Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age


Empire: a Restaurant Worth Wearing Shoes For!

Food isn’t, especially, a theme of this blog, but anyone who knows me can tell you that my interest in it is more than just a matter of fueling up!

To be sure, these days I waffle on about the delights of the hearty, traditional dishes of Tenerife, but of course there are whole other dining experiences here in the island’s south……thing is, you may need to venture into a resort to find one………something I try to avoid,  and if I do recommend somewhere I generally will prefix with “don’t think this is typical of Tenerife!” Of course it is typical of one face of Tenerife, just not one that I care for very much personally.

I came back from London last November not only with my wanderlust turned up to max (not only because of WTM but because of having had a great time there overall), but with my taste buds refreshed, and still dreaming of the memorable meal I had at PJs in Covent Garden, and feeling not a little despondent that, although there is great food around here, I wouldn’t find the variety I had in England… …Yay! I was proven wrong within just a couple of weeks.

Empire's elegant interior, with just a touch of British "colonial" feel to live up to the restaurant's name.

Empire’s elegant interior, with just a touch of British “colonial” feel to live up to the restaurant’s name.

Just before Christmas Venture Restaurants opened a new eatery in the Safari Center (sometimes considered Playa de las Americas, sometimes considered Los Cristianos, take your pick – but definitely grockleland), so when a friend suggested eating out one evening my first throught was ” try the new place” – and let me, right away, tell you that this opinion wasn’t solicited in any way. The meal was paid for in the normal fashion, and I didn’t speak with anyone about the possibility of writing about it until it was pretty much over, so this is a totally honest verdict. I’m quite the fan of Venture’s other restaurants, so my expectations were high.

The Safari Center is quite swish, and the surrounding area, home to some relatively up-market shops like Escada – in other words I felt a need to wear shoes, although Tenerife is very much the sort of place where dress rules go by the board, and you see girls in cocktail dresses and guys in shorts and vests dining in the same restaurant. Still, old habits die hard!  It’s a daily delight to shrug on casual clothes, even after all these years, and I don’t even own really formal clothes any longer, but I think it’s both respectful and fun to wear what passes for decent gear for dining in a “proper” restaurant i.e. shoes!

We had a drink first in Harry’s Bar – no, not somewhere I’d recommend, but their view of the dancing fountains, which happens on the hour in the center of the mall is the best, and it’s worth watching if you haven’t seen it before. You can be forgiven for thinking you’re in Las Vegas as Ride of the Valkyries heralds the beginning of the display, which melds into Elvis and the Hawaiian Wedding Song if you’re feeling romantic. I wasn’t. I was feeling irritated because the barman didn’t know what a spritzer was – remember I’d just come back from London, so that was a bit of a shock, almost as much of a shock as noting that he didn’t even care. Ah the sub-standard service so typical of Tenerife! (T’ongue firmly in cheek -it’s only typical of certain type of places.)

Trotting across to Empire which is just at right-angles to the bar I was inwardly muttering to myself about this possibly not having been a good idea. See, this is exactly one reason I don’t come to these places. Hey, but one smile from the greeter at the restaurant entrance dispeled my mood. Even if the food wasn’t as good as it is, it would be worth visiting a Venture establishment just for the service. Since it’s the same in every one, I conclude it’s the training. They walk that tightrope between friendliness and efficiency which is not easy to balance. You know – overfriendly and your food goes cold whilst they’re talking, or so formal that you worry about your elbows on the table and which knife and fork to use all night.

Truly, truly melt-in-the-mouth Wild Mushroom Wellington, a veggie alternative to Beef Wellington.

Truly, truly melt-in-the-mouth Wild Mushroom Wellington, a veggie alternative to Beef Wellington.

We settled into comfortable chairs close to one of those patio heaters on the large terrace…….always, always be outdoors if you can and the place isn’t full of smokers (which it wasn’t, happily) anywhere that is, not specifically in Empire. Why live in a climate like this and be indoors if you don’t need to be?? I eagerly studied the menu. Hmmm……hard not to squeal in delight……talking to the Venture owner later, he described the theme as “upmarket pub grub,” and I’m guessing that’s perhaps the best description, though my intimacy with English pub grub is a thing of the past.

Let me regale you with a few items from the starters: Seared Queen Scallops on sliced crispy belly pork with crushed cream peas; Quiche Tartlet with pumpkin, goat’s cheese and artichoke; and Empire’s Exclusive Scotch Egg – made with our exclusive Empire sausgage meat, carefully prepared by our butcher using only finest local ingredients, served on a bed of mixed green leaves with beetroot chutney – really? This is pub grub? Even the traditional prawn cocktail had a new twist. OK – perhaps another visit to England is necessary to bring myself up to date! Continue reading


Sampling the Bright Lights of Playa de las Americas

Man (or woman to be perfectly, politically correct) does not live by ocean waves, verdant forests or dramatic mountains alone, sometimes a bit of glitter and sophistication is no bad thing. Well, don’t take the word sophistication too literally there, this is a tourist resort about which I am about to speak!

I use the expression “bright lights” literally rather than figuratively in this title.  Perhaps it was visiting the Safari Center with Cruz Roja a few days before which made me vote for Thai Botanico the other night when  friends suggested eating out. First, I love Thai food; second the music and lights had been very nice on the Saturday night; and third Thai Botanico belongs the the Venture Restaurant Group, which owns Bianco and newly renamed Imperial Tai-Pan in the same location and also the delightful 88 Restaurant in La Caleta, and two out of those three are among my favorite restaurants!

Despite always rambling on about how I prefer the countryside or a quiet beach, it’s fun to take a look at other sides of life, it goes without saying.  I love variety in just about everything. I’m as passionate about big cities as I am about countrysides, but the stuff in between …… not so much. That said, I can understand the draw of this part of PDLA.

The lights make it feel like perpetual Christmas season, and they’re very pretty, not even that garish really (mind you, remember I come from Blackpool!), and you could preface your dinner with a stroll along the promenade known as “Geranium Walk” (which stretches right from the tip of Los Cristianos to La Caleta in Costa Adeje). It’s surprising how few people do that, and I promise you that we have sunsets here which are to-die-for.

Before Costa Adeje became the upmarket face of Tenerife there was this area, which straddles the “border” between Los Cristianos and Playa de las Americas. As well as numerous perfumerias and “duty free” shops,  in the Safari Center and in the neighboring complexes you will find names like Escada, Zara and Timberland – not exactly designer, but definitely good quality brands.

What with the fairy lights, brightly-lit stores and twinkly restaurant signs it’s all very shiny and colorful, and a very pleasant place to shop before or after dinner. Lots of the shops are open very late, and there is always ample parking in the underground car park, which is, as you can imagine, a HUGE plus. It’s not free, but not too bad either.

Precisely across the road from the center’s main entrance (it’s all open and spacious, no doors or anything) the facade of La Pirámide de Arona tempts visitors and locals alike to see the marvellous Carmen Mota ballet. I wrote about that last year  and this year’s show is, if anything, even better. Above the theater’s entrance a wide screen titillates with snatches from the spectacle, which I defy you to resist.

At 8, 9 and 10 pm the dramatic strains of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyeries blast out, and the fountain at the heart of the Safari Center dances in time with the music, which changes from opera to Elvis with a flow as smooth as their choreography. I’ve seen it scores of times, so perhaps the effect is slightly dulled, but I still enjoy it. Mostly I love the atmosphere it creates.

There is no doubt this is the area to wander and choose a restaurant for a good dining experience, and with all there is to choose from, I can only tell you that I return to Tai-Pan time after time, and that’s also going to be true of Thai Botanico now. The food in both is utterly delicious. The other reason to dine in either, or in Bianco, is the service. Venture Group somehow always manage to find top-notch staff, who are helpful, polite and never without a smile. Sad to say, that isn’t true everywhere you go here, regardless of whether you stick to resort areas or local, inland venues, and it really does make a difference to your dining experience, whether it’s a posh hotel or McDonalds.

I can’t stand those restaurant reviews which go into details about “what I had” and “what Fred/my partner/the rest of the group had” – after all, you’re an adult and you can choose from a menu – so let me say, simply, that the menu is varied and ample. I can’t opine about the wine list because on this occasion I didn’t see it. We sat outside on the terrace, despite it being a very cool night. There were those gas terrace heaters dotted around, which were fine, and I wasn’t in the least cold, but I was dressed accordingly – flimsy, holiday clothes aren’t really much use on Tenerife, winter evenings.

I have only one complaint about last week’s meal and that was that they didn’t have sticky rice with mango. I’ve heard so much about this dish and was really hoping to sample it!  The menu is, however, authentic, witness this write-up I found on the ‘net today.  I vividly remember the restaurant at which the chef worked before, so it’s no surprise now, having read this that the food in Thai Botanico is so good!

To reassure you I will add that this post wasn’t solicited by Venture Group in any way. I didn’t mention anything about writing it  when I was there either. In fact, I didn’t even take my camera. The photos were from the previous Saturday, hence no photos of the food, and the interior you can see in the links. And the nice thing is that I can say whatever I want, so I’ll just say that my last meal at Bianco was a little disappointing, so I can’t recommend it as whole-heartedly as I would the others in the group. I’ll certainly give it another try, because everywhere can have a bad night, and the staff there are equally as efficient and pleasant as in the other restaurants. Oh, and the little videos on the website don’t do any of the restaurants justice, for some reason they concentrate more on the models’ smiles than on the wonderful food!


The Music of the Island

My friend, Jack, from remarked not so long ago that in Tenerife anything other than salsa was considered to be alternative music.  It definitely was that the only music I heard in Tenerife’s south 20+ years ago other than the cover bands/groups/performers of the bars in the tourist areas, but happily the times they are a-changing, and the other day I was thinking about the mixed-bag of music I’ve heard so far this summer, and also what’s to come in the near future.  As with so much here, the first word which springs to mind is, again, diversity. I’m partial to many types of music, but know more about some than others.  That said, I’m not sure it’s necessary to understand the technicalities of music to feel it in your soul.  Some touches my soul.  Some doesn’t.

The full moon shimmered over the Auditorio as we left in June – the eclipse was the following day I think.  Not an especially good photo, taken with my Blackberry, but maybe gives you an idea of the atmosphere.

The day before the lunar eclipse my soul was most definitely touched.  My musical summer began in Tenerife’s stunning Auditorio Adán Martin.  I’m privileged to know a young man called Patricio Gutiérrez Pérez, who is also a volunteer with Cruz Roja.  He’s professor of violin at the Conservatory of Salamanca, but he was born in Tenerife, and returned to perform in the Auditorio in June for their celebration of Spanish classics….a wonderful, emotional performance which included work by Joaquín Rodrigo.  I’m woefully ignorant about classical music, not because I don’t enjoy it, but because the whole genre has always seemed so huge and complicated to me, but I am a little familiar with Rodrigo, and this night was very special.

Just a few days later, a complete contrast – Santa Blues, the capital’s annual bluesfest. Last year I managed to get there all three nights of the festival, but this year only once. It was, as it always is, a thrill to know that artists of this calibre come to Tenerife.  End of the day, compared to other stuff, it really isn’t that well attended, other than on the Saturday night, when the drunks turn out for free stuff, so it really is a credit to the Town Hall that they continue.  If I were a cynic (who? me?) I would guess it profits the nearby bars and restaurants, and maybe brings people into the area (i.e. blues fans from other parts of the island) who might not otherwise know about it.  The Calle Noria district of Santa Cruz is a popular nightlife venue, with great eating and late night entertainment, and it’s a bit magical to stand there, under the branches of a flamboyant tree, swaying to music touching your soul, fanned by a cool breeze from the sea.

The Auditorio swathed in green light in honor of the Festival’s sponsors. 

July brought the annual Heineken Jazz Festival to Santa Cruz, and whilst most of the events were out of my price range the one I most wanted to see, in any event, was free – Yay!  A memorable and utterly spellbinding night of Afro-Jazz which utterly surpassed all my expectations. In truth I wasn’t sure about such a fusion, probably that’s because I don’t understand the technicalities, again.

I’ll risk wrath here, and say that jazz doesn’t always move me, when it gets too complicated I kind of tune out, but, like the fictitious art aficionada, “I know what I like”, and the energy which Naya Band brought to stage to open the concert was, simply,  infectious.  They fused more than just jazz and music from their native Senegal, they touched on blues and reggae too, but, then afterall, didn’t it all begin in Africa? At the end of the day, isn’t all – just – music?

Fatoumata Diawara strolled casually onto the open-air stage alongside the Auditorio. Slight but colorfully dressed, her entrance was almost shy.  For me she had a lot to live up to because I’d been watching her on YouTube, and it wouldn’t have been the first time a live performance disappointed me, but what she did was totally, totally blow my mind.  I go back to “feeling” the music because she sang in languages I couldn’t follow, most movingly in Bambara – specifically a song about female circumcision – not a topic for a song you may think, but then our western music has been dominated for so long by songs about unrequited love that we forget music as a message, as communication, as a release from pain or a celebration of happiness.  I couldn’t, of course, understand a word, but the music, and the voice as instrument, were laden with anguish and pleading.  They didn’t really need a translation.  Not that it was all anguish by any means, you can see the joy of music in the photos below.  In West African countries it’s a tradition that dancers from the audience join in, making events into a party.  This audience was mostly jazz lovers, sadly, there weren’t as many Africans in the audience as I expected from previous events, but a couple,including a friend, jumped onto the stage to groove with the tradition, and both would have brought down the house –  had it not been outdoors!

Problem for me is that so many of these great events are in Santa Cruz.  It isn’t that far, just under an hour, but it restricts the possibilities of a night’s enjoyment – only one beer for instance, when watching outdoor concerts, and having to leave early in the case of this concert.

Sunday afternoon jazz in Finca del Arte in Chayofa

However, there have been occasions closer to home.  Lavabar has had some great nights, most of which I couldn’t get to, but memorably a night of haunting folk and laid-back jazz numbers by  El Mar Origenes.  The only description I can think of is Eva Cassidy – and no exaggeration, this girl has the same purity of voice and the same gentle intensity.

Summer is also when the new Carmen Mota show opens in Las Americas.  Like last year, the show was much more concentrated on dance than on spectacle.   I much prefer it this way.  If it isn’t pure flamenco enough for some, then they are missing out on the sheer enjoyment.  It’s aimed at the general public, including foreigners, for one thing.  It’s beautifully presented and the dancing is breathtaking.  Think Spanish/flamenco “Riverdance”, and you’d be close.  The in the early years the shows were more of a combination of dance and carnival, but carnival is not something we are short on here!

 One warm Sunday afternoon I went to Finca del Arte to listen to the jazz.  I have mixed feelings about this venue, but certainly not about the music.  It’s just a shame that most people go to chatter and not listen, but I suppose that performers in eateries get used to that?  The other problem is that the tables closer to the band are in full sun, and obviously it’s much nicer to sit under the shade of trees.  Maybe the place depends on the day.  I’ve had some very pleasant afternoons there in the past, but I’m not in a hurry to go again after this day, but not the fault of the music!

Another phone photo, sorry about the quality.  More than an air of a young Joan Baez about El Mar Origenes.

Folk music takes many forms, of course, having grown up with English/US folk music I sometimes forget that the incredible music/dance I saw a couple of weeks ago is folk music in its own country.  The longer I live in Tenerife, the more I come to love the traditional music here.  Many of the old traditions have been revived in recent years.  In the groups parading at romerias there is, for instance,  almost always someone playing bones, like this guy.

Last, but no way least, one of the most memorable days of this summer for me ended with this impromptu performance by a local parranda (musical group/minstrels) which I’d lost when I first posted about them.  We were on the tram, returning to Santa Cruz, after they’d already sung all the way on the outward journey, and then sashayed the streets of La Laguna.  An unforgettable bunch of ladies!

Autumn is poking its way into our lives, not so far as weather goes here, but certainly life is changing.  Autumn means less outdoor events, more formal ones, the brief opera season in Santa Cruz, and the music of Christmas.  Lots to look forward to in Winter too, though for me a big plus in these summer events has been that the majority have been free, the price of a drink or very affordable. These are just my personal experiences this summer, there has been an awful lot more going on for those who could afford it. The island certainly has come a long way in the last 20 years.


Trying to Live up to Expectations

Wow, but it was a thrill seeing my blog on the Freshly Pressed, front page of WordPress, but, after the happy dance was over, I got to fretting – what should I write next? How could I “live up to” the post which earned that distinction? So is it true that numbers of random strangers read my ramblings? Do I have a responsibility to them now to produce something similar to that post, or can I meander off chunnering on about the events in the Middle East or the state of Canarian education?

As you can see, I wimped out, and posted photos.  I would probably have done that anyway.  The weekend’s full moon was spectacular and a global event and a test (failed, clearly, in execution if not in composition) of my newly-acquired photographic skills.

The thing is, I’m not entirely sure where this blog is going, it’s a bit of a runaway train, and of course, I don’t want it to end up being a wreck.  It’s evolved, and it’s taken on a life of its own to some extent.  I often find myself sitting down to write one thing and ending up posting something entirely different – like now.

My life is, like Shirley Valentine’s, very ordinary at the moment, though I appreciate that its setting is extra-ordinary to many people. So I sit and wonder, having started up this train, what on earth I can write about.  It certainly doesn’t snow here every day, and I don’t go up into the mountains every day either, and yet I can see where the mundane for me might be something different for someone else, and so I ramble on.

I’m lucky that this ordinariness includes moments like today’s lunch of tapas including a salpicón de marisco (a mixture of prawns, mussels, crabsticks, peppers and onions in a light vinaigrette dressing), pimientos de padrón (small, green peppers, fried in olive oil until they are about to crisp and liberally sprinkled with salt) and churros de pescado (battered and fried chunks of white fish) washed down with chilled white wine, followed by the coffee I have christened the super barraquito, and all consumed under a sky and next to an ocean so blue that they defy description.

I’m lucky that a trip to sort out car taxes led to a breakfast of milky coffee and a slice of moist tortilla española under shady trees in a street cafe where the early morning breeze was balmy enough to be wearing only cotton cargoes and a T-shirt.

I’m lucky that driving to a class yesterday the road wound me through hills and vineyards for a while.

And I’m lucky that most days I can forget the frazzled traffic on the autopista and take the long way home, just so I can take in this view.

I’m fond of saying that everywhere is interesting, that you can find the interest and the beauty even in the midst of the ugly, and I firmly believe that. I also would prefer to be in any number of places rather than here, places I know and love more, and places I have yet to see that are calling me, sometimes so strongly I want to stamp my feet like a child and sulk that I can’t go right now.  Yet, if I have to be stuck somewhere I have to admit that this ain’t half bad.  The climate is nigh perfect; the landscapes, which range from lush to spectacular are unequalled; there are historical towns and cities, and there are modern resorts; there are fresh foods including “mango and papaya you can pick right off the tree”. (Okaaaaay hands up if you know which song in which musical that came from!); and there are wines, there are fruity reds and there are chilled,  floral whites which slide down so easily on a warm day like today.

In short, I suppose, I am counting my blessings, or some of them………for now.


Dramatic Skies on a Chill Early Evening

Someone I know posted a glorious picture of this morning’s sunrise in Tenerife, and I cursed my sloth in not getting up early enough.  I live right next to a beach which faces east, and I had a feeling last night that it was going to be good, but I allowed Morpheus to cajole me, and turned over when the alarm went off.

We had heavy rain again this afternoon.  No-one I speak to remembers so many days of consistently bad weather, or is it just nostalgia.  The period between Christmas and the end of January was gloriously sunny, in the south at least, and my photos taken in those weeks show unbroken, sapphire blue skies.  It’s true, though, that nights have seemed to be unusually cold, even when the days have been bright.  I certainly never before went out with the express purpose of buying fleecy pyjamas, which I did a few weeks back, and although my feet and body have been warm as toast as I sat just now watching a movie, my hands and nose are like ice, which is not normal for coastal living.  Could be, though, that I didn’t warm up from taking the photos below!

Having missed the sunrise I thought I’d idle down to Playa de las Americas and see if those clouds were going to be party to a spectacular sunset.  The rain had eased off, and I went to El Conquistador, where my sons used to surf.  Even if the sun let me down there might be waves.  Sun and waves were both a bit iffy, but the storm clouds were quite impressive, as you can see.  Truth be told, even though the winter has been a bit chilly, it does make a change from blue skies.  The sky was multiple shades of blue through grey through white and purple.  Maybe not so awesome as one of those scarlet sunsets, but pretty dramatic even so.

This channel has been cut through the sand and pebbles by excess rainwater, finding its way to the ocean, and the mountains, which are catching the very last glow of the sun are reflected.


Playing Tour Guide and Loving Every Minute

One of the nice things about living on a sub-tropical island is the number of times the opportunity comes up to play truant, and spend time with visiting friends or family, and, of course, over Christmastime an ex-pat often finds themself playing at tour guide.  Sometimes it’s lazing on the beach, or taking a boat trip, shopping in Santa Cruz or going to a “hidden” restaurant for a wonderful meal, and sometimes it’s exploring the parts of the island their brochures hadn’t covered.  I enjoy it all, but especially the last, because I love to see people’s reactions to stunning scenery like the lunar landscapes of the Teide National Park, to peaceful,  pretty villages and to a history which they didn’t realize were the other face of Tenerife.

In recent weeks I’ve “toured” two lots of visiting friends, and scratched my head about where to take my father, who almost always comes at Christmas, and so has seen a fair bit of the island.

First of all let me hold up my hand and say that I was the one whose mis-impression was shattered, when I went to pick  up friends at their hotel.  Hotel Be Live La Niña is situated in what is usually described as a “lively” part of Playa de las Americas, Torviscas Bajo, and I feared the worst!  It’s years since I was in this particular area, and my first impression was that it had cleaned up very nicely, a bit like the post I wrote last year about the other end of the town.  Although not actually pedestrianized, the road was now one way and a sort of modern cobblestone, not somewhere vehicles would go screaming through, as traffic used to before.  I pulled into the hotel’s underground parking, to find ample space and signage, and stepping into the hotel was like stepping into another world, leaving behind the street sounds, to find an oasis of calm.  My friends were happy with their room-with-a-view and with the hotel food, and I can’t really tell you more than that, except that I’m quite happy that times they are a changin’.  I fully understand that it’s great to be able to stay at the beach and alternate lazy days with exploring ones,  (Done it myself elsewhere to be sure) so it’s nice to have places one can recommend, in a place where there are still too many places one wouldn’t.

So, my own mind expanded, time to initiate others into the wonder that is Tenerife.  I make no apologies for writing about Santiago del Teide again, maybe it’s because it’s almond blossom time, or because we are having such incredibly wonderful weather, and the sapphire blue sky is such a vivid backdrop for photos, but I find myself  captivated by it at the moment, and for visitors its tranquility provides a perfect contrast to somewhere like Playa de las Americas.  Just getting there, driving through villages like Chio and Guia de Isora and the cacti-studded scenery between them, opens up the mind.  Apparently, my father hasn’t stopped talking about it since he arrived home, even though he has been here almost every year in the past 24.

I always take the high road, and so we can marvel at the ocean, spread out at the foot of  the hillsides which fall away to the left, and at the variety of flora, both native and in gardens.  At this time of year, of course, that includes stunning almond blossoms, as you draw closer to Santiago del Teide.

Arriving last week I saw that notices said that the church closed at 1pm, and it was getting close to that time, so I began the “tour” there.  The belén was gone now, and it was a lazy weekday and not a fiesta, but it was still chock-a-block full of colorful, over-the-top art work, almost looking like an overstocked antique shop than a place of worship, after a coffee on the main street, we simply ambled around the village a bit, up to the cemetery, stopping to take in the fragile almond blossoms, as cocks crowed in drowsy village yards, and lizards scuttled from our path.

I  ate twice at Señorio del Valle, the beautifully restored rural hotel/museum complex, just behind the church. I love the museum there, which is interesting and  displays the history of the  Chinyero volcano to excellent effect, there are also a couple of small art exhibits, a gift shop which sells stuff which is actually made on the islands (just a small shelf of identifiably-made-in-China things), restored wine presses in the courtyard, and artifacts displayed in the restaurant.  All in all a genuine Canarian experience it seems.  Shame then that two things let it down.  If I find somewhere disappoints, my sense of fair play usually kicks in and thinks it might have been an off day, so I don’t condemn without giving it another go (unless it’s truly awful), but having eaten there twice now I’m disappointed to say it was the same both times.  The food was at best mediocre, and the service bordered on rudeness.  The details are boring,  sufficient to say I can’t, honestly,  recommend it, other than as a very pleasant place to have coffee.  My understanding from this article by local journalist and blogger Andy Montgomery, is that actually staying at the hotel is an outstanding experience, and the hotel itself  does look delightful, so I figure that anywhere is worth a third try, and I will in the near future. It’s a tribute to the overall ambience of the village that an indifferent lunch didn’t spoil the visits.

I have a kind of litmus test for people.  If I round the bend and the awesome view of Los Acantilados de Los Gigantes doesn’t draw a sharp intake of breath from my passengers, then I probably don’t have much in common with them.  It’s only happened to me once, and that was a few years back now.  Last week we had enjoyed a perfect day, with clear, achingly blue skies and little haze, so the view was good when I stopped on the way back for the photo op.  I don’t take friends down into the Los Gigantes development any more.  I didn’t like it when times were more affluent, and now it has a definitely shabby feel to add to its lack of charisma, so we meandered on south keeping as close to the coast as close as we could.

Alcalá, Playa San Juan and the tiny Puertito are all en route, and if you’re returning at the end of the day any one of them is a rewarding place to stop a while, sip wine and watch the sun go over the yard-arm.  My favorite is Puertito simply because it has, up to now, stayed so wonderfully quirky and untouched by commercialism.  It scarcely earns the title village, but of anywhere on that coast it is the place which feels most different to the brashness of the man-made resorts.  Playa San Juan may suit some guests more.  It’s been prettied up and sanitized over the last few years, with an eye to custom from the posh hotels which are appearing on the west coast, but at least it isn’t beer and skittles.

Sunset at Playa San Juan

The only problem in whiling away a half  hour or so this way is that the magic of the Canarian wine takes hold and I always want another glass, but since I still have a twenty minute drive after I leave Las Americas, it just isn’t worth the risk.  Driving here is hazardous enough without being tipsy to boot.  Still,  I can always have another glass at home whilst I look back over the pictures of the day I’ve taken. Almost 24 years on, and I still marvel at the variety to be found in something less than 800 square miles!


Even a Quiet Week Has its Highlights

I’ve been pretty out of it for a few days now with a chronic tooth infection which has limited my diet, and given me more pain than I could have believed, so I’ve not caught up with a lot of what’s been happening, and I’ve missed quite a bit of fun (**stamping foot and pouting**), but yesterday, pepped up by antibiotics and painkillers I popped down to Las Galletas, a still fairly small fishing village roughly half way between Los Cristianos and El Médano.  The occasion was a Crafts Fair, and after the mega-fair in Pinolere in the Summer I was expecting to be disappointed, but quite to the contrary came away very happy.  It wasn’t billed as a Christmas Fair, but had that kind of feel about it, or maybe it was just the general mood as the festive season approaches.

My plan was to meet a friend, take a turn around the fair, have a coffee, spend an hour or half hour with some other friends who were coming later, and home to an early night, assuming my tooth would demand it, but I ended up both arriving earlier than intended, and staying later….which obviously indicates that it was very enjoyable.

The first plus was the seascape which greeted me on the short promenade. Some clouds were still hanging around yesterday, after two weeks of stormy weather, but they were making their exit with a grace which put me in mind of Swan Lake, beginning as startling white wisps and banks, they shifted and drifted to leave the sky eventually for a classic sunset.

On to the fair, then. The richness of the island’s traditions and the quality of craftmanship are a testament to the originality and endurance of its people.  There were leather workers, and lace makers, crafted candles, carpentry, glassware, jewellery and weavers who made straw into hats and baskets, and barely an item which stank of commercialization of any sort.  This fair was “the real thing”, from the replicas of toys of yore to my new friends from the apiary in Aldea Blanca it was all genuinely crafted with skill and love.  I asked a man displaying those beautiful knives I mentioned seeing in Pinolere how long it took him to make just the small one, and the answer was two weeks, so carefully and painstakingly are they created.

It was probably a good thing that this Christmas finds me stoney, because I would otherwise have spent a fortune!  As it was, I settled for an amazing cinnamon scented candle for my Christmas table, plus some cinnamon crystals to store away with the decorations, so that they smell of Christmas when I take out the box in a year’s time; and I loaded up on cured goats’ cheeses and fennel honey, and a bottle of coffee liquor from the ladies below, which, it seems to be, will be the perfect way to top off the Christmas feast.

I was disappointed that there was only piped music when I arrived around 3 o’clock, which made me glad I stayed later, because the folk singing and dancing in the evening had a lovely community feel to it, especially for the last dance when the group pulled very willing people from the audience for the last waltz. Canarian folk music, like many forms of traditional music is probably an acquired taste, with solos by rich tenor voices, the same sort of sound you get from a Welsh Male Voice Choir in a way, but I never fail to be impressed by the enjoyment of the performers, their commitment to what they do, and the fact there are so many young people, both male and female who are happy to carry on these traditions.

Backpack clinking pleasantly as bottles of honey jostled with the coffee liquor, I made my way back to the car, full of local cheese and homemade bread, as the Christmas lights twinkled around and about,  with a little of the bonhomie rubbed off too.

Today, by contrast was a modern tradition, and one which, it has to be said, we wish there was no need for, and that would be the annual Carrera por la Vida, the annual walk from Playa de las Americas to Los Cristianos to raise awareness for breast cancer research.

It wasn’t a day for dwelling on the necessity for the walk, as much as to celebrate having had in our lives those we’ve loved and lost to cancer, and to hope that maybe just one person seeing the parade pass by might learn something which might save their or someone else’s life one day.

It’s a “glamorous” cause compared to some. Women worldwide have labored long and with much imagination to raise awareness, so that it’s hard to believe that there are still women (especially, but it can happen to men too) who don’t know about self-examination or the necessity for mammograms or the urgency of getting to the doctor if they find an abnormality, but it seems that there are. You could hear the comments as we passed by, some people just don’t want to know until it happens to them.

On this island it was also nice to see a thoroughly integrated affair, despite some stumbles from the English anchor, the spirit of co-operation was nice to see, and it would be nice to think that it might extend to other areas, and that more ex-pats might genuinely care for and become involved in the community in which they live.

The Triatlon Team from Adeje who swam the route in an hour and a half in a rough sea. Austin on the left (no apologies for motherly pride!)

Sorry about the quality of these photos, I’ve been having some camera problems over the weekend!

Last but by no means least, (yessss it’s food again!), let me tell you about cinnamon ice cream with dark chocolate sauce, which, you see, requires no chewing so I could indulge on Friday lunchtime. The ice cream rich and solid and so laden with cinnamon I christened it “Christmas on a spoon”, and the sauce so perfectly dark and yet sweet that it made me dream of Inca kings!   This is where my week turned on its heel and dismissed the pains and inconveniences,  the ice cream having been preceeded by a salad so fresh and with flavors so perfectly blended that we wondered if it even had dressing on it, and a sweet potato stuffed with cod and topped with grated cheese.  Such a way to break an unintended fast!  Anyone wanting to know where this was will need to submit requests in writing for my approval, because I SO do not want this place to be over-run! Just one clue, which will not surprise many, it ain’t in the south!


The Soul of Flamenco and Some Cheesy Architecture

What!  Two theater visits within a couple of weeks of each other?  This can’t be here and me.  But it was.  I had an invite from some friends last night to join them for the Carmen Mota flamenco/ballet production “Alma” at Piramide de Arona in Playa de las Americas, and that wasn’t something I was going to miss if I could help it, despite the ongoing neck problem.

Playa de las Americas, just in case you don’t already know, is the heart of grockle land, conjoined at one end by Los Cristianos, it rambles through the original resort, where the teens love to party, and on up the coast to the more upmarket areas of Fañabe and Costa Adeje, where local, island and autonomous governments are promoting their current fad – luxury travel.    I’m not really sure where one place ends and the other begins, it’s all just tourist territory, and living here you don’t go down there unless it’s for work or some other, specific purpose.

La Piramide de Arona sits almost squarely on the Los Cristianos/Las Americas border. The  name refers to the conference hall/ theater which belongs to the prestigious Mare Nostrum Resort complex.  If I tell you that some of the hotels within this complex rejoice in the names of Cleopatra Palace, Julius Caesar Palace and Marc Anthony Palace you will get the picture – a kind of mini Las Vegas.

The “architecture” speaks for itself, doesn’t it?!  No comment from me required.

Just to illustrate the “other” side of the island, the one with which the majority of tourists are familiar.  There are four hotels, or more, in the complex.  This one I snapped last year when I was looking for photos with the theme ‘color’ – it certainly has plenty of that!

On the back of the success of this resort the surrounding area has taken on that same vibe, with year-round Christmas lights, Gaudi-inspired external décor and shops like Escada and Zara – a bit posher than average.  It’s at night that the area really comes into its own, though.

As the natural light fades and street lights twinkle on, glowing, sun-burned skins emerge from their warrens, and head out to eat in one of eateries in the Safari Center, Parque Santiago lV or lll complexes.  There is a wide choice, and because it isn’t an area which appeals to me much I haven’t sampled more than a handful, well, 3, to be exact, now that I come to think of it – an excellent Chinese, whose name escapes me, in Parque Santiago lll, and Bianco and Teppanyaki  in the Safari Center.  The latter two belong to the same owners, and they both deliver excellent value for money, but aren’t nearly in the same price bracket as inland.   Teppanyaki is first class Japanese – sushi, sashimi, dumplings etc, and I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone.  OK, it’s not the cheapest in the world, but this is not an area where you expect things to be cheap, like I said, it’s the heart of grockle land, and it’s worth every cent.

Bianco, where my friends had chosen to eat last night, has a cuisine somewhere between “international” and Italian.  Their popular menu hasn’t changed in years, but they have it all off to a T. I suppose I eat there about twice a year, over the last 4 years, and standards have always been the same.   The service is very good, and Rob, one of the owners, is always attentive if he knows you, as he did my friends.  It reminds me of one of those better US chains, like Red Lobster or Olive Garden, but without all the cheese!  In fact they have dough balls and brownies on their menu.

It had the advantage last night of being right across the road from the theater too, so we could linger over our wine until the last minute.

The Piramides opened in 1996 and has a conference hall which seats 1,874 according to their website. The truth is that despite the ample stage area it really has the vibe of a conference hall rather than a theater, though a better ambience than Magma did a couple of weeks back.  I understand that they do a roaring trade conference-wise, so staging this show 6 nights a week, I think, is something of a kind of after-thought, the icing on the cake.  Apart from the opening night, I’ve never seen it more than around a third full, which is a huge shame, because the show is without a doubt world class standard.  The circle, which would be a great place to watch dance, I’ve only seen open once.  They pack the seats from the front, but that’s only fair to the dancers.  If the audience was spread all around the place then their interaction would be a bit fragmented too.

However, enough of the negative things, which did not spoil my enjoyment of this terrific show.  In fact, I use the word “show” with hesitation, because the format has changed slightly.  One of these production runs for roughly a year, sometimes they’ve run longer, there have been 10 since the place opened.   I’ve not been every year, but certainly have seen a lot, and the format was always a first half with different interpretations of dance, and the second half telling a story, like Romeo and Juliet, maybe, but this year the accent was much more on the dance itself, and there was a continuing motif,  rather than a story with beginning and end.

Carmen Mota, the choreographer (together her son, Joaquin Marcelo), is a distinguished dancer, much revered in Spain.  She ended her dancing career in 1977 to concentrate on choreography, costume and lighting for the company she set up, according to the company’s website , and I can only say “Grácias a Señora Mota”.

I will never forget the opening production: The costumes as lavish as those of carnival queens, and spectacular special effects, such as I’d never seen on stage before, they seemed to belong more in the world of movies, but above all the dance, which fused flamenco and ballet and modern dance to a polished perfection, which left me breathless.  That hasn’t changed, in fact, over the years it seems that the concentration became focused more on the dance, and less on the special effects.  Whether this is a result of the recession or intentional I don’t know.

Last night, yes, there were special effects – at one point it looked, amazingly,  as if  the solitary ballerina’s lonely mood was being matched by a fine drizzle descending from above  – but scenery is minimal, and effects rely now on spectacular lighting – for me much more atmospheric and dramatic.  At one point I almost gasped as the mood changed in an instant from sombre to lively, simply by use of lighting.

The costumes have changed from that first performance too. Gone is the elaborate Carmen Miranda style, extravagance.   Now the dresses are rich and lavish, yards and yards of material from the knee down,  giving a life of its own to a skirt which swirls and floats with each step taken, and above the knee the dress caresses the dancer’s perfect figure with a sensual grace, making the costumes an intrinsic part of the dance.

I’ve heard criticism of the authenticity of the flamenco, but this performance doesn’t pretend not to be geared to spectacle and theater.  True flamenco, it has to be said, isn’t for everyone, but this was of sufficient quality to satisfy all but the absolute purists.  It’s absolutely worth splurging to see this show if you are visiting Tenerife.  It’s even worth venturing into grockleland!

The evening was a celebration of the dance and the music and their influences on the music of all the Latina community, a legend and a way of life rather than a story. The choreography drew on classic ballet, too, with more than a nod to Jermone Robbins, and just a touch of salsa. The music saluted jazz, as well as music from Mexico and Cuba, and throughout the second half the haunting voices of Andalucia, which even when you don’t fully understand the words seem to stir your soul…….and, of course, Alma is soul in Spanish.

As a footnote: Reason there are no pix of the performance?  I was caught fiddling with my camera, and very politely told that it was forbidden :=)  Always worth a try, isn’t it :=)  Clearly people have managed it from time to time, because on YouTube you can find various bits and pieces which people have filmed over the years.  This was the best one I found…….just to give you an idea of what a memorable performance this was.  It isn’t the current production, but one from a couple of years ago.

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Er…..Trying toThink of a New Way of Saying Cultural Variety!

Trying to think of a new way of saying it because it happened again. This weekend the choices were excruciating, and a bit of bad luck (or was it bad planning?) didn’t really help.  Imagine this:

Friday night? Well, the choice was going to Santa Cruz to watch the beginning of the re-enactment of the Battle of Santa Cruz, music in a local bar or going to see The Moscow City Ballet performing “Swan Lake”. Of course “Swan Lake” won. I was going to say, “because I’ve seen the re-enactment before”, but then I haven’t seen it nearly as many times as I’ve seen “Swan Lake”!! The exciting thing about this, particular performance was that it was in the South of Tenerife, in the aforementioned Magma Center, so it was also being a small part of a little bit of local history.  The South of the island has always felt like something of a Cultural desert.  Oh, sure there has been the odd oasis, and I emphasize I speak of Culture with a capital C, (of culture with a small C there has always been an abundance) so it’s the first time I didn’t face an hour’s drive after an event.

The Culture

I’d never entered Magma through the huge, front entrance before, and pretty impressive it looked as we approached, pretty lights – and a stage hand spray painting props (now, that didn’t give us a smile when we saw them on stage!) Amusing variety of dress, one or two looking as if they were going to the beach (which is pretty standard attire for just about anything here), and one or two looking as if they were expecting to bump into the King and Queen i.e. dressed up to the nines – which is not normal for the South of the island. Still, I wasn’t there to conduct a fashion survey!

I’d intended to have a siesta to ready myself for the late start (10pm) but the screeching from the pool, almost below my window, reached epic levels Friday afternoon, and sleep was impossible , so I read through the little program which came with the tickets.  Anticipation shivered down my spine a little as I recalled the story, and remembered the video I used to have of Fonteyn and Nureyev performing this ballet, so I set off in good mood and refreshed in any event.

The production was excellent, if a little theatrical sometimes – “Ah”, you say, “but it is theater!”……good point! The sets and the costumes were both stunning. The Corps du Ballet was absolutely superb, in fact, though it’s a very long time (12 years, in fact) since I saw classic ballet I don’t think I’ve ever seen better. The leads were very good, Odette/Odile especially, and despite it being a version unfamiliar to me I settled down to it quite nicely very quickly. 9 out of 10 for the production definitely. That said, I will make the effort to go up to the theater in the North next time. Impressive though Magma is, it isn’t a theater. The seating was, basically, office chairs…..and remember this is long ballet….so there was a lot of squirming going on at the end, and because it isn’t a theater the floor wasn’t on a gradient, so even though we were quite close to the front, there were several people spoiling my view. In fact, for a lot of the time, I couldn’t see center stage at all. The acoustics, however, were a marvel, given the circumstances. The salon was huge and high ceilinged, but the music filled it with passion and grace, not a note was lost. So, overall verdict on the night will only rate a 6/10 from me. I know that sounds picky, but this isn’t a theater review either, and the performance made it more than worthwhile for me, but because of the discomfort I couldn’t surrender myself to the story the way I wanted to.    It’s just a word of advice – the next time Magma offer theater – make the effort to go to Teatro Leal, Teatro Guimerá or the Auditorio if whatever is playing there too.

So taken with the magic of it was I, though, that I couldn’t sleep when I got home, which didn’t signal well for the next day, when I woke to strains of Tchaikovsky flitting through my head.

The Sport

The choice for Saturday was a no brainer, because Austin was participating in the local triathlon, here in El Médano, so I passed on the chance to go to the World Music Event in Santa Cruz, and the main day of the re-enactment, amongst other things. I thought I might make the World Music Concert in the evening though, and if I didn’t, I had an invite to join some friends on a “tapas crawl”, so all looked rosy.

The triathlon is annual, well-organized and looks both fun and serious at the same time. Last year they had to battle fierce winds, and the day dawned that way this year too, but calmed down in time for the 4.30 start. The town was fit to burst, so I guess it is also good for stimulating business, and, of course, motherly pride beating intensely I was there to take snaps.

Other than the London Marathon, which I didn’t really get snaps of due to the circumstances and the way it’s organized, this was the first time I’ve ever really tried to photograph a sports event….and it ain’t easy! I knew it wouldn’t be, but I was ok with the results for a first timer. I thought it didn’t interest me as a genre, but could be wrong there, although I think I’ll always prefer landscapes.  I did discover a new talent, though, …. I can dig an elbow as well as the next person, duck under official tape which is there to stop me, and squeeze in between people to get where I want to be.  Now, that might all sound quite normal to you, and you can blame my mom for bringing me up right, but I’ve always been too darned polite -so this is a new me!  ’bout time some pals will say.

Scene in the town square just before the start

Waiting for the start

Entering choppy water

And coming out of the water.  That’s Austin in the middle in the black suit with white stripe on the arms, and the white goggles on his head.

My favorite snap of the day.  He was going very, very fast at this point, so I am really happy with it, even though I missed out the bottom of one of the wheels!

And the home stretch.  He has about five minutes left to run here, of an event which took him 1 hour 17 minutes, which knocked 8 minutes off his previous time for this event.

I arrived home pleasantly sun-kissed, but not burned, footsore (“Wow”, my friend said, “Who’s running this race, you or him?!”) from running from one vantage point to another to try to catch him as he passed, and tired in that tired but happy way.  Reluctantly,  I decided to give the concert a miss. I was on a high from the afternoon, but I didn’t trust myself to drive home after midnight, so I opted for the tapas crawl, intending to just have a couple and then call it an early night.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

La Ruta de Tapas is something I only discovered a couple of years ago, and I don’t think it goes back much further back than that, at least in the South.  Local restaurants in a town are invited to join in providing patrons who are walking the route with a tapa and a drink (wine, beer or water usually, although sodas are offered in La Laguna) for €3 (in La Laguna €2.50) for the period of the event.  If you want to join the route you can get a map of participating establishments from the internet or the local town hall.  Just in case anyone doesn’t know a tapa is, it’s  a small portion of food, a snack or a taster might be a good translation.  In big cities like Madrid or Barcelona great nights are to be had, walking from bar to bar and sampling the local brew and a tapa or two in each, but it’s not so much of a tradition here.

My last experience in Los Cristianos had been really good, so I showered and changed eagerly, and wasn’t more than five minutes late to meet my friends.  The first place we tried, in fact, ended up being so enjoyable that we didn’t move!!  Given that we had a small child and a little dog with us, it was probably a wise choice, it isn’t always that easy to accommodate either, though children are accepted almost everywhere here at just about any time of day or night, and Leo is a stunningly well-behaved one year old :=)

One of the ideas of this promotion, other than stimulating business, is to promote local products, everything used in the making of the tapas has to be of local origin.   We began with a mousse of sea bass drizzled with a mustardy mayonnaise, and I mean, drizzled, so it complimented the fish, didn’t drown it, and served with gofio crisps.  Then,  two tapas of tuna and vegetables bound into a rough kind of paté and drizzled with a maracuya coulis. All washed down with local wines.

By then, we were cozy under a canopy of bamboo, on a balmy evening, child and dog happily comfortable, the urge to move on deserted us, and we ordered more food.  That might have been a mistake, depends on which way you look at it.  For some reason I never fathomed there was a long, long delay in bringing the main course.  On the one hand, the conversation was great, varied, funny and intelligent, so it wasn’t that important, but it put an end to my intention to have an early night.   I have to say it was worth it, though.  The fresh goats’ cheese salad I ordered was out-of-this-world, and well worth the wait.  Shame that driving meant I couldn’t have another glass of that lovely wine, but you can’t have it all ways, as we English say.   It was a mellow, relaxing night, but way later than I intended!

One of the delights of living here is the standard and diversity of restaurants, and within that a further delight is how you find a little place like this, very unpretentious and welcoming, but serving food as good as you can get anywhere.

If you’re holidaying in Tenerife in July check out which towns are offering la Ruta de Tapas.  We were in Costa del Silencio last night, but as well as there and Los Cristianos it happens in Valle San Lorenzo and Las Galletas too, that I know of.  It’s a fun and sociable way to try new foods, and you will also feel more in tune with the locals  as you wend your way around.  If you’re staying in Los Cristianos then no worries on the drink driving thing either!   although you’ll meet mainly other visitors.  What I really want to do is try the route in La Laguna if I can make it this year.

So, to today.  Today, the choice was going to the Lido in Santa Cruz, where I heard they have a Dixieland jazz band in the restaurant on a Sunday, taking in the British “surrender” at the Battle of Santa Cruz, and a movie about the Japanese invasion of China (yes, I know that might sound boring, but I know nothing about that bit of history, and I want to know, and it’s won awards), or all three, or any one or two plus a visit to the Sunday street market.  Which one do you think I chose?  I hit the alarm, turned over and had a rare lie in.  Bad decisions maybe, but, like I said, there is just so much going on here, you just cannot do it all!


Architecturally Speaking, Modern Can Be Good Too

Next week I’ve allowed myself a treat. The Moscow City Ballet comes to Tenerife, and I haven’t been to the ballet in about 12 or 13 years, the last winter I spent in England. Since the Auditorio in Santa Cruz opened in 2003 there has been the odd classical ballet performance, but, frustratingly, never at a time when I could go. So, that this is being performed not only in the culturally more sophisticated north, but also for one performance in the south is big news for lovers of classical ballet. For a very, very brief period in my childhood I dreamed of being a ballerina, but even at the tender age I was, it didn’t take much for me to realize that, even had my father agreed to the lessons for which I begged, there was a distinct lack of talent, not to mention grace. Still, for years I enjoyed watching other people perform. Of all ballets, they have chosen Swan Lake for this historic event, and I can’t even remember the last time I saw that, still, more about the ballet next week, after I’ve seen it.

The other day I went to collect the tickets, and took the opportunity to walk around the Magma Center, where it’s being performed. I attended a weekend workshop with La Cruz Roja there a couple of years ago, and it was only looking at the snaps we’d taken of the weekend afterwards, that I realized what a good-looking building it was. Normally, here you’ll find me singing the praises of tumble-down or renovated old buildings, and sighing over “what character they have”, but just for a change I offer you some snaps of the Magma Center, which is bang up-to-date modern design in a town which offers very little (if anything else) in the way of attractive architecture.

The Center, designed by a team of three architects Fernando Martin Menis, Felipe Artengo Rufino and José Maria Rodriguez Pastrana, was finished in 2005, to far less fanfare than the famous Opera House of Santa Cruz. Walking around, I found it easy to fall into sympathy with their vision. Unlike the stunning Auditorio, which looks like a giant wave cascading over a harbour wall, this building echoes not only the ocean, which lies like sparkling sapphire, visible from the front terrace, but also the rough and evocative, volcanic landscape which comprises much of the island. It is made mainly from concrete, but mirrors south Tenerife perfectly, that contrast between earth and ocean which lends such drama to the island.

Including the aforementioned workshop, this was only the second time I’d visited the building, and really I only took a couple of steps inside to pay for the tickets. The thing I remember vividly from my first visit was the way interior walls can be moved around to create spaces suited to the client’s needs, because it is what is described online as a multi-functional building, not only theater, but conference center, sports venue, exhibition center and more. I’m no way knowledgeable about architecture, and that concept was new and novel to me. Our needs that weekend were for conference rooms, space for practical activities, and a formal lunch, which I remember being extremely well-catered (not a big fan of en masse catering here!). Clearly, the ballet will require a theater, and it will be interesting to see how the space has been adapted. Watch this space – but in the meantime I am reminded that it isn’t only the old architecture which makes this island appealing.