Saturday, 28 April 2012

Finally, finally, the Fallas, the photos

I bought my first camera about 40 years ago. It took a roll of film with 24 or 36 shots available. I was very careful when I took a photograph. There was no 'delete' function in those days. Once you'd taken the photo you were stuck with it, although you wouldn't know if it was any good until you'd either dropped it into the chemist for processing or sent it to the developers in a pre-paid envelope. (I never did get into processing my own photos). 10 days later 24 or 36 prints would be ready (25 or 37 if you were really lucky) and you'd finally see whether you'd 'caught' Bob Wilson saving that penalty at Highbury, or whether the steward had walked in front of you at just the wrong moment. (I got Wilson's upper body, diving to parry the shot, but his legs were sadly obscured by the steward's thick coat).
Cost was also a huge consideration in those days (for me). I couldn't afford to 'blast off' a whole roll and then discover (2 weeks later) that it was all rubbish. No, I had to be very careful, very selective, which often meant waiting a long time to finish the roll before I could even get it developed. Many times I peered at my prints and tried desperately to remember what it was I'd taken.
When I got older (and slightly richer) I might take 5 or 6 rolls of 36 on a long holiday. Once home again, I often sent them off for processing at 4 or 5 day intervals, giving us a nice little 'show' every few nights (I'd moved onto 'slides' by then and had invested in a projector and a screen). A couple of hundred photos. It was pushing the boat out a bit. Little did I know...

At this year's Fallas, I took nearly a thousand shots. Photography's a very different game nowadays. But while I can take (practially) as many photos as I like, it's sometimes two or three weeks before I get round to downloading them and looking at them all.

Which is why this 'retrospective' of Fallas 2012 is a little late. Apologies. But I hope you enjoy the snaps anyway.

The End.

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Tuesday, 24 April 2012

El Clásico

There's nowhere better to watch a clásico (unless you've got a ticket) than our local bar. We book a table. Not to do so would result in a strained neck from having to peer over all the heads in the bar or (worse) looking in through the door or the windows. (We've done this in the past.)
The build-up to a clásico can last months. A couple of years ago, when the TV channel Sexta had the rights, they ran a countdown strap-line on the bottom of the screen. 'Faltan 55 días' (only 55 days to go) it warned viewers. And on and on. Faltan 54 días. Must've been hell if you didn't like football.
It's an 8 o'clock kick-off so we head over at about 7:30. The park outside our flats is heaving in the evening sunshine. Mothers and toddlers, kids on the swings and slide, bicycles and rollerskates, and an enormous game of football. Count the shirts on display as a prediction for the match and it'll be 5-3 to Barca, although Chelsea will also score, as will Manchester United. (Giggs.)

In the bar, if it wasn't set up with huge long trestle tables, knives and forks, napkins, the lot, we'd think we'd come on the wrong night. 25 minutes to kick-off and it's almost empty. Still, the big-screen is on, showing the build-up so we settle in and order some tapas. 
This bar is an 'asador' which means it prides itself on cooking meat. There's a wood-fire on the go in the paella oven but it's being used tonight to barbecue a herd of cattle and a flock of sheep. There's always a leg of ham on the bar in various stages of carving. In the chiller-cabinet there are patatas bravas, queso Manchego, croquetas de jamon, bacalao (cod) and jalepeño peppers and every possible variety of tortilla (omelette). If you can't find anything to tickle your buds here then you'll be hard pushed to find it in any other Spanish bar. 

I nip back out to the park just before 8 and notice that while everyone else still seems to be there, the footballers have all gone. I wonder where?

We're nearly full by 8, but stragglers arrive even as late as 10 past. The atmosphere's good. The shirt count in the bar is 6-4 to Madrid, although seeing as there are settings for about a hundred, it's not as openly 'partisan' as you might have expected. In fact, the conversation around the tables continues (almost) unchecked by the action on the screen. While there are a fair number of 'die-hard' fans watching every kick, there are an equal number of 'fair-weather' followers who are eating and chatting and barely taking notice.
Until Khedira scores for Madrid and half the place erupts.
Half-time comes without further scoring and the bar practically empties (nicotine-break). Spain adopted strict anti-smoking laws 16 months ago and (despite what we predicted) they're fully respected. 

The place seems to get fuller and fuller as the second half progresses and people arrive to catch the last 20 minutes. Alexis equalises igniting the azulgrana ('blues and reds' in Catalán) half of the crowd but almost immediately Ronaldo puts the merengues (meringues in Castillano) back in front.
We're all up on our feet (and straining our necks) for the last few minutes as more and more people squeeze in for the finale. Barca press but Madrid survive. Seven points clear with four to play. Everyone agrees it's done and dusted. The Madrid fans sing a quick 'Campeones, campeones, olé, olé, olé,' but the culés are pretty mellow and take their medicine graciously.

An enormous firecracker goes off in the street outside. If you didn't know better you'd fear you'd been caught in an ETA attack. But no, this is Valencia, so a firecracker is par for the course on a night such as this. Still, I imagine it's pretty tame compared with what's probably going on in Madrid right now.

The bar is close to empty long before we head off home at 10:30 after coffee. As the lift doors open, three lads tumble out and head for the park. They're 8 or 9 years old. The tallest has a ball tucked under his arm. As they skid and skitter down the corridor in their football boots, I read the names on their backs. The short lad is Ramos, dressed in white; Messi (the tall one, with the ball) is in scarlet and blue; the third? Number eleven, dressed in red. Who else? 
They think it's all over?

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Monday, 16 April 2012

Happy Birthday, Sóller Train, Mallorca, 100 years old

All aboard! The Ferrocarril de Sóller, ready to depart from Palma.
Officially called the Ferrocarril de Sóller (pr. Soh-yer), this magical little narrow-gauge train celebrated its 100th birthday on the 14th of April 2012. But it's more than just a train, it's a real, traditional 'day-out'. For in order to make it to your end destination, the Port de Sóller (and it's attractive beach, cafés and restaurants), you also 'have to' catch an electric tram (although you can, if you wish, walk the last 4.9km).

Start early in Palma's Plaza de España on the north-east corner of the old town. It's easy to find, nearly every city bus routes through Plaza de España. Pick up the excellent, fold-out emt (Empresa Municipal de Transports de Palma de Mallorca) bus-map for routes. The first train leaves at 08:00 (see for up-to-date train times which change with the season and demand). Journey time is about an hour.

A return ticket to Sóller (the town, not the port) is 17 euros, and the first few hundred metres of the journey is slightly strange, as the train clatters along its tracks down the middle of a road and you pass cars coming the other way and people enjoying cafés con leche in pavement bars. But you're soon out of the city and into the countryside and the train starts to climb.

Polished wood and brass might make you feel you've travelled back in time.

You head through a long, dark tunnel on the journey through the Sierra de Tramuntana mountains. Once you're through, you stop at the Mirador Pujol de'n Banya where you can get off for a few minutes and enjoy the view of Sóller in the valley below. Notice the tower of Sóller's church, as you'll soon be wandering around below it.

The view of Sóller church from the Mirador.

The guard will honk his horn and wave his flag to make sure you don't miss the re-start, then it's a rapid clickedy-clack downhill over a viaduct and through another (shorter) tunnel to the town of ller

There's often a bit of a rush from the train to the electric tram which will take you to the Port de Sóller, but I'd advise you to let it pass you by. The old-town of Sóller itself is worth an hour or so of your time. Wander the backstreets or enjoy the view of the church from one of the cafés in the plaza. Then, when there's less of a crowd, hop on the tram for the last (4 euro) leg of the outward journey. 

Relax in Sóller's Plaça de la Constitució rather than rush for the first tram out.
Sóller town.

The electric tram takes about half an hour to rumble to the pretty port/beach area where you can take your pick of the bars and restaurants and enjoy the view of the bay. The only thing you'll need to remember, is to leave enough time for the tram-ride back to Sóller to catch your train to Palma. Last trains are usually about 18:00 (check the website or at the station).

Last stop, the Port de Sóller.

It's a great day out; especially, I'd imagine, if you have children. There are enough dark tunnels (thirteen in all) to give them a shock, especially if you're standing outside between the carriages when you clatter into them. The countryside is full of orange, lemon and olive trees, while the views of mountains and valleys are wonderful. The polished wood and brass of the carriages could make you believe that you'd travelled back a hundred years to the birth of the railway. And if you're a real rail enthusiast, the website (above) has a lot of detail about where and when both train and tram were built, plus some other 'technical' data, such as the fact that the track width is 914mm (an English yard) and that some of the bends that the train negotiates have radii below 190 metres!

Happy Birthday, Ferrocarril de Sóller. (Or, feliz cumpleaños, as they say around here). And next year, we can celebrate again. The tram was inaugurated on the 4th of October, 1913.

All aboard...

...but we'll be back.

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Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Finally, Las Fallas, The Cremá!

As you probably know, Fallas goes on for a good week or so, but the most important day of Las Fallas, is the last one, March the 19th, the day (or rather, the night) of the Cremá. Cremá means 'burning', and it's the culmination of a whole year of planning, fund-raising, building and celebrating.

The night of the Cremá warms-up in Valencia with the Cabalgata del Fuego (Fire Parade), when an army of seemingly fearless people cavort, dance and prance up Avenida Colón from 7 p.m., whirling and twirling fireworks to the delight of the large crowds that gather.

My particular favourite this year, was a giant, fire-spewing tortoise...

All this is (almost unbelieveably) only a warm-up, for the Cremá itself, which starts at midnight (although the main Falla, in Valencia's Plaza del Ayuntamiento, doesn't burn until 1 a.m.).

This year, having survived the Fire Parade in Valencia, we decided to jump on a train and take a look at the Cremá in one of the other towns which also participates in the Fallas activities, Burriana. Here, the crowds were much smaller than in Valencia, and the atmosphere much more Spanish with fewer 'tourists'. But the Cremá is just as explosive.

It's a long night in Burriana. A team of Bomberos (fire-fighters) has to attend each burning, so the 18 fallas are torched in sequence.

See you all next year?

If you like the blog why not read the eBook? Zen Kyu Maestro, An English Teacher's Spanish Adventure available from Amazon. 
For a free sample chapter, click HERE.