Thursday, 31 December 2015

'Spanish elegance'. El Sardinero, Santander

A city undoubtedly known above all for its famous and widespread bank, Santander is in fact a rather untouched corner of a country beloved by all manner of traveller. Overshadowed by surrounding mountains, overwhelmed by the Atlantic out beyond – one particular zone of Santander is well worth the visit. Held as ‘uno de las zonas mas elegantes en todo de España’ or ‘one of the most elegant zones in all of Spain’ – El Sardinero calls year round.

What is Sardinero?

Sardinero itself, is a popular beach zone stretching from the Magdalena Peninsula to Mataleñas. About a quarter of the way along, ‘los jardines de Piquio’ divide the wide promenade running its entire length. The waterfront is lined with hotels, restaurants and a casino. Beaches of golden sand lye smoothly as the moderately sized waves descend upon them - many a local fisherman casts in hope from the shorelines. From dog walkers to surfers, the zone attracts all manner of individual. The beaches altogether are about 1,300 meters long, with the water being around 80 meters deep. Rather packed in summer, El Sardinero could make the perfect getaway in Spring as its proximity with Santander city centre would provide the substitution for a Summer beach holiday.

A Spanish friend of mine, a citizen of Santander himself – told me of the change from Winter to Summer. Jesús described how ‘en el veraño mucha gente de el interior donde no hay playas – vienen aqui’. Spaniards from the interior regions of northern/central Spain come up to Santander specifically looking to vacation at the Sardinero. This is a place popular amongst Spaniards meaning it should appeal to those who’ve little or no interest in a ‘full British onslaught – Costa del Sol style holiday’. Therefore, that preserved feel of a real Spain accompanied by the beauty of golden sanded beaches overlooking towering mountains in the distance is surely desirable – as many think.

Interesting notes

Wildlife is all over the area, Seagulls, Terns and seabirds in general are the most noticeable. The ‘bahia de Santander’ is of course filled with all kinds of fish – sea bass being a common sight. The mountains in the distance are home to many a fascinating creature from the endangered Bears to more plentiful yet shy and secretive wolves and wild boar. They (the mountains) make an extremely stimulating sight from El Sardinero’s waterfront especially if one has a knowledge of the history and wonderful wildlife of las sierras. It was far up into these remote parts of Cantabria for instance, in which anti-Franco guerrilla fighters conspired against the infamous general for many decades. All this to be taken in, whilst strolling comfortably along the beach promenade.

Where to stay and what to taste

The hotels can vary in prices and indeed style. The best in the city are located within the Sardinero naturally, as tourist attractions from El Palacio de la Magdelena to the football stadium of Racing Santander F.C - border the zone. The former is an English influenced grand palace built by public subscription as a gift to the Spanish royal family in 1909. El Hotel Real sits nearby, dating back to 1917, its privileged location overlooks the bay. Most hotels like the ‘Real’ are four/five stars and not exactly economical… However there are many hostels and hotels of decent prices – yet located slightly further into the city or its centre. I stayed at the ‘Hostal Del Carmen’ on Calle de San Fernando for €30 a night - a private room with on suite bathroom, wifi and television. Excellent.

The Casino, completed in 1916, is one of the great symbols of the city. Located in central Sardinero, it’s a perfect rendezvous point and most attractive for an evening stroll after dinner - per say. The restaurants are well-priced with many local dishes on offer. Sea food plays a large part in Santander’s’ cuisine with ‘Rabas’ or fried Calamari and sea food Paella being two such popular choices. The gastronomic tour of the city features and recommends El Sardinero.

Going there

The city centre can be reached with ease, Santander buses are constantly available day and night. Walking along the promenade and into the city is perhaps the nicest way to go. Santander has become an ethnically-diverse city [with a noticeably heavy Latin American presence] and is therefore most intriguing on walking its streets. The weather in Winter in this part of Spain is noted for its rainfall and cold blights. With the turn of the year coming, planning in advance for a Spring break here is what I myself, would personally recommend. A Ryanair flight could go from Stansted for as little as £7.99 return! This is what it cost me on a Christmas flight. It is hard to come by direct flights however, most travellers fly into either Bilbao or Madrid and then take the Spanish ‘Renfe’ trains – or even a connecting flight across to Santander. Iberia and British Airways are the leaders here. If you are hoping for direct routes from the UK to Santander – look sooner than later.

A royal palace, casino, golden beaches and the fine promenade with gardens - are to name a few, some of the highlights that make Sardinero an ‘elegant’ destination. In the words of a local I spoke with - ‘todo es muy guapo aqui’ or ‘all is very handsome here’.


Monday, 16 November 2015

Pensando de mi amigo...

Over a year has past since a dear friend of mine passed away quite unexpectedly. He was the liveliest, overtly energetic and passionate young man of his community - it could be said. I recall his warming hospitality, the way in which (as is the custom of his culture) he offered me his house up in the hills of western Honduras. He lived there with his elderly, withered mother - serving as the sole provider of a struggling family. He was a good person; my friend shared with me his secrets, we enjoyed some great laughs and found that the pair of us were likeminded thinkers. Our conversations took us many places. It makes me grin as I remember how we both turned the main room of the British volunteer house into a squash court! He would look into you with his wide eyes before descending into an uncontrollable onslaught of laughter. He'd chuckle 'Ben, tu eres loco maciso!' I also recall him showing me a treasured possession in his bedroom one night - an actual Mayan sculpture (of a God I believe) taken apparently by his uncle at the Cópan ruinas.
I think of you still Kelvin, it hit me hard when I heard that you'd gone only two weeks or so upon my return from Honduras. I just cannot understand why you had to leave us all, I hope you're at peace mano.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Sevilla. Photos de mi diá alli entre amigos Andaluses

This time last week, I was visiting the grand city of Sevilla. I now find myself a week later in rural southeast England - the two being quite incomparable.
Some Andalusian friends had been wanting to take me to visit this city. One in particular studied at the university there and felt very strongly that if I had not seen Sevilla before my departure - I had not seen Andalusia. We subsequently travelled by car from Montilla to Sevilla, this being a good two hours journey. 
Upon arriving on the outskirts of the city, after driving through seemingless never-ending olive groves and vineyards set within the rolling hills, you encounter some noteworthy factories. From one  of military aircraft to even those of Coca Cola and Pepsi. A short while on and you enter Sevilla whereupon the traffic is quite intense, giving an inclination as to its large population of citizens.
As with Cordoba, this city fills one with intrigue and fascination upon entering and walking the streets. The most wonderful of all, being sites such as the stunning and world famous historical monuments 'La Giralda' and my particular favourite 'La Plaza de España'. I always look up into these amazing spectacles of architecture [remembering my visit to 'La Sagrada Familia' in Barcelona for instance] and simply wonder how on earth did they achieve this? The detail and intricate works of these vast, grand buildings are surely beyond human imagination - so I contemplate.
Sevilla though, is a city that I cannot truly write an account of as I have most certainly not seen enough. Apart from the centre and those two spectacular places mentioned before, I also took a walk around the football stadium of Real Betis - one such team of Sevilla. I have a strong desire to revisit this city and like Barcelona I would eagerly take any opportunity to live there for an indefinite spell. For now however, it's back to rural Sussex.

Ben Anson
Reminiscing from the UK, 30th September 2015

Monday, 28 September 2015


Many tales were told of Córdoba when I found myself in the north before departure down south. This was said to be a city of great historical significance, a once powerful stronghold of the mighty Arabic empire stretching into Europe via southern Spain. 'Al-Andalus' being the name Moor invaders gave to the region which then in turn became known as 'Andalusia' upon Christian regain after 'la reconquista'. The latter was a great military campaign led by Christian fighters from the north during the early Middle Ages. Córdoba was one such reconquered city rich in Arabic or rather Islamic culture. To this day it is a popular destination point for Islamic tourists who come to see sights such as the truly inspiring 'Meskita'.
'Las Córdovesas' or the women of Córdoba are said to be the most beautiful in all of Spain. Very true. Well, I haven't seen enough of España at all, yet it would indeed be a challenge to find another part of the country with such a remarkable concentration of overtly attractive females in one place. I was also warned of the notoriously fierce heat of Córdoba during the summer, the time in which I would arrive. Some told me of cats dying in the street due to heat stroke. For me however, I love months of end of searing heat and never ending sunlight. There is no better weather than that of which exists in Córdoba or rather all of Andalusia in fact.
The city itself, took me immediately. It is a fascinating place, with such beauty in its architecture and streets that Córdoba cannot be compared to anywhere else apart from its neighbouring metropolises such as Sevilla or perhaps Granada - the latter I was very unlucky not to visit. What I mean is, they are unique - these 'Cuidades'. It was for example 'La Júderia' or 'Jewish quarter' of Córdoba that I found the most enchanting. With its narrow, winding alleys that lead towards the grand Mosque of which is 'La Meskita'. The site is famous though for being converted by the Christians into a cathedral. Even today Muslim visitors may not pray inside the confines of the mighty Meskita. The streets are filled here with tourists hailing from all over, many intriguing little shops are interwoven throughout the small, traditionally cobbled alleyways. Hanging plants are everywhere, with statues here and there of Arabic philosophers, Christian soldiers and historical persons important to the city in general. The restaurants and bars functioning more or less solely for the tourists are of the finest sort, clean and well attained with delicious menus specialising always in Andalus cuisine. Córdoba is certainly a favourite city of mine - no doubt.
A Roman bridge or 'Puente Romano' lies behind the Meskita thus connecting the two sides of the city over the Guadalquivir river, a vast flowing rio that stretches if I am correct from outside of Córdoba over to outside of Sevilla. If you head away from the Jewish quarter you are most likely to come across the centre of the city. There is a large square, in typical Hispanic fashion. Here stands a statue of 'El Gran Capitan' or 'the great captain'. A famous and celebrated general who achieved his military fame during the 14th century; he was in fact from Montilla where I was living. The Spanish army still uses some of his battle tactics and formations! A master in guerrilla warfare, the great captain became well known for his daring ambushes against the Moors. Back in Montilla, there is a statue of him in the town park as well. Many a good eating or drinking point can be found though at Córdoba near the centre. Very cheap too, some of the places there.
The only sore point or obvious bad element that I found with Córdoba are its non native Romani Gypsy population. Of course needless to say not all the Gypsy people's to be encountered there are of a bad sort. However, in my opinion and indeed that of the Andalusians from this part of the province - they are to be evaded at all times. If those that loiter the streets can scam one out of money it will be done. As simple as that. Watch out for the women with leaves, they thrust the small plants into  passing tourists' hands so as to read their futures via the palm. If that leaf enters your hand they will in groups of five or six demand payment for their services! It is truly unimaginable the nerve some of them have. A coach service takes these Gypsies directly from Romania to Córdoba - I can't imagine why, this makes it all the more straightforward for them to migrate. Sadly though they don't come with the best intentions. Not all, but many it would appear. After all, there are no words for a mother who uses her dead baby's corpse for days on end after it has died to continue her begging. These stories have been reported in Córdoba. Some Romani women sit out in the street with their motionless, malnourished and heat fatigued children so as to appeal to people's hearts, demanding that passers by give money for 'food and water'. Yet those children have been discovered dead before, with the mothers knowing full well what they were doing.
Córdoba is a destination that should definitely be visited for those with a passion for travelling within Spain, the Iberian Peninsula or even the Mediterranean as a whole. With excellent transport links, it is easily accessible. For instance, the train station is located opposite the bus station. From the former one can connect with all other cities in Spain from Madrid to Bilbao. The buses take you throughout the Córdoba region to all towns and villages. I have barely touched on this Andalusian city, as mentioned a favourite of mine - worldwide even. In fact, I might recommend this southern gem more so than I would Barcelona per say, as it has that smaller, less discovered feeling. Especially so when sat in a 'tranquilo' tapas bar within some hidden back street accompanied by the locals speaking in their thick and fast 'Andalus'. This being considered something quite separate to Spanish!

Ben Anson,
Reminiscing from the UK, September 2015.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Andalusia, a Summer spent, now approaching Autumn

My time in the south, two months in

It has been a long, eventful two months whilst living here in Andalusia since June if I recall correctly. I may have arrived in July but I don’t remember. Oh well, time is not of particular importance within this part of Spain anyway, one of the few things about the Andalusians that I have come to rather dislike. If they tell you to meet at such and such a time, for instance 8.00pm at night, it would be a wise move to arrive at 8.45pm whereupon you will be ‘pleasantly surprised’ upon releasing that you’re still in fact the first person on the scene. No doubt, it will be 9.00pm when the person or persons show. Yet the Andalusian comes with a hearty salute, a hug, two kisses and the classic ‘que pasa tio!’ or ‘como va quillo!’ In the UK, if one arrived an hour late [for British readers] you could imagine the long drawn out apologies and list of reasons as to why you have wasted the other persons time, pissed away frankly an hour of their existence because you arrogantly assume that they have nothing better to do than wait for you – perhaps their plans are less important than your own. This I’m afraid is the mentality of people from Andalusia it appears. They simply do not use or rather do not understand the concept of time. 

However, Andalusia is a place that has grown on me substantially, cities such as Cordoba being amongst my favourites. Great weather [for myself personally – I love months on end of searing heat], an intriguing culture, fascinating history, good food, beautiful women and a healthy abundance of fiestas! I agree with a man from Seville whom I once met when back in Cadaques, he told me that the south is an ‘otro mundo’ or ‘a different world’ to Catalonia. The lifestyle is extremely laid back, in Montilla, the large town in which I live, shops and businesses close from 2.00 – 6.00pm more or less. The people of this town live in the bars and restaurants, passing away the evenings and well into the mornings sat amongst their groups of friends lively conversing. It is a wonderful social atmosphere here, the favourite pastime of people being just sitting and talking for hours on end with their friends. In the one nightclub Montilla has to offer during the summer, everyone stands talking in friendship groups occasionally moving to the bar for another ‘cerveza o cubata’ or to go and talk with different friends stood in another part of the club. The women dress themselves up to the point of looking mercilessly attractive, yet no dancing takes place. Unlike Honduras, to make a comparison between two Latin cultures, where women throw themselves all over the men in a nightclub, grinding up on ‘muchachos’ to Reggaeton. This would be social suicide in Spain I think, for it is highly frowned upon. Forgive me, but being the warm blooded 19 year old that I am, combined with my lust for Latinas, I rather prefer the Honduran night scene... Although in all honesty, it is a lovely atmosphere when amongst the Andalusians, fully enjoying their parties always. Nobody gets outrageously drunk, no fights occur, if it’s a different world to Catalonia, then it’s another planet to the UK - a place whose people can’t sustain from getting disgustingly pissed and having fights.

I am making plans to visit more places here, I have made some nice friends which makes all the difference when living amongst another culture, all the more in an enclosed community setting that so exists in Montilla. It takes time I feel to get to know and to have others get to know you here, yet when you do, Andalusians make very good friends and can be extremely warm and open. My next few upcoming blogs will be about the cities I think, such as Cordoba, truly unique places that fascinate the individual, places that demand writing of.

Ben Anson, Montilla, September 2015 


Monday, 24 August 2015

Recalling Barcelona whilst living in the south


A brief account of Catalonia’s capital city

Without any doubt one of Europe’s most enchanting cities, I immediately took a liking to Barcelona as I hear all travellers do. There is much to see and do within, from the world famous art museums (Picasso’s for instance) to perhaps watching the city’s football team (which one could argue are the best club in the world at present) play at Camp Neu, the second largest football stadium worldwide. A great deal of famous people have made their name from this city, the artists for example such as Gaudi, who designed many of Barcelona’s buildings, most iconic of all being La Sagrada Familia. If I ever had the opportunity, let me just say now, I would definitely live in Barcelona, I can picture a nice flat in an old building, nestled within the intriguing little streets that contain art galleries, coffee shops, book stores – it is a very bohemian setting, which suits me entirely. 

I spent a lovely day in the city with a group of Catalans (including the best barber I’ve ever had – Enrique) whereupon they took me to see all the sights. To begin with, ‘La Sagrada Familia’ or ‘The Sacred Family’ cathedral was our first destination after arriving in the city via train from Figueres to Barcelona. I would describe the cathedral as a true ‘icon of the Hispanic world’. Its sheer enormity, awe and architectural brilliance make it so, thus enabling its comparison with places like Machu Pichu in Peru as sites of globally renowned splendor within the Spanish speaking world. This is the capital of Catalonia, yet Barcelona has a greater attachment it seems to the outer world, a portal connecting the millions of tourists, immigrants and native citizens by its allure, a city rich in culture, prosperity and good lifestyle.

I felt a strange yet warming inner feeling when inside La Sagrada Familia; it was as if I had entered the heart of ‘el mundo Latino’. Much renovation is being currently undertaken upon the cathedral, the outer towers are being expanded, yet the inside is truly humbling, one of the most impressive feats of architecture ever accomplished in the history of mankind. The Picasso museum we also visited, certainly a fascinating place, however for me it was more the location that appealed. Located within the central part of the city, this is where you will find all those intriguing little streets complete with the bohemian atmosphere, the mixed ethnicities of Catalans to Americans, Latinos to Asians, Africans to Spaniards, even Liverpudlians to Middle Easterners, all of whom hustle and bustle within, for their many different reasons. From the Peruvian immigrant working as a bar waiter to the outrageously appalling ‘shouldn’t be allowed to travel’ Brits abroad (the unsightly ginger bearded Englishman and his stag do mates drunk and dancing up on strangers in transvestite outfits were the only spoilers of the day) all pound the lovely cobbled streets of this wonderful part de la cuidad.

The Catalan flag hangs proudly from many terraces; balconies and rooftops yet interestingly alongside those too from Cuba, Mexico and Argentina I recall, showcasing the cities growing Latino presence. ‘La Rambla’ and the grand ‘Plaza de Catalunya’ (every Catalan town and city seems to have one of the latter though) are both combined with the grand cathedral, they’re places that symbolize Barcelona the same as Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly do for London. I thoroughly enjoyed La Rambla, a huge walking zone that stretches roughly from the statue of Christopher Columbus (identical in its image to Nelson’s column) to the Plaza de Catalunya. The carefully planted and well matured trees grant a peaceful shade over the Rambla, as one strolls pleasantly past the many stalls, street vendors, theatres and famous attractions situated all around. It is overrun of course with tourists, yet comes without the ‘violent’ rat race onslaught, which so ruins London to make my last comparison with the English capital. I must also mention that the vast majority of streets are clean, well looked after and efficiently attended too, making a visit to Barcelona all the more enjoyable, as filthy streets do few favours for people. It cannot be compared with other Mediterranean cities therefore such as Athens, my proud birthplace yet unfortunately not the healthiest of metropolises. 

To make conclusion of my memorable occasions within Barcelona, I shall describe it as a place that begs for revisit upon revisit, as mentioned I would indeed not pass up the opportunity of residing there for an indefinite spell. However, as is the norm within this world of ours, the only factor determining all that is dear old money…which one painfully needs in Barcelona I'm afraid to say. Perhaps that is one of the few obvious negatives to the city alongside what could be a potentially difficult to fathom metro system for tourists, I found the underground rather complicated personally. I do hope for another trip to this splendid city, I have no idea when and at what time the next possibility may arise, yet Christopher Columbus beckons me from his tower top as I picture myself standing below gazing up in the direction of the Americas as the stone sculptured, long gone sailor points toward the city’s port, an historic point of departure…

Ben, Andalusia
July 14, 2015