Thursday, May 30, 2013

¡Feliz día de Canarias!*

* which in English means Happy day of the Canary Islands!

Most countries proudly celebrate their identity at least once a year. National day, independence day, whichever name you call it, it's a day for celebration. Spain, however, is a bit weird in that department, as we don't have such a thing as a national holiday which brings us together in a memorable party - only the recent victories of our national football team has brought us to the streets to celebrate together as a country. Sure there are many famous celebrations, think of San Fermines or Feria de Seville, just to name a few, which are quite popular outside our borders. But to make up for that lack of national day we celebrate proudly our regions day and in the case of the Canary Islands, we also have a day for a each island and a day per town. Oh, do we love a good celebration! Because 30th May is the day of the Canary Islands, today I would like to introduce you to some of the basic ingredients of a great party in truly Canarian style.

First things first, the attire. When celebrating our regional pride, it is customary to wear the traditional costume. Each island has its very own design and within the bigger islands there are usually different versions to choose from. In the picture you can see the traditional costumes for men and women of Tenerife (La Orotava region). In the background, you can find the traditional female costumes of La Gomera and La Palma.

The main ingredient like in any good party is delicious food and drink. A very easy way to start is by cooking one of the most traditional dishes of the Canary Islands: wrinky potatoes with mojo sauce. Sadly, I don't have any recipe of my own but I was browsing online and found this tempting recipe which should be a good beginning. And don't forget that everything will taste better with some locally-produced wine.

And as any party goes, music has to be the finishing touch. The Canary Islands have a rich musical heritage. Certain songs and genres have endured decades and centuries and traditional dances are still praticed by many folk groups and enthusiastic partygoers - I even had to learn some typical Canarian dance routines when I was at high school! This video shows a traditional music style called isa and its typical dance; the group doing the singing is called Los Sabandeños. It is originally from Tenerife and is probably the most succesful group ever in Canarian folk music.

I think that by now you should already be in the mood to celebrate, I certainly am. That was just a brief introduction to the interesting culture of the Canary Islands which I hope you've enjoyed.

Have a lovely day and for everyone in the Canary Islands, feliz día de Canarias!

Fotos: Wikipedia.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Because it is Memorial Day ...

Last Friday, I was catching up with my favourite reads in blogland and thanks to Kim of A Very Sweet Blog  I learnt that it is Memorial Day in the US today. I thought this would be a very appropriate day to share some photos I took during a recent visit to the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial. I truly believe that any war is futile and I think it is really important to remember the past and let it teach us useful lessons for the future.

Boyfriend and I had already spotted this memorial a couple of times from the bus and everytime time we passed by we said that it would be interesting to go there some day. Well, it finally happened a couple of weeks ago when he came over to visit me. The Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial is in Margraten, around 10Km away from Maastricht. It  is open daily and can be reached by car, by bus (Veolia line 50) or by bike. The entrance to the memorial is lined by marble walls with the names of the 8031 military dead buried in the cemetery carved on them. In the middle, a rectangular pool reflects the statue of a mourning woman and there is a small chapel behind it. The chapel was very delicate with tall doors ornated with tree leaves and a big chandelier hanging from the ceiling shaped as a crown. The fields are dotted with lines of headstons and surrounded by blooming trees. It is actually a beautiful sight, if a very sad one.

May is also a month to honour those who lost their lives during WWII in the Netherlands. 4th May is the Remembrance Day (Herdenkingsdag) and 5th May is the Liberation Day (Bevrijdingsdag). On 4th May there is an official ceremony in Amsterdam attended by members of the government and the royal family and at 8pm two minutes of silence are observed in the whole country and public transport stops as well. During those days many monuments are covered with flowers and flags.

There are hundreds of films about WWII, telling all kind of stories related to this devasting war from every possible point of view. But speaking of the Netherlands and Liberation day there is a recent good Dutch film related to that period by Dutch film director Paul Verhoeven. Black Book (Zwartboek) tells the story of a jewish woman, Rachel, helping the resistence and falling in love with a German commander. Eventually, the resistence is betrayed and Rachel will have to find a way to survive among fake friends and not so bad enemies. Black Book has been chosen as the best Dutch film ever and it features Carice van Houten, the Netherlands' very own sweetheart who seems to star in every Dutch film. She's really everywhere and now she's also part of the cast of Game of Thrones, where she plays the mysterious priestess of the Lord of Light. I like Carice, but that Melisandre character really gives me the creeps!

To all of you in the States, I hope that you had a nice holiday weekend.
Have a lovely day, everyone!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Icons of Tenerife (+ part 3): El Teide

This post comes a bit by popular request, as I really thought that the series of Tenerife's icons was complete with the posts about the auditorium of Santa Cruz and the Loro Parque. But my brother was taking a look at my blog recently and messaged me asking why I would ever write a series called Icons of Tenerife and not include Tenerife's most iconic site in it. The answer was clear to me. 'Because I have already written about it, twice!', I replied. 'But that's not reason enough', he said, 'you simply cannot skip Tenerife's best known site, the one and only place that everyone who holidays in Tenerife ought to visit'. He really made a point! So, after such a meaningful (and at the same time meaningless) exhange of messages, here it is, the third post about Tenerife's icons dedicated to the impressive and huge Teide volcano. Because I had already written about it here and here, this time I will focus on giving you some practical information to plan a wonderful trip to the top of the world. Or at least, to the top of Spain.

Spring is probably the best time to visit El Teide and the surrounding National Park of Las Cañadas del Teide. It isn't freezingly cold anymore but it is not boiling hot yet. Snow - if there was some at all during the previous winter - is very likely to have melted away and the cables of the cable car will not be frozen anymore, which means that you can actually take a ride on the cable car to the summit and once you're up you can walk the last 200m till the very top. But beware, this is no easy hike, as you're already at an altitude of 3500m above sea level. However, it'll be more than worth it as you'll feel at the top of the world and enjoy a breathtaking view of the whole island laying on the Atlantic Ocean. If there are no clouds on the sky and the day is not misty you will probably be able to catch a glimpse of the other six main islands of the Canaries. 

How do you do that?

  • First of all, you'll have to plan your trip. Do you want to hike all the way up or take the cable car and just walk the last steps? Do you want to enjoy a glorious sunrise or are indifferent about the time? It is important to decide those things first because you'll have to pack the right gear (sunscreen and windbreaker are essentials), to ask for a permit for the desired day and time and decide whether to spend a night there or simply do a daytrip.
  • The next thing to do is to ask for a permit. National Parks usually put a great effort to contribute to the conservation of some of the unique natural features of planet Earth and therefore, the number of visitors per day allowed to the Teide's peak is limited. Entry to the park is unrestricted but you will need to ask for a permit if you're planning to go till the very end, the top of the volcano. Permits are free and you can ask for a permit online (or do it personally in the National Park's office). If you book well ahead, you should have no problem to get the desired date and time slot. If not, you know you should be earlier next time!
  • Assuming that you've already decided the way you want this little adventure to happen, now it's time to nail the details. Most time slots are early in the morning, so you can hire a car and get up early enough not to miss the first rides on the cable car. You can also go by public transport. There are two bus lines that drive to the National Park from Puerto de la Cruz or Costa Adeje. However, this is a more limited option, as there is usually just one bus up and down per day. You can check the schedules here.
  • Or you can spend a night at the Altavista Refuge. Bonus points of this latter option is that the permit to visit the Teide peak are already included and you will probably be able to enjoy some wonderful star-gazing during the night. 
  • Another accommodation option is the Parador del Teide, which is at the base of the cable car. Paradores Nacionales are a state-run chain of hotels which usually take over historic buildings and turn them into charming and cosy hotels. This is of course a pricier option but you can enjoy a swimming-pool and good restaurant services.
  • Now you're ready to part, so all that's left to do is to catch a deep breath and fill your lungs with fresh air and oxygen to endure the climb to the top. Enjoy!

Another good reason to visit the National Park of Las Cañadas del Teide in spring is to discover the unique flora in its full glory. Endemic species such as the tajinastes or the Teide violet bloom during late spring and their colourful flowers make the landscape even more special. Tajinastes, also known as Canary Islands wallflowers, are a very rare plant which blooms in May and spend the rest of the year leafless. You can see some blooming tajinastes in these photos - taken by my parents, who were there a week ago!

I hope that you enjoy this post. Writing it has made me slightly homesick and has also fuelled my wanderlust, as I haven't been to the Teide peak and it's high on my list.
Have a wonderful weekend!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A day in Hasselt

Yesterday the weather forecast didn't predict any rain for the first time in ten days, so Boyfriend and I decided to do a small roadtrip to celebrate the lack of rain. We drove across the border to Belgium and spent some time in Hasselt, the capital of the Belgian province of Limburg. The Belgian Limburg is located in Flanders, right at the border with the Dutch Limburg and it is home to some of the oldest cities in Belgium, including Tongeren, which claims to be the oldest. Hasselt is a quite a small and quiet city with nice streets and surrounded by lush parks, but somehow lacking a bit of soul or personality. We arrived around midday and were surprised that most centric streets were empty. It was Saturday afternoon and no one seem to bother to do some shopping, but after a closer look we realised that many shops close at midday for a lunch break and most people were probably enjoying some snack and some beer at the Grote Markt, which we found later to be crowded. Surprisingly for its small size, Hasselt has many high-end shops, such as Liu-Jo, Hugo Boss, or Uterqüe, which I had never seen outside Spain!. On the affordable side of shopping, many high street retailers were also present, even more than in Maastricht, so Hasselt appeared to be an interesting and close shopping alternative.

After enjoying some frites - it is a universal truth that no one does french fries like the Belgians do - we headed to the reason that had brought us to Hasselt, the Japanese Garden. Hasselt partnered with the Japanese city of Itami and in 1985 Itami contributed to spread the Japanese culture in Belgium by contributing to create and maintain a Japanese garden in Hasselt. The site is rather small but full of peace. Streams and cherry trees adorn all the paths and there are a couple of traditional tea houses and small temples. The small waterfall is the center point and it makes a lovely background for pictures. I did some posing and I couldn't help it but feeling that I was starring in a posh version os Takeshi's Castle when jumping from rock to rock, fearing that I would slip at any moment and fall into the dirty water. Dirty water and ill-maintained trees were probably the only minus points of the garden. The entrance fee is only 5€ which is quite ok, but it is a pity that the garden is not kept in tip-top condition.

Today, I would also like to thank Arni of Travel Gourmande for having me included in her post about five of her favourite bloggers. I felt truly honoured because I really enjoy her blog and never fail to feel inspired by her words and idyllic photos. She writes very interesting posts about her expat life in Dubai and her trips back to her roots in the Philippines. Once again, THANK YOU!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Three different countries at the Drielandenpunt

If there's something better than being in two countries at the same time, it must be being in three countries at the same time. Isn't it amazing to be able to say that you have been to three different countries not only in the same day but at the same moment? Last week I went for a small hike nearby the Drilandenpunt, which is the point where the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany meet. It also happens to be the highest point in the Netherlands, as you can see in the photos, at a mere 327.5 m - indeed, the Netherlands is a really flat country! The borderpoint is around 30 Km away from Maastricht and within walking distance of Vaals (The Netherlands) and Aachen (Germany). It is a beautifully green area surrounded by hilly forests and right where the three countries come together there's a tower from which you can take a look at the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, which do not look so different from up above. Besides, there are a couple of bars, a play area for children and a laberynth. And of course, there are great posibilities for outdoors lovers, as you can hike as much as you want around, with routes taking you to Germany, Belgium or the Netherlands. 

I enjoyed the view from above and then took a walk around for an hour before heading to Eupen by car. These are some photos from the day I was in three different countries at the same time!

And just like I was in three different countries in just one day, I currently find myself in two blogging lands at the same time. I think I already wrote once that I was feeling slightly inclined to give wordpress a try and see if it was as great as people tell. Well, I think the time has finally come to make such a drastic move. I have been using Blogger for six years now for different blogging ventures and I have to say that I really like it. It is easy, it is intuitive and allows you a great share of customization for free, which is perfect when you're blogging professionally. However, Google's latest decisions seem to hint that they are trying to finally make its social network work by binding Blogger users to it as much as possible and that's something I'm not happy with. First they ended Google Reader and apparently GFC as well, now they're encouraging comments via G+ and of course, you're constantly suggested to link your blog to your G+ profile to increase your site traffic. And here's the thing: I like blogging and I think it's great that Facebook was invented as it makes it easier to keep in touch with friends and family who are far away and you don't see that often, but I think that those two things necessarily belong together. I understand that Google has fierce battle going on to try and prove that its network can have as many active users as Facebook but I'm not willing to take part in it. I feel really sad about parting ways with Blogger and after having put so much love and effort on this blog of mine. I have no clue about how I'll make this transition but just in case, I just got a wordpress account and you can find me there at Luckily for me, no one had taken that blog name before! I will keep on posting here until I'm 100% sure that I want to move. And of course, I will keep on reading all the blogs I've grown to love, as apparently it is possible to import my Google reading list to wordpress.

Has any of you tried wordpress before? Which one do you prefer? How are you coping with all these subtle changes steering Blogger to entwine with G+?

Thursday, May 9, 2013


May seems to be a great month in the Netherlands. Last week we had holidays on Monday and Tuesday (well, technically that was still April), this week, today and tomorrow are also holidays and in a week, Monday will be a bank holiday again. Wonderful! So many free days together to finally enjoy the nice spring weather and catch some sun rays. So, today I went for a small road trip around the region starting at the Drielandenpunt, the place where the Dutch, German and Belgian borders meet, then making it to Aachen in Germany and ending in Eupen, in Belgium, before coming back to Maastricht.

I had never been to Eupen before - and now I know that I hadn't missed that much - but still it was good to visit a new part of Belgium, a country where I lived for a year and which I have fond memories of. Many people, including me before living there, don't know that Belgium is divided in four different liguistic regions: Flanders, where people speak Dutch (though they like to call it Flemish); Wallonia, where people speak French; bilingual Brussels, where both Dutch and French are spoken; and the Eastern Cantons, where the official language is German. Eupen is the capital of the German-speaking community of Belgium, so now I can say that I've been to all linguistic regions in Belgium. Yey!

Eupen is a very small  and relaxed city with some lovely streets full of terraces to sit down and enjoy a cold drink on warm days like today. There are a couple of distinctive churchs as well, like the St. Nicholas Church in the photo. I have to say that it felt really weird to hear people speaking German knowing that I was in Belgium, as if these two things didn't go together. It was strange to read all signs in German with a French translation below.  However, the town was quite beautiful, with a somehow German soul, present on the classical façades, more German-a-like than Flemish, and the bakeries selling delicious handmade pastries. So, even if there was actually not much to see around, it is always nice to see something different once in a while and now being able to see that I've seen another side of Belgium which was totally new to me!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A first encounter with Basel

I think it's about time to dedicate some time and lines in this blog to Basel, a beautiful city in Switzerland where I lived for half a year, where I spent my last holiday break a couple of weeks ago and which will be my next home. It is official, I'm moving to Basel! I'm just not sure yet whether this will happen in August this year or later in 2014. Anyways, it seems that I'll be living there at least for two years and a half, probably for five or so and maybe even a lifetime, who knows?! With that in mind, I think it's a good idea to formally introduce you to Basel, a gorgeous city by the Rhine right at the border with Germany and France. As I will probably have a lot more to tell about Basel in the upcoming year(s) I will keep it short and sweet for this first encounter with the city.

Basel is Switzerland's third city in terms of population and it lies in the north of Switzerland but despite its northern location it is really hot during the summer - it can be up to 40ºC. The Rhine divides the city in two parts, Gross Basel and Klein Basel (Big and Little Basel). The city center, located mostly in Gross Basel is rellay charming made of many cobbled streets and alleys dotted with small shops and also the typical high street retailers in the Freiestrasse. My favourite building is the Town Hall, a distinguished red building from the 16th century; you can step inside the inner yards which are decorated by colourful frescoes. The Town Hall is just opposite the Markt Platz, probably the very centre point of the city. Another impressive building is the Münster or Cathedral, which is also in the city centre. It is made of reddish bricks and after many years of maintenance works it is now almost done and photo-ready. I entered inside in my last visit to Basel and I can say that it is a beautiful interior, if a bit too sober for my catholic taste. The philosopher Eramus of Rotterdam is buried inside. Besides these classic gems, Basel also houses many edgy modern buildings, after all it is home to Herzog & de Meuron (in my list of my favourite architects). They have recently designed the new and controversial Congress Centre (Messe Basel). I went to see the building during my last time in Basel and I found it really beautiful, but I agree that there was no need to place it right in the middle of the city where there used to be a lovely open-air square. Other interesting buildings include the Beyeler Foundation by Renzo Piano or the Jean Tinguely Museum by Mario Botta.

MY TOP THINGS TO DO IN BASEL: after this brief walk around the city I would like to give you some hints of what to do there. Basel is an interesting city, renowned for its high museum density and it makes a perfect daytrip for the summer, as the weather is, alsmot always, hot enough to wear just dresses and sandals!

  • Love the Rhine: it is really beautiful and you can sit on the banks to read some book or have a small picnic. There are also really terraces along which get really crowded during the summer and serve a very nice homemade ice-tea. The locals also swim in the Rhine - I have never done it - and it looks like a great option when it's 40ºC on the shade.
  • Visit a museum: I can really recommend the Arts Museum (Kunstmuseum). It has a very fine collection, including some interesting Picassos and a free ice-rink in winter! I also enjoyed a lot the Natural History Museum and the Dollhouse Museum (Puppenhausmuseum). Four floors full of antique doll houses and teddy bears, lovely! It really spoilt the inner child in me.
  • Enjoy some food: I really have to control myself because everytime I go to Switzerland I put on some extra pounds. Everything is delicious, can't help myself! I specially love piadinas, an Italy-borrowed speciality which consists of a crepe-a-like filled with ham, cheese or vegetables. Plus, this is the cheapest thing you might get in Switzerland and it's already 8 CHF. 
  • Lose yourself in the nature: you can make some animal friends at the zoo, which is one of the oldest in Europe but you can also go to the Lange Erlen Tierpark, which is free and you will also find many beautiful animals in a more beautiful surrounding, especially when it snows. And of course, go further to the real nature. Switzerland is not so big and it has really breathtaking landscapes almost at every turn of the road.

Well, this is all for now. I hope that you enjoy this first approximation to Basel as much as I did enjoy my first visit alsmot three years ago. Writing this post has brought too many good memories to me and I'm happy to share a piece of it with you.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May 2013: An Unexpected Journey

Last month I started doing something long overdue: to read The Hobbit. One of my best friends was, and still is, a great fan of Tolkien. When we were at high schoool she could go on for hours talking about the Middle Earth and the Shire, the difference between orks and goblins or explaining the importance of the rings. In her finest moments she even compared me to an elf princess and eventually convinced me to borrow her some Tolkien books and discover his fascinating universe by myself. However, I didn't get far and never made it past the first chapter of The Hobbit. I found it tedious and after a couple of months trying and less than thirty pages read I returned the books to her. A few years later Peter Jackson filled the Tolkien imaginarium with detailed palaces and costumes, the scenic landscapes of New Zealand and, oh, Aragorn! I was reluctant at first, but in the end, an interest for all things Tolkien grew in me. I have watched the Lord of Rings trilogy a handful of times and I promised this dear friend that I would read the books. And so I am doing. Well, I'm currently busy with The Hobbit, but everything will come. And surprisingly, I am enjoying it! Probably, knowing the story helps but I also think that the original version in English is more precious than the Spanish translation and that makes the reading more pleasurable. I even delight myself with the songs and poems!

I bet that most of you are familiar with the story by now, the unexpected journey of Bilbo Baggins along thirteen dwarves and a wizard to fight a dragon in order to regain a long time lost castle and treasure. And even though we don't share our world with hobbits, wizards, dwarves and elves, life is still pretty much an unexpected journey for most of us. And that's part of its beauty.

My 365 photo journey follows its course and I just reached 33%. Can't believe I've been taking a photo a day for 33% of the days of the year, I'm more than satisfied. This is my favourite from April, spring blooming beautifully in Maastricht.You can check the whole month here.

Do you also enjoy Tolkien's stories? And Peter Jackson's film adaptations?
Enjoy the unexpected and have a lovely May!
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