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Posts Tagged ‘La Laguna’

As this is the week before Christmas, I thought I’d share some of the little things on Tenerife that bring on a warm and fuzzy feeling during the festive season.

First on the list are the magical Christmas lights that bring a seasonal sparkle to the island’s historic towns. Santa Cruz looks splendid, Puerto de la Cruz glitters gloriously and La Laguna’s cobbled and perfectly preserved old streets could easily have been lifted straight from one of those cards featuring Victorian Christmas scenes, but my favourite setting is Tenerife’s most elegant town, La Orotava.

The life size belén outside the town hall is impressive and the colourful xmas lights add a touch of razzamatazz to the streets around the Iglesia de la Concepción. However, the most magical spot is Plaza de la Constitución. Last year there were icicles ‘dripping’ from the leafy canopy overhead, huge bow wrapped presents adding a touch of frivolity to the gardens and the display in the bandstand turned children’s eyes saucer sized. If there’s a more Christmassy place on Tenerife to have a coffee I’ve yet to find it.

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It’s not often that I get assignments quite so glamorous as last week’s: fly to Gran Canaria for a day to interview rising stars of the Spanish Indie Rock scene and get photos of the city. I didn’t need to be asked twice.

I’m very used to seeing the small inter-island aircraft of BinterCanarias that pass by on the blue horizon out to sea several times a day between Tenerife North Airport and La Gomera, but I’ve never actually been on one, before last Thursday that is.

The first surprise for me was the ease of their online booking service; Internet-based services are still something of a rarity here in the Canary Islands and ones that actually work are even scarcer. I booked the tickets and even checked in online, printing off my own boarding cards.

The vast majority of visitors to Tenerife fly into its South Airport so most of them never get to see the elegantly sophisticated North Airport. Light and airy with panoramic views over the Anaga Mountains on one side and the runway on the other, the airport is mainly geared towards domestic, Spanish clientele. It’s a lovely place to linger over coffee even if you’re not flying!
We parked the car and headed into the terminal for the 10am flight to Gran Canaria. As I’d already checked in, we simply went straight to gate where, after a cursory glance at passports and resident’s certificates, we were onto the runway bus with the day’s assorted commuters, most of whom were glued to their mobile phones. Just before the bus arrived at the aircraft there was a chorus of jingles as mobiles were switched off.

Most seats on the small, turbo-prop aircraft were filled as we settled down and within minutes were airborne and heading out over La Laguna. The stewardess came round with complimentary daily Spanish newspapers, then a chocolate BinterCanarias biscuit which was possibly the best choccie biscuit I’ve ever eaten and finally a glass of water just in time before we began our descent. It felt like we’d only been flying for ten minutes and here we were, banking over Las Palmas on our descent into Gran Canaria!

Mission completed, we returned to the Gran Canaria airport (not a patch on Tenerife’s airports!) for the 9pm return flight which was filled with (mainly male) commuters. Once again, barely had we swallowed our lip-smackingly good BinterCanarias biscuits and glass of water when we were landing at Tenerife North Airport and transferring to the runway bus amidst a chorus of mobile phone jingles as personal communications were restored.

The only blip on the otherwise seamless and efficient airport experience came when we had to pay the €10.60 all-day ticket for car parking. The machine only took €5 and €10 notes and we only had a €20 so we had to pay at the cashier. Unfortunately, most of our fellow passengers were using credit cards to charge their parking to the company expenses account which meant we spent almost as long in the queue as it had taken us to fly back from Gran Canaria!

For anyone considering island-hopping in the Canaries this year, I can unreservedly recommend BinterCanarias; they’re efficient and friendly and twice as fast as, and only marginally more expensive than, the ferries.
I can also unreservedly recommend Las Palmas de Gran Canaria…but that’s another story.

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There’s a wonderful little photography exhibition in our local shopping centre of La Cúpula in La Paz entitled ‘Tenerife Ayer y Hoy’.
It consists of 100 or so location shoots around the north of Tenerife with one photo taken between 50 and 80 years ago and the exact same shot repeated today.

The locations are mainly in and around Santa Cruz, La Laguna, La Orotava and Puerto de la Cruz but with some around El Sauzal, Tacoronte, Los Realejos and Santa Úrsula. The photographs are interesting in their own right in terms of presenting an image of the ‘real Tenerife’ but they’re also surprising in terms of how little change there has actually been.

Particularly around La Orotava and La Laguna, some of the locations have barely changed at all except that today the buildings are looking smarter as a result of renovation and where once only dusty trails prevailed, tarmac now follows the original lines. The guard of honour of Canarian Palm Trees that run alongside Parque de la Constitución in La Laguna are actually more spectacular today as they’ve grown and produced rich foliage but now rows of housing border them where 50 years ago only fields existed.

Rambla de Castro, exactly the same today as it was 80 years ago

Rambla de Castro in Los Realejos, one of the images that's exactly the same today as it was 80 years ago

It’s funny to see the tramlines criss-crossing Santa Cruz in the ‘ayer’ photo just as they are today, although the trams themselves are space-age compared to the old style trolley buses. And funnily enough, Plaza España has almost come full circle (if you ignore the lake!) with wide open space and the replica gateway to the gardens of La Alameda del Duque de Santa Elena in clear view.

Puerto de la Cruz is much more built up than it was. The area around Playa Martiánez is barely recognisable and some of the lovely old balconied buildings around the harbour and Casa Aduana are sadly no longer there. But the area around the Hotels Marquesa and Monopole are relatively unchanged and of course Plaza del Charco is still the bustling heart of the town.

It’s just a small exhibition in the space outside the supermarket and I have no idea how long it will be there but if you get the chance, go along and have a look.

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I’ve just been to the exhibition of ‘Zapatos de Cine’ or ‘movie shoes’ at the

Sexy and sparkling; Samanthas shoes from Sex and the City

Sexy and sparkling; Samantha's shoes from Sex and the City

Santo Domingo Convent in La Laguna.

I admit to having had a nano-second shoe crisis before I left which is ridiculous really because who’s going to be looking at my shoes when they can gaze on James Dean’s or Marilyn Monroe’s?

Over two floors, in circular Perspex tubes, three pairs to a tube, were shoes worn by actors and actresses in movies that spanned Charlie Chaplin to Kill Bill.

Amongst the exhibits were some surprises that shed new light on their wearers. The white boots worn by Luke Skywalker in Star Wars were very gay if you ask me; the sandals worn by Thelma (or was it Louise?) in ‘Thelma and Louise’ looked suspiciously like the sort you can buy for €3.99 in Al Campo every summer; Uma Thurman’s feet must be at least a size 9 judging by the yellow trainers from Kill Bill and Arnie’s feet must be the size of a ten year old’s to look at his Terminator boots.

But some shoes were exactly what they should have been. Mary Poppins’ boots looked as if they’d sing ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ if you let them out of the tube; Kirsten Dunst’s Manolo Blahniks were worth losing your head over, Dorothy’s shoes were certain to take you wherever you wanted to go if you just clicked the heels three times and James Dean’s boots whispered teenage angst in a Marlborough infused voice.

I wondered if, like dogs, shoes took on their owner’s appearance. Then I looked down at my tired and scruffy eight year old Merrells.
OK, time to schedule a visit to Carolina Boix.

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I kept wishing I’d worn the scarf Aunty Barbara bought me for Christmas.

Less than a week ago I’d been stretched out on Playa Jardín, turning intermittently like a chicken on a spit. Now I had my collar turned as high as it would go and my ears hadn’t been this cold since I spent an October night at the Alta Vista Refuge 2,500 metres above sea level.

But that’s La Laguna for you. Even at the height of summer you think twice about coming here without socks and a sweater for insurance. This was 9 pm on Good Friday and even a rollneck sweater and jacket were no match for the cold wind that was coming in from the north and racing down the narrow streets between tall buildings creating mini tornadoes of litter that danced along the cobbles.

La Laguna's Silent ProcessionThere were considerably more people here than I’d expected. Last Easter at the Magna Procession there were no more than a dozen people at any one point along the route. The Silent Procession wasn’t due to start until 9.30pm and already the route was reaching capacity. Like me, most people had opted for the relative shelter of the narrow streets rather than the open space of Plaza del Adelantado where the wind had nothing else to do but seek out the gaps in people’s collars.

I made my way along the route looking for somewhere to squeeze into and settled on an intersection where a group of schoolgirls were gathered, all of them at least 2 foot smaller than me and so no object to visibility. I moved in behind them and waited. Around me people shuffled their feet and re-arranged their scarves, chatting and greeting friends in the usual holiday atmosphere.
Amber lanterns cast a flaxen glow over the seventeenth century buildings and the cobbles, lending the scene a Dickensian aura. Above the end of the street the full moon hung like a Chinese lantern, the last wisps of clouds scudding across its face in their haste to vacate the firmament and abandon it to the cold.

Suddenly the lamps went black and darkness fell like a blow across the street. Everyone stopped talking, as if their voices had been light-activated. In the silence, the bells of La Concepción rang out and heads turned to watch the top of the street.
First came the sound; a soft, rhythmic beat like an army marching in slippers. Then came the torches, swaying in the wind high above the heads of the Brotherhood torch-bearers. The rhythmic beat grew more audible as the group drew closer and I could see that the noise was coming from the way they were walking; each foot brushing the ground before creating an arc and returning to repeat the manoeuvre.
In the torchlight, the tall conical hoods cast two storey high, menacing shadows that crept along the walls of the buildings opposite. The noise changed. The steady beat was replaced by a grating of metal on stone as the shackled ankles of the barefoot Brotherhood dragged their chains behind them.

For forty minutes I stood in that cold street in La Laguna along with hundreds of others while Brotherhood after Brotherhood filed past in the dim torchlight and no-one broke the silence.

With the whole of the old quarter blacked out and barely a Policia to be seen, no-one tried to pick a pocket or steal a car.

When the Procession had passed, the murmur of conversation resumed and shutters and doors were thrown open to allow the warm glow of lights from bars and restaurants to spill onto the street in invitation.
In the absence of Aunty Barbara’s scarf, they didn’t have to ask me twice; a shot of rum was just what I needed to bring the feeling back to my fingers and ears.

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On Good Friday I decided to watch the Holy Processions that take place in the old capital of La Laguna.
On an unseasonably hot afternoon, I arrived in time to see the first Brotherhood emerge from the Church of La Concepción and was immediately taken aback by the site of their robes which included pointed full-face hoods with eye holes rudely cut into them; the sort of garb usually associated with the Ku-Klux-Klan.Semana Santa

The Holy Processions in La Laguna are not on ‘the tourist trail’ and very few of the island’s annual visitors witness them. As a result there were no crowds and I was able to stand right alongside as each Brotherhood slowly walked past, their robes sometimes in rich hues of blue, red or purple and sometimes in plain white or black. Between them they carried heavy processional crosses, torches ready to be flamed once darkness began to fall and incense burners which they swung from side to side filling the air with a musky scent. The local people who gathered to watch, watched in silence.
Towards the end of the procession, three of the most devout Orders walked barefoot, one of their number carrying a full size crucifix on his shoulder and all of them were chained at the wrists and ankles, the heavy links scraping along the ground behind them, rhythmically breaking the silence.

Worn as a way of concealing their identity in order to avoid praise for their piety and devotion, the robes evoked strong emotion in me; not the anger that rises in me when confronted with images of the Ku-Klux-Klan, but of equal force and opposite nature; I felt a lump in my throat which was hard to dislodge.
Hatred and love – one symbol with the power to evoke them both in equal measure

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I’ve just been to the former capital city of La Laguna to research an article I’m writing for a magazine.
In the 16th century Church of Santo Domingo I stumbled across an ancient tombstone laid into the floor with an inscription of names, below which was engraved a skull and crossbones. Further investigation revealed two more slabs bearing the symbol, this time without any inscriptions.

Completely baffled as to why the unmistakeable trademark of piracy should be present on a tombstone in a church in Tenerife, I did some research and discovered that the skull and crossbones was originally a symbol of the Order of the Knights Templar; the skull and two crossed bones signifying the only parts of the body the Order believed necessary to be interred before resurrection could take place.
Once the Order was denounced by the Catholic Church, many of their number turned to theft at sea in order to sustain the standard of living to which they had grown accustomed and so the symbol became synonymous with piracy.

The Canary Islands were a magnet for pirates in the 16th and 17th centuries; frontier societies growing wealthy on the newly developed trade between Europe and the New World for which the archipelago was a convenient stepping stone. With characters like Francoise (Peg Leg) le Clerc and John Hawkins  being regular ‘visitors’ to the islands, it seems plausible that the Knights Templar may well have settled in the Canaries at some point and that the tombs may indeed belong to one or more of their number.
My neighbour tells me that the tomb could just as easily be that of a Freemason, but until he comes up with a plausible reason why a member of the Freemasons would have a skull and crossbones on his tomb, I’m heading back at the earliest opportunity to decipher the inscription and search for the cryptex.

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