Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Semana Santa: Procesión de la Santa Cruz in Alicante 2010+2011
The Procesión of the Hermandad de la Santa Cruz (Brotherhood of the Holy Cross) on Holy Wednesday is definitely the most interesting and unique procession in Alicante. It generates a lot of devotion and admiration from its members and the rest of the population who show up hours in advance to find a strategic spot to watch it.

Part of what makes this procession so special is that it takes place in Alicante's oldest neighbourhood, at the foot of the castle. El Barrio de la Santa Cruz is your typical medieval mess: steep and narrow streets with lots of steps! At the top is its heart and soul, la Ermita de la Santa Cruz (small hermitage of the Holy Cross), from whence the procession begins.

Ermita de la Santa Cruz

Yes, I said steep, narrow, steps. So start imagining carrying one of the Pasos for a Holy Week procession through there... now imagine 3 of them. Now imagine carrying them UP and then DOWN. Why so many ups and downs? Simple, the hermitage is too small for these figures to set up there as a permanent residence, so on the morning of the procession they have to be carried up. Then in full regalia they get carried solemnly down, weaving through the old streets until they reach the Rambla and join up with the Pasos that started out from other churches in the city, all headed to the Cathedral. And after they reach the Cathedral? Well they have to go back up again! Which they do RUNNING!!! And since they can't stay up there... they'll need to be taken back down again to their permanent homes. Ouf! I'm just tired thinking of it! Walking around that neighbourhood is tiring enough without that weight...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Semana Santa: Domingo de Ramos in Alicante 2011

So, in yesterday's post I mentioned that we came across a surprise on our way home to Alicante from the Palm Sunday procession in Elche... As we were crossing town along the harbour, I noticed a lot of people on Alicante's main paseo, the Explanada. There was marching band music in the air... and the Palm Sunday procession still going on!!! Apparently we made it into town just as the procession was reaching its end. So I pretty much told my dad to go park the car in the harbour, my mom and I hopped out at a red light, and I hobbled over like crazy (bum knee? who cares!) to get some pictures and video of it all! :D

Monday, April 18, 2011

Semana Santa: Domingo de Ramos in Elche 2011

Cristo Triumphante (1940, Casa Bocacho, Barcelona)
The Palm Sunday processions are always joyous affairs, since they commemorate the triumphant entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem for Passover. He rode in on a donkey (symbol of peace, as opposed to riding in on a horse, more war-like), and the crowds cheered him while place palms and branches and cloaks on the ground before him. 

A couple of days before stalls are set up around town selling the typical white palms which Elche is famous for (they're exported to churches all over the world, and they even send one to the Pope every year!) during the the days preceding Palm Sunday. The first official record of the sale of these palms dates from 1429 (the earliest historical reference to a Palm Sunday celebration in Elche dates back to 1371).

Then on Palm Sunday people start gathering at the site where the procession begins quite a bit in advance, wearing their finest and carrying palms in their hands. These can be simple branches, or decorated with bows and olive branches up to elaborate designs woven with the palm leaves. Some people have bought theirs, other very talented people (not me!) have made theirs!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Semana Santa Española

Holy Week is a big deal in all Catholic countries, but in Spain it's a VERY big deal!

For those not familiar with Catholicism, Holy Week is the last week of Lent (i.e. 40 days before Easter). It starts on Palm Sunday (today), and ends the Saturday before Easter Sunday. Palm Sunday commemorates the joyful entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey to celebrate Jewish Passover, while the populace rejoiced and laid down cloaks and branches on the ground in front of him. Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper with his twelve apostles, and Good Friday is for mourning Christ's death.

The processions organised for Holy Week in Spain have been around since the Middle Ages. Think of it as a Passion Play with statues, being represented in the streets of the towns and cities over the course of the week. In my mind it was a highly visual way of teaching an illiterate population about the Passion of Christ, and allowing the faithful a chance to participate more fully in their relgion and express their belief (and in some cases penitents asking for forgivness, or others giving thanks for blessings received). In today's increasingly secular society the number of participants decreases each year, but a significantly large portion of the population still come and either watch the processions or walk in them at the back. In some cities (like Sevilla) they have also become a major touristic draw.

Palm Sunday 2011, Alicante
Palm Sunday 20011, Elche

Saturday, April 16, 2011

I climbed Snowdon!

There are these special Snowdon t-shirts for sale, you know, the typical tourist stuff? Anyone who's ever been up Snowdon will know which ones I mean... they say "I climbed Snowdon!". Wish I had taken a photo of them, can't even find one online! Anyhow, you'll understand a bit more why they're something of a big deal once we reach the end of this tale.

Let's start at the beginning, after all, as July Andrews once sang it's "a very good place to start" (why do green mountains and meadows always make me think of The Sound of Music?): Yr Wyddfa a.k.a. Snowdon. The tallest peak in Wales at 1085 m above sea level, with one of the wettest climates in the U.K., and is apparently "one of the busiest mountains in Britain" (says Wikipedia) a series of facts I was vaguely aware of when I climbed it, but wasn't really conscious of what they entailed.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tramping around and about Cadair Idris. With sheep!

guest post by Juliette Harrisson of Pop Classics, a continuation of yesterday's "Discovering Wales: much more than sheep!"

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I have yet to make it up Mount Snowdon (maybe this year!) but I have done a lot of walking on Cadair Idris, the mountain we live on, which is absolutely gorgeous (and doesn’t have a mountain railway for cheaters!). There are two main routes up to the peak of Cadair Idris – the Pony Path and the Minffordd Path (the Fox’s Path has become more dangerous recently).

The first time I walked a substantial way up the mountain, we took the Minffordd Path, and the trip was somewhat spontaneous. We read all the very serious and important advice to hikers posted in the car park – and then proceeded up the mountain in summer skirts and light shoes, with one bottle of water and no food between us. It was very silly and very naughty, but in our defence, it was a lovely day in the height of summer, there were people everywhere, we all had mobile phones and we didn’t go all the way to the peak that day. Instead, we hiked up to one of the lakes in the cwms of the mountain. Even that was quite hard work for us urbanites, but somehow, whenever two of us were ready to give up, the third would gain a sudden burst of energy and pull us all along until we reached our destination – the biggest and most impressive lake.

The walk starts with a long flight of stone steps, following the river up through the wooded lower slopes.

Every now and then, a gap in the trees allows you to see the valley:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Discovering Wales: much more than sheep!

guest post by Juliette Harrisson from Pop Classics

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Nearly five years ago, my parents moved to Snowdonia, in North Wales. When it comes to permanent living arrangements, I tend to be more of a city girl, who needs to be less than an hour and a half away from the nearest multiplex cinema, but the area they’ve moved to is absolutely beautiful and it’s wonderful to get away from the smoke and traffic and wander in the hills for a while! I lived at home for nine months of last year so I got plenty of opportunity to explore the area.

It’s an old joke in England that there’s nothing but sheep and mines in Wales, but it’s not *quite* true! In North Wales, we have impressive medieval castles:

Harlech Castle, Snowdonia

picturesque seaside towns:

pubs with waterfalls inside them:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What's Up Doc?

Busy, busy, busy Cris.
She wants to write... but can't seem to find the time.
And when the time does come... then inspiration stays away!

I have so many half-prepped posts, it's depressing! Some (mostly kiwi stuff) are just missing the photos, others a video... but I don't have time to go through hundreds of pics and select and edit the ones I need! And as for video editing... aïe aïe aïe!!! Talk about time consuming! Then there are the others (Athens), which are basically iphoto albums waiting for me to find the right words to weave them together... but my Muse has been avoiding me lately and I can't seem to write. Plus there's research that needs to be done for links, and data and... damn!

Slow but sure, as the tortoise proved to the hare. I'm slowly getting around to them (got a kiwi one out yesterday -backdated to the original writing date-), while trying to keep up with recent activity.

So, what's coming up around here? Well for starters something I'm really excited about: my first guest blogger!!! She's going to share her adventures of wandering around the gorgeous slopes of Cadair Idris in Wales in all kinds of weather, admiring the sheep and the trees and the sheep and the hills and did I mention the sheep? ;o)  I had such fun reading what she sent me (and drooling over some of the pics) that it sent me down memory lane and I'm pulling photos out of my treasure chest from my trip to northern Wales in 2005. Let's contrast hiking up Cadair Idris with hiking up Snowdon! (and then if I can find some more time I might lose myelf in some Welsh castles... loved those!) 

After that it's back to catching up with the backlog of posts about Athens and New Zealand, all backdated to when they should have been published. Once those are done... who knows? Perhaps dipping into Belgium a bit. Perhaps something else. In the meantime I'll also try and keep up with any exploring I might do in the present. Anyone fancy a week at Saint Cyprien in southern France in May? Or talking about Easter traditions here in Spain (what with Holy Week starting in a few days)?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cycling around the Marjal de Pego-Oliva in northern Alicante

(this post is in part adapted -and expanded- from one I published today on my other blog)

Ahhhh... what a lovely day yesterday! The sun was shining, the air was warm (HOT! bloody heatwave thanks to some crazy African wind: 35ºC!), the orange trees in bloom (AMAZING smells!!! like someone had just opened a bottle of orange blossom perfume!)... great day to go on a cycling tour of the Marjal de Pego-Oliva!

The Marjal is all that remains of an ancient lagoon that got isolated from the sea by sand dunes and then silted in thousands of years ago. It's now an ~ 1290 Ha expanse of agricultural lands (rice, oranges, figs etc.) and un-cultivated land criss-crossed by a series of canals and ditches that have been developed and maintained since the Arabs started cultivating rice here centuries ago and were also used to dry out some of the lands for orchards in the 18th century. The Marjal receives its water (necessary to be a marsh!) from the subterranean aquifer and rivers that flow in from the surrounding mountains. All of these of course depend on the rainfall in a given year (this is the part of the province that receives the highest annual rainfall). The permanent water level is usually quite near the surface, and in several places the water actually breaches the surface in the ullals or springs (some freshwater, some saltwater!). 

aerial photo from Parcs Naturals de la Communitat Valenciana website