Sunday, January 10, 2016

2015: A Year in Review - March/April

So moving on slowly to part 2 of the 2015 round up we have now reached the months of March and April.

March was notable for a couple of concerts – Ed Sheeren (a little unexpected that one – very much E’s idea as I was not particularly familiar with his oeuvre but we had a cracking time and the venue was great (Media City arena which is where we had earlier gone to see Sting who incidentally was also excellent) and then on St Patrick’s Day, Bob Geldorf at the Irish Village. My Cousin K and his wife A were staying and were very keen to sample some traditional Paddy’s Day fayre – Dubai style so we went to the most Irish place we could think of and were treated to a nostalgic return to the late 70s/early 80s with Rat Trap/Don’t like Monday’s/Banana Republic. He may be getting on a bit but it was a good concert and as an added bonus we were able to sit down and watch it reasonably close to the stage! We also treated my notoriously cricket-hating Cousin to a trip to the Yorkshire CC benefit evening which was being run by a colleague at a Downtown hotel (excellent views of the Burg). It was a good evening, made memorable by the fact that I was able to meet and have a chat with England’s cricket captain Alistair Cook who was delivering the main address (his demotion from the England one day squad for the World Cup still something of an exposed nerve it seems).

At the end of March we also went on one of our more adventurous holidays – a trip to Granada, Spain to learn Spanish! This was preceded by a visit to Madrid where we spent three days touring the main sights – including the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyseen (where we saw an excellent Dufy retrospective). E had chosen an excellent location for the Hotel – close to the museums and galleries and right next door to an excellent park – the Buen Retiro which had a boating lake (which the kids loved), various cafes and statues (with oversized necks – presumably to stop the heads falling off!). We had a lovely few days in Madrid and then set off in our hire car for the c.4/5 hour drive to Granada.

We were staying at a little pensione in a village called Viznar high up in the hills surrounding Granada and with fantastic views both towards the snow-capped Sierra Nevada and the plains upon which Granada had been built by the Moors/Muslims and developed further in the 12/13th Century before the Catholic Kings took it back in 1492. Viznar was formerly the centre of baking in the local area and provided the bread that fed Granada. Even today there are a number of bakeries and we were lucky enough to sample some of the bread while we were there.

Our teachers were Julia and Almudena and we had a packed programme of activities – mainly learning as a family in the morning and then going on trips – to the local market in Viznar or to the local Science park/history museum in the afternoon to practice what we had learned. We also managed to explore the City of Granada – including the spectacular Alhambra Palace which rather ironically gave a good insight into an ancient Muslim city (and Muslim architecture and design) in a way we have never encountered all the time we have lived in Dubai.

We were very fortunate with the weather – the previous week it had apparently been snowing in Viznar but we were in shirt sleeves most of the time during the day and were able to explore the area including a guided walk around the old part of Granada and on the last day a hike followed by a family picnic with Julia and Almudena’s families in the Mountains.

It was an eye opening experience and whilst it was actually quite hard work (I was always rubbish at languages) the immersion into local culture was excellent. It also helped that Julia and Almudena spoke good English and were clearly very enthusiastic and the food was excellent – we found a restaurant in the near by village which did excellent prawns and a lovely dish of broad beans. The kids were especially taken by the water drinking fountains on all the streets – very much a novelty of having a free drink whenever they wished.

Our visit coincided with the various Easter parades so we were lucky enough to experience a whole evening of parades by various groups of men and women dressed up mainly in rather sinister looking purple or black robes with pointed hoods carrying huge statues of the Virgin Mary and other icons on pedestals lit with numerous candles and accompanied by bands. The crowds were large and the atmosphere was terrific. We also so a smaller scale version of this in Viznar.

A. and I also managed a visit to the Estadio Bernebau - home of Real Madrid. It gave us a chance to compare it to our visit to the Camp Neu in Barcelona. There was very little to choose between them but I guess with us both being Barca fans, Barcelona FC won out!

Our journey back to Madrid coincided with the return from the Easter holidays of half of Spain so our trip took around twice as along as the drive down which led to a couple of sharp words between the driver and navigator although fortunately we had set off sufficiently early (in the hope of a couple of hours sight-seeing on the way) that there was no risk of missing our flight by to Dubai.

This was very much the highlight of April. I also travelled back for the funeral of my Uncle Tom in the UK – very much a day trip as I got the early flight at 3:30am and was driven to the cemetery in Northampton by my Cousins’s wife L, read the Eulogy with my Sister and then had a couple of hours at the wake before catching the 8:15 flight back to Dubai. It was a sad day although he had a good send off.

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