Ok, yes, I know it’s been a month since my last post, that return to blogging I talked about in August didn’t exactly go to plan. But I’m trying to not be so hard on myself for not being productive, when it’s been such a weird year. Anyways, I actually have some decent content that I’m feeling inspired to write about again, because I TRAVELLED!
Now, yes I am aware of the issues around travelling during a pandemic. But I reached a point where I needed it for my mental wellbeing. I was officially made redundant from my job, effective from the end of October, as there simply isn’t enough tourism to sustain us over the winter. I have a few ideas on what I might do next (more on that another time), but I was feeling pretty lost and down and frustrated by the whole situation (which has been true all year more or less) so taking a trip felt like I was finally able to do something I love again, and gave me a break from the job hunt I now face. I travelled to Spain to visit friends, who are in areas where the rates are lower than the rest of the country, no worse than they are in Edinburgh right now – also parts of Spain I haven’t been to before! I made sure to follow all the rules there properly, and complete all the necessary paperwork for arrival. I went for 2 weeks, and I’m now back in the UK under my 2 week quarantine period, which I am observing correctly – despite the numbers of people who’ve told me it would be pretty easy to ignore it!
Right, that’s the Covid notice out of the way, on to the fun part. My trip started off in Gran Canaria, where I was staying in Las Palmas to visit a friend working there. The first few days were spent in the city, before exploring further afield at the weekend, when she didn’t have to work, so there’ll be a second post about that half of the trip. I arrived in the middle of the afternoon on my first day, and was pretty exhausted after an early morning and a long flight – does anyone else forget just how far away the Canary Islands are? I mean, they’re more Africa than Europe? I was also very surprised by how cloudy it was – I signed up for Spanish sun! I was informed that while much of the island gets plenty of sun, Las Palmas frequently has this cloud hovering over the city, especially in the afternoons, though rain isn’t common. The cloud is nicknamed ‘panza de burro’, which literally translates to ‘donkey’s belly’! Anyways, it was a very quiet, chilled afternoon, followed by a stroll around Vegueta, the old town area of Las Palmas, and a couple of beers at a street cafe there. The cloud did move off in time for our walk though, and actually a lot of my photos are from that evening rather than the next day, when it was significantly more overcast.
The next morning, I headed out to explore the Vegueta area in more detail, while the panza continued to float overhead, and there actually was rain in the forecast, so this was to be my indoor museum day! I was still able to appreciate the beauty of the old town though, with all its winding cobbled streets, and beautiful architecture – what I wouldn’t give to have a cute little balcony like so many of the houses do! My first stop was the Museo Canario, which covers the island’s early history, of its indigenous people, before the Spanish arrived at the end of the 15th century. There were lots of artefacts and models showing how they lived and worked and farmed the land, accompanied by an audioguide if you scanned the QR codes. There was also a lot about their burials and funerary rites, with the actual mummified remains and skeletons of people on display. I was certainly not prepared to walk in to a room full of so many skulls, but it was definitely interesting! The other popular museum in the area that I visited is the Casa de Colon, which was the house Christopher Columbus stayed in when he stopped off in Gran Canaria en route to the Americas. It’s a pretty building, all painted yellow and situated around a central courtyard full of plants – and a pair of macaws who live there! There are exhibits about his time on the island and his voyages, as well as on ships, maps, and navigation from that era in general. I think there were more rooms upstairs, but it seemed to be closed off for renovation, so I didn’t get to see everything. It didn’t take me that long to get around the museums, less than an hour in each I would say, but it depends on how interested you are in the topic – I definitely didn’t read or listen to everything.
The central feature of Vegueta is the Catedral de Santa Ana, which is the main cathedral of Las Palmas, and overlooks the Plaza de Santa Ana, the main square in the area. It’s a wide, open, paved square, lined with palm trees (of which there are hundreds around the city, naturally, being its namesake!) and benches. At the front of the square, there are several statues of dogs looking towards the cathedral – I eventually learned that apparently they were modelled after the Canarian hunting dogs that the indigenous islanders kept? I don’t know if that’s confirmed though! To visit the cathedral, you have to buy a ticket to visit the Museum of Sacred Arts attached to it, but this didn’t really appeal to me. Instead, I bought the €1.50 ticket to go one of the bell towers, which was absolutely worth it for the panoramic views I got up there! I could see all over the city, and to the port and out to sea as well. The northern part of the city is quite modern, but around Vegueta and to the west, it climbs up into the mountains, and there are hundreds of little coloured houses perched all along the steep crags, with a million stories inside to be told I’m sure.
I crossed over the main road – which is built inside a former river, and the closest translation we could find was the gully – to the Triana district, which is the city’s main commercial, shopping area. Despite being commercial, there are lots of beautiful buildings still, and the pedestrianised zone is full of pretty street lamps and more balconies, so it’s nice to wander around even if you aren’t planning to do much actual shopping (which I wasn’t). There are a couple of particularly notable buildings in the area as well, including the Teatro Perez Galdos, named after the city’s most famous writer, and the Gabinete Literario, a stunning 19th century cultural centre. I passed by the Casa Museo de Perez Galdos, inside the house where he was born, but as I haven’t read any of his work, and they only had tours in Spanish, I didn’t visit. I wandered around the area and all the way up to the Parque de San Telmo, a small paved park full of trees, situated around a bandstand, and a beautiful Art Nouveau kiosk cafe in one corner.
I wandered back over to Vegueta to meet my friend for a late lunch (well, not really that late by Spanish standards actually!), then continued on to one more museum while she had a meeting. This time it was the CAAM (Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno), a modern art gallery with temporary exhibitions by various artists. I think I was the only person there at that time, so social distancing was definitely not an issue! Modern art is a bit hit or miss for me, as I feel like I can’t fully appreciate or understand pieces just by looking at them, I need some sort of explanation of the artist’s intention – but then I question if that should really be necessary when creating art, shouldn’t it speak for itself? Anyways, I could write loads (and have before) about this topic, so I digress. I certainly didn’t understand a lot of the pieces I saw in the CAAM that day, but a few of them were pretty cool, especially those by a Cuban artist, after we had been there back at the start of this year. It filled in a bit of time anyways, until my friend was free again. We met to go for some drinks and dinner, and just in time too, as the skies suddenly opened and it poured down with torrential rain for most of the evening!
The next day, while my friend was back in work again, I set out to explore more of the city, this time heading north all the way to Playa de las Canteras. This is the most popular part of the city for tourists (though the south of the island is where the majority go in general), to enjoy the beach there. However, rather than taking the bus, I had decided to walk, which should have taken an hour or so, but in fact took me nearly two, as I was exploring other parts of Las Palmas along the way. I headed up through Triana again, and on to Parque Doramas. I had seen it listed as one of the main parks in the city, but it ended up being smaller than I expected, just a few paths through the trees and several water features – although watching the black swans flying across the surface of the water was a pretty exciting moment! The park was also situated behind a large hotel, which I hadn’t realised at first, and one of the water features actually had a raised drawbridge that would lead into the hotel if lowered. I could exit the park through the hotel grounds, and it was definitely an impressive looking place. I wasn’t entirely sure if I was meant to be walking across their front gardens, but there were plenty of ground-staff around and no one stopped me! There was a large statue at the front gate, in the form of a large rock with figures leaping from it.
From there, the quickest route to the beach would have been to continue directly north, but instead I chose to cross the main road to the east, to walk alongside the port instead. My route took me first through the Parque Romano, which runs alongside the coastal road, and seems to be especially popular as a running route. It was a bit annoying being on that side of the road, instead of closer to the water, but I wasn’t sure how to cross such a major road, and I could at least still see all the yacht masts crowding the harbour, and the hills of La Isleta beyond. I eventually did cross the road at the end of the park, to reach the promenade behind Playa de las Alcaravaneras. This beach was pretty empty, but my friend had already advised me that it wasn’t as nice as Las Canteras, because the water was more polluted, being so close to the port. And sure enough, I could see plenty of huge shipping vessels drifting by further out to sea. Still, it was nicer walking alongside the coast than through the middle of the city, I thought anyways. I continued north, until I eventually had to cut through a few streets lined with shops and restaurants aimed at tourists, including the Parque de Santa Catalina, which I would describe as a square rather than a park really.
But then it was just a few short metres to the beach itself, which is a huge stretch of sand, curving around most of the north side of the city, backed by a promenade lined with restaurants. It’s easy to see why this is the most touristic part of the city, but given that it was October, and tourism is down this year anyway, it wasn’t all that busy. Most of the beachgoers seemed to be older retirees, which also made a lot of sense seeing that it was a Thursday! I found a spot to soak up some sun for a while – because thankfully the cloud had moved off enough to let it shine through – doing some writing and my fair share of people-watching while I was there.
An hour or two later my friend arrived after work, and I walked down the promenade to meet her for lunch at La Bikina, where we got seats right beside the sand. She had told me they served international food, but I wasn’t expecting to see everything from Mexican to Indonesian on the menu! I went with a Peruvian dish in the end, which was larger than I could manage to eat. We headed back down on to the sand afterwards, to sunbathe a bit more, then go for a quick swim. This beach is particularly popular with surfers (as well as many other beaches around the island), as the waves get pretty big sometimes, but luckily for us swimmers, it wasn’t too much that afternoon. We whiled away most of the afternoon there, before catching the bus back through town, for a quiet evening – sun and the sea does tire you out a bit apparently!
Don’t forget to check out Part 2 of Gran Canaria, the island beyond Las Palmas!