Exploring the Albayzin – Granada, Spain

The school year is drawing to a close, at least here in Europe, which means so too is my time here in Spain. I’m making the most of the last few weekends and have been to Granada, Cordoba and Seville this month. Distances are not as vast as at home in Australia, so even though I don’t have a car here, it’s fairly easy to get about from one area to the other. I’m using buses, BlaBla Cars and lovely students who kindly give me lifts if they are headed in the direction I want to go.

Although it’s only a month since my very first visit to Granada, there’s a magic about the place that drew me back once again. My first stop was the cake shop where I indulged myself in not one, but two of the most delicious Arab sweets. It was then down to the serious business of leisurely exploring the Albayzin area, the old Arab quarter. Although I’d visited there before, I didn’t really have enough time for a proper exploration on my first visit.

It’s a very ancient area of the city, also UNESCO world heritage listed, built into the hill on the opposite side of the river to the Alhambra. A series of narrow, steep and winding alleyways offer surprise views and scenes tucked around each b20150430_155323end, including glimpses of the Alhambra in all its glory. There are some areas where cars can squeeze (and it’s definitely a squeeze) along, but for the most part it’s all very, very narrow and you can imagine donkeys being more suited for trekking up and down. I certainly wouldn’t like to have to lug my groceries home from the supermarket, although the idea of a small flat in this area has masses of appeal! I also reckon walking up and down the steep slopes would soon cancel out the sugar ladened cakes I’d be consuming each day if I lived here. Flat shoes are a must and it was with great amusement that I watched a few fashionable young tourists teeter around on their platform shoes.

There is a little bus that you can take up and down, and it’s very cheap (E1.20). We took the bus last time as we were pressed for time. This time my explorations were all on foot, both up and down, round and through the various nooks and crannies, including a visit to the mosque whose gardens are open to the public. The view from here of the Alhambra is pretty spectacular but without the crowds at the Mirador S. Nicholas which is right next door. I also took the big camera this time, so have better shots, but these here are straight from my phone.

My attic room
My attic room where I enjoyed a sound sleep.

By the time I got back to my hotel at around 11pm, my poor little footsies were pretty tired. It was a most welcome relief to slip off my shoes, wiggle my toes and settle back with a glass of bubbly in hand before dragging myself into the shower. The hotel was a converted 16 Century mini palace located right on the Darro. My room, which I’d booked at the last moment, was in what was obviously a converted attic space. I slept like a log!

wpid-20150607_110042.jpg wpid-20150607_105538.jpgSunday morning saw Wayne and myself enjoy a leisurely breakfast before doing some serious haggling for leather bags. Our purchases left us thirsty – shopping is hard work – so we headed  into yet another colourwpid-20150607_125119.jpgful square, for refreshments and watched the local townsfolk go about their regular Sunday businewpid-20150607_124841.jpgss.  In the afternoon we headed back to Ecija which is a total contrast to Granada and certainly a whole lot cheaper in terms of eating out. I guess I’ve been spoilt spending all these months in a little local place where I’ve got used to paying local prices. I reckon I’m going to be in for a rude shock when I am back in Australia again. However, I’m really looking forward to a bowl of laksa!

Michelle

Semana Santa

The haunting sound of a mournful drum beat has pervaded my little flat each night for the last couple of weeks. Somewhere, close by, someone is practising for Semana Santa, a weeklong event that commemorates the death and resurrection of Christ. It’s the equivalent of our Easter, but on a much grander scale.

Each of the churches I’ve popped into have been busy getting ready for this most important week of their year and it’s been fascinating to learn a little about the history of this uniquely Spanish event.

In 1521, the Marqués de Tarifa, on returning from the Holy Land, introduced the Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross) which has evolved into present day processions where the various scenes of the Passion of Christ are depicted.

In Andalucia, all towns celebrate the week with daily processions – yep, that’s right the processions are daily! I had originally thought there was just one big procession which everyone turned out to and all the floats, or pasos, as they are called in Spanish went past. I’ve now learnt that it’s a much grander affair. Very elaborate and highly ritualised.

Each procession is organised by the cofradías (brotherhoods). In my little town alone there are seventeen brotherhoods.  In Seville, I am told, there are over fifty. This makes for several processions a day. Each starts out from their local church (we have 21 churches, chapels etc here in my town!) and follows a route that must include the Carrera Oficial where the dignitaries and those lucky enough to have seats get a front row view.

The biggest, and most impressive, is in Seville where the centre is closed to traffic for the week. Last Saturday the infrastructure was being set up for the parade. I’ve since discovered that seats are pretty much impossible to come by as they are handed wpid-20150321_103719.jpgdown by families through the generations.
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The pasos are ornate floats, richly adorned with silver, gold, candles and statues of Jesus or the Virgin. The statues often date back centuries and no expense is spared on the rich robes of the Virgin. Costaleros, ranging in number from twenty four to over fifty of them, are hidden under the float so all you see is their feet as they bear the floats through the streets.

Nazarenos, (penitents) walk beside the floats and some even walk barefoot, which is very impressive in my book given some processions last up to 14 hours! The nazarenos are robed and hooded, giving them a strong resemblance to the Klu Klux Clan but there is no connection. Accompanied by drums, candles and burning incense the whole procession harks back to days long past.

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 Confiteri La Campana window

Semana Santa is so much a part of Seville than even the shop windows are decorated in theme and the big department store Corte Inglese had an exhibit of school childrens pasos creations.wpid-20150321_111329.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

I’m heading to Malaga tomorrow which is the birthplace of Antonio Banderas and Picasso. It seems Antonio regularly participates in the Malaga Semana Santa celebrations, not as a famous star but as a Malaga born local. Read more here about how and why he is involved. I wonder if I’ll be lucky enough to bump into him?

Michelle

Appreciating the English language

As a reader and a writer from way back, I’ve always enjoyed the richness of the largeEnglish language. Words paints a vivid picture for the reader and the text just seems to effortlessly flow when the author hits upon the right combination. In contrast the wrong choices of structure and vocabulary, cause even the most interesting material to become cumbersome.

Whilst I’ve always appreciated the wide selection of vocabulary available, I’ve never really given it a great deal of through until recently. To be more precise, it’s been my move into the world of teaching English to speakers of other languages that has caused me to pause and think on the vagaries, complexities and challenges that English provides.

You might like to check out this blog which is updated each Saturday with the word of the day. It comes with a short story using that particular word. It often introduces me to new vocabulary and the stories are interesting reads.

As I grow older I appreciate how very fortunate I am to have grown up as a native English speaker, but more so to have met people from so many different countries who also speak English as their first language albeit, with varying accents and expressions.  It’s this wide international experience, coupled with my formal training that has helped me become a more effective teacher. There are so many different ways to say the same thing that it’s no wonder people studying English get confused!

Michelle

International Women’s Day 2015

This is thhttp://www.internationalwomensday.come first year, in a very long time, that I have not attended any International Women’s Day (IWD) events as none, as far as I am aware, are being held where I currently live. My contribution this year to IWD has been to include the day as part of my English language lessons, providing a reading piece, vocabulary list and encouraging discussion as it falls in line with the our ESL topics.

The class discussions, where the majority of students have been women in their early to mid-twenties, have been interesting and thought provoking because, although some had heard of IWD, none of them were aware of the history or knew much about why this day is so significant.

In 1910 women from a number of different countries were attending a conference on Copenhagen, Denmark at which Carla Zetkin, a German delegate, made the suggestion that an annual day should be set to mark the struggle for women’s rights. Obviously other attendees thought this was a great idea and so IWD was born.

Why the 8th March? Well, this was the day of the very first protest March was held in New York in 1857 to demonstrate against the horrific conditions faced by those women who worked in the garment and textile industry.

Over the ensuing years IWD has grown to become a movement that has highlighted so many concerns that affect women. Issues have included gender equality, women’s health issues, violence against women, disarmament and education to name but a few. Check our further details here on the UN page for 2015 as there’s some great reading there.

I’ve been fortunate to attend a number of IWD events ranging from breakfasts, lunches, dinners and public marches. I’ve always learnt something each time I listened to a speaker at the each of the events and been grateful for the wisdom they have shared. A collaboration of women is a most powerful thing.

Clearly the key to improving the world in which we live comes down to education, not just for women but for everyone, because it is only through education (both formal and informal) that we can begin to understand that there is more than just our own little world. Through education the world is opened up, we become aware of alternate ways of living and thinking. We learn about collaboration, we learn about respect and we learn about those who have gone before us, often making sacrifices, to pave the way for future generations.

We should never underestimate the power of the individual to make a difference and women joining together are indeed a force to be reckoned with.

Michelle

Making friends

How and where we make friends is something we’ve been discussing as part of the English course I teach. On a personal level, as part of my online blogging activities, I’ve also been meeting my electronic neighbours so I thought it timely to share this link to a blog I wrote last year on the topic of friends.

If you decide to take the time to read the old post I’d love to hear your thoughts on the magic of friendship.

Michelle