reyes magos en elda.

After celebrating Christmas in Germany and New Years’ Eve here, I was really looking forward to January 6th. The Three Wise Men are the most important fiesta in Spain and bring gifts. The children send their letters to their favorite King and wait impatiently for the gifts early morning on Jan 6th. The night before the three Kings arrive in each town and I have heard of many beautiful customs along the Costa Blanca. In some towns the Kings arrive on a boat, on others they climb on ladders to hide the gifts in the people’s houses and other towns simply have a parade and the children get to touch the Kings, catch candy and enjoy the night.

The arrival of the three Kings in Elda in different, because the Three Kings enter the down coming down a hill and people join them with torches and lights. La Cabalgata, the parade, takes place in the whole city center and people line up hours before.

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The Three Kings enter the town on camels and children are excited to touch them.

 

After the Cabalgata everyone goes home and enjoys Roscón with hot chocolate. The cake has a hole in the middle, like a crown and is filled with different toys, one dry bean and a figure of the king. The cake can also be filled with cream or chocolate, but we ate the traditional one and dipped it into thick chocolate. The person who eats the piece with the bean has to pay for the cake next year and I got the piece that included the king!

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Thick chocolate for the cake
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Sweet little King

The next day, January 6th, we had a family lunch with eight people, lots of sea food, meat and vegetables. After the huge meal the Kings finally arrived at the apartment and it was time for all the gifts! I still cannot image celebrating Christmas without gifts but this holiday season we took it all in. Starting with Advent and Nikolaus in the beginning of December, our advent calendar with small gifts every day until Christmas Eve, Christmas in Germany and los Reyes Magos in Spain. We ended the holiday season filled with lots of good meals, sweets, chocolate and some pounds heavier :).

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madrid in december.

We finally went on a weekend travel! The annual family trip is using the national holidays in December when the whole country is traveling. Imagine a crowded city – and then add some more. The city center was closed for cars, police tried to handle the masses and usually it felt like leaving a soccer stadium or visiting a festival. We traveled with 9 people and stayed in a hotel a bit outside of the city center. This meant we took the metro every day and it couldn’t have made me any happier. While I have not organized the weekend, I enjoyed managing us through the metro lines.

Madrid is a beautiful city. Prestigious buildings, royal influences and a rich history. Every building has its own decorations, architecture students would love it. Balconies are designed to look pretty, each main entrance is trying to make the one next to it appear less beautiful. Madrid is great for shopping and for tourists. Everything is in walking distance and we spent all three days in the center walking around.

The most important places

  • Puerta del Sol: the old town hall where the Spanish watch the ball drop on New year’s eve and eat raisins, the main point where all national highways start (km 0) and the coat of arms of Madrid: a Bear beneath a Strawberry Tree.
  • Palacio Real: the huge palace for the royal family, the largest one in Europe. Right across from it is the church in which Felipe got married to his beautiful wife Letizia and around the corner you can witness the change of guards every hour. We got lucky and arrived right on time!
  • Plaza de Cibeles: the beautiful rotonda is located in the northeast of the city center and the town hall is located in one of the buildings. I loved the ‘refugees welcome’ sign and the building itself is my favorite building in Madrid
  • Gran Vía: the main shopping street shows the luxury life of Madrid. Every building has a special decoration, prestigious balconies and impressive statues on top.
  • Plaza Mayor: in December the main square hosts the Christmas market.
  • Rastro: located a bit outside, in La Latina, the market reminded me of the Montmartre in Paris. You can buy everything from souvenirs to shoes and clothes, food, antiques and art.
  • El Retiro: the park is considered to be the green lung of the city, just like the New York Central Park. It has a lake with paddle boats, amusement and clowns as well as quiet areas to wander and think. Beautiful during the summer and winter time!

 

Christmas time in Spain is also special for the lottery. Since August, you can find advertisement for the Christmas lottery that takes place on Dec 22nd. Especially in December the shops that sell the lottery are packed. Even in Benidorm we waited in line for around 20 Minutes. But Madrid is unbelievable. Apparently there is one shop that sold winning lotteries for some years now which is why the line is going back and forth along the whole street. People wait in line for 3-5h to buy at La Manolita… we joined the hype and bought two lotteries, one in Benidorm and one in Madrid but at a different shop. Families usually share the lottery or buy in groups of friends or colleagues and it’s not unusual to have around 10 of them – each costing at least 20 Euros.

I really enjoyed Madrid, the city life and lights but it’s hard to travel with many people when the city is so crowded. Next time we choose a different date but I really want to go back in 2018!

new year, new chances.

I love everything about New Years resolutions: writing them, reading them and reflecting upon them. I don’t think my life has ever changed as much as in 2017. My resolutions for 2016 and 2017 are in my journal and it feels great, knowing to have accomplished so many things. Some plans stay the same and probably stay there for some more years. But others can be checked off and it becomes so much more visible how much my life has changed. While I am still working on an official language certificate in Spanish, I know I have improved a lot. I moved in with my boyfriend, quit my old job, found a new one and tried many new things. I found my love for gardening, started walking a lot more, even hiked a few times. Most of my 2017 plans were accomplished and I succeeded some of them by far.

Time to reflect on 2018. What do I want? What is important to me? What do I want to invest time in? Any new skills I want to learn? Places to see, journeys to plan…

I’m ready for 2018.

traditions and christmas smells.

#goinghomeforchristmas 

While Spain has its obvious advantages like the weather, it cannot keep up with German Christmas traditions. People went crazy on Black Friday, small Christmas markets have opened in Benidorm and Alicante and the streets are filled with Christmas lights. But following the Spanish tradition, Christmas simply equals family time and the most important day is January 6th. 

I wasn’t aware of that before. But Christmas means something else to me.

At home, we try to combine the best of both worlds. Our advent calendar has been complimented various times and my boyfriend invested a while lot of time in finding an Adventskranz, that’s like the one I imagined. Every Sunday we light another candle and enjoy a cup of tea. Our Christmas decoration will stay until Reyes and we exchange gifts on Christmas day as well as in January. One day with my family, the other with his.

What I miss:

  • Cinnamon smells 
  • Christmas markets that sell food and drinks
  • Christmas trees that are not made of plastic
  • Snow (but I don’t think I’ll see any this year)
  • Gingerbread houses and Christmas cookies. Baked goods in general like Baumkuchen, Zimtsterne, Lebkuchen…
  • Hot chocolate (because who drinks that when it’s 18 degrees during the day?)

    Now I can go home for more days than expected and I’m really excited! 

    welcome to everyday life.

    It‘s been a while. Because life has caught up! The summer schedule has ended and I am not spending much time at home. During the week I started a Gym in my neighborhood, because the one in Alicante was only for the summer. And it was too exhausting carrying all my stuff the whole day with me. So now I go to a Gym around the corner, that costs about the same but has no classes, just weights and a cardio area. The main focus is building some muscles on my arms and back, because I am still walking a lot outside. But cardio is also not one of my strengths. The Gym is for residents only which is why I only share it with four or five other people when I go there. Perfect training conditions.

    Last week I also started a Spanish class. Finally, I must say. During the summer I looked at language schools, that were offering classes. Way too expensive and usually not easy for me to combine the schedule with my work. So I started looking into the Offical Language School in Benidorm. The application process is long and tiring, especially when you receive emails in Valenciano and the information in Spanish are missing. I am extremely proud I finally managed everything, passed an entrance exam, turned in all my papers (at the school, waiting in line for more than one hour… because, why not?). Turning in papers is still a miracle for me. I don‘t know why there would be a queue and why the school can’t see from their bank account, who has paid the fees. But the class is cheap, has high standards and it turned out that the only class offered in the afternoon is at my level. Everyone else studying Spanish must be unemployed or working as a freelancer. I don’t know. Anyways, the first two classes were great. We are only 7 students from all over Europe: Estonia, Russia, Sweden, France, England and Germany – and I am the only German! Surprisingly there are not many Germans in my area – more in Alicante and further South.

    The class is twice a week for one year and I am going to learn a lot. We work on grammar, pronunciation, listening and reading and the teacher requests a high level. Most of my classmates have been living here for 2 or more years, studying Spanish. On the one hand I feel more integrated then them, because I have an office job, speak at least some Spanish every day at work, have “family” close. But on the other hand I am not good at grammar. I found confidence in speaking, the last months helped a lot. But my grammar has not improved a lot. So now is the perfect time to improve and remember all the grammar I should know already. English is just so much easier!

    With Gym and Spanish my week is completely full, I leave the house in the dark and come home in the dark. 12 hours away is a normal day without anything. The Tram has been on strikes every now and then, which means I have to take another train to come home in the afternoon and spend more time in Alicante. For the last weeks, weekends have become more and more important to rest, get some sun and do chores. Welcome to the normal life!

    The next project we are up to is finding a car for me. As my boyfriend is using “our” car every day I depend on him to pick me up or I keep walking. From the school it takes around 1,5 hours to go home (only 10 minutes by car) which is why I prefer to wait for him. But it would be much easier with my own car. Having spend most of my life in Hamburg I never needed a car and only had one once, that I didn’t choose on my own. Let’s see what we find!

    music inspires life!

    Music inspires life! The slogan of Los 40 has been one of my favorites for a while. Los 40 is originally only a radio station from Spain. By now, it equals the Billboard list and every Saturday they release the Top 40 Songs voted by their audience. Many Latin American countries have their own stations like Mexico, Argentina, Columbia, Chile or Ecuador. Most of the songs they play are from Spain or Latin America but also American / British. So usually it is exactly what I like to listen to.

    Last year they had a stage in Madrid and hosted a huge show at Plaza Mayor to present their new logo with many artists that performed life at the Primavera POP festival. Some from Spain but also from all over Europe. And I have been there by accident! It was a great night and luckily we got there early because they had to close down the Plaza later during the night. It was completely crowded and they did not let more people enter. This year they celebrate summer in different towns around Spain and one of them is in Finestrat at the beach! I got to see some of the following bands live on stage with my feet in the sand and the Sea behind me. My first beach concert :).

    This is why I decided to write about some of my Spanish favorites. Most of them are Pop Songs and get stuck in your head easily. Every year people come back from their vacation with a Spanish song that might get annoying. But still, everybody knows it. This year it seems like there are more Spanish songs that everyone knows, like DESPACITO (especially with the Justin Bieber Remix it became the most streamed song of all times) or the love declaration ME ENAMORÉ by Shakira. I love both songs and they remind me of the first time we went apartment hunting here in Benidorm.

    In Germany, I used to listen to many Latin Playlists and mixtures of Electro Latino, Reggaeton and Latin Pop. Some Spanish music is way too soft for me but there are also some songs I like. One band I recently discovered is called Morat from Columbia. Event thought I’ve listened to one of their songs already they have released a new album in 2017 with some cool summer songs, like „Amor Con Hielo“, or „Yo Contigo, Tú Conmigo“ with Alvaro Soler which is the title song of Despicable Me 3 and on the radio once every hour… A really quite song I like is „Ladrona“ (about a girl stealing the guy‘s heart, soul and mind). The Spanish singer (and actress…) Ana Mena is only 20 years old but has already had some hits here in Spain like „Ahora lloras tú“ feat. CNCO (Now you’re the one that’s crying) or „Se Fue“.  Álvaro Soler is a German /Spanish singer so he is also known in Germany but his music is also popular here in Spain. His best known songs were „Sofia“ (2016) and „El Mismo Sol“ (2015). This summer he released „Animal“.

    The Spanish Trio Bombai also released a summer song called „Solo si es contigo“ featuring Bebe, that has been number 1 at the Los 40 playlist.

    The Columbian singer Maluma was also Numer 1 at Los 40  with his song „Felices los 4“. Maybe he is more known due to his collaboration with Shakira for the song „Chantaje“ in 2016. And then of course people love all the well known artists like Enrique Iglesias, Ricky Martin, David Bisbal and the Spanish singers Pablo Alboran and Malú.

    I personally like Juan Magan and everything that includes Daddy Yankee or Pitbull. Juan Magan has recently released „Rápido, Brusco, Violento“ and canceled his show in Benidorm that we had tickets for… Oh well. He combines many different styles like Dance, Electro, Reggaeton, Latino and Pop and works with many different artists. The genre Electro Latino is aparently „created“ by him, because he already released the first songs in 2008 before it became famous in 2011.

    David Otero and Melendi are two artists I only got to know here in Benidorm. David Otero because his new video was partly filmed in Benidorm and Villajoyosa. It is the main theme for a beer commercial and was a huge success in Social Media. Fans of the page were asked to vote on the locations and the goal was to show the spirit of Spanish summer life. He also stayed at a hotel close by and plays at the summer tour of Los 40. Funny side note, the advertised beer is Amstel Radler and Radler is the (Southern) German term for beer and lemonade… Now the term is also used in Spanish… And Melendi played one of his shows of the „Quítate las Gafas“-Tour in Benidorm and the posters were everywhere. One of the songs from the album is „La Casa No Es Igual“ .

    One of our favorite „kitsch“ songs since we moved to Spain is the new release of „Y, ¿Si Fuera Ella?“. It is originally from Alejando Sanz in 1997. This year he made a re-release with many different Spanish-speaking artists and when you listen to it, it feels like one of the „Do They Know It’s Christmas Time“-recordings. Alejandro Sanz asked colleagues like Pablo Alborán, Shakira, David Bisbal, Laura Pausini, Juanes, Pablo López, Malú, Antonio Carmona, Manuel Carrasco, Jesse & Joy, Vanesa Martín, India Martínez, Antonio Orozco, Niña Pastori, Abel Pintos, Rozalen, y Tommy Torres (unfortunately they don’t appear in the video, but it’s hard to miss Shakira at 1:30… And the video is following a really sweet idea with different children representing the singers). Really recommended love song with piano bridge and lots of emotions!

    Listen to it!

    polop de la marina.

    Polop is a small town close to Benidorm and after having past it for lots of times I finally turned right and entered the old town. The full name is Polop de la Marina and the town has left its best days behind. It used to be the residence of the Barony of Polop and Benidorm under the Crown of Aragon. The territory included much more land, from Guadalest to the Algar Rio and Villajoyosa and the castle was the most important one in the area.

    During the 14th century the town was ruled by the infantes of Aragon. Since then, it has passed by personal descent in the same family, which, in 1430, became the Fajardo de Mendoza family. In the 19th century the feudal system was abolished in Spain and Polop became less important. The lordships lost their power but kept their titles and land and up to today the Baron of Polop still belongs to the same family, the Fajardo de Mendoza family.

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    I didn’t know about the history of the town before we went there so it was a real surprise. The whole time we spent there, we met maybe five different people, probably tourists like us. But we went in the afternoon and everyone was at home enjoying the siesta. The town was really small, especially the old part so we decided to go uphill, towards the ruins of the castle, that was built originally by the Muslim during their reign over the Iberian Peninsula. The view was amazing and you can see the whole area. The mountains, La Nucia, lots of plantations and it was really breathtaking. Especially in the heat of the afternoon and the complete silence around us.

    Next to the ruins is a small restaurant, that served some snacks for lunch and an old cemetery, that we also visited. The heat was burning and we saw some really old grave stones. The cemetery is not used anymore but it was a strange feeling visiting it all by ourselves. I think I have to come back to Polop later in the afternoon, when the streets become alive. This town felt so pretty but up to now I only saw the ancient buildings and not the current life.

     

     

    serra gelada.

    Serra Gelada is a Nature Park in the Province of Alicante that is located between Benidorm, Altea and l‘Alfas del Pi. We can see it from our balcony and I wanted to get to know more about it for a while. So last weekend we went on a spontaneous hiking trip that started in Albir. The park has two different hiking routes that start from Albir, the short one that we walked is about 5 km and has almost no difference in the altitude level. The whole trail is paved and there is no way you can get lost. It ends at a small lighthouse. The second trail is one-way and around 8 km. Because of the differences in altitude the trail is around 4-5h walking in one direction and good hiking shoes are recommended. So I guess this one might only be possible during the fall or winter. Along the way are no water fountains and the heat is burning right now.

    The Nature Park consists of the mountains of Serra Gelada and a large area of the Sea and four small islands. The cliffs are amazing and we were so excited about the landscape. The first kilometer is along the water side and you can see Altea, Calpe and the Peninsula of Calpe, Albir and the mountains of Aitana of course. Yachts and Jet Skis cover the cost line and small boats stop everywhere for some snorkeling or swimming. There are no beaches along the way but small Calas with stones where you can snorkel and enjoy the silence and the nature.

    The second part of the way is towards the lighthouse and along the trail you can find information desks about the flora and fauna and the origins of the mountains. Serra Gelada was formed after a shifting of Africa towards the Iberian Peninsula. Some parts of the mountains consist of limestone. The cliffs are up to 400m high and are home to many different plants and birds. One of them can only be found here in the Nature Park and is endangered. In the Sea you can find many different fish that are typical for this region. What‘s even more striking is the existence of fossils. Some rocks have marks on them, that come from creatures (called Condrodontos) that lived around 100 million years ago.

    The lighthouse was closed but it is really small. We saw a sign that it is possible to see dolphins from the Nature Park and that they even swim really close to the coast! We will definitely be back!!

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    moros y cristianos.

    Spain loves its festivals and celebrations. And even with knowing that, my expectations were exceeded by far. After having experienced Moros y Cristianos I know how weird some of my questions might have sounded. I was expecting a spectacle in one place, comparable to Oktoberfest in Munich or just a big fair. But this was different. The first weekend of June we went to the town of Elda to visit “Moros y Cristianos”. The festival is all about the “Reconquista”, when the Spanish reconquered the Iberian Peninsula. Between the years 711 and 1492 the Peninsula was part of the Islamic Empires, only a small part way up north was not included in the Umayyad Caliphate. For more than 700 years the Muslims ruled over the Christians.

    The festival “Moros y Cristianos” is mainly celebrated in the area where I live, the Comunidad Valenciana. You can find it in other parts as well but here it is really traditional. Every town celebrates it at a different date, some in the fall like here in Benidorm and others in the spring. The festival in Elda is one of the largest and best-known and has become a Fiesta de interés turístico nacional.

     

    Elda is my boyfriend’s hometown with around 50.000 inhabitants. And all of them are on the streets during those days. Moros y Cristianos consists of five (!) official holidays, from Thursday to Monday you cannot find any normal life. The streets are crowded, people are all dressed up and stay out until the next morning. The festivities are divided into different parts, as they have to cover 700 years of history. It starts with the Entrada de Banda on Thursday and they have kids parades and many different things. We only went on saturday and were greeted with extremely loud gunshots and gunpowder. Around noon the Moros conquered the castle of the city and overthrew the king. The whole city was assembled around the city hall and the different groups of Moros y Cristianos were fighting and reenacting the whole scenery.

    At night, which appears to be contradictory, the Christians enter the town in a huge parade, followed by the Muslims. Both groups are divided into different subgroups, 4 Muslims and 5 Christians. They are inspired by the society back in the days:

    Moros: Realistas, Musulmanes, Marroquíes, Huestes del Cadí
    Cristianos: Cristianos, Piratas, Estudiantes, Contrabandistas, Zíngaros

    The parade is live on TV, a huge event that takes hours! To watch you need to reserve a seat and I was told that the first row usually sells out in January… So we watched from the second row and cheered for the different groups, some super colorful, others more traditional. Each group walks with lots of different lines and all of them wear a different outfit each year. People either buy or rent the costumes and spend a fortune. There is even a competition for the best group! The parade usually takes place for almost 5 hours and passes through the whole city. Around 7.000 people participate in the parade!! And the earliest documentation of the festivities is from 1754. There is one part along the track, where we sat next to, where the local government is seated. Funny side story, the city mayor of Elda is still pretty young and has led his row for a while now. Why stop? So then the mayor parades in front of you and the people cannot stop cheering and waving. Bonus points!

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    The mayor knows what he is doing…

    While my boyfriend had never been involved in the parade, he usually dressed up with friends, for example the colors of his favorite group. His family participates, though. How cool is that, when you think you don’t know many people in Spain but then you wave to five different people in a parade!? That never happenend before.

    On sunday I was told that the parade is repeated, only that this time the Moros start and usually people buy tickets for both days and just watch half. Because it really takes forever. The festivities ended on monday with a procession.

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    summer vibes.

    Benidorm is “city and beaches“. The city slogan is definitely true. The city center is filled with boutiques, souvenir shops and many restaurants. You can find everything here, from tapas places to foreign restaurants, waffles, ice cream, pizza, lots of cocktail places and of course many people. The city gets even more crowded around 8pm, when everyone is out looking for a nice place to eat. The atmosphere in the old town is really relaxed, lots of families, older people, and tourists.

    The beaches are known all over Spain (and Britain) and are always clean and have been receiving the blue flag for years. The whole area along the Costa Blanca enables Spain to have the most beaches certified with a blue flag in Europe, but the beaches in Benidorm are one of the best.

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    Levante Beach

    I personally prefer Levante over Poniente and also favor Mal Pas when it is not too crowded. But usually it is, because it is only a really small area between Poniente Beach and the Mediterranean Balcony. Poniente is said to be calmer and for families, while Levante is always crowded, has lots of restaurants and bars right along the beach and even night clubs. The party never stops the closer you get to the British district. But still, it is worth trying to find a small free spot in the sand for your towel.

    The water quality is also one of the requirements of the blue flag, and the water could not be any clearer. Along the Mediterranean Balcony you can see the color of the water changing when it gets deeper, it changes from transparent to turquoise to an amazing dark blue. The views of the water are simply amazing!

    I don‘t mind spending my afternoons at the pool or the beach :). Our neighborhood has two pools that are always free to use and depending on the day and the hour you are either by yourself or surrounded by 3 families with 25 children that jump in the water and play with their air mattresses. But I always get a good sun bath! My tan has not really improved in the last weeks, I guess I am already at my limit. Now I’m working on not losing it until winter.

    Summer is definitely something different in Spain. When people ask why I don’t go on vacation I can’t hide my surprise… I already AM on vacation. This area is the perfect vacation spot and I haven‘t gotten tired of the sun yet. This feels like a #neverendingsummer.