Finally Understanding Flamenco

I’ve heard a lot about the village of Sierra Alhamilla as friends have always sung its praises. It’s only a 40-minute drive from our village of Lucainena de las Torres, has been used as a location in the TV drama ‘Game of Thrones’ (see photo at the end of this post), is famed for its spa and last night, there was a flamenco festival organised by the local town hall, so I thought it was worth a trip. We were planning to leave in the car, but somebody was trying to scupper our plans to leave the village…

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Local donkey, who comes to the field by our house sometimes for a bite to eat and to chill out

It’s been so hot over the last few weeks here in the south of Spain, even at night and so, I was more than happy to go to this concert which was held in the glorious gardens with views on to Almeria city itself. Spending time outside around midnight in the summer is understandably a popular pastime here and is one of my favourite things to do in Spain.

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I’m not a connoisseur, by any stretch of the imagination, but I do enjoy going to  see flamenco and went to a few when I lived in Granada, arguably its spiritual home. If you haven’t been by the way, visit Le Chien Andalou for fantastic performances in an intimate venue in the heart of Granada.

After eventually finding a parking space, we found seats in a beautiful setting surrounding by palm trees in the grounds of the Baños de Sierra Alhamilla and waited for things to get going, which they did at around 1030pm. By then we had also all been offered fans by the organisers which was a lovely and still quite necessary touch.

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Mrs Cortado, our friend John enjoying the freebie fans

After the inevitable speeches by local dignitaries, which were mercifully not too long, singer Montse Cortés was on first with musicians on guitar, cajon (type of percussion box) and palmas (claps) and they launched into their set which was traditional and enjoyable, though at times, I admit I found her voice and the guitar a tad too abrasive for my taste.

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After their show, there was an intermission where we could go for a drink and get some free soup! The event is called the ‘Caldo Minero’ flamenco festival. For those who may not know, ‘caldo’ is the Spanish word for stock, as used in cooking and ‘minero’ is Spanish for coalminer. The area used to be known for mining. And so, in addition to a much needed cold drink in the break, we could also get a small cup of Caldo Minero, hot coalminer’s soup. In August in the south of Spain. I’m going to ask some local friends to find out more, but if anybody knows the story as to why, I’d love to hear it.

This festival was offering different types of flamenco and although I’m a fan of flamenco singing and music, I’ve always thought that the dancing was just a part of it that I could take or leave. As a musician myself, I got the music elements, but I could never see why everybody raved about it so much. It had always left me cold. And then, the next group came on. With the musicians all in black and already performing with a professional subtlety lacking in the first group, you could already sense that this would be quite a different experience.

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Performing the more serious ‘cante jondo’ flamenco style, the two singers (Javier Rivera and Rosario Amador) and guitarist (Miguel Pérez) were fantastic. Like many musicians in flamenco, they all had the necessary technical ability and incredible passion, yet they did it in such a beautifully understated way, which I found quite unusual when compared to previous flamenco performances I’ve seen. It wasn’t just about volume and power, you could also hear the gentle, melancholy yearning in how they played.

And then came the dancers. The incredible David Pérez (whose company it is) and the magnificent Maria José León appeared in fabulously flamboyant outfits and within seconds, the entire audience was transfixed. David and Maria José seemed so in sync with each other and I also loved how they incorporated the traditional flamenco shawl (mantón de manila), making it a fundmental element of the first song. I’d never seen that before. According to Antonio, a flamenco fan friend, he had noticed more of the ‘Stomp’-style rhythms had been included, even incorporating a bastón (walking stick) as a percussive instrument, which together with the intricate footwork, was mesmerising as an additional instrument.

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David Pérez (Image courtesy of La Flamenquería)
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Maria José León (Image courtesy of Universo Flamenco)

For the first time, instead of the patronising insincerity of so-called professionals who turn up and seemingly phone it in , I was seeing how the passionate intensity and captivating sincerity of flamenco dancing could be integral to the performance and I loved it and I never thought I’d say that! Although the ‘stars’ of this particular set were the dancers, I loved the whole thing and how the musicians and dancers worked together. This company were on a different level to flamenco performances that I have seen before and if you haven’t seen them yet. I would highly recommend them! I’m strangely relieved that after more than 3 years living in Andalucia (two in the city of Granada and one here in Lucainena de las Torres) that I finally feel like I understand much more about flamenco and not just the music, but also the dancing.

It’s a wonderful thing that events like these are offered by the local town halls. In addition to annual ferias/fiestas, even the smallest Spanish villages have a lot of outdoor events over the summer including sporting events, processions, street theatre, concerts and outdoor cinema for everyone to enjoy. The ‘Caldo Minero flamenco festival’ has taken place every 2 years since 1990 and long may it continue. I look forward to going back to Sierra Alhamilla for the spa, to have a look around the village and also of course, to the next Caldo Minero!

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The magnificent Maria Jose León and the musicians

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Sierra Alhamilla
Known as the only town at the Dothraki Sea in ‘Game Of Thrones’, the Baths of Sierra Alhamilla got its name from its Roman hot springs and baths
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Los Baños de Sierra Alhamilla
Banos Sierra Alhamilla
Los Baños de Sierra Alhamilla

Nothing Like A Coffee And Some Time

I’m sitting on a lovely, ever-so-slightly battered brown sofa in my favourite bar (Cafe Cyrano) in Almería, my recently adopted ‘big city’, listening to my new favourite album (‘Hey Mr Ferryman’ by Mark Eitzel) with a cortado coffee and an orange juice.

Lovely & slightly battered old sofa

I’ve just put my car in for a service. Not a big deal for most people, but having never owned a car until recently, it feels like a strangely grown up thing to be doing. I dropped the car off at 9.30am and am told it will be 3 hours, so I’ve popped into the city to mooch around and am really enjoying it as it’s not something I can really do in the village where I now live.

I’ve been walking around for a while enjoying the buzzy morning atmosphere of a working day here. As with many cities, there are lots of ‘things to do’ here, some of which I’ve done and others that I will do, but as is often the case, I find myself doing a similar thing ie ‘not very much’ to some people.

But the joy I get from simply sitting in a bar with a coffee, listening to music on headphones, writing, reading and reflecting on nothing in particular is immeasurable.

Some people these days might call this being mindful. I don’t know why doing this works for me and maybe it’s best I don’t know, so in the meantime, I’ll just enjoy the positive and calming energy it gives me.

Hope you’re having a good day too…

How Best To Enjoy The Carmen de los Martires

One of my most favourite places in Granada just up from the Realejo and a little down from the Alhambra is the glorious and yet wonderfully understated Carmen de los Martires.

 

Here’s how I enjoy going there. Maybe you will too.

 

  • Smell the citrus in the air
  • Take a bottle of water
  • Listen to the running water & the crickets
  • Sit in the cool shade
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The Campo de los Martires, just outside the Carmen de los Martires
  • Walk to the top
  • Enjoy the 40deg heat
  • Like having your own private, large and quite stunning garden
  • Enjoy the fabulous views

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  • Be bemused by the ‘urban’ peacocks
  • Enjoy the solitude
  • Take better photos than I did on my phone
  • Then, just be…

Leaving Granada

I haven’t posted here for a while as we have been busy moving house and have in fact now left Granada. But why on earth you may ask, after having loved living in Granada and written about it in countless posts on this blog, would I want to leave?

We loved our time in Granada, made many fabulous friends and I would highly recommend it as a place to live in Andalucia/Spain, however after two and a half years, Mrs Cortado and our new dog Grace decided that it was time for a change and so after lots of travelling around Andalucia looking at new areas, we left Granada a month ago and now live in a small village called Lucainena de las Torres in the province of Almería.

The population of the village is around 650 and so after living in a city like Granada for more than two years and previously London for twenty years, life these days is quite different. For example, we have two bars to choose from as opposed to Granada’s I don’t know how many hundreds, a convenience store, a bakery, a church and a pharmacy and that’s about it as far as ‘stuff’ goes, however, what it does have that we have not had previously is lots of space and tranquility, although admittedly, the occasional dogs barking in the campo occasionally challenge that luxury.

The other thing that we also now have is our own house, garden and beautiful countryside views and as we have only had Grace for a few months, it’s lovely to see that she is already enjoying running around the garden and burying stuff, although it is unfortunately usually our shoes, which we can then never find.

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I don’t know where your shoes are. Honest! 

We will of course be going back to Granada from time to time to see friends and enjoy everything which that fantastic city has to offer, but we’re also now looking forward to getting to know more people locally, especially as everybody so far has been very friendly and helpful, seeing more of the rugged and exotic landscapes of Cabo de Gata natural park, chilling out on the gorgeous beaches of San José and Agua Amarga among others, exploring the intriguing Alicante-meets-Granada feel of Almería city and generally just hanging out here, chatting to people and enjoying being in this lovely place that we are now lucky enough to call home.

 

 

10 Things I’ve Seen And Still Love About Living In Granada

 

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts where I write something about some of the things I’ve observed while wandering around Granada while living here.

To read previous ‘Observation’ posts, read:
20 Things I’ve Noticed After My First Month In Granada
7 Things I Love About Living In Granada Today
A Few More Things I’ve Noticed In Granada

So, here are 10 of the things I’ve recently seen which remind me why I still love living in Granada:

  • We are the only English guiris in our block of flats and the neighbour’s children take every possible opportunity to practise their English with us as we walk by. There is a group of 5 girls between 4 and 11 years old and the most delightful is the youngest who takes great pleasure in saying ‘Hello’ and ‘See you later!’ every chance she gets. It so lifts my spirits every time I walk past listening to her say ‘Seeulaydah!’

 

  • Cruzes (Crosses). I still don’t get it, but I like the fact that there are things which are culturally so significant and yet I still find utterly baffling. And don’t get me started on the music during the processions in Semana Santa! Odd, but fascinating to find in the place that you live

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Though most cruzes are far more elaborate and religious in tone, this one was rather curious…

  • The light here is just beautiful. Yes, there are occasional grey and wet days, but just walking around on an average day especially as the sun is setting is still such a lovely thing, making going about your everyday business a perpetual pleasure
  • Salvador Dalí having a cigarette outside a hairdressing salon near my flat where he works. He isn’t dead after all, nor is he working in a supermarket with Elvis and John Lennon. He’s alive and well in Granada!

 

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Would you want to have your hair cut by this man?

 

  • Why are there so many pharmacies? And what’s with the ‘Open 14hrs a day’ thing. 12 or 24 hours a day I get, but why 14?

 

  • Although there are other good tapas in this city, I’ve said it before and here I go again, lomo con ajos (pork and garlic) at Bar Los Tintos (C/San Isidro in the San Anton barrio) with a glass of Ribera is the best! You have to go and try it if you haven’t already…

 

Lomo Con Ajo

 

  • The gorgeous smell of cooking around 11am on a Tuesday from one of my student’s neighbour’s flat as I leave after class. Am tempted to pop in and offer English classes in exchange for a regular Tuesday lunch

 

  • I’m not a fan of getting my haircut and it’s a necessary evil as far as I’m concerned, however since discovering Paco’s Barberia on C/ Fábrica Vieja near Plaza Trinidad, I can now walk in every few weeks knowing that not only will I get a good haircut, but I will also get to hear some fantastic new (and old) music based on Paco’s personal playlist. For example, old favourites such as Belle and Sebastian and Roddy Frame, as well as discovering ‘old’ Spanish bands which are new to me and which I now love such as La Buena Vida

 

  • Ladies of a certain age walking 3 abreast with huge brollies, taking their time and having a chat. There is no way through and I have to cross the road to pass them. Personal space is still something I have to get used to, even after more than 2 years here, but I still love the idea of the ladies doing their thing, utterly oblivious to others

 

  • Having spent the weekend in Monachil (a village outside Granada) recently, the local shepherd takes his sheep and goats out on a daily basis right by where we were staying and I even saw sheepdogs doing their rounding-up thing for the first time. A big day in a townie boy’s life!

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Liebster Award

I’ve just seen that I have been nominated by Setmeravelles  for the Liebster Award!  Greatly appreciated. Thank you Mr Setmeravelles!
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The Liebster is an award that exists only on the internet and is given to bloggers by other bloggers – a way to acknowledge and appreciate fellow bloggers and also promote each other’s work.

These aren’t rules as such, but rather guidelines to keep this chain of awards going when you decide to accept the award. This is how it works:

  •     Write a blog post about your nomination, displaying an image of the award
  •     Thank the person who nominated you and include a link to their blog
  •     Answer the 11 questions that the nominator asked you in their post
  •     Nominate 5-11 other new bloggers who you think deserve this award and come up with 11 questions of your own for them to answer
  •     List these rules in your blog post
1. What are your favourite road trip movies?

I loved Little Miss Sunshine as it was a lovely twist to the genre. And Y Tu Mamá También because it was funny, dramatic and I’m a big fan of Gael García Bernal.

2. What songs are on your road trip playlist?

Well, without getting too High Fidelity on you, this really would depend! I like finding Spotify playlists to fit in with the place you’re visiting but often the local radio station does just that. I have very happy memories of Mrs Cortado and I driving down Big Sur in California listening to the Beach Boys or Johnny Cash while we were in Nashville.

3. What has been your favourite holiday/vacation destination?
Japan. Absolutely incredible place to visit. Would love to go back. Feel like we only scratched the surface on a 2-week holiday.

 

4. Where could you go if you could go anywhere in the world?

Back to Japan. And Argentina.

5. What was your favourite trip as a child?

My family is from Malta, so the majority of family holidays were there. Much like Spain and the rest of Southern Europe, a wonderful place to be as a child. I used to love being at the airport at 4am waiting for a flight as it seemed so exciting as a child. Funnily enough, I’m less excited by that prospect now.

6. Do you have any favourite road trip books? If not, what’s your fave book?

I remember reading On The Road at school, but my the book I always go back to more than any other is ‘The Tao Of Pooh’ by Benjamin Hoff. He talks about the Chinese philosophy of Taoism while intertwining stories from Winnie The Pooh. Beautiful and still inspiring.

7. And your ultimate road trip would be…?
Mrs Cortado and I travelled round the USA, Bahamas and Cuba for a few months last year and had a fantastic time. Our next trip will be a similar trip around South America focusing on Argentina and Uruguay which I’ve always been fascinated by as it has always sounded so exotic.

8. Do you like hiking? If so, your fave hike!

Not a huge fan to be honest. Gently walking in the countryside is more my thing. With a stop at a local bar for a cortado, obviously.

9. Who is your favourite travel companion, or do you prefer travelling alone?

However cheesy it may sound, I love travelling with Mrs Cortado. We see things differently and so learn new things from each other by being in new places and it was one of the best things about our Japan abd USA trips especially.

10. What is the most annoying thing about travelling?

Delays, cancellations and airlines with no sense of customer service. For example, a US airline cancelled one of our flghts last year without telling us.

11. What place would you recommend me to check out next?
-Japan (you may be getting the impression I like it here)
– in the USA – Provincetown & Portland
– More of Spain – I can never get enough of this country. Granada’s a good place, but I’m a tad biased living here!
– The Seychelles. We went a few years ago concerned that we might get bored on a ‘beach’ holiday, but we had a fantastic time and it really is such a beautiful place!

 

My Liebster Award Nominees

 

Questions For My Nominees To Answer
  • What is your happiest travelling memory?
  • Which travel experience changed your life?
  • Which journey would you recommend?
  • Where in the world was the best tea/coffee you’ve had?
  • Where was your most favourite sunrise and sunset?
  • What’s stopping you visiting the places you’ve always wanted to visit?
  • Would you like to permanently be on the road travelling? Why or why not?
  • What’s the first word that comes to mind when I say ‘travel’?
  • Why do you think you said that?
  • What’s the most memorable observation you’ve had while travelling?
  • If any, what music do you listen to while travelling and why?

 

The End Of A Slow Spanish Summer

For previous posts on this trip, read 15 Ways To Love Alájar and A Slow Spanish Summer (Part 2).

 

After being on the road for 3 weeks at this point, our next destination was Madrid and as we were coming from Salamanca, on the way we visited the Valle de los Caídos where we thought we might need out passports such was the layout of the entrance and the area in general. As Franco’s burial place, this monument is inevitably controversial and there have been many blogs on the subject (including this excellent post by Caroline Angus Baker), but I wanted to see it for myself and regardless of its sinister history, the architecture was impressive and the interior was eerily fascinating. However, although I’d recommend visiting once, I couldn’t go again as there is something quite macabre about the place and I couldn’t escape the footsteps of the ghosts who had previously worked and died there.

 

Caidos

 

After this sombre but enlightening visit, we then headed to the capital for a few days. In my 20s, I thought Barcelona was by far the best city to live in Spain, almost as if it were the younger, bohemian sister with a bit of attitude, whereas then Madrid always seemed like the older and more conservative sister. With my 20s a distant memory, I find myself preferring Madrid and of course I no longer agree with my 20 year old self – now whether I’ve changed, Madrid has or both isn’t the point, the thing now is that Madrid has so much going on and we had such a wonderful time just wandering around bumping into interesting bars, parks, buildings and simply drinking in the summer city atmosphere. We stayed in a fantastic AirBnB near Plaza Santo Domingo which was a perfectly central location to wander around this amazing city for a few days.

Highlights included:

– the best tortilla I have ever had in Spain (I’m usually not remotely bothered by tortilla, but this really was something else) in Bar Ardosa Calle de Colón

 

– really good Korean food in Mashita (C/Bola 12,

 

 

– wandering around aimlessly
– recording my first ever outdoor podcast in Parque del Oeste ‘How To Get Lost And Love It’ for my other blog Away From The Noise

 

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Palacio de Cibeles (formerly HQ for the Post Office)
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Churros con chocolate ant Cafe San Ginés – got to be done in Madrid!

 

Given their proximity, we also took the chance to visit a couple of other places. A short drive and in Ávila you have a very small and pretty old town surrounded by a magnificent wall surrounding it and very little else, but again like in all this part of Spain, the countryside is stunning. Toledo is one of those places which has been quite symbolic of the ‘real Spain’ for me, whatever that may be. Like Salamanca and Zaragoza, I think it’s just the sound of the names that sound incredibly Spanish. Toledo is a lovely, old town with beautiful architecture, impressive views and a very relaxed feel and the only place I know where you can a huge variety of swords and marzipan – though not in the same shop admittedly.

 

Outside Avila
Because you never have enough crucifixes… outside Ávila
And then we went to Valencia, one of my favourite places in Spain and again, one of the joys of being in a city like this is being able to just walk around and pass such magnificent buildings such as the Mercado Central. This time we had another AirBnB in the Plaça de Saint Jaume in the conveniently-located Carmen district. I’ve only been to Valencia a handful of times and yet each time I go, it seems to draw me in a little bit closer.
Having been to the Bioparc, the City of Arts and Sciences and other more well-known spots previously, this time we had a wander and found ourselves in the Ruzafa district which we loved with its multicultural mix of restaurants, bars, street art and people. Although the some of the bars here seemed just a bit too cool for school in some cases, especially as I left my hipster beard at home that day. Of course, it’s a city, but it isn’t too big and with its established music scene, its own beaches and the beautifully weird Baroque Gothic architecture of the González Martí National Museum of Ceramics and the Decorative Arts, Mrs Cortado and I will definitely be returning to Valencia in the future.

 

Valencia Post Office
What is it about Spanish cities and magnificent Post Office buildings? Incredible!
Valencia art house museum
González Martí National Museum of Ceramics and Decorative Arts
Street scene Valencia
Morning coffee in Barrio Carmen

We then headed south to a tiny village called Aigües where we were staying in a small hotel for the last few days of our trip. Again, it was a really good base to see other places such as the chilled and Ibiza-like Javea, the more family-friendly and more traditional beach resort El Campello and another place which I really like, Alicante. I’ve only been there a few times, but like Valencia, I get to like that little bit more each time. The people I met here were incredibly friendly and because it’s another small city, you can easily wander around getting a feel for the place and bump into places such as the rather wonderful El Refugio cafe and of course, you have a traditional promenade which is perfect to while away the hours with a cortado or two, if you’re into that kind of thing.

El Refugio Alicante

 

And then, after 6 weeks travelling around this magnificent country, we headed back to Granada on the Alsa Supra bus, which if you haven’t tried it, is rather good. Comfortable, not too expensive, wifi and often faster and more convenient than the train.

We didn’t get round to visiting areas in the north such as Asturias and Galicia, but after enjoying this trip so much, we will definitely be going in the future for  yet another perspective on this lovely country that I’m lucky enough to call home.

A Slow Spanish Summer (Part 2)

We’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to explore Andalucia in our two years here and so with our 6-week trip around Spain in summer 2015, we had a fantastic time getting to know different parts of Spain. To see other posts on this trip, read 15 Ways To Love Alájar and A Slow Spanish Summer.

 

Although the previous post on this trip was about observations on a tiny village and clearly the rest of Spain merits many more posts, instead of doing several about the rest of our 6-week Spanish trip, I thought I’d just do the highlights in pictures.

 

We stayed in the lovely Convento e la Parra for some more minimal tranquility and then headed north to see the delightful Sue Sharpe in Alange before spending a few nights in the Apartamentos Turisticos in one of my most favourite places on this trip, the medieval city of Cáceres. In addition to being an incredible example of beautiful architecture, this city is also conveniently located for you to go off and explore the delights of Trujillo and Mérida which are not too far away while also taking in the vast expanse of Extremadura.

 

Countryside near Alange
Countryside near Alange
La Parra White
The very white Convento La Parra

 

Caceres House
Lovely house in Cáceres
Merida Roman
Oh no. Not another tourist using Instagram! (Roman friend in Mérida)

 

Merida
Amphitheatre in Mérida

 

Extremadura Landscape
A bit of the vast expanse of Extremadura

 

If you’ve read this blog before, you may have seen the post The Sound Of Salamanca where I talk about never having been to the city but loving the sound of the word Salamanca. Well, now I have been and although I still love the sound of the word, the city itself far surpasses that and what’s more, the  influence of the local university and the stunning architecture bring to my mind a Spanish version of Cambridge, one of my my favourite places in England

 

Salamanca is also a good base to go and visit Segovia, which although was much smaller than I was expecting, is still a wonderful place to spend an afternoon doing tourist things. And yes, the towers of the castle really do look like the ones Disney use and apparently were the inspiration for them.

 

Salamanca Cathedral
Salamanca Cathedral
Salamanca Friend
Having a coffee with a friend in Cafe Novelty, the oldest bar in Salamanca
Salamanca Plaza Mayor
The glorious Plaza Mayor in Salamanca
Segovia Turret
Turret on the Alcázar of Segovia
Segovia
Segovia from the Alcázar

 

Next stop and final post on this trip will be Madrid and beyond…