice in the early Happy Potter films....(And of course, Mateo used to look exactly like Harry Potter so it makes us all laugh.)
Do you see anyone else in the water? Nope...not one. 
This was around 7pm and after stopping at Riofrio to buy fresh and still wriggling rainbow trout, we arrived home in the dark just after 9.30pm. We'd watched the full moon rising over the Sierra Nevada as we drove and noticed that the mountains already looked to have much less snow than they had earlier in the week.

Delicious fresh fish just visible on our makeshift barbecue.

I admit to feeling a rather smug good mother and wife. FR was waiting with a fire in the garden to cook the trout, the children were full of their day and I was quite knackered from all the driving, safe too in the knowledge that I've prepared a rather good set of clues for this year's Easter Treasure Hunt that my children love to do on Easter Sunday morning.  I even made some chocolates for them on Friday secret!
I went to bed feeling good.

The full moon from my garden

And just so you know, Barney is still happily sunbathing in the garden as I write ...he won't be dinner this Easter!

Happy Easter. Hope you're all having good holidays.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

The Sierra in the Sun

At last we set off as a family again!

This Semana Santa, or Easter week, has been blessed by incredible sunshine and a surge in temperature. What better idea than to spend a few hours in the snow before it melts away for the year. So, wearing what we thought was best for the weather and our intentions, including wellies, boots and suncream, we set off on Monday.

The drive to the mountains is always spectacular and the climb up (I don't mean this literally, we drove...) is ear-popping. There was enough snow left and we could see the skiers near Pradollano (the irony of the name always means 'flat field' in Spanish).

Mateo set off on a solitary hike, heading for the Observatory at the top of the mountainside, whilst Ruy and Romy raced down the hill on their sledges. FR supervised and encouraged and I poddled off for a coffee and to find the loo at the nearby hotel. Such is life.

I did climb up someway afterwards, though and got some lovely photos - more of the same from previous visits, I admit, but there's something so glorious about the mix of sun, snow and mountains that makes taking snaps irresistible. I think I had my proper camera last time but this time used my phone - and couldn't see a thing as I pointed and clicked, hence the occasional appearance of my thumb....oops!

FR and Ruy to the left and Romy disappearing off top right.
I shot a little video of the end of a race, after Ruy had already fallen off further up the hill...Romy was 'sportingly' waiting for him at the bottom!

Romy looking somewhat smug...and Ruy the opposite! 

I love this photo. Actually, I love this man too. 
As Ruy and Romy changed out of their wet clothes, Mateo emerged from his visit to the Observatory, which was, as usual, closed. Here are a couple of his photos from the top....surprisingly there seems to be less snow up there!

Snow Virgine

View down from the observatory - we will be somewhere in the crowd in the top centre, I suppose. 

On the way back, we took a little side road towards Monachil, a little village of Granada, rather than following the main road back. And what a fantastic detour it turned out to be.

From the rugged, snowy mountain, which is lined by pine trees as you descend, we made a couple of turns on the road and emerged from the pines into a lush valley that was more reminiscent of Leon than Andalucia.

Complete with cows and new-born calves.

The snow just a kilometre behind us...

But not visible from this valley at all!

And daisies! I don't remember seeing daisies in the past four years...
At this point, my phone battery died, so I didn't get to take any pictures of Monachil. It's a medium-sized village divided by a fairly substantial river and it didn't have a decent place to have a coffee or a drink at 4.30 in the afternoon....Apparently, it has a most amazing river walk with a long, narrow bridge and it must be this, rather than the lack of facilities, that draws so many visitors here.
I suspect that my ill-humoured recollections of the place could be due to the fact that we felt just too hot and sweaty to enjoy it. We had been perfectly dressed for the snow, but by the time we stopped in the village, the temperature had risen to 30 degrees (C) and we were all beginning to wilt. Indeed, Ruy, the next day, was definitely suffering from a touch of sunstroke despite the protection he had. And this was still March....

By the time we reached home though, after stopping en route for the necessary refreshments, we were all feeling more cheerful and agreed it was nice to go out together now and then. (Despite the sunstroke and the car being like a sardine tin and not being able to find a place to get some tapas....)

I definitely enjoy being at home.....