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The magnificent Patio de los Arrayanes

I was prepared to be disappointed by Granada, and ready to say that it was over-hyped, but I have a confession to make: I fell in love with Granada and my only regret was that we couldn’t stay longer.  Two nights there is barely enough time to wander around the Alhambra, never mind explore every corner of this fascinating Spanish city.  I should have entitled this post “Glorious Granada – part one” as we intend to return at the first opportunity, to see the many places on my list that we didn’t manage to see this time.

Planning your trip in advance is essential, particularly if you want to see the Alhambra (who doesn’t?!).  If you intend driving there, as we did, you need to research the hotels as well, as the streets of Granada can be very narrow and once you are in the one-way system you may never escape!  We booked two rooms in the Hotel Reino de Granada: partly because it is centrally located and also easily accessible from the ring road; partly because of the reasonable price for travellers on a budget; and partly because of the free WIFI, a bonus for budget travellers.

Our hotel in Granada

My advice would  be to park in the 24 hour car park, even though the hotel is easy to find, because we were unable to park near enough to the hotel to ask them where their parking was.  Shortly after taking the exit to Recogidas we spotted the car park on the left-hand side, and from there it was an easy walk to the hotel.

Another reasonably priced hotel, which is near to the Alhambra and which is also recommended, is Hotel Guadalupe.  Of course you could stay within the grounds of the Alhambra in the Parador, but that is definitely not one for the budget conscious.  The charming Hotel América is also in the grounds of the Alhambra – and slightly cheaper if you want to treat yourself to a night there – especially welcome if you have booked an early morning ticket for the Palace Nazaries.

If you are going to Granada I suspect that you will be planning to visit the Alhambra, but be warned that it is very popular even in November, so make sure that you have booked your tickets well in advance.  Many hotels will be able to reserve your tickets, however our hotel didn’t have any tickets left for the day we had chosen, so we decided to book them on-line on the Servicaixa Alhambra website.  Once I had booked our tickets I went to my local branch of La Caixa, inserted the card I had used to make the payment, and our tickets were printed off.  Easy!

Our hotel informed us that we could get a bus up to the Alhambra, but we decided that we would appreciate it more if we walked up through the woods, apart from saving us the bus fare.

The Alhambra - straight up that hill

Having read about the importance of being there on time, we made sure that we arrived at the entrance to the Palace Nazaries fifteen minutes early. People were being let through, however they had an earlier time slot and it was made clear to us that we would have to wait until 10, so we checked the latest time that we could arrive, which was 10.15.  We had half an hour, which proved to be just enough time for walking around the Alcazabar and admiring the views of the city from there.  As we waited to go through the gates into the Palace on our return, we spotted an unfortunate Japanese woman desperately trying to persuade the staff to let her through but to no avail.  You have been warned!

Words can’t do justice to the ethereal beauty of the Palace Nazaries, and even photos fail to capture the magic of this place.  Every time we turned a corner, I would spot a delicate carving or some colourful tiles that I just had to take a photo of: we spent nearly two hours wandering around and I took over one hundred photos, which has to be a record.  The link below is to a small selection of my favourite shots:

Walking round the Alhambra: Palace Nazaries

The courtyard in Hotel América

By the time we emerged, almost dizzy from experiencing the delights of the Palace, we were more than ready for a cup of tea and a seat in the café in Hotel América!  Suitably refreshed, we then headed to the Generalife, where my overworked camera was soon busy taking yet more photos.  This time I only took 90 photos, however we visited in November, when clearly the gardens weren’t at their best.  Having said that we still thought the gardens were lovely and we would definitely like to return in the Spring when the flowers will be in full bloom.  Even better, I would love to be there for a concert during Granada’s Music and Dance Festival.  Click the link before for a glimpse of the Generalife:

Walking around the Generalife

Generalife

Luckily it was a lot easier walking down from the Alhambra than walking there – we had been on our feet for hours, and our minds were all focused on lunch. We didn’t have too far to walk before we stumbled upon a suitable place. From the outside Barenostrum didn’t look very prepossessing, and to be honest the main reason we went in was their reasonably priced menú del día, however once we were inside we realised it was a fortuitous choice.  The menú del día was an affordable 9.95€, the food was very good, the staff were friendly and we liked the funky interior.  We will definitely return there on our next trip to Granada.

Fortified by our lunch, and feeling the need for more exercise after our filling meal, we decided to see more of the sights of Granada.  We had a long list of recommended sights, but we soon ran out of time.  We enjoyed looking round the Cathedral, which had a lovely light interior, but unfortunately there were large signs forbidding the use of cameras so I couldn’t take any photos to share with you, apart from exterior shots.

Exterior of Granada Cathedral

We enjoyed wandering around the back streets and eventually stumbled on the Jardín Botánico, so strolled around the tranquil gardens before continuing our walk.  If you like gardens, our friend Penny recommends Parque Carmen de Los Martires as well as San Jeronimo Cloisters: read her blog for more information about Granada generally.  On our next trip we also plan to  see the Alhambra at night from the Mirador de San Nicolas, to experience Los Baños Arabes, and visit the Lorca family’s summer house in Parque Garcia Lorca. We will of course eat a tapa or two as well: Granada is a great city for those who like to go out for tapas  – “ir de tapeo”.

Botanical Garden

If you are on a budget, our hottest tip for eating out in Granada is to have a menú del día at lunchtime and go out for a drink in the evening: just order a glass of wine and you will be given a tapa with each drink.  We even found a lovely restaurant near our hotel where we could choose which tapa we wanted from their menu to go with our drinks : Restaurante Duque de Medinaceli on Calle Cristo De Medinaceli.  We all enjoyed our tapas, prices were reasonable, our waitress was lovely, and so we will definitely be heading there on our next trip.

The most expensive bar that we went into was the trendy Puerta del Carmen, where John and I were horrified by the price of the wine (3.60 € for a glass of wine, with a tiny bit of jamón) though John’s niece Fiona, being used to UK prices, thought it was very reasonable.

One of Granada's many lovely plazas

We then decided to find a bar that had been recommended on several websites: Antigua Bodegas Castaneda.  This was a bit cheaper, plus we had generous portions  of typical Spanish tapas.  I never eat meat and the first tapas were meat-based, so I ordered cheese for myself (3€ for a large plate of cheese plus bread), explaining that I don’t like meat. When we ordered another glass of wine the waiter brought us ensaladilla rusa, which I was able to enjoy too, so full marks to him for being attentive to my needs.

Finally we went for a nightcap in Mesón La Cueva, on Calle Pedro Antonio de Alarcón, which was a ham-lovers paradise. Not the best recommendation in my view, however I had to admit that it was atmospheric.  Luckily it was close enough to our hotel to be able to stagger back quite quickly, as by now it was after midnight and temperatures had dropped dramatically.

We wandered into many other bars while exploring the city and we weren’t disappointed by any of them.  If you have any recommendations for your own favourite budget eating and drinking places in Granada, please leave the details here for others to read and so that we can investigate them on our next visit.  Hasta pronto Granada!

Essential viewing in Granada!

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Las Casas Colgadas de Cuenca

If you’ve heard of Cuenca – most of our friends said “Where?” when I mentioned our proposed trip - then I wouldn’t mind betting it was Las Casas Colgadas, the Hanging Houses perched precariously over a gorge, that you have heard about.  They are what Cuenca is famous for, however we discovered that there are many more places of interest in this fascinating mediaeval city.  We enjoyed our short visit and managed to pack a lot into our two days.

Plaza Mayor, with the Ayuntamiento in the background

To do justice to Cuenca you really need to spend a few days there as we did, however if you are staying in Madrid or Valencia you could visit on a day trip taking the high-speed Ave train.  Less than one hour and you will be in Cuenca’s brand new station, but a word of warning; it is about 4k to the centre of Cuenca from the new train station. 

Although our journey from Alicante to Cuenca took more than two hours, the time went very quickly.  We had spotted Estrella online fares when we booked, which meant we travelled first class for the cost of a second class fare.  We settled down into our comfortable seats and soon afterwards were given a free newspaper, the Renfe magazine plus a pair of earphones so that we could watch a film or listen to music.

The catering service then began with the offer of a cold drink and packet of nuts, followed by a hot towel, and then we were handed the drinks list.  Our train had left Alicante at 16.05, so the meal we were given was Merienda, which consisted of a sandwich and cake, accompanied by cava, wine or soft drinks.  Coffee was served after our snack and finally we were offered spirits or liqueurs to round off our meal.  What a civilised way to travel!

View of Cuenca

As we had carefully printed off directions from the “train station” (for which read “former train station”) to our hotel, it was a bit of shock to alight from the train in the middle of nowhere!   It was obvious that it would take us far more than the promised ten minutes to walk to our hotel.  There were plenty of taxis waiting outside however, as we were travelling on a budget, we took the bus instead, at a cost of 1.10€.  The bus was almost ready to leave, so we had timed it well, though as  the buses run every 20 minutes it wouldn’t have been a problem if we had missed it.

Parque del Huécar, near our hotel

By the time we checked into Hotel Pedro Torres it was almost time for dinner, however having had lunch in Alicante plus a snack on the train, we decided that wine and tapas would be more than enough for us.  This was a good decision as we discovered that most of the bars in Cuenca give you free tapas with your drink, so it proved to be a cheap night out, made even cheaper when we wandered into the opening night of an art exhibition and were offered wine and a selection of nibbles, including cheese and cold meats. 

Cuenca at night

After a buffet breakfast in our hotel the following morning, we decided to walk up to the old town, although the helpful receptionist had told us we could take a bus there from outside the hotel.  We soon discovered why she had said that, as it was a very steep uphill walk, though luckily being September it wasn’t too hot.  We were rewarded though with the best views of Las Casas Colgadas from the opposite side of the gorge.  We walked as far as the Convento de San Pablo, which now houses the Parador of Cuenca (at a room rate of 168€, it doesn’t exactly count as budget travel!)  as well as the Espacio Torner art gallery.

View of the Parador and Puente de San Pablo

Unfortunately the Espacio Torner was closed, though according to the information on the back of our city guide it should have been open.  Even more unfortunately, from my point of view, the quickest way to access the old town on the other side of the gorge was via the Puente de San Pablo as shown in the photo above.  I am NOT good at heights and walked very carefully over the bridge, my eyes firmly fixed on the other side.

Santa Cruz Crafts Centre - in a converted church

Once safely across the gorge, I could relax a bit as we explored the winding streets of Cuenca, discovering yet another treasure each time we turned a corner.  We found the city guide very useful in highlighting the museums and art galleries where entry is free: Antonio Pérez Foundation, Antonio Saura Foundation, Santa Cruz Handicrafts Centre, and the Church of the Virgen de la Luz. 

Church of the Virgen de la Luz

The Science Museum, where the helpful English-speaking guide told us that their one rule was that you had to touch everything, is free at weekends, and the Cathedral is free on the first Monday of each month.  I have to admit that one of the highlights for me was the Science Museum, maybe because I am just a big kid and loved playing with all the exhibits.

Entrance to the Science Museum

If you are retired make sure that you carry some ID to prove it, as you will get free entry to the Museum of Cuenca, an archaeological museum, which I also enjoyed wandering around.  Possibly because it made a change from all the modern art in Cuenca!  You will also get half-price entry to the Túneles Alfonso VIII and the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art, which is not to be missed, as it is in Las Casas Colgadas. I found it a bit surreal to be looking at modern art in a mediaeval building.

John enjoying a bit of culture

Walking around Cuenca we had worked up quite an appetite, so we decided to stop for lunch at 2pm.  John had spotted a 10€ menú outside Restaurante Don Pablo on Plaza de los Carros, so we agreed to investigate the inside of the restaurant.  When the waiter brought the menu we noticed that the price shown was 12€, however he reassured us that the price we had seen outside was the price we would pay.  We both enjoyed our meals and wouldn’t have minded if we had been charged extra, as the food was very good.

On our walk we spotted Cuenca's "beach"

We discovered that many of the restaurants had special menus in the evening, as well as the usual menú del día at lunchtime, however our choice was a bit limited by the fact that I don’t eat meat.  We struck lucky though at Restaurante Aljibe, which is part of Hotel Convento del Giraldo – yet another converted Convent! 

Their Menú Noches for two people cost a total of 40€.  Well, it was my birthday, so we decided to break the budget for once!  We shared three delicious starters followed by a choice of main course (I had the Risotto de Mar, which was very tasty) and then a selection of desserts to share.  A very good rosado wine and two bottles of mineral water were included in the price.

Desserts to share: one for you, the rest for me!

We had tapas in two bars on Calle de las Torres: El Fuero and La Leyenda de la Cruz de Diablo, both of which were good value, especially as we only paid 1.20€ for a glass of wine with free tapas, and as an added bonus the staff were very friendly.   We also had the 10€ menú del día in El Fuero on Saturday before we left Cuenca, which had a wide selection of dishes, including a yummy salmón a la naranja.

Our verdict on Cuenca, the city of the Hanging Houses?  It is worth visiting, not just for Las Casa Colgadas, but because there are so many other places of interest to see in the old town.  Be warned though that, with all the free tapas and reasonably priced menus, you will probably need to go on a diet after you get home!

Cuenca Cathedral - spot the tourist train!

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Cirque du Soleil at Zaragoza Expo

John and I first saw Cirque du Soleil when we visited the Expo in Zaragoza, where we saw many of their acrobats and jugglers taking part in a procession.  When we discovered they were due to perform in Alicante, we asked our friends John and Lesley if they were interested in seeing them too, and luckily they immediately agreed!  Even if we hadn’t been chauffered there and had travelled on three buses from Jumilla, we would have said it was worth going, as it was an incredible show.

La Gran Carpa – Cirque du Soleil, Alicante

 When we arrived at the entrance, a nice young man from Barcelona told us that our seats weren’t that good (we are all pensioners, so we had bought the cheapest tickets available!) and showed us to the front row.  Yes, he gave us the best seats in the house – result!

No superlatives are good enough to describe the amazing, fantastic, brilliant, best show ever that we witnessed.  The first hour went by incredibly quickly as the artistes spun, juggled, flew through the air and amazed us with their skills and daring.   It was colourful, spectacular and they even had live music, which enhanced the whole experience. 

Even the stage curtains were spectacular

There was comedy as well as drama: John had a hat full of popcorn emptied over him, before the hat was plonked on his head.  The other John, Lesley and I thought it was very funny!  Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera ready to hand to capture the sight, as we had been told not to use cameras during the show for safety reasons.  This was quite understandable when you saw the split-second timing as two catchers threw two trapeze artists through the air simultaneously and then caught the one flying towards them.

The organisation was superb: the show began on time (virtually unknown in our part of Spain!), with a half hour interval after the first hour of the show, followed by another hour’s entertainment.  Lesley and I browsed round the stalls, however we couldn’t justify buying anything as most articles on sale were fairly expensive, though of good quality.  There was air conditioning too, so don’t go in shorts: our friend John said his knees were cold!

Drinks cost over 4€, however we had brought bottles of water with us, and we had also enjoyed a cool copa de vino latino beforehand, so we didn’t bother.  Our tickets had cost us 26.50€ (discounted on the Cirque du Soleil website) which we thought was amazing value for money, especially when we were shown to the prime seats!

All I can say is that if you get the opportunity to see Cirque du Soleil, do so.  If you become a member of the Cirque Club they will send you details of any offers: sign up on the Cirque du Soleil website.

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My intention for the last post in July was to give detailed information about the forthcoming Feria y Fiestas de Agosto.  However trying to get advance tourist information in Jumilla is like trying to pull teeth – and isn’t helped by the fact that the Oficina de Turismo is closed until 2nd August! 

There are colourful posters on display all around Jumilla, depicting the 40th Anniversary of the Fiesta de la Vendimia, the 30th Anniversary of the National Folklore Festival and the 25th Anniversary of the Moors and Christians, however there don’t appear to be any leaflets or booklets giving more specific details. 

Research on the internet has given me a few key dates, but all I know about the Moros y Cristianos so far  is that the Noche de las Antorchas will be at 21.00 on Saturday 6th August in the Castle - and the other main events will be taking place between 12th and 16th August.

Moros y Cristianos procession 2010

National Folklore Festival

Music and dance groups from Badajoz, Almerís, León, Tenerife and A Coruña will be performing, as well as the Coros y Danzas de Jumilla.

Saturday 13 August

22.00 Inaugural session in the Jardín de la Glorieta.

Sunday 14 August

13.30 Music and dancing in the streets. The groups will perform in the different barrios of Jumilla.     

18.30 Traditional games.  Paseo Lorenzo Guardiola.

20.00 Sones de España – concert of traditional music.  Julián Santos Auditorium

Monday 15 August

13.30   Music and dancing in the streets. The groups will perform again in the barrios of Jumilla, giving you the opportunity to watch a different group.                 

21.30 Procession of the participating groups from Plaza de Arriba to Jardín de la Glorieta, where the closing gala will take place at 22.00.       

Festival Nacional de Folklore 2010

 The complete programme, plus details about the participating groups, can be found on the FNF website.

Fiesta de la Vendimia

Friday 12 August

21.30 Inauguration of the Fountain of Wine (yes, wine will be flowing!), Jardín de la Glorieta

22.30 Inauguration of the D.O. Jumilla wine stand, Paseo Poeta Lorenzo Guardiola.  This is where you go for your free samples!

Saturday 13 August

08.00 Gran Pitanza Fiesta del la Vendimia in the Plaza del Mercado.  This is a new event, but I gather that it will be going on all day, allowing you to sample various local dishes.

12.00 Miniferia del Vino,  Jardín del Rey Don Pedro.  Sshhh!  So far I haven’t found anything in print or on the web, but my sources have assured me that this popular event will be taking place on Saturday, and it usually starts at 12.00, so we will be heading there hopefully.  It is a great opportunity to try 2 or 3 different wines  and discover your favourites.  (OK, we usually try a few more than that, but we don’t want to be seen favouring a particular bodega!) The usual format is to buy a glass for a few euros then go round the many stands sampling different wines.

Tuesday 16 August

20.30 Cabalgata Infantil.  The children’s procession starts assembling in Plaza del Rollo at 20.00, then goes along the main streets of Jumilla, finishing behind the covered market.

Wednesday 17 August

Día del Niño The day for children of all ages to go along to the fairground, where they are offering 2 x 1 on all the rides.

21.00 Offering of the grapes and first grape juice to the Niño de las Uvas, Jardín de la Glorieta.

Thursday 18 August

11.00 – 13.30 Exhibition of all the floats taking part in the annual competition, Paseo Lorenzo Guardiola.

Cabalgata tradicional 2010

20.30 Cabalgata Tradicional  This is the traditional procession, for those of us who prefer to sample wines rather than getting soaked in the stuff! Again it starts assembling in Plaza del Rollo at 20.00 and follows the same route as the children’s procession. We can definitely recommend this one, as all our friends have enjoyed it.

Saturday 20 August

19.00 Gran Cabalgata del Vino  OK.  If you insist on getting drenched in red wine (don’t wear your best clothes) then head to Avenida de Reyes Católicos and Avenida de Murcia where the procession starts assembling at 18.00, going along the main streets of Jumilla.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you! 

For more details about all the events in the Fiesta de la Vendimia, check the Federation of Peñas website.  Watch this space for further updates, as there will be 4 concerts taking place, but so far I don’t know the dates!

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I imagine most people’s reactions to the title of this post will be “I wish!”  How many times have you had a wonderful holiday, used your credit card to its max, then returned home to the worry of paying your credit card bill?  Doesn’t it negate some of the positive effects of your holiday – so why not do things differently this year?

Lock up all your credit cards!

The first step is to plan your holiday well in advance, looking online for information about the area you will be visiting.  I can give you plenty of general tips for saving money in Spain - and most of those will apply to other countries - but even within Spain different regions have different traditions.  Some holiday-makers may return home from Spain raving about the free tapas they had with every drink, but others may say they had to pay for their tapas, albeit they were very cheap, so it helps to know in advance.

Before moving to Spain, we decided to use the train to travel there, partly because it is stress-free compared to flying, and partly because we didn’t have to worry about the weight of our cases!  On checking online we discovered that Renfe have a special discount card for over 60s (la tarjeta dorada), which gives discounts of between 25% and 40%.  At a cost of 5€ for the annual card, we were soon saving money! 

Don't try checking those in for your flight!

We also discovered that Renfe have occasional Estrella offers, so we were able to travel first-class for the same price as normal second-class fares.  Not only did we have more comfortable, spacious seats, but our lunch and drinks were included, so we were actually saving money.  Note however that, if you are a vegetarian or have special dietary needs, you will need to book your meal in advance. 

If you are staying in a hotel, check what is included in the price.  If a buffet breakfast is on offer it may be cost-effective, as a good breakfast will keep you going for hours.  However if breakfast is extra, and especially if it is a continental breakfast, it could be cheaper going to the nearest bar.  This is where prior research is useful: I have to thank fellow travellers who posted on tripadvisor for identifying local bars where we could buy a cheap breakfast and good budget restaurants close to our hotel.

Families may find it cheaper to stay in a self-catering apartment, however be aware that supermarkets on a resort may be surprisingly pricey, and what you don’t want to do is arrive just before it shuts and spend a small fortune trying to stock up for your holiday!  If you have done your advance research, you will know where the nearest large supermarkets are and, more importantly, what is the local market day.  All you need when you arrive are a few basics until you can go shopping in the morning.   Fruit and vegetables will be a lot tastier if you buy them in the local market, as well as cheaper, and you may find good cheeses, cold meats and other local delicacies on offer there.

Explore the local markets

A good option on a hot day is to visit a couple of air-conditioned museums!  Be aware that in Spain many museums are closed on Monday, however if you have checked in advance you will already know that.  You will also know whether museums are free on certain days (in Madrid, for example, many museums are either free or cheaper on Sunday mornings) and whether discounts are given for EU residents and/or pensioners (have your passport with you!) 

If you are going out for the day, budget for a cheap menú del día (in Spain) or look out for le menu or la formule (in France) or similar offers.  If you decide to have just a snack for lunch and eat later on, you will probably end up spending a lot more money, particularly if you become very hungry!  I know – that happened to us in Paris!  

Beware of optional day trips, which may sound tempting but often end up costing you a lot of money.  When we were staying at an apartment-hotel in Marbella, we were told about a day-trip to Gibraltar.  We thought it was a bit expensive for what was basically a coach-trip with nothing extra included, so investigated the alternatives.  We found out that the local bus to La Linea was a lot cheaper, so we took that to save money.  We discovered that it saved time too, as lots of coaches and cars were lined up waiting to cross the border, while we strolled across in seconds!

Don’t stop for food or drinks in the main plazas or squares in any tourist area, or you will be charged tourist prices.  John and I saw a reasonably priced menú in the window of a restaurant on Las Ramblas in Barcelona, and were impressed by the cost in what we expected to be a pricey area.  We then noticed that it didn’t mention any drinks, even though a menú del día usually includes one, so we went inside to check.  The waiter was keen to take us to a table (it was obvious that we were tourists!), however before sitting down we asked whether drinks were included.  They were not.  We then asked to look at the wine list, before beating a hasty retreat!  The food might have been reasonably priced, but the drinks were definitely over-priced. 

We turned down a side street and soon discovered a good neighbourhood restaurant, which seemed to be full of locals rather than other tourists, and where the final bill came to less than the food alone in the first restaurant.  Lesson learnt!

Join in the local fiestas for a great and cheap night out.  Many resorts offer free entertainment, but some acts are not much better than a karaoke evening, and most bars will charge you a lot for a couple of drinks – remember the worse the act, the more you are likely to drink!  I hasten to add that we have enjoyed watching some very talented performers while on holiday, but these have been the exception rather than the rule.

Wander into the town centre where the local fiesta is taking place, and you will soon be enjoying a real party atmosphere.  The entertainment will be free, any food and drinks will be either free or far more reasonably priced than back at your hotel or resort, and the whole experience will be one to remember.  No doubt we are prejudiced, but we can highly recommend a visit to Jumilla in August.  As well as the renowned Fiesta de la Vendimia, you can enjoy the National Folklore Festival and the spectacular Moors and Christians parades.

Entrance of the Moros

I suspect that you won’t be brave enough to leave your credit card at home when going on holiday, but I am hoping that with a bit of advanced planning, and by using your common sense while away, you may be able to leave it in the safe until you return home.

If you have any of your own budget holiday tips to share, please send them to me via the comments box below, and maybe we can have an “International Budget Holiday Tips” feature next time!

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For John and me - and anybody else living on a restricted budget - one of the benefits of living in Spain is the cheap entertainment.  We have a wonderful theatre in town (Teatro Vico) and tickets for performances there don’t exactly break the bank, however we have two other theatres in Jumilla where entry is free.

Teatro Vico

 As part of their mandate, Spanish savings banks provide social, charitable and cultural services.  Both CAM and CajaMurcia in Jumilla have exhibition halls where art and photographic exhibitions can be held, and they both have small theatres for concerts, drama and dance displays as well as many other events.

Last night we went to see a video presentation in CajaMurcia’s theatre, which is above their main Jumilla branch. They have an exhibition room there too, so beforehand we looked at the display of posters for this year’s Cabalgate Infantíl, which children from local schools had designed. The children’s procession takes place during Jumilla’s Fiesta de la Vendimia  in August, so naturally wine featured in many of the posters, but Bob Esponja also seemed to be a popular theme!

The video presentation was scheduled to start at 20.00, so being optimistic we wandered into the theatre at that time.  It looked promising, as we could see that everything had been set up and a few other people were already in there, however Jumillanos aren’t exactly noted for their punctuality.  The señor in charge kept looking at his watch, and we heard a few words being muttered about not everybody being there, and “puntualidad” was also mentioned.

Eventually the show began at 20.15, which is impressive by Jumilla’s standards.  The video showed scenes from Jumilla’s Fiesta de la Vendimia going back to the early 80s and finishing with last year’s celebrations.  There were plenty of laughs from the audience and a few sarcastic comments as people recognised the participants, which added to the atmosphere.  We recognised at least three people taking part in earlier years’ festivities.

Each video clip showed a procession with adults and children carrying baskets of grapes, a group treading the grapes (all looking remarkably similar to each other), lots of people kissing each other as they presented bouquets of flowers, glimpses of traditional dancers, plus the revellers getting covered in red wine during the Gran Cabalgata del Vino at the end of the fiesta.

Soaked in red wine

If you are coming to Spain for a holiday, or if you plan to move here permanently, I recommend finding out where your nearest savings bank is.  We have seen some fascinating exhibitions since we moved to Jumilla, and enjoyed some amazing concerts, and it hasn’t cost us a cent!

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 Spain has always been a popular holiday destination, however many tourists don’t get the most out of their stay.  Sure, they return with a suntan (or more likely sunburn!), several pounds heavier weight-wise, several pounds lighter money-wise (having spent far too many euros), some tacky souvenirs and lots of exciting photos of them on the beach, by the pool or in the bar.  Is that what you want? Or do you fancy doing something different this year?

Before you go on holiday, use the internet to research your holiday with a difference.  Staying on the Costa del Sol? Away from the beaches there are some lovely villages to visit on the ruta de los pueblos blancos, or discover the city of Malaga instead of bypassing it in your rush to reach the beach.  Costa Blanca?  There is a lot to see in Alicante (the city, not the airport!) and if you are a wine lover, come and visit Jumilla, known as the city of wine.  A good place to start your research is http://www.spain.info/en/, and don’t forget to check whether there are going to be any fiestas in the area you are visiting.

Visit Mijas for the day when staying on the Costa del Sol

The first thing you will have to learn when you are on holiday is to get up a bit earlier than usual, so that you can enjoy the whole day, and to leave your hotel/apartment/resort/comfort zone.  You are going out for breakfast, which for Spanish people is best enjoyed in a café or bar between 10 and 12.  They will have had a cup of coffee first thing, but the morning break is a time to meet friends and have a chat over a coffee and tostada or maybe chocolate and churros.  You will definitely need a snack then, because you aren’t going to have lunch until 2pm at the earliest!

Spend your morning walking around the nearest town, visiting museums and churches, strolling through local parks and generally working up a good appetite for lunch.  Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes, to slap on the suntan lotion, to bring your camera (this year your friends may find your photos a bit more interesting than usual) and remember to carry a bottle of water. 

Keep your eyes open while you are enjoying your walk because you are looking out for a good menú del día, however be aware that many restaurants won’t advertise them before 1pm.  This is a top money-saving tip in Spain: have your main meal at lunchtime like the Spanish do, though avoid obvious tourist areas to get the best value for your money. Menú del día will usually cost you between 8€ and 12€ for a minimum of 3 courses, bread and a drink.  We know a very good bar in Jumilla where for 8€ we get a shared salad to start with, a basket of bread, a wide choice of starters, mains and desserts, a carafe of red wine with water or refresco plus coffee to finish our meal.  After that, we don’t need much food in the evening!

Drive inland from the Costa Blanca to visit Jumilla castle, a local bodega, and have menú del día

Lunch will be a leisurely affair, which is good news, as you will be indoors during the hottest part of the day.  If you want to go native, observe how Spanish people avoid sitting in the sun.  They love being outdoors during the summer: enjoying a drink, chatting to their friends, promenading along the sea front, but they walk in the shade or sit under a parasol.  Also observe that, even though Spanish chicas will wear miniscule skirts or shorts in town, beach wear is kept strictly for the beach.

After lunch you can stroll back to your hotel or apartment for a siesta if you fancy going really native, or plan ahead for the evening, relax with a good book, and enjoy a cold drink.  In tourist areas there may be shops open in the afternoon, but elsewhere only supermarkets disregard the traditional siesta.

If you haven’t gone out for a menú del día, be prepared to pay more for your evening meal, and also be prepared to wait for it!  We were staying in Barcelona a few years ago, and left our hotel at 8pm to find somewhere to eat.  Nearly every restaurant was shut, and as we were hungry we were becoming a bit anxious.   We popped into a bar that was open,  for a glass of wine and some tapas to calm our nerves.  As we left the bar just after 9pm, we saw that restaurants were beginning to open up again.  Lesson learnt!

Depending on where you are staying, you may be given a free tapa with your drink when you go out in the evening for a glass of wine .  If you had a big lunch, that may be all you need.  If not, look for a bar that is full of local people and you should find the best and cheapest tapas there.

A peaceful square in Valencia

Finally, don’t go to bed too early or you may miss the best part of the day.  On the last night of a holiday in Valencia to enjoy the Las Fallas festival, we were on our way back to our hotel just after midnight, when we decided to stop for a coffee.  Noticing a large marquee in the square behind the bar, we decided to take a quick look and discovered that a band was tuning up inside.  Local people were beginning to go into the marquee and encouraged us to join them, pointing out that there was a bar set up in the corner, which was selling drinks for 1€.

Soon everybody was up dancing to the music, chatting away to us in a mixture of English and Spanish and generally having a good time.  There was a mixture of both young and old, from niños to abuelos, all making a lot of noise (Spanish people tend to be noisy) but nobody appeared to be drunk, even though vast amounts of alcohol were being served at the bar.  When we left at three in the morning the party was still in full swing, however sadly we had a flight to catch!

If you decide to go native in Spain, you are guaranteed to have a great time.  Please tell us all about your experiences and any recommendations in the comments box below.

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Castellers of Tarragona

Tarragona is surprisingly free of foreign tourists, which for John and me was one of its many charms.  We decided to visit the city to celebrate my 60th birthday: as pensioners we are always looking for somewhere a bit different that is not too expensive.  Since then we have retired to Spain and now live in the Murcia region, however we plan to visit other parts of our adopted country for holidays, which will include a return trip to Tarragona.

Our ideal holiday is not about lying on beaches soaking up the sun, which we both regard as a total waste of time; it’s more about visiting places, soaking up the culture and enjoying the local food accompanied by a few glasses of good wine.  This being the case, Tarragona proved to be the ideal destination for us.

We had looked at the Tarragona Tourist website beforehand, so that we could plan what to do and see to make the most of our stay there: http://www.tarragonaturisme.cat/.   Information is available in English and other languages, as well as Spanish, and the website is very comprehensive.

We decided to buy a one-day Tarragona Card, which gave us free entry to the city’s monuments, free bus tickets, plus discounts in many restaurants, shops etc.  Rather than try and fit everything into one day, we bought the card after lunch on our first day. As it lasted 24 hours, we could then spread our “site” seeing over two days.  We also made sure that we used the card at those monuments that cost the most, in case we couldn’t cram them all in.  For other penny-pinching pensioners, check whether you will in fact make a saving buying the card, as over 65s get half-price or free entry to many of the places listed.  The card cost us €14 for 24 hours, however it is now on sale at €15 for 48 hours, which is definitely a bargain!  You should be aware however that most museums are closed on Mondays, so that isn’t a good day for visiting them!

We spent our first day walking along Tarragona’s Roman route.  As the Roman archaeological complex of Tarraco has been declared a World Heritage Site, we didn’t want to miss any of it.  The highlight for me was the well-preserved Amphitheatre with views of the Mediterranean, although the Roman Circus, where you could almost hear the thunder of the horse-drawn chariots and the roar of the crowds, was a close second.  John enjoyed wandering around the Local Forum and also walking along the Walls, which had great views over the surrounding countryside as well as the city.  We had a lot of fun trying to find the Francoli River Paleochristian Complex until we realised that it was actually within the shopping centre, down in the parking area!

Approach to the city walls

There is more to Tarragona than its Roman remains, as we discovered on our second day when we walked along the Mediaeval route.  We explored the streets around the Cathedral, which was of course the star attraction, however there were many other monuments worth seeing, amongst them the Cloisters, the Chapels of St Paul and St Tecla. The Ancient Hospital of St Tecla,  and the King’s Castle.  St Tecla is the patron saint of Tarragona and we have been told that the fiesta of Santa Tecla, which is held in September, is well worth seeing.  We plan to visit Tarragona in September next time as we always enjoy taking part in Spanish fiestas.

We also appreciated the splendour of Casa Canals and Casa Castellarnau, which shouldn’t be missed if you like looking around magnificent old houses.  Other cultural highlights for us were the Museum of Modern Art, the National Archeological Museum and the Museum of the Port of Tarragona. 

Courtyard in Casa Castellarnau

If the weather is good and you don’t want to be indoors, many of the monuments I have mentioned are outside. Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the Rambla Nova and the Balcón del Mediterráneo, then pop into the Amphitheatre, before heading along Rambla Vella to see the Roman Circus and then make your way to the maze of streets around the Cathedral . 

All this walking increased our appetite, so luckily eating out in Tarragona proved to be a pleasurable experience.  We discovered that many good restaurants do a cheap menu del día at lunch time, so we would make that our main meal, having either one course or just tapas for our evening meal.

Tarragona is a charming city, with plenty to see and do. We crammed as much as we could into the four days that we stayed there, however a longer stay would have allowed us a bit more time just to relax.  In case I haven’t already tempted you to visit Tarragona, I should mention that there are plenty of shops and lovely sandy beaches too, making it the ideal holiday location for everyone – even those of you who aren’t interested in history and culture.

Top Tips

Restaurants

Down at the Port, which we expected to be pricey because of the location, we enjoyed a delicious menu del día at La Botiga on Calle Trafalgar for only €10.50. 

We also enjoyed an evening meal at Restaurante Passadis on Calle Estanislau Figueres, where we were given 10% discount using our Tarragona Card.

After a filling menu del día we went out for tapas in the evening.  Cañas y Tapas on Calle Apodaca had some good special deals but there are many other inexpensive bars and restaurants to be discovered.

Hotels

We stayed at the SB Express*** on Plaça de les Corts Catalanes, which we chose on the basis that it was a budget hotel and looked fairly central.  We discovered that it was actually a bit of a walk into the centre of Tarragona, so it was fortunate that we are both pretty fit.  The hotel was in a quiet area and for the price we thought it was good value.

The Husa Imperial Tarraco **** on Passeig de Las Palmeres is in an ideal location for sight-seeing, although obviously you pay the price for that, especially with its four-star facilities.

For those on a strict budget the 2-star Catalunya Express is worth considering, and as a bonus it is close to the regional Railway Station.

Don´t miss

 

Tarragona is renowned for its Roman archaeological complex, and even if you don’t enjoy history you can’t fail to be impressed by the Amphitheatre and Roman Circus.

If you like the sea no doubt you will want to head for the beaches, but don’t forget to visit the Port too, especially at lunch time when you can enjoy the fresh fish.

After that delicious lunch, why not walk off all those calories and enjoy the views with a promenade along the city walls?

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Semana Santa Jumilla 1411 – 2011

 

Semana Santa statue

The Dominican missionary St. Vincent Ferrer was born in Valencia in 1350 and preached in many different parts of Spain.  In 1411 he visited Jumilla where, after being inspired by his sermons, the town celebrated their first Semana Santa. 

600 years after St. Vincent Ferrer’s visit, Jumilla is preparing for some extraordinary celebrations to commemorate the 600th anniversary of Semana Santa and is hoping that many visitors will join them to share in the passion, colour, music and pageantry of this momentous occasion.

Children’s Semana Santa

Children's Tamborada

The following events are specifically organised for the children, although many children will also take part in the main processions, plus some parents will be seen carrying babies dressed in traditional costumes.

Thursday 14 April

17.00. 3rd Tamborada Infantil at Plaza de Arriba.  Children under the age of 12 will take part in this procession, playing their drums with much enthusiasm – and skill too!  The event is being organised in collaboration with Caritas, who will be accepting donations of non perishable foods and household products. The procession will start in Plaza de Arriba and end outside Teatro Vico.

Sunday 24 April

12.00 Easter Sunday and the traditional meeting between Jesús Resucitado and the Virgen Gloriosa in Plaza del Rollo.  Lots of excited children will be waiting along Calle Cánovas, because after the procession comes the traditional Caramelada, where the children will be scrambling to grab handfuls of sweets.

Children scrambling for sweets

 

Main Semana Santa processions

Friday 15 April

Semana Santa will officially begin on Viernes de Dolores, the Friday before Palm Sunday, with a procession at 21.30 from the Iglesia de Santiago. 

Sunday 17 April

12.00  Procession of the Palms  In this procession, a group representing Jesus riding on a donkey with the Apostles around him will be accompanied by children dressed as Hebrews.  The procession leaves from Iglesia de San Juan and continues to the parish church of Santiago via Plaza del Rollo and Calle Cánovas, with Jesús declaiming his prophesy about the destruction of Jerusalem.

Palm Sunday procession

21.00  In previous years the statue of “Christ tied to the column”, made by the renowned Murcian sculptor Francisco Salzillo, was brought down from the Monastery of Santa Ana in solitary splendour.  This year, as part of the 600th Anniversary, the Franciscans have agreed for the statue of “Abuela Santa Ana” to be brought down to Jumilla at the same time.  The procession through the streets of Jumilla will be from the Ermita de San Agustín to the Iglesia Mayor de Santiago, and I imagine the streets will be lined with both young and old for this historic event.

Cristo Amarrado a la Columna by Francisco Salzillo

Tuesday 19 April

23.30 Celebración Penitencial  This is held in Iglesia de Santiago, followed by the Procession of Silence where the penitents, all dressed in black, and many of them with bare feet and dragging chains behind them, walk through the dark streets of the old town.  All the street lights are switched off during the procession, and the only light comes from bonfires lit in the streets.

Procesión del Silencio

Wednesday 20 April 

17.30 Re-enactment of the Capture of Christ, in Plaza de Arriba, with 18 actors taking part.  “Los Armaos”, the Roman soldiers, will also be participating in this act.

21.30 Procession of “Jesús Prendido”, plus other statues representing Peter’s denial, Judas’ Kiss, St John the Apostle – ten in total – from Iglesia de El Salvador.

Thursday 21 April

17.30  Visit to the monuments  This is one of my favourite processions, where the lovely señoras in their mantillas and lace dresses parade with proud señors (also dressed in their finery) as they visit the monuments in Jumilla, accompanied by local bands.

Señoras wearing their best mantillas

 

21.30 Procession of the Virgen de la Amargura  The procession leaves the Iglesia de Santa María, going through the streets of the old town, and finishes in Iglesía del Salvador.

Friday 22 April

09.30 Procession “Antigua” This is the first of two extraordinary processions to commemorate the 600th Anniversary.  Starting at the Iglesía de Santa María, ten of the oldest Semana Santa statues (pre 20th century) will be carried through Jumilla’s old town.

11.00 Procession of the Calvary  One of the largest processions takes place on Good Friday.  Sixteen statues are carried from the Iglesía del Salvador around the steep and winding streets of Jumilla, then along Calle Cánovas and up to Calle Canalejas before returning to the church.

Saturday 23 April

19.00 “Magno Entierro”  The second extraordinary procession for the 600th Semana Santa. If you only watch one procession this year, this is the one to watch, with 35 statues being carried through the streets of Jumilla.  The procession leaves from Iglesia de Santa María and finishes at the Jardín del Rollo, next to the tourist office.

Sunday 24 April

Easter Sunday procession

12.00 Procession of “Jesús Resucitado”.  As mentioned above, this is the final event where the “Risen Jesus” meets the “Glorious Virgin” in the Plaza del Rollo.  After this the procession departs from the Plaza and goes along Calle Cánovas, with sweets being thrown to the eager children, clutching the plastic bags that they hope to fill to the brim with sweets.

Semana Santa Mini-feria del Vino

Many people will know about Jumilla from drinking the wine produced by the many bodegas in and around the town.  There will be the perfect opportunity to sample some of the best Jumilla wines on Saturday 16th April, when the Mini-feria del Vino is being held in Jardín del Rey Don Pedro between 12.00 and 15.00.  Entry will cost 3€, which is a bargain when you consider around 20 bodegas will be offering you the chance to try their wines.  Hope to see you there!

Mini-feria del Vino

 

Vino y Cuaresma

If you are visiting Jumilla on Friday 15 April, why not visit one of the ten bars and restaurants offering a tapa and glass of Carchelo wine for 2€?  On Saturday 16 April, the same establishments will be offering dinner for 15 to 30 euros, which includes a bottle of Carchelo wine between 2 people.  Finally, Sunday lunch on 17 April will cost you from 22 to 30 euros, including a 500ml bottle of Vino Canalizo per person.

Look for the distinctive posters outside participating restaurants!

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Jumilla Castillo

Jumilla is the hidden jewel in northeast Murcia.  It is a typically Spanish country town – best known to wine-drinkers for its red wine and many bodegas - and is surrounded by mountains and vineyards.  Anybody staying on the Costa Blanca or Costa Calida who wants to experience the real Spain should venture inland and visit Jumilla.

Most people who visit here say that they are surprised by how big the town is, and you certainly need to spend at least one day in Jumilla to see the main sights and of course to enjoy some of its fine wines!

Wandering through the narrow streets of the old town gives an insight into the fascinating history of Jumilla, which was occupied by the Iberians, Romans and Arabs before the Spanish king Alfonso X re-conquered what was then known as Xumilla for the Kingdom of Castile in 1241.

Jardín del Rey Don Pedro

Important historic monuments include the well-preserved 5th century mausoleum known as El Casón, the impressive 15th century Church of Santiago and the recently restored Castle. The fortress that we see today dominating the skyline was constructed in 1461 by Juan Pacheco, the Marquis of Villena.

Other places worth visiting in Jumilla include several interesting museums, the lovely 19th century Teatro Vico, modernist style houses, as well as charming squares and gardens to explore.

Just outside the town there are several good walks for those of you who enjoy being active, especially in the Sierra de El Carche and Sierra de Santa Ana. If you go to the Sierra de Santa Ana, a visit to the Monasterio and its fascinating museum is a must.

Monasterio at Santa Ana

The good news for those of you on a budget is that a day trip to Jumilla won’t cost you a fortune.  The majority of museums are free and the privately owned Museo Jésus Nazareno only charges 1€, which should not break the bank. 

Contact Walkers Tours of Jumilla if you would like a free guided walk around Jumilla in English (and Scottish!). Sue and John can arrange for you to visit a local bodega for 5€, which includes wine-tasting and snacks, and if you fancy having lunch in Jumilla they are able to recommend several local restaurants, where you can have a delicious menú del día from 8€ including all your drinks.  What are you waiting for?

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