Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category

Often it’s the little things that can seem the most different. Take the shot below. There are a number of things in it that speak of foreign lands and different cultures; the palm trees in the background, the wooden ‘home-made by Robinson Crusoe’ tables and stools, the similarly desert island-esque thatched straw roof. But most of all it’s the sign.

You might think that given the design of this terrace this occupied a prime location overlooking a dreamy beach. But if you fancy popping out for a quick dip from here, the beach is a three hour trek through a ravine. This is at Masca on Tenerife; quite a bit inland.

So by the time you’ve popped out for your swim and made your way back, you’ve worked up a serious thirst. What better to quench it than with some cactus lemonade?

The prickly plants are abundant in these parts and apart from adding a touch of sub-tropical exoticism to the landscape, you can eat their ‘pears’ and, as the sign says, make lemonade from them.

I tried it once – you’ve got to really – and it didn’t really have any distinctive flavours. It certainly wasn’t unpleasant. But these days I tend to be boringly conventional and go for the seductively icy friendship of a cerveza after a strenuous hike.

Sadly the bar no longer looks like this… but the cactus lemonade is still there.

I’m sure everywhere must have anticrisis products. Due to various circumstances, this week I had to buy anticrisis bread. This was mainly because it was the only decent looking bread in the nearest supermercado to where I live.

I’m pretty sure that the precio anticrisis is meant to make me feel all warm and fuzzy that the producer is so concerned about the effect of the economic crisis on the consumer that they have created this wallet friendly bread priced at only €1.09.

Nice idea, except for one thing; it’s half a loaf. It might be an anticrisis price but it’s also an anticrisis size. In fact, when I work it out it has cost me more than my normal full sized loaf.

Exactly whose precio anticrisis is it?

It looks like a squeeze bottle, it’s got a nozzle like one and it smells like washing up liquid but it sure as hell doesn’t act like one.

Even being throttled into a deformed shape such as this results in a piddling, good for nothing, little drip of washing liquid. You could argue that it’s environmentally friendly as it’s impossible to get a decent amount of liquid out of the damn bottle.

When we forgot to buy our favourite brand of coffee during the weekly shop we picked up this replacement from our nearest supermarket. I don’t really have to say anything else…

Here’s a question that had me reeling, aghast and plain amazed – Why would an English language magazine publish something that was a Spanish tradition?

December 28th is Dia de los Inocentes in Spain. It’s the equivalent of April Fool’s Day in Britain and the tradition is that the media publishes or broadcasts hoax stories.

One of the main Spanish TV channels had a whole night of screening pranks, one involved fooling a man into believing he was witnessing a murder.

For the last two years I’ve published a hoax story on Tenerife Magazine to commemorate the date…and for the past two years it’s caused a bit of a stir amongst some people who aren’t aware of the tradition (even though this time the piece was clearly tagged with Dia de los Inocentes).

A few savvy people clocked it was a Dia de los Inocentes story right away, leaving comments on Facebook, Twitter and on the article itself. And most others, once wise to Dia de los Inocentes, got the joke. But the comment about why would an English language magazine print a Dia de los Inocentes story that had me reeling wasn’t left on any of the magazine’s social media channels, it was left by an ex-pat resident on an English language forum.

I’m not a judgemental sort of person (what bollocks – I’m terribly judgemental) so if someone living on Tenerife doesn’t know about or isn’t interested in the island’s traditions then that’s up to them. Live and let live and all that jazz. But if someone living on Tenerife who doesn’t know about the traditions has the audacity to criticise me for following one then that’s a very different story.

The question was so utterly ridiculous that I’d have thought it was a hoax itself, except I knew it wasn’t.

Why would an English language magazine write about a Spanish tradition?

Why would we write about carnaval…or the flower carpets at Corpus Christi…or the goat bathing at midsummer? And why do we write about eating cabra and conejo? Because I don’t see the difference between any of those and observing Dia de los Inocentes.

Why would an English language magazine write about a Spanish tradition?

Why? Why? Because we happen to live in Tenerife, Spain and not Weston-super-Mare that’s why.

We are always, always late putting up our Christmas decorations. This year was no different except that this year we toddled off to Portugal shortly after Christmas Day to return on the night when the decs were due to come down again. So we didn’t really have a lot of time to enjoy them.

Instead of leaving them up in the house for 12 months and risking bad luck, I thought I’d post some pics on here, so I can enjoy the house dressed for Christmas for just a little bit longer.

Instead of a Christmas Tree we have a Sprayed Branch, Lights and Old CDs.

Our Only Tree.

By the Light of the Stars.

Bucks Fizz on Christmas Morn.

The Door Handle that Requires a Strong Wrist.

Symbols of Good Luck.

Stars and Discs.

On the Outside Looking In.

It seems mighty bizarre to book into a hotel we can see from our bedroom window. But this week we checked into the Hotel Las Águilas, a hotel you really can’t miss in Puerto de la Cruz as it sits atop one of two volcanic cones left in the La Orotava Valley.

A week’s half board at the hotel is the latest prize in our Tenerife Magazine holiday competition and if we’re going to recommend a hotel then we stay in it first so we can give first hand experience of what it’s like. This first hand experience is important to us…no that’s wrong, it’s essential.

Andy and I have long felt that the Achilles heel in Puerto relating to tourism is the hotels in the town, many of whom are in need of being dragged into the 21st century. Historic is quaint and you might even get away with old fashioned charm, but many of Puerto’s hotels don’t tick these boxes. They’re simply dated. I recently read a sharp piece of copywriting which cleverly described a hotel’s décor as being authentic 1960s. Well some of Puerto’s hotels have authentic 1980s décor.

Not so the Hotel Las Aguilas. It bucks the trend by revealing an individualistic style that mixes pop art and ethnic designs with what is simply an aesthetically pleasing style. It’s vibrant and a breath of fresh air and showed us that not all of Puerto’s hotels are doing the timewarp again.

The other myth the Hotel Las Águilas helps dispel is the one that I’d almost come to believe myself. In winter only ‘mature’ Northern Europeans holiday in Puerto de la Cruz.

The other guests in the hotel ranged from couples in their 20s upwards, with the average age being around 40-ish. Not exactly fitting the picture that is often painted. Of course, with each passing year ‘mature’ takes on a different meaning for me.

I was going to say that maybe the ‘mature’ tag might be related to British visitors as the majority of the hotel’s guests were not English speaking (mainly Spanish, German and Scandinavian). But as the bar I watched Man Utd see off Fulham (to the obvious chagrin of the Man Utd hating bar manager) was packed with Brits a lot younger than me, it seems as though that doesn’t apply there either.

In Puerto, and no doubt other places on Tenerife, if you go to bars that are popular with more mature visitors then guess what you’re going to find? On the other hand, if you go to different bars you find a totally different scene.

I hadn’t realised the same applied to hotels until the Hotel Las Águilas opened my eyes.

The obvious answer is that Spanish dubbing is so bad that ripping out your ear drums with a butcher’s hook is kinder to those weird protrusions on the side of your head than subjecting them to The King’s Speech sounding more like Once Upon a Time in Meheeeco.

But that’s not the main reason.

There used to be two mainstream cinema complexes on Tenerife where you could catch the latest-ish movies in their original language; at La Villa in La Orotava and at Gran Sur in Costa Adeje. Each screened one V.O. (version original) a week. Sometimes the movie was good, sometimes it was bobbins.

The one in La Orotava didn’t last long; there’s just not a big enough audience for English language movies in the north of Tenerife.

The south of Tenerife is a different matter. In some municipalities up to 75% of the population are non-Canarios. Not all of these are English speaking, but there’s a massive percentage who are.

And yet every time I’ve been to the Gran Sur Cinema to watch V.O. There has been less than 10 other people in the cinema with me. Doesn’t matter how good the movie is, even the likes of Inception and The Adventures of Tintin didn’t bring in the English speaking crowds.

I just don’t get it. Andy and I think nothing of the 90 minute journey from Puerto de la Cruz to Costa Adeje if the movie warrants it. DVDs are wonderful, but you can’t beat watching BIG movies on the big screen. So, as most ex-pat residents on Tenerife live significantly closer to the cinema, why aren’t audiences bigger? It’s a mystery to me.

The apparent lack of support for the V.O has had me worried that it might be pulled (I say apparent because for all I know, the place is teeming on the days I’m not there).

Sure enough, for the last two weeks the V.O. movie has been absent from Gran Sur. They say that it might be back, but if they don’t re-introduce it I’ll be gutted.

I’ve been a massive fan of the movies since leafing through my mum’s Photoplays when I was knee high to a popcorn seller. I love movies and I especially get a thrill out of seeing them at the cinema.

And because I feel this way about films, I won’t watch dubbed ones.

You might think that as I live in Spain, I should watch movies in Spanish. I do…but only Spanish movies. I also watch French, Chinese, Brazilian, Swedish movies etc…all in their original language (with English subtitles of course).

Movies aren’t just about the visuals – without the performance of the actor, the movie is nothing. And that’s why dubbing is irritating in the extreme.

Dubbing lessens a movie (well maybe not one with Van Damme, Steven Seagal or Chuck Norris). You can’t tell whether a film is good or bad when you’re listening to some wooden performance from a professional dubber. Where’s the richness of voice? Where’s the emotion? Where’s the intonation or the subtlety in the performance? With dubbing you lose all of that…and subsequently you also lose the soul of the movie.

How can people who watch dubbed movies know how good an actor Leo DiCaprio or Brad Pitt is? The answer is that they can’t.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold was on Spanish TV last week. I’d forgotten how delicious Richard Burton’s voice was. Imagine casting those rich vocals aside for some part-timer from Valencia with a voice that grates like nails down a board.

It would simply be a crime.

Puerto de la Cruz? Who the hell would want to take a holiday here? It’s cold all year – I have an igloo in my back garden; It never, ever stops raining – whereas folks in the south of Tenerife wear flip flops, I’ve got wellie boots. As for the people, what a weird language they speak and don’t get me started on the food; things with tentacles and all sorts of rubbish like that.

Honestly, trust me on this – I live there – stay away from Puerto de la Cruz.

After years of trying to convince people what it’s really like to live in or visit Puerto de la Cruz, I’ve decided to do a complete U-turn. There are a couple of reasons for this.

The first is more irritating than anything else. I can preach about Puerto de la Cruz until the cows come home, bed down for the night and start to dream of grassy meadows. But somebody visits the place on an excursion for 5 minutes and suddenly they know better – if they say it’s always cold, wet and cloudy, then it must be. What the hell do I know?

But the main reason is that, after witnessing an unusual situation involving pissed up young Brits making an ass of themselves a few weeks ago and then reading a couple of reviews on Tripadvisor this week, I really don’t want a certain type of Brit holidaymaker to believe that Puerto is warm and sunny all the year round – or for any part of the year. Simple as that.

Some people just aren’t suited to the north of Tenerife just as some people wouldn’t enjoy staying in the purpose built resorts in the south. The north is never going to ring their bells and these comments taken from a Tripadvisor review illustrate exactly why.

A seriously disappointed holidaymaker moaned about their hotel that –‘The staff at hotel were bad mannered,rude,hardly understood English language’ and even worse, the ‘entertainment that was on every night was Spanish and all the locals came in for a night out,nothing aimed at British people’.

Puerto itself fared little better as the reviewer continued their moan – ‘No British entertainment on in area either,just Spanish singers with Spanish locals sitting in all the seats’.

Their final piece of advice was ‘I would seriously urge anyone from the UK not to go to Puerto de la Cruz…as it will be the worst holiday you’l ever have.’

Absolutely…if the idea of being full of Spanish and having no Brit bars has you penning an ‘outraged’ letter to Puerto’s tourist board for not turning the place into Britain in the sun then please, please, please follow the reviewer’s advice.

It’s not just Puerto who has to suffer these Philistines. On the same day I read hotel reviews for La Gomera; an island ‘more discerning’ holidaymakers head for (or so some of them would like to have you believe) and came across a scathing review from a holidaymaker who, clearly having been seduced by a tour brochure description, had opted to stay in the hill town of Vallehermoso – which is a ‘real’ Gomeran town.

First they complained that their receptionist didn’t carry their bags (it’s a small rural hotel in the country, not a 4 star All Inclusive) then they bitched about breakfast (coming face to face with the continental variety was clearly a shock to the system). They commented that there were a few pubs but nothing special (PUBS? PUBS? Where did they think they were – the Lake District). But the most inconvenient aspect of the place was that families filled the local plaza at night, music was played and everyone had the nerve to have a noisy good time (obviously no-one had told them they would have to come into contact with any foreigners).

The best line of the review was their conclusion that ‘Vallehermoso is a total DUMP’ to be avoided at all costs.

Vallehermoso means beautiful valley in English – it is aptly named…but not if you’re a total moron. It has not, however, been built for tourists. It is the real deal. These plebs apparently couldn’t even find the hotel’s sun terrace they were that clueless.

Finally they were moved to the Hotel Tecina – ‘a lovely place’ where they decided that La Gomera was indeed beautiful…that would be the La Gomera found inside the biggest hotel complex on the island then.

So here’s a tip for everyone out there of similar mind to these two, Puerto de la Cruz and anywhere remotely Canario should definitely be avoided at all costs. You really won’t like it.

The very mention of ‘blog trip’ on Tenerife and eyes light up and hands are wrung (okay maybe not the hands, but on occasions it looks damn close) as if the phrase ‘hidden treasure’ just floated in on the breeze.

All sorts of people have shown interest in blog trips – some with Tenerife’s interests at heart, others, I suspect, with their own interests in pole position. It’s easy to understand why. An intelligently planned blog trip can generate positive publicity to a massive international audience. It represents the sort of priceless PR that you just couldn’t achieve using any other medium.

But every coin has two sides. A badly organised and executed blog trip can be as effective as a soggy match or worse, do as much harm as good.

Not so long ago Andy wrote a blog about why a successful officially organised blog trip to Tenerife was an unlikely concept. Three months down the line and there have been a few ‘blog trips’ to Tenerife. Some organised through official channels, others privately.

Was she right or did the organisers of Tenerife’s blog trips prove her wrong?

The Official Blog Trip #1
Not a full blown blog trip as it was very specialised and aimed at promoting the volcanic aspects of Tenerife. There wasn’t a lot of social media activity and interaction with anyone not involved with the actual trip was minimal. The worst aspects of the trip were related to some of the images that were generated. We’d just returned from the ultra successful Costa Brava blog trip where travel bloggers teased the world’s taste-buds with sexy photos from one of the best restaurants in the world, culinary creations from one of the best chefs on the planet and even pans filled with vibrantly coloured prawns in a fishermen’s hut. The quite unappetising images of Tenerife’s cuisine from this trip on the other hand must have given the impression that the islanders specialise in gruel plonked on a plate with as much care as I put food in the cat’s bowl (less…the cat has standards). If I was offered in prison what was on show, I’d cite the Geneva Convention.
Result: A terrible advert for Tenerife’s cuisine and very limited social media exposure – which was probably just as well.

The Official Blog Trip #2
Gary Arndt of the Everything Everywhere travel blog arrived on Tenerife recently. His visit was mentioned in the local press and by official channels on Twitter and Facebook. On the face of it, it could be viewed as evidence that Tenerife’s authorities were getting a handle on social media…except for one thing. I suspect that had they not been involved with Gary’s visit, Tenerife’s tourist board wouldn’t have had a clue that a well known travel blogger was visiting the island.
The reason for this assumption? At the time of Gary’s visit there were other travel bloggers on Tenerife who completely escaped the attention of Tenerife’s authorities despite their numerous tweets about the island. Worse, there was a very successful and highly respected travel writer on the island at exactly the same time who was completely ignored in social media channels by Tenerife’s tourism board.
Result: It spoke volumes about a total lack of awareness and understanding by Tenerife’s official bodies of social media and the travel writing & blogging world.

The Private Blog Trip #1
In the last 12 months various blog trip models have evolved. One of these is the travel company sponsored blog trip. A UK travel company employed what appeared to be a potentially inspirational approach – travel bloggers out there should cover their eyes at this point. They didn’t use a travel blogger, they used a family blogger. It’s a brilliant concept.
One of the criticisms levelled at some travel bloggers is that their audience isn’t necessarily the same as a mainstream travel company’s or a tourist board’s. But a family blogger’s audience is other families…and we all know that families take family holidays. This is a much more lucrative market than say backpackers.

But day one revealed a flaw in the concept. As a travel writer you become adept at researching places before you go, sussing out where all sorts of essential things are when you arrive. You view locations through many eyes, remembering that your audience has all sorts of varying tastes. You also make sure, where possible, you have the means to broadcast your experiences as you go along.
Day one revealed that the family blogger didn’t employ the same approach to travel, made a sweeping (and incorrect) generalisation based on limited experience and was unable to track down the most basic destination information. They were a good and well liked family blogger, but they didn’t possess the skills of a travel writer or travel blogger.
Result: Hardly any destination tweets during visit, so no real time feel of their experiences. And subsequent blogs were of limited use to other potential visitors as they focussed on too narrow a subject matter.

The Private Blog Trip #2
Sarah and Terry Lee of LiveShareTravel researched the location before they arrived and utilised local contacts with a thorough knowledge of the destination (i.e. us). They were totally prepared and had a strategy for what they wanted to do that would meet the needs of their market (businesses and visitors). Tweets, photos and blogs were posted regularly during their visit to generate interest and their posts were re-tweeted by other respected travel bloggers. They mixed mainstream with cultural, visited resorts, theme parks and places of historic interest and, as a result, promoted a highly attractive image of Tenerife using words, photos and video during and after their trip. Once again, interaction from official sources was absent during their visit to Tenerife.
Result: a successful blog trip that painted Tenerife as a very desirable destination for people with a variety of tastes.

During the same period there were various other travel bloggers and writers visiting Tenerife. In just about every case they were ignored by Tenerife’s official online representatives. Social media is a tool for two-way communication. Tenerife’s tourist authorities don’t seem to have grasped this and are still using it in a conventional and outdated manner as a means for sending information one-way (note: Costa Adeje are the exception to the rule on Tenerife and are actually using social media to interact with others). Cut & paste messages to Tenerife’s blogging community neither engages with them nor is evidence of interaction. Unless they change, any forays into the blog trip arena are doomed to failure.

Tenerife’s tourist board has plenty of tools and expertise at their disposal regarding social media and the online travel and tourism world. But until they begin to listen and learn, things will never progress.