The Palazzolo’s Come to Spain

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After months of planning and preparation the time finally came for my family to come visit. For my dad and younger sister it was their first time in Europe, for my twin, it was her first time in Spain and for my mom it was her first time in Andalucia or any city other than Barcelona.  We had a tight schedule with a lot of things planned, a tour of Andalucia, places I have seen and visited over the last two years living in Jerez all packed into 9 days. I was excited to show them the country that’s been my home for the last three years, but nervous and stressed about the timing of our plans. They arrived to Madrid on the 24th. The night before I hardly slept, the hostel was hotter than a sauna and I went to bed thinking their flight was going to arrive early, only in middle of the night I checked and it was delayed by almost an hour. On top of this Madrid was the epicenter of gay pride week, so I imagined more traffic than NYC at rush hour, being that Madrid has one of the biggest gay communities and parades in Europe. We had a specific train to catch and if there had been a line at customs and if their luggage had not been the first out, the trip might have started very differently.

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In 9 days this is what we did:
6/24: We arrived to Jerez at 7pm
– We walked around the city
-Saw a 10 pm flamenco show at Tablao Pura Arte
6/25: In the morning we walked around the gypsie market near the Alcazar
-Went beach in Cadiz
-Took a train to Seville
-Had dinner on the waterfront
-a failed attempt to see Plaza España at night

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6/26: We did an Alcazar tour in the morning
-Ate lunch
-Toured the Seville Cathedral and climbed the Giralda, we waited for a half hour at the top so my dad could see the bells move, but they didn’t. A hammer hit the bell. I guess some hours they move, other ones they don’t
-Walked to Plaza España
-Took at taxi to the mushrooms and walked atop them during sunset
-Had dinner at the oldest restaurant in Spain, el Rinconcillo. Established in 1670.

6/27: Picked up the rental car
-Drove to Jerez
-Saw the 12 pm dancing horse show
-Did a 2pm Tradición bodega tour
-At 7pm we drove to Cadiz, walked  around the city and ate dinner at 9:30 at la Tapería Columnela. One of the best places I’ve eaten at.
*the morning was very stressful because originally I had planned to drive to the hotel my mom and dad were staying at in Jerez, drop the car off and then take a taxi to the horse show, that way we could walk to the bodega. However due to the long line at the rental place and other foreseen events we drove straight to the horse show. The horse show got out at 1:45, but we were able to drop the car off at the hotel and walk to the Bodega making it just in time for the 2pm tour. Until we got to the Bodega I was stressed about the timing all morning.

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6/28: Toured the market where I bought my fruit and vegetables over the last two years and introduced my family to my meat friend Abraham
-Stopped by my school
-Drove to Ronda
-Walked around Ronda and toured the bull ring
-Drove back to Jerez, at 9:30 we saw some flamenco, just for 20 minutes because I wanted my family to experience it in a different way and then we had 10pm reservation at a nice restaurant, La Carbona where we did a Sherry and food pairing

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6/29: Caminito del Rey at 2pm
-Drove to Granada
*getting to the Airbnb we drove through the oldest part of Granada, Albacin, through streets where cars have gotten stuck. Luckily ours didn’t, but there were moments where on either side of the car there was only an inch of breathing room. My dad was directing me and did an excellent job, while my mom was having a panic attack in the back. We got through unscathed, but I would never want to drive through those streets again
-We ate some bad watermelon
-We spent the rest of the night enjoying the view of the Alhambra from our terrace

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6/30: We didn’t know it was the bad watermelon yet, but we had an 8:30am tour of the Alhambra and my dad had been up all night sick, my mom felt a little ill and my stomach wasn’t feeling that great. My two sisters were fine
-We made it through the Alhambra tour
-I showed my mom and sisters more of Granada while my dad stayed home, I joined him after some time, while they did shopping and navigated the city on their own
-Had dinner at El Agua, a fondue place (except my dad)
7/2: A sleep in day!
-Mitch came to visit, we met him in the center around 2 and did a tapas tour
-Mitch left at 7, we chilled on the terrace then climbed up the mountain and made our way to Casa Juanillo in Sacramonte for a 9:30 dinner reservation.
*in Granada we spent a lot of time on our terrace looking out at the Alhambra because it was, without a doubt the best view of the Alhambra you could get.
7/2: the final day with the fam and another sleep in day!
-Left Granada at 12:30 and arrived to Jerez at 4:30
-They had a 7:30 train to catch so we spent the rest of the time packing. We had to make two trips because all the luggage couldn’t fit in the car.
-At 7:30  I said goodbye and helped them load their stuff onto the train trying not to get trapped on, I didn’t.
-Dropped the car off
– I met Jose at 11pm for dinner

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9 continuous days together, morning afternoon and night with the only reprieve coming with sleep; more consecutive time spent together than ever before and everything went perfectly. Colombus or Magellan couldn’t have planned a more perfect route around Andalucia and WD-40 wouldn’t have made it go any smoother. I’m glad they came and even gladder that they enjoyed it at much as they did.

*I didn’t know where to put this, but I did have to put up with answering a million questions, many of which were answered more than once, many that had an obvious answer if only it was thought about and many of which I didn’t have the answer to because it was my first time doing something. I wish kept a record of some of them.

A Visit to the Zoo

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I’m not a big fan of Zoos because I find them extremely sad, unless they’re rehabilitation zoos where the animals will eventually be put back into the wild or zoos where the animals are there because they wouldn’t be able to survive on their own.  However, the zoo of Jerez is neither of these.  As brought to my attention and taken from their website “The uniqueness and importance of the collection lies in the large number of endangered species which houses. In this sense develops a series of playback in coordination with Europe’s major Zoos. These projects, called EEPs, based its actions to achieve viable populations with a view to their future reintroduction into their natural habitats. The Zoo is currently involved in more than twenty-five projects EEPs. We also participated in a large number of projects (Studbooks) ESB.”

In the region of Spain where the crisis is still felt and youth unemployment rate is one of the highest in the EU, you can imagine the conditions of the animals if the people are struggling to live in the city where that zoo is.  The area of the zoo is gorgeous because it is also a botanical garden; in a city that lacks parks, the zoo is the most beautiful and greenist area in Jerez.  Perhaps to distract you from the conditions of the animals.  The spaces provided doesn’t make sense with some being far too small for the animals sizes.  For example, they have a bird row with great birds of prey, like different types of eagles and vultures in cages that are no bigger than my bedroom, they have no room to fly and can’t, but this small colorful bird has a huge area. The lions are in a cage no bigger than my living room, but the Iberian lynx has an area ten times that.  The hippos have a water section only slightly bigger than their size lengthwise.  A lot of monkeys are crammed into areas with hardly any room to jump around, to swing and to play. Above all, the animals that have hair seemed to be losing it in patches, they didn’t look all that healthy. It’s sad, but in a city where a family might only be making 1,000 euro a month, change is a long way from coming.

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The Weekend of Many First

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Last weekend I did many things for the first time, we had a puente, long weekend and each day I did something new.  Normally if I’m not traveling or trying to save money I end up doing nothing, so this past weekend was a really good one.

My first new experience: Visiting a bodega in Jerez.  Jerez is the birthplace of sherry and over the last two years I have consumed liters of sherry, but until Saturday I have never visited a bodega here.  Bodegas are where they produce and create the wine, which is a little different from the term bodega back home.  Saturday morning at 11am Jamie and I toured the Lustau bodega.  Lustau was founded in 1896 and today it is considered one of the worlds best wineries ranking 7th worldwide in 2012.

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My second experience: Biking the Via Verde.  Vias Verdes are greenway cycling/walking routes located throughout Spain.  In 1993 the Vias Verde plan was introduced to turn more than 6,000km of abandoned railway lines into environmental friendly tourism within rural areas.  So far it has been a success and the route my friend Miriam and I did on Sunday is considered the most beautiful, it was voted the best Greenway in Europe in 2009.  It’s located in the mountains of Cadiz and is a 36.5km path connecting the towns of Puerto Serrano and Olvera.  We only road to about the halfway point at 15km and even if we wanted to we couldn’t have gone further.  About 1km from the halfway point in the middle of a kilometer long tunnel my front tire went flat.  Luckily we weren’t far and only had to walk a short distance, once there I was able to get it repaired.  There’s a bike rental place along with a playground and restaurant there. I was worried it wasn’t going to hold the whole way back (to walk 15km takes about 4 hours), but it did and it even got me to and from school today.

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My third experience: Visiting Setenil. Setenil is a place I have wanted to go to for a long time now, we were suppose to go in December, but a couple of days before it fell through.  Five months later, with no school on Monday I had a second chance! Jose, Jamie, James and I made the trip to the town under rocks.  Setenil is a very small town (pop 3,000) located about an hour and a half from Jerez.  Historically it played an important role as a line of defense for the Muslims region of Granada against the Christian north, its watch tower, dating back to the 12th century is one of many that dot the region.  However, people don’t go to see the watch tower, they go to see the buildings tucked into the rocky cliff face.

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The Forgotten City of Andalucia

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Nestled between the Sierra and olive fields as far as the eye can see is Jaén, the forgotten city of Andalucia. Stated by our blahblahcar driver, “You know you’re in Jaén when the road starts deteriorating” and as if on cue we hit a couple of rough patches that rattled the car. There’s no highway to Jaén, at some point only a two lane local road where you hope to not get stuck behind a truck hauling olives. After all, Jaén is the olive capital of Spain.

To say Jaén is forgotten wouldn’t be completely true, to Spaniards it’s known for having the best olives and the highest quality olive oil. It also has a tapas scene that rivals, if not better than Granada. However you wouldn’t go to Jaén just for the tapas nor for just the olives, which is why when you tell somebody you are going to visit or have visited they ask why? with a confused look on their face. If it wasn’t for my friend Mitch living there, I would have never gone.

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Since I’ve heard so many unflattering things of Jaén my expectations were low. I imagined it as a dull, deteriorating city where it’s inhabitants only ate olives and drank olive oil.  That wasn’t the case, but I was told amongst the locals most conversations seemed to always come back to olives, or they were trying to get you to buy into their cooperative. I cannot attest to the validity of this, however I can say that because of my low expectations, Jaén pleasantly surprised me. The city itself isn’t much to write home about, but it has its moments. There is a long tree lined avenue that would be beautiful in Spring time with a nicely laid tram line running through it. Unfortunately there’s no tram. If there was anything that best exemplifies the Spanish government, it is this. In 2009 the city was given money by Andalucia to install the line, just as it was finished the leading political party in Jaén’s government changed and they were against it, so they sold the tram cars to Australia (I think) and since then it has not been operational.

Situated above the city is the castle of Santa Catalina. Part of the Castle route of Jaén, which contains more Castles per square kilometer than any other place in Europe. Santa Catalina is a beautiful, mostly restored castle that was started in 1492 and has now been partly converted into a hotel.  It provides stunning views of the city and the surrounding countryside.  Also in Jaén is a park with grass! something Jerez lacks, with a view of the cathedral and the surrounding countryside as well, though not quite the same as being at the castle, it’s more accessible and a nice place in the city center to relax.

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Adding to the experience of Jaén and the reason why we went was seeing Mitch. It was also St. Patrick’s day weekend and there are a lot of Irish there. For a smaller city than Jerez, the atmosphere was good. We met his friends and his roommates and got to see the new life he’s made away from Jerez. As sad as it is to have him gone it was good to see him doing well.

Jaén definitely isn’t the most beautiful city of Andalucia, but it has beautiful aspects about it and if you go, you might just be surprised like I was.

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In September my grandma died, we lost her to old age and as sad as it was, grandparents are suppose to die at an old age, it’s expected and at a certain point every birthday they live past is a blessing, but aunts aren’t suppose to die at a young one.
Cancer is a strange illness
Up until two years ago, I’ve heard countless stories of it taking loved ones, of friends and even animals. The pain and sorrow those people go through, watching their loved ones get weaker and weaker until the inevitable eventually happens; the suffering that comes after and the loss where there was was once a bright light, now an empty hole is impossible to imagine until it happens to you.
While it’s a world I’d prefer to not be a part of I’ve joined millions of people who have lost someone to cancer. It’s a funny thing because almost to the end you hold onto hope, you think, she’s going to beat it or the treatments are going work. Yet at the same time, long before that you accept the inevitable fate that’s befallen so many others. Almost to the end hope is there.
When it comes down to that end, everything else seems trivial when someone you love is going through unimaginable pain, when your family is suffering. They say death brings people closer and it’s true, a connected sorrow and anguish that is equally shared and felt by all. Life won’t be the same without you Roberta, you will be forever missed, always remembered and never forgotten. The impact you’ve made on all our lives will remain with us until our end, and passed down to those who will not have the chance to have known you.

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La Isla Bonita

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This past weekend I went to La Palma of the Canary Islands. Going to the Canary Islands is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Since it’s not the easiest to get to, I’m not sure I would have followed through if it wasn’t for meeting Richie’s cousin Nicole, who’s from there, this past summer. When you know somebody in a place you’d like to visit, it gives you more of an incentive to go; she was also going back the same time I had thought about going (which at the time I didn’t realize it was carnival because last year it was three weeks earlier), so it came together perfectly. Also, Richie’s brother Thomas was going to be on spring break and bought a last minute flight, which then caused Richie and his other brother Andrew to follow suit.  I was going to be spending a few days with one of my best friends and his brothers in Spain, with his cousin in La Palma during Carnival.

La Isla Bonita
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La Palma, called the beautiful island because of…..its beauty is the 2nd smallest island out of the 7 Canary Islands; yet you’d think it was a lot bigger. There’s so much to see I could have easily spent another week there. It has a population of 88,000, with most living along the slope of the extinct volcano; there’s hardly a flat spot to be found. As you can see, the volcano is what shapes the island, it literally is this island. Climatically it stays the same all years round and I wasn’t prepared for the wind or cold at night as I figured it to be like a Caribbean Island. but it wasn’t. It is also ecological diverse, it has various ecosystems:tropical-arid plant life along the lower slopes closer to the water, as you climb higher along the volcano you find the woodland zone with its famous Canary pine trees until eventually those give away leaving only volcanic soil and rock; if you go inward it’s like a rain/cloud forest where everything is green and mossy. Never have I experienced such a change from one to the other so rapidly, it’s like we were traversing through different worlds in a matter of minutes, or as Richie said many times, like we were in King Kong. 
 
Driving around the Island
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Driving around the island in its own right was an experience as much as visiting some of the places; the whole roadway is a scenic route, providing unbelievable views of the rest of the island. To get around, you pretty much follow one road that snakes it’s way endlessly around curves and through tunnels precariously close to cliff faces on inclines that a car with too much weight might struggle to make it up. Single handedly the worst possible place to be is in the back seat of car when you’ve been out all night drinking, which is where I found myself on Tuesday.
Nicole and Marisa
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Without Nicole, Richie’s cousin and Marisa, her mom the experience would have been nothing. Nicole was the best guide, driving us around the island and answering all the questions I had (which were a lot); she picked me up from the airport , she introduced us to her friends and countless others (I’m sure she got tired of it, I would have) and showed us an amazing time at Los Indianos. Marisa was an absolute angel and did everything she could to make us feel welcomed. She made us breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday, she made sure we had everything we needed, she dropped off alcohol when we ran out at night and picked us up in the morning the times we needed to be picked up. I felt as if I was with my own mom and never felt more at home as a guest in somebody else’s house as I did there. We were also invited to have lunch at Nicole’s grandpa’s house where we ate an amazing typical meal of La Palma. Like Nicole and Marisa, her grandpa and his partner are two of the most welcoming people I’ve ever met. As beautiful as the island is, it is their hospitality which made the trip great.
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I saw the most stars I’ve ever seen at night.  On Sunday night we took a break from drinking (the night before we had been out until 5am and the next day we were going to be celebrating los Indianos) and went to Roque de los Muchachos, one of the best places in the world to see stars. The observatory located there is considered one of the three best in the world. Roque de los Muchachos sits at 2426m (7959 ft) above the clouds allowing for an unobstructed viewing of space. However, before getting there you need to take a zig-zagging-continuously-bending road that prevents you from going in any gear higher than two for about an hour or more.  Nicole drove it like a champion in a van of eight people while her two co passengers, Richie and Thomas dozed off.  Since the way up is covered in pine trees until you get toward the top and since I was sitting in the middle, I could only see darkness outside. Until we got to the top and I stepped out. I was surrounded by  a 270° of the night sky and more stars than I have ever seen in my life, thousands of little lights dotting the night sky. It’s as if I was a child again, going down the stairs on Christmas day and seeing for the first time all the presents Santa had brought. I experienced a profound awe that’s almost too difficult to put into words and impossible to capture with any photos. I have never realized such a profound sense of peacefulness and if it weren’t for the almost freezing temperature and wind, I would have asked to be left up there for the night.  Sitting here thinking back on it, my mind can’t recreate or comprehend an accurate portrayal of what it looked like.
(I attempted to take some pictures, however I have not figured out yet how to properly edit them)
Los Indianos
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A celebration only found in La Palma during carnival, Los Indianos celebrates the Spanish who left the island between the 16th and 20th century for the Americas in search for a better life and who then returned with wealth and prosperity. Cuba was one of the main and principal destinations (it was a Spanish colony from 1492-1893).  During the celebration everybody wears white, traditional linen suits or shirts for the men and dresses accompanied with umbrellas for the women. As a compliment to their outfit, some people carry around 19th century suitcases filled with fake money to represent the wealth that was brought back. A mixture of Cuban and Palma/Cuban music is played throughout the day while everybody drinks mojitos. It was the first time in a long time I’ve had a mojito and I probably drank at least 3 liters of them. The strangest part of the whole celebration is the throwing of baby powder. Everybody carries around bottles of baby powder throwing them into the air and onto to people. It’s great for your skin, but bad for your lungs. The day after my skin was the softest it’s ever been.
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Another curious thing about the festival is their guest of honor and main symbol Negra Thomasa, the female black version of Thomas. I’m not sure why and how it came about (since I can’t find anything on it), but it’s the same as how Santa Claus represents Christmas. Mostly guys will paint their face black, wear big red lips and dress up as a girl in 19th century Cuban style clothes and apparently it’s not racist. From what I’m told it’s not racist because there’s no malintent. I’ll leave that to everyone’s own opinion. I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like for the tourist who had no idea about the celebration walking around in a colored t-shirt amongst thousands of people dressed in white throwing baby powder on each other. Someone told me they read in the paper that the number of visitors to the island equaled the total population of the island. I wouldn’t doubt it because the streets were packed. Like many of the Spain’s celebrations, Los Idianos transcends all age groups, you find little children, young children, teenagers, adults and grandparents all out celebrating and enjoying the day. One of the many reasons why I love Spain.
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Los Indianos, one of the most unique celebrations I’ve taken part in and one that I’ll never forget.   An example of what it looks like

Flamenco Fashion Show

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Beautiful women

Free Vermouth

and Flamenco

what more could you need?

Last weekend Tim and I went to the Flamenco fashion show held in Jerez’s famous Gonzalez Byass bodega. We were invited guests, brought along to take pictures or blog about the event; we had the freedom to attend one, or as many of the shows as we wanted  (assuming we asked ahead of time and gave them notice).   I went to two on Saturday (the 8 & 9pm) and Tim went to three.  The shows showcased local designers:

The dresses, a mixture of traditional and modern are primarily designed to be worn during the Feria (the week long celebration in May of dancing, singing and drinking: you can find out more about it here Feria Blog Post), but some could have also been worn during the weekend.  Each show was accompanied by live Flamenco, the 8pm show by a singer and a guitarists and the 9pm show by two guitarists.  Nothing else could have embodied the spirit of Jerez more than what we experienced during those two hours.

The photos below are the ones I took: