E-Bikes, Bands and not much sleep
It’s been yet another hectic weekend, what with one thing and another. Without fail, whenever we have a trip back to UK looming on the horizon, Andrew suddenly gets inundated with book design work, and this week has been no exception. Therefore he, the poor chap, has been holed up in the studio, nose to the grindstone while I have been pottering and listening to the strangest noises emanating from said studio.
We also had a fair amount of distraction this weekend in the form of a two-day festival of music in the village and a bicycle ride around Granada city.
The bike ride was great fun, and it should be stated at this stage that we were offered this complimentary opportunity by Baja Bikes*, a company that provides e-Bikes for such adventures. They had read one of our blog posts about cycling, so knew that we were (by varying degrees!) enthusiastic cyclists.
On Friday night, we went to the first night of the Fusión Velillos music festival in the village (more of that later) and we didn’t actually get to bed until 02:45 on Saturday morning. We had set the alarm for 07:00 as we had to be in Granada by 09:45 to collect our bikes. We should perhaps have thought through the logistics more thoroughly. However, once again the weather was gorgeous, and I always have energy first thing in the morning. Sadly, the energy wore off with a vengeance later in the day.
Explorer Granada is Baja Bikes agent in Granada, and we were met by our guide, Beatriz, shortly before 10:00. It is worth remembering that, even when you have lived somewhere for a long time it can be refreshing to do something that visitors would do, as it does give you a fresh perspective and helps you to avoid complacency. Not that we would ever feel remotely complacent about Granada, a city that we love more and more the longer we live here.
Before anyone gets carried away with the thought that I may have been putting my life at risk pedalling a push bike up the hills of Granada, this tour was by e-Bike - electro-assisted two-wheeled vehicles for all the fun of cycling without a huge amount of effort.
There were five of us on the tour, and we were given very straightforward explanations as to how to operate the bike - nothing to it really: turn it on, make sure the electro-assistance level is set to high and off you go.
Wearing fetching dayglo helmets and EasyJet-orange high-vis vests, we set off on our jaunt looking completely inconspicuous.
The bikes are incredibly easy to use and the assistance you get is a marvel! The tour we took was a circuit from Plaza Nueva in the city centre, out to Sacromonte and then back through the Albaicin - the old Moorish quarter of Granada. On foot, in the heat of an August day, this route would almost certainly have finished me off, as there are some challenging hills. On an e-Bike, these became mere trifles and I deluded myself into believing that I was superfit and could encounter the steepest ascent with disdain.
On a bike, there can be no denying that you do get a very different view. Sacromonte is a corner of Granada that took us both a while to appreciate. This is the old area where the ‘social outcasts’ were forced to live when the Catholic King and Queen captured Granada. Here, it is the heart of Flamenco and legend and rich in history, but it has always struck us as being in danger of becoming a little too much of a tourist trap, with caves promising Flamenco performances and a drink around every corner. I think our opinions were tainted when, in our early days, we visited a bar in one of these caves and felt rather ripped-off at the price of a drink. Being ripped-off is such an uncommon phenomenon in rural Andalucia that it left a bit of a black mark.
However, gliding along the Camino del Sacromonte was quite delightful. There was very little traffic, the trees provided a dappled shade, and the light from the mid-morning sun was wonderful. We tinkled our bells to warn the occasional walker that we might run them over as we sailed, rather like the Famous Five, through centuries of history. Along the way, we stopped off at strategic points so Beatriz, our guide, could regale us with tales of Granada’s rich and turbulent history. If we had a slight criticism, this narrative sometimes tipped over into an over-zealous account of how much Beatriz’s ancestors had suffered at the hands of Queen Isabel and King Fernando. Our fellow cyclists were Dutch and we felt that they perhaps lost quite a lot of what was being said.
Past the Flamenco cave venues, and below the Museo Cuevas del Sacromonte (well worth a visit), you suddenly find yourself on the edge of wide open countryside. The Rio Darro cuts between hillsides dotted with modern cave-dwellers, contemporary misplaced individuals who have found a home here as others have over the centuries.
Where Granada meets the countryside, there is a gate and a steep hill up to the Abadia del Sacromonte, a building that we have long wanted to visit but have been slightly dissuaded by the thought of the walk up to the top. On e-Bikes, we cocked a snook at such a piffling incline and had the most fabulous surprise at the summit. The views from the Abbey are spectacular, taking in the Alhambra and Granada’s Cathedral nestled between the two hills. The Abbey itself is a magnificent building, dating from the early 17th Century. Sadly, we didn’t have time to do the abbey tour, but we will and then write something about that visit. Suffice to say, the history of this corner of Granada goes back much further than the 17th Century and the Abbey’s conception came about upon the discovery of ancient relics…
We took a back route down from the abbey to rejoin the Camino del Sacromonte before going into the Albaicin quarter. The Moorish part of Granada was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 along with The Alhambra. Again, a little like Sacromonte, the Albaicin has been slow to release to us its immense charms. On a superficial level, we can understand that the visitor will appreciate the winding medieval cobbled streets, the gradual climb up the hill to Plaza de San Nicolas where they will be rewarded with arguably the best views of The Alhambra set against a backdrop of the Sierra Nevada. Taking a drink in Plaza Larga, or visiting the bustling little Saturday market here are both a delight. However, every time we visit the Albaicin we strip away another layer of its almost coy exterior. Architectural details tell their own stories: minarets replaced by christian towers, lengths of old city wall, Carmenes (traditional houses hidden behind high walls and surrounded by lush gardens), palaces and sail-making factories and so much more. The Albaicin is the equivalent of an historical, cultural and architectural Russian Doll - open one outer layer to find layer after layer of richer and more detailed stories to be discovered.
Our e-Bike tour lasted three hours and it went by in a flash. It’s strange, but being on a bike gave us a sense of being apart from the walker and the driver. We could nip down narrow passages, stop where we liked to see the Carmen that was recently bought by the Emir Of Qatar for a figure believed to have been between US$ 17 and 20 million (for that, you do get stunning views across to The Alhambra!), lock our bikes up next to a cafe so we could enjoy a refreshment stop and breeze up and down Granada’s hills. It also reminded us that we do have to return to the Abadia del Sacromonte and take much more time to get to uncover some more secrets of the Albaicin.
Following our e-Bike tour of Granada, we were both desperate for a siesta. Poor Andrew did disappear into the studio for a while on our return home, to try and break the back of the work he needs to finish before our UK jaunt. I snoozed, and it was lovely.
This weekend, as mentioned in the last post, saw the XII Fusión Velillos, a small music festival in Moclín that just goes to reaffirm how unbelievably lucky we are to live here.
Last year, only a month after moving to the village, we missed the festival as we had booked ourselves into an apartment down on the coast for a few days’ getaway. We returned as the festival was coming to an end and we lay in bed in our little rented apartment on the village square, loud music thumping into the early hours, and wondered what we had missed. This year we found out.
As I say, this is a small festival and long may it continue to be so. It is aimed at the villagers from Moclín, its neighbouring villages and friends and families. Its scale felt almost like a private gig and it was very lovely to have been invited.
As with so many things in Spain, particularly in the summer, there is no real indication as to what time the event might kick off. There had been some online indication that the Friday night antics might start at around 20:00, but needless to say sound checks were still being carried out at this time, and the Plaza de las Flores, the location for the stage, was all but empty. Andrew and I had a wander and drink and then decided that we may be better off going home for another hour!
It’s safe to say that 22:00 was really the starting point but, even then, the bands didn’t really get going until 23:00.
The music on both nights was of an exceptionally high quality and the atmosphere of a small festival was very evident. It’s a party with live music, if we are to be honest, and many local people do describe it as a fiesta. People spill into the bars at around 22:00, and take their time with family and friends over a drink or two and some tapas. We did much the same, and got together with our neighbour Mari-Petra for a chat with other friends sitting outside the new church and ayuntamiento building. Dry ice, flashing lights (very good lighting!) and loud music surrounded us until a technical hitch plunged the stage into darkness. No-one really gave a jot, and the bar in the Plaza continued to serve drinks and churn out pinchitos. There was a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing by members of the ayuntamiento and the local police came armed with torches. A group of around 12 people pitched up outside an electricity junction box bringing to mind the schoolboy howlers based on the variety of questions based on how many people it takes to change a lightbulb.
The electrician who saved the day on the evening of our own Flamenco performance arrived like the Cavalry, in his white van and with his trusty pooch in the passenger seat. Torches were aimed at the junction box while the electrician set to work with his screwdriver and, hey presto!, light was restored.
Technical hitch aside, this was a fabulous event, once again emphasising how good-natured the entire population of Spain appears to be. People danced, chatted, drank, ate churros, chatted and chatted some more, and there never seemed a moment when one might consider it time to turn in for the night. We did eventually slope home at some ungodly hour of the morning as we had to get up for our bike tour the following morning.
On Saturday, we did it all over again!
The undoubted highlight for us was a band called Dry Martina. Manolo Lopez Moreno, the Técnico en Cultura, Juventud y Deporte for the ayuntamiento, had nipped over to tell us to watch out for this group as the lead singer had a great voice. We had heard this voice during sound checks earlier in the day. We were in our garden and could hear the music rehearsals going on across the rooftops, and there was something of thrill that we were in the village with this going on around us. As people who have been involved in theatre/performance in one form or another in the past, this whole rigmarole still gets us excited!
Dry Martina is, as Andrew so accurately summed up, a little like a Spanish Caro Emerald. Her band for this tour consists of a brass trio and a DJ and the style is very much Latin Jazz with a fair amount of sampling and mixing going on. Martina is hugely charismatic and has a great voice. From the moment she came on stage, feistily bashing a timpani, she and the band just represented everything uplifting about summer. The Hawaiian shirts sported by the musicians, the cut-out palm trees, the use of castanets and maracas during Martina’s infectious and joyous dance songs brought Club Tropicana to Moclín and we toasted this great performance with a Mojito - of course - and Andrew managed to trip his own version of the Light Fandango!
As we went home to bed, a heavy rock band had taken to the stage and I rather feared for my hearing - I’m getting old. In the early hours, Flamenco Fusion music cut in and out of a fitful sleep, but sadly we didn’t have the stamina. Maybe next year.
* Please note, that the link we have provided above to Baja Bikes ‘website is an affiliate link. Any bookings made with Baja Bikes through our referral generates a small commission for us. Our description of the e-Bike tour is an accurate account of our own experience.