Sunday, 4 June 2017

Spanish Springtime

Madre mía, apparently I haven’t posted since Easter! I’m still alive and well, I promise. I haven’t neglected my little blogeroonie either. It’s just that ironically I’ve been so busy adventuring in España that I haven’t had time to tell you all about everything I’ve been up to...

...Which is living the life, put quite simply
I had a little Springtime post lined up for you all a couple of weeks after Easter, but of course sticking to my Emmaish ways, I never got round to finishing it. And springtime has done exactly what it does best – sprung. It’s sprung so much in fact that we’re practically in the summer (good job, Spring).

Blossoms in Castillo de Santa Bárbara, Alicante

So in an effort to not bore you to tears – or worse: to death – by noting the ins and outs of every little thing I’ve done since Easter, I’ve tried to just sing about the best bits of my Spanish springtime. Don’t worry, you don’t have to sing-read the whole thing because inevitably the post has turned out longer than I intended. (But if you do, that’s totally fine too! Hell, I’m not gonna stop ya.)

this macho-looking birdy might try though...
(Castillo de Santa Bárbara, Alicante)

The first thing worth mentioning is the “Bando de La Huerta” Springtime festival which takes place in Murcia the first Tuesday after Semana Santa. It is a festival to show off the beautiful flower displays of spring and to commemorate the surrounding huertas (orchards) and their peñas (groups that own them).

Casa Constitorial in Murcia, adorned with and surrounded by flowers

Catedral de Murcia
Members of the public dress in typical huertano outfits – floral dresses for the ladies; and white cropped baggy trousers paired with straw-like tie-up sandals and floral waistcoats worn by ladies and gents.
There was a huge parade which took place in the city centre, as peñas proudly presented the audiences with their products. There were impressive floats, dancers, horse and carriages, gigantes and cabezuos (giant papier-mâché figures), and musicians too.

peñas in the parade
one of the parade floats

giants in the parade
Although we unfortunately didn’t stay to witness the end of the parade, I know that crowds go wild to catch produce thrown into the audience by the peñas, even marvelling at a free piece of celery or a sausage. 

Despite our early departure, we still received beautiful carnation flowers

The next thing I want to marvel about is the experience tours I’ve had the pleasure of going on.

First was the Licor 43 Experience, where we were taken on a guided tour of the Licor 43 museum, then to see the factory where they were making and packaging the alcohol. Before this experience, I was completely oblivious towards this gem of a liquor. But during our time at the factory, we were given three different cocktails to try featuring Licor 43 (one was coffee based, one paired with ginger ale, and the third with cream resembling a “minibeer”) which not only got me tipsy before 11am on a Monday morning (can’t complain), but also opened my eyes to this beautiful beverage. 

Top: ginger ale cocktail
Middle: coffee cocktail
Bottom: Horchata shots

And thus began the start of my love affair with the word “degustación”…*

Very happy with my minibeer

(*N.B. Degustación in English is “tasting”.)

Next, during a mini break to Alicante with my wonderful host family, they took us to the Valor chocolate factory. Again, we went on a guided tour of the museum and were mesmerized by watching the chocolate go through quality checks in perfect lines before passing through to the equally pleasing packaging section. To top off the experience, we got a chocolate degustación AND FOR FREE!! Unfortunately I have no photos of that part because 1. We were too busy enjoying ourselves (milder term for “stuffing our faces”) circling the table topped with plates of chocolate, which 2. Consequently meant there wasn’t enough time to take a picture before all the chocolates disappeared even if I wanted to.

Valor chocolate factory

Very tasteful "foguera" display in one of the other Alicante museums,
much like the fallas sculptures of Valencia
Cool building near our Alicante accomodation

Thirdly, yesterday I was given the fantastic opportunity of visiting one of the smaller bodegas of the region of Murcia – Hacienda del Carche in Jumilla.

We got a guided tour of the bodega itself where the grapes from their vineyards are turned into delicious wine. Then we were allowed a degustación of three types of wine they produce, accompanied by other products sold by the bodega: olives; cheeses paired with their red wine jam; and their olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dip bread into. Amazing.

Now you may have realised by now – or at least heard of – how the Spanish love their festivals. This is not only on a national scale, or even on a regional scale. Individual towns within regions too celebrate their own festivals.
The yearly Los Mayos festival celebrated in my town took place during the first weekend of May, and was one of the most fun things I’ve taken part in since I’ve been here. That being said, I actually don’t think I could narrow down to count on my two hands my favourite experiences in Spain, so that’s a bit of a non-statement really. But anyway, what I’m trying to say is that it was really really super good fun. Mainly because I got to dress up in the most amazing outfit like all the other locals, which had crazy patterns and colours and even bells on it!

On the Saturday night the main event took place. This involved a parade through the main streets of the town led by a band playing upbeat folk music on a moving float which took everyone to one of the main squares to dance to a couple more of their songs whilst they threw giant inflatable balls around (very much like the indoor clubs back at home).

Spot the Emma
The next day there was a huge artisan market in the town centre selling all kinds of products from your typical jewellery and food, to knitted items, to patchwork dolls, to blown glass crockery, to honey – even the bees proudly featured alongside the stand as if they demanded to watch the sale of their products! We also got the 2017 pins being handed out for free, which the residents collect each year and proudly wear on their mayos outfits like guides or scouts.

Finally, we wandered around looking at what form the foundation of the festival themselves – the Mayos. These are the life-size handmade characters which together form little scenes to depict olden day life or to mock modern day events. Residents compete with one another to make the best mayos scenes and the winner gets a hefty cash prize. We saw one scene showing how women in the town used to do their laundry by hand using homemade soap from recycled olive oil. Another scene inevitably featured Trump, hilariously stood next to Mr Bean.

"Fiesta de cumpleaños de Trump" - Trump's birthday party
And Mr. Bean features on the left

And speaking of birthday parties, the weekend after the Los Mayos festival, my wonderful family flew out to celebrate my 21st birthday with me.

Being the birthday girl
I was luckily treated to having the whole week off work, so got to spend time with them in the villa they’d rented which had a pool and was a 3 minute walk from la playa! 

Said playa
I had the best time ever lounging around under the rays of the sun and exploring the local areas.

Above three in Cartagena
View from the Torre in urbanización de San Gines

Finally, as if I hadn’t already been having an amazing series of holidays within a year long holiday, last weekend I headed to Alicante to meet Ellie.

Being papped at the top of the Castillo de Santa Bárbara
We had such a fun four days together visiting the castle, sunbathing on the beaches, devouring typical Spanish cuisine, and wandering the little side streets as well as the main roads and plazas.

Plaza de los Luceros

Of course, we spent the whole time drinking like the Spanish too – my new motto is “it’s always 5pm somewhere” and I stand by that.

We were living the life: sipping cocktails in mini hammocks with the view of the sea and chilled music playing in the background; laughing upside down on a park bench; bartering with waiters to get the cheapest alcohol possible; gobbling gelato; and swinging on beach swings with a view of the nighttime seashore.

Basílica de Santa Maria

Inside Mercado Central
Florist outside Mercado Central

Above two taken in Castillo de Santa Bárbara
View from Parque de la Ereta
La Explanada de Alicante

What a life this is turning out to be. 

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