La fiesta de los reyes

Did Father Christmas come your way the other week? I hope so. 

But this year we’ve come to try to spot another team bearing gifts. We’re in Barcelona, where tonight children are waiting eagerly for their Christmas presents from – the Three Kings.

It was at Epiphany that the Magi visited the infant Christ, and at Epiphany that they continue the tradition by bringing gifts to all Spanish and Hispanic children.

We’ve already spotted them. Here they are, slowly winding their way through the crowded streets of Barcelona with their accompanying queens, elves, African drummers and jungle creatures. My phone hasn’t made a good job of recording their visit. I hope my camera will have done better.


Snapshot Saturday: The cheeky dragon, cactus and squirrel of Sagunt

This day three weeks ago, I was in Sagunt, near Valencia.  When I wrote about it, I posted not a single photo, but promised you a few later.  You’ll have to wait for the ones celebrating this fine city’s Roman, Moorish, Jewish and Civil War past.  Today, you can see the cheeky dragon who’s roaring from the top of a perfectly ordinary drainpipe fixed to a perfectly ordinary house.

I’ll show you the cheeky cactus growing in the gutter of another perfectly well-appointed house nearby.

And you can see the cheeky red squirrel – so exciting to an English person used only to his pushy grey cousins – who declined to sit still and pose nicely while I fussed around turning on my camera.

This week’s WordPress photo challenge invites us to find cheeky photos.

Life swap

Nidderdale, Yorkshire.

Once upon a time  – 1989 actually – two babies were born: a girl in England, a boy in Spain.  They each had siblings more than ten years older than they were.  They each went to school and did well, and in due course they went to University.

When they graduated, they wanted to train or work as teachers.  The reality was that one of them could only find a job in a call centre, the other by working in a bar or restaurant  It wasn’t what they wanted.

By chance, opportunity knocked.  The English girl got the chance to work as a teaching assistant in Spain.  The Spanish boy became an au pair in England.  They worked and learnt hard, and within a year, both had found regular teaching posts.

Since then, five or six years have passed.  The English girl speaks Spanish with ease.  The Spanish boy is very comfortable speaking English.  Their careers have developed nicely.  Each considers the country that they ended up in, almost by chance, as home.

Have you guessed yet that the English child is my daughter Emily?  The Spanish child is my new Spanish teacher Javi.  If they wanted, it’s not impossible that they could swap the lives they’ve chosen by exchanging their jobs, their homes and their social lives with each other, and go back to their countries of birth.  But they don’t want to.  They’re settled, and feel enriched by the choices they’ve made.  It’s called ‘Freedom of Movement’.

La Rioja, Spain


Snapshot Saturday: the serenity of last week’s transformation

Oh, I say, WordPress Photo Challenge.  That’s a bit much.  ‘Serene’?  I did that last week, under the heading of ‘Transformation’.

Still, you can’t keep a serene place down.  And if l’Albufera as the sun was was setting good enough for last week’s post, it’s good enough this week too.  Especially as I’ve exchanged enjoying the warmth in balmy Spain for shivering in temperature of 1 degree in gusty, snowy North Yorkshire.

Valencia – Barcelona – home

This was a weekend of travel.  Of packing up and leaving my temporary home in Valencia and catching a coach to Barcelona (there was some kind of disruption on the rail network which I was keen to avoid).

A view from the coach

I was a little anxious about Barcelona.  Every day for a fortnight, I’d watched the evening news on TV with my hostess.  Every day for a fortnight the situation in Catalonia had been top of the agenda, for a good twenty minutes or so.  There were pictures of massed placards, of disaffected locals chuntering volubly into microphones, of city fountains running in Catalonia’s colour of yellow.

Yes! It’s time.

I arrived in a city where everyone was enjoying a normal sunny Saturday, Spanish style.  There were flags and posters certainly, but mainly concentrated in various hotspots.  Catalonia’s been keen on nationalist flags for years in any case. What was (not) going on?  ‘You’ve been watching Telecinco?’ howled Emily and Miquel, leaving me in little doubt that this less-than-even-handed commercial channel is the Daily Mail of the Spanish airwaves.

I don’t feel qualified to comment on what’s going on in Catalonia.  But it does seem an awful lot like Brexit.  Nobody is going to be happy whatever happens.  Families and friends are divided.  Hatred is legitimised.  It’s a mess.

Still, I was there just to catch up with Emily and Miquel before flying home.  To join the crowds of locals enjoying the warm autumn weather, calling in for a drink at a bar every now and then, before later, much later, having a convivial meal in a thoroughly convivial restaurant.

Dancing in the street in Gràcia on Saturday evening.

On Sunday, a bit more of the same, with Miquel’s family this time, before flying back to a windy Leeds, where the temperature was a mere 23 degrees colder than it had been in Valencia in the middle of the week.

Barcelona skyline from Miquel and Emily’s flat, Can you spot la Sagrada Familia?

And this week?  I’m doing as little as possible.  Exhaustion has set in.

Snapshot Saturday: the transformative effect of l’Albufera

My fortnight in Valencia is at an end. I’ve got the certificate to prove it, from my school of Spanish. And before you send me virtual pats on the back, it’s a certificate of attendance, not of achievement.

But goodness, I needed a break yesterday afternoon. This fortnight’s been full on. If I haven’t been doing Spanish, or watching Spanish TV with my hostess (not recommended), I’ve been getting a severe case of Museum Foot.

An afternoon at the sea? In the country? Why not both? L’Albufera is Valencia’s Natural Park. It’s a large fresh-and-seawater lake, a rice-growing marsh, and a sandbar. It’s beautiful, and only an eight kilometre bus ride from town. I spent the afternoon exploring the unexpectedly characterful Mediterranean maquis scrubland and a deserted beach.

But it was the last hour of all that was transformative, washing away a fortnight’s stress. Good stress, but still….

I got a trip on a boat which puttered slowly and quietly across the lake and through the reed beds as the sun set, herons and cormorants fished, and ducks patrolled the waters.  It was perfect, quite perfect.

Yesterday’s town

Manises seems down on its luck. This town, eight kilometres from Valencia, was once a centre of gravity in Spain’s ceramics manufacture.

The old station at Manises, decorated with tiles.

I went there today, and found a town proud to celebrate its history, with a super-helpful Tourist Office. I found a town which like our former home of Laroque, has lost its reason for being. Textiles in Laroque, ceramics in Manises are almost all gone, victims of changing fashions and cheap imports from Asia.

Manises has over seven hundred years of pottery production to boast about. It was an early adopter of an Arabic technique, lustreware, and the wealth of the nearby port city of Valencia ensured a ready stream of buyers. They perfected cobalt blue pottery too, and cornered the market in supplying floor tiles to the elite.

pottery from the 15th century, in  the Ceramics Museum.

They made functional everyday ware too, so weathered all kinds of economic and political ups and downs through the centuries.

By 1932, there were 112 factories in town. Now, no mass production any longer exists. There are small specialist producers. And that’s it.

A plaque illustrating the town in the early 20th century. 

But it’s fun to walk round town, or visit the park. Ceramic plaques tell the town’s story in various ways. There are some great buildings – this is the above-mentioned Tourist Office.

Better than this though is poking round the back streets and seeing the variety of ornamentation on totally ordinary workaday houses.

And just as good, going to a rather good restaurant housed in a former ceramics factory.

Not much seemed to be going on now. I expect everyone is at work at the airport up the road.

PS.  Here is a great blog post describing Manises so very well