Weekly Photo Challenge: Up Top

Atienza Castle - The Top (1)

The castle of Atienza in Central Spain stands on top of an impregnable fortress hill.  On the top of he highest tower is a flagpole…

Atienza Castle Spain

Postcards from Malta


“Valletta equals in its noble architecture, if it does not excel, any capital in Europe. The city is one of the most beautiful, for its architecture and the splendour of its streets that I know: something between Venice and Cadiz.” Benjamin Disraeli

Malta Boats Luzzu

Malta Mdina

Valletta Postcard

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Holy Week and the Semana Santa in Sigüenza

Semana Santa Holy Week Siguenza 1

The Semana Santa is one of the most important traditional events of the Spanish Catholic year; it is celebrated in the week leading up to Easter and features a procession of Pasos which are floats of lifelike wooden sculptures of individual scenes of the events of the Passion. 

At the heart of Semana Santa are the brotherhoods, associations of Catholic laypersons organized for the purpose of performing public acts of religious observance and to perform public penance.  They organise the street parades and also undertake many other self-regulated religious activities, charitable and community work.

In Sigüenza the Semana Santa is organised by the Brotherhood of the Vera Cruz which dates from 1536 and whose members carry the heavy wooden sculptures dressed in armour and military uniform from the days of Spanish Empire in Flanders and the Netherlands.

Only a member of the Brotherhood may take part in the Parade and although membership is open to any baptised person there are some complex internal rules that generally limit who can participate in a procession.  Very often these permissions are passed down through families like a precious heirloom and I have read that in some cases it can take many years to be granted a permission – even longer than getting membership of the Augusta National Golf Club in the USA or the surviving Hereditary Peer’s Club at the House of Lords in London.

Semana Santa Holy Week Siguenza 2

The Parade started more or less on time (which is generally rather unusual in Spain) in a dark public park at the bottom of the town and set off slowly in the direction of the cathedral, swaying and sweeping and accompanied by the rhythmic throb of heavy drums and the mournful wailing of trumpets .

First came the men in black cloaks and pointy hats who, although bearing a sinister resemblance to the Ku Klux Klan, in fact precede this rather unpleasant racist organisation by several hundred years, and whose robes are meant to depict the Nazareños or people from Nazareth.  They walked slowly as though their shoelaces were tied together and their conical hoods swayed slightly from side to side as the occupant struggled to see through the two tiny eye slits as they coped with the restricted vision of the hood.

The hoods are called capirotes and were originally designed so that the faithful could repent in anonymity, without being recognised as self-confessed sinners.

After the man who had the responsibility of carrying a rather heavy and unwieldy looking cross came the first of the religious floats, weighing several hundred kilograms each and carried by at least ten strong men who even so had to stop quite frequently to take a breather and rest the floats on wooden poles and on account of these regular stops the progress of the Parade was quite slow.

Semana Santa Holy Week Siguenza 3

The theatrical display of pageantry and celebration moved slowly along a straight flat road but soon turned left and had to tackle a long energy sapping climb up a steep street that led to the cathedral and required ever more frequent stops.  Each time the float carriers set the structure down on their stout wooden poles, breathed a well deserved sigh of relief and took a few moments to recover their composure.  One thing was certain – these things were heavy – very heavy indeed.  Eventually some clever person in command (clever because he was not carrying the heavy lump on his shoulders) tapped a pole on the ground which meant resume carrying position and then tapped it a second time which meant commence walking.

The magnificently presented sculptures were punctuated with bands of drummers who beat out a steady pulsing rhythm in time with the marching of the men in military uniform carrying the pasos and then the penitents in silken gowns of pristine white and occasionally purple flowing around their ankles and they all marched, sometimes shuffled, slowly and in sombre fashion to the top of the hill and eventually to the cathedral square where one-by-one each of the floats were taken inside the main doors and manoeuvred carefully into position on top of the church pews.

Semana Santa Holy Week Siguenza 4

Semana Santa Siguenza Cathedral

Weekly Photo Challenge: Monument

La Colonne de la Grande Armée Boulogne France

La Colonne de la Grande Armée, Boulogne-Sur-Mer, Boulogne

The column was erected in the 1840s and is a fifty-three metre-high monument topped with a statue of Napoleon Bonaparte. (Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square is shorter at forty-six metres high).  It marks the base camp where Napoleon massed France’s biggest ever army of eighty thousand men ready to invade England.

It was initially intended to commemorate a successful invasion of England, but this proved to be a bit premature and as he didn’t quite manage that it now commemorates instead the first distribution of the Imperial Légion d’honneur.

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Spanish Islands, Postcards from Tenerife

Tenerife Postcard

Tenerife, Mount Teide

Tenerife Island Map Postcard

Tenerife Spain postcard 1

Spanish Islands, Tenerife and Mount Teide

Parque Santiago, Los Christianos, Tenerife

I visited Tenerife in 1989 and stayed in the tourist resort of Los Christianos near Playa de Los Americas in a hotel complex called the Parque Santiago.  One day I took a coach tour to the Teide National Park.  It wasn’t a long trip in terms of kilometres but the bus left early because it happens to be an awfully long way to climb to the top.

The summit of Mount Teide at just over three thousand, seven hundred metres is the highest point in Spain and the highest point above sea level in the islands of the Atlantic.  At 7,500 m from its base on the ocean floor, it is the third highest volcano in the world (but do bear in mind that half of it is underwater) and its altitude makes Tenerife the tenth highest island in the world (although to be fair this is another of those biggest, largest, highest statistics to be wary of). It remains active and its most recent eruption occurred in 1909. The United Nations Committee for Disaster Mitigation designated Teide what they call a Decade Volcano because of its history of destructive eruptions and its proximity to several large towns.

Mount Teide Tenerife

The coach entered the national park with its eerie moon like landscape of twisted rocks and strange formations (so eerie that they shot some scenes for the film ‘Planet of the Apes’ here) and growled and wheezed its way up the narrow road towards the summit as the overworked  engine and gearbox complained noisily all the way to the top. 

About two-thirds of the way up we entered the clouds and a thick fog clung to the sides of the coach like a damp dish-cloth, the windows clouded over on the inside and ran with water on the outside and I began to wonder if I might have wasted my money because there was nothing to see but through an impenetrable mist that hung like grey shrouds on the windows.

Luckily the driver seemed to know where he was going and negotiated his way around the hairpin bends on the way to the summit to a coach park about three hundred metres from the top of the one thousand, three hundred metre high crater.  This was as far as it could go but there was still a considerable way to walk up a dusty path of loose volcanic ash and clinker so it was a good job that we had taken the pre-excursion advice to wear stout shoes and suitable clothing.

Mount Teide Certificate

Even the climb didn’t get us to the very top but only as far as a cable-car station because the only way to the summit was by mechanical means.  While I waited my turn to be ushered into the gondola I had my photograph taken with a girl in local costume who, after a full morning shift, looked suitably bored and uninterested and then I was inside the red and cream cab which left the station and immediately started to sway in the stiff wind as it began the final ascent over the yawing black crater below.

Several people couldn’t bear to look because it was indeed a long way down into the black void of the massive jagged crater and the cable car creaked and groaned as it made its agonising ten minute journey.  Eventually we could see the top but there was one last panic as the car passed over the final pylon and swung dramatically back and forth before it steadied itself again and came to rest at the summit station.  I understand that the cable car and the gondolas have since been overhauled and replaced and that it is a lot less scary now.

Apart from the great views there wasn’t really a great deal to see at the top except for the great yawning crater and a big hole full of rocks waiting to blow up again sometime soon.  I suppose the point of going to the top of Teide is simply to say you have been there and not because there is anything special to see.  In the sunshine the colours however were fascinating, the rocks were black, brown, purple and umber and all over there was scraggy green vegetation stubbornly clinging on to life in a highly improbable location.

Cable Car Mount Teide

There were little wisps of smoke and every so often a smell of sulphur and a little bit of steam drifting across the path just to remind us that this was a living and active volcano.  At the top an old man demonstrated how hot the rocks were by lighting a cigarette by bending down and igniting it on the rocks.  I think he must have got through a lot of cigarettes in a day and we were all impressed with this and left a small contribution in his collection pot but I have always wondered subsequently if it was some sort of trick.

Eventually it was time to return and after I had collected my certificate and photograph with the girl who couldn’t smile to confirm that I had been to the top of the volcano the coach made its way back down the mountain, wearing out a set of brake pads on the way and after a stop at a banana plantation to buy some rather disgusting liqueur concoction I was back in Los Christianos with tales of my volcano adventure which were of secondary importance to my travelling companions holiday early evening dining preference…

McDonalds Los Christianos Tenerife 1989

The fact that there was a McDonalds there was one of the things that put me of ever going back to Tenerife.

Postcards from Hull, UK City of Culture

Hull Humberside Yorkshire

“(Hull is) a city that is in the world, yet sufficiently on the edge of it to have a different resonance”.                                                                                                               Philip Larkin

Shortly after a visit to Hull the City was named the UK City of Culture 2017, seeing off competition from Dundee, Leicester and Swansea Bay. The announcement comes ten years after Hull was placed at number one in the first edition of Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places to Live in the UK,as voted for by readers of The Idler website, in 2003 but there is something inspirational about this Victorian whaling town, whose city hall and maritime buildings speak of great civic pride, which had the stuffing knocked out of it after the cod wars came and went, and which is raked on an almost daily basis by a biting wind straight off the Urals

Hull Humber Bridge

Hull - The Deep

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