A Travellerspoint blog

May 2012

Los Cristianos and San Blas and onwards to Bristol

Last, lazy day.

semi-overcast 26 °C

Speaking to the receptionist last night, she confirmed my fears about my last wish-list item, churros: "You won't get them around here, there are too many tourists, you need to go to one of the Spanish towns like Candelaria. The tourists here only like English food." How sad. I go to Spain and I struggle to find Spanish food.....

Checking out of the hotel we were offered storage for the luggage, and also a pre-bookable room to use for an hour, free of charge, to shower and get changed. We've had the use of communal rooms in the past (if there has been one available), but never been able to pre-book a room to ourselves for an hour like that. Definite brownie points to the hotel Cordial Golf Plaza.

As Candelaria would be such a rush for us to be back for the early afternoon, we decided to see if there was a mobile churros van in Los Cristianos (as suggested by the receptionist), but after a few minutes in the town it was already annoying me, so we headed for the coast instead. I am so not a tourist resort kind of person.

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The coast at Granadillo

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A very odd looking aircraft shaped house at Granadillo.

Heading back to San Blas (the next 'resort' along the coast from Golf del Sur), we took a long, leisurely lunch in a small café, enjoying some rather nice tapas (Spanish food does exist in Tenerife!), another iced coffee and they even made us a couple of bocadillos to take on the plane with us.
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Despite a delay of an hour, the flight managed to make up some time with a good tail wind. Again we had three seats to ourselves, and the plane was nowhere near full. No drunk hen parties of strange men dressed as clowns on this flight. We were very grateful for having brought our own baguettes, as Ryanair had 'forgotten' to stock up on food in Bristol, and didn't have time to do so in Tenerife, so all they had on board was crisps, chocolate and cuppa soup.

All in all we thoroughly enjoyed Tenerife, and would be quite happy to go back again some time.

Posted by Grete Howard 13:16 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Guimar

Pyramids, Pottery and Plants

sunny 30 °C
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The original plan was to spend today at Loro Parque with the world's largest penguinarium, but a chance conversation with a lady on the whale watching trip the other day revealed that, although the rest of the park is fabulous, the penguin pool is in fact closed for restoration at the moment. Evidently as much of a penguin fan as I am, she was bitterly disappointed, just as I would have been had we made the two hour journey to see the (invisible) penguins.

So, instead, as I mentioned yesterday, we spent the best part of the day at the mysterious pyramids of Guimar, and the extremely interesting Thor Heyerdahl museum. Convinced that the ancient Egyptians sailed to South and Central America way before the Europeans 'discovered' the Americas, he also believes they stopped off in Tenerife and has gathered a lot of compelling evidence. The step pyramids at Guimar being a large part of course, but also similar pottery and the art of trepanning (drilling a hole in the skull to remove pressure without disturbing the brain) which was only practised in the ancient world in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Peru/Mexico. And by the Guanches, the original inhabitants of Tenerife. Coincidence? I think not. The same goes for mummification as we saw evidence of in the museum yesterday. The pyramids here in Tenerife were more used for sun worship than as burial chambers, and are flat-topped step pyramids, lined up towards the sun at summer solstice. Contained in beautiful grounds, we were for a long time the only humans around the pyramids, along with several cats, literally hundreds of lizards and a cute little rabbit.

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The Ruta Botanica Canaria and Jardin Secret is a tranquil botanical garden specialising in poisonous and medicinal plants. Well labelled in Spanish, English and Latin, parts of the park were still very new and lacking established and mature plants, but nevertheless it was interesting to read all about the use of poison in medicine and crime over the years.

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Avoiding the motorway, we took another narrow, winding, road back, zig-zagging its way along the hillside, with stone bridges over deep ravines, and the sides lined with gated caves, which were once lived in but now used mainly for storage.

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Later we passed an amazing wind and solar farm. Great use of the otherwise barren landscape.

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Only one thing left on my Must-Do list now (which is just as well as we go home tomorrow): churros. I'd seen a churrario not far from the hotel, but it was alas closed for refurbishment. Driving along the coast road back to our hotel, we stopped at a cute little resort called San Blas. With more of a 'centre', and more shops and restaurants than Golf del Sur, it was still almost deserted. No sign of any cafés selling churros, so when we stopped for a very refreshing iced coffee, I asked the English waitress where could buy my much desired sweet. I was rendered speechless when she asked: “What's that?” I could buy steak and kidney pies, sausage and chips and apple pie, but she had never even heard of what I was led to believe was a traditional Canarian speciality. Oh well, the iced coffee was delicious and rather cooling on a hot afternoon and I suppose I could always go to Chiquitos in Bristol when I get back home for my churros.

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Delicious iced coffee

I was determined to give my swimsuit an outing on this trip, so when we got back to the hotel we went for a quick dip in the pool. A few children were playing about in the kiddies' pool, but we had the big free-form pool to ourselves. There were, however, enough people about to give the place a bit of an atmosphere, but still plenty of free sunbeds around. It seems May is a quiet time to visit Tenerife.

Tonight's Last Supper will be prawns in white wine, cream and garlic, served with rice. With just two small cooking rings, my gastronomic repertoire is rather limited. Cooking on electric has certainly made me appreciate the instant-ness of my Induction Hob at home! We've been 'enjoying' rather well-done bacon every morning, as I haven't yet got used to how long it takes for the frying pan to heat for the eggs...

Posted by Grete Howard 10:06 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Santa Cruz

Froggies and mummies....

sunny 31 °C
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An early start this morning, along the coast on the very fast and efficient motorway. We had no real concept of distances before we left home, but the island is larger than you think. When we arrived in Santa Cruz, the capital, we were incredibly lucky to find a car park right smack in the centre of where we wanted to be, with one single space left.

In order to orientate ourselves, we took a Hop-On-Hop-Off open top sightseeing bus. And we certainly did a lot of hopping, starting at the Mercado de Nuestra Senora de Africa, a typical Canarian market. It was very clean, with tiled courtyards within courtyards and smart looking market stalls selling fruit, vegetables, flowers, meat and some delicious pastries. Everywhere is so clean – the only rubbish we see on the streets or sidewalks, are cigarette butts, but even those are not as plentiful as you see at home.

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Next hop was the Military Museum, which our useless guide book says contains the cannon which shot off Nelson's arm in 1797. Struggling to locate the entrance to the museum, we ended up walking round the block – a very big block – to find that the door was just around the corner from where we started. Had we gone the other way... Housed in the former fortress of the Almeida, it is a very interesting museum, my only regret is that I don't understand Spanish, as only a few of the exhibits had explanations in English. No obvious sign of The Tigre, the gun which rendered Horatio armless, although the museum had an impressive collection of various rifles and pistols and some very nice dioramas of the famous battle of 25th July 1797 which decided the fate of Tenerife. If the outcome had been different, maybe they would all have been speaking English today...

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The people of Tenerife are justifiably proud of this heroic moment in their military history, and many streets, plazas and buildings are named after the occasion, including the 25th July Square, which is better known as Plaza de Patos (frogs), a small tiled refuge in the middle of a roundabout, decorated in bright coloured mudejar style with public benches adorned with 19th century ceramic advertising. The central fountain contains a duck in the middle and ceramic frogs all along the rim, hence the name.

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After a very enjoyable lunch in Plaza de Espana, a small wander around to take some photos of the war memorial to General Franco in the centre of the square brought us quite accidentally to what appears to be a newish museum underneath the plaza itself, with a very unassuming entrance. The small museum is housed in what are the remains of the St Cristobal Castle (demolished in 1929 and the remains were not discovered until alteration work on the square began in 2006), and houses a fascinating exhibit of the battle between the Spanish and the English of 1797, including the famous Tigre cannon! Result! The museum was free, well documented in English, and like the Military Museum, we were the only visitors.

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Our plan was to enter only one church on this trip, the 17th century Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion, but fate would have it that it was being renovated, so it remains a churchless trip so far.

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Last stop (or hop) of the day, was the Natural History Museum, where I particularly wanted to see the pre-colonial Guanche mummies; and skulls showing evidence of trepanning. My theory about the origin of their mummification skills is that the Egyptians passed and called in on these islands on their way to South America on board their papyrus boats. I am hoping that Thor Heyerdahl's museum next to the Pyramids de Guimar (which we are hoping to visit tomorrow) may throw some more light on this.

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After seven hours of pounding the streets of Santa Cruz, we called it a day and headed back to the balcony via the local supermarket.

Posted by Grete Howard 12:08 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Whale watching boat trip

Having a whale of a time

semi-overcast 38 °C
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Nursing a well deserved hangover, we had a lazy start to the day watching two people arrive at the pool area with a whole pile of towels, reserving twelve sunbeds, then walking off again. This despite a large sign not just asking you not to, actually saying it is FORBIDDEN! The strange thing was, only 10-15% of the sunbeds were actually taken at this stage...

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The rest of the day was spent on a luxurious catamaran off the southern coast of Tenerife. Deliberately booking a coach transfer to give David a chance to drink last night too, it was fascinating to call in several hotels and all the resorts between here and Los Americas. I still prefer our quiet little resort of Golf del Sur.

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Los Americas

Being somewhat apprehensive about the type of clientèle the boat excursion would attract, I was relieved to find that despite a free bar on board, the passengers were much more interested in looking out for dolphins and whales than to pile in the booze. Raising the sails, we headed for the area where the whales are usually seen. Despite an assurance that 60% of all boat trips see dolphins and 99.9% see whales, the only life on the ocean wave were large flocks of storm petrels bobbing on the surface. A little frustrated and with a hint of embarrassment, the captain ordered the sails to be lowered again and set of by way of the powerful motor further along the coast. And there they were, a pod of short fin pilot whales in the distance. Armed with my 200-600mm zoom lens, I headed for the side of the boat and managed to get a few shots of the fins breaking over the surface of the water. After a few minutes it was becoming clear that I had the wrong lens on, and as the whales got closer and closer a wide angle lens would have been more appropriate. One of the whales actually swam right underneath where I was standing..... Wow!

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Moving on slowly, the captain suddenly spotted something else in the distance, and changed course. A large pod of bottle nosed dolphins. As is often the case, they played around in the bow wave of the boat, showing off to the camera-toting tourists. For the next couple of hours, we alternated between seeing whales and dolphins putting on various acrobatic shows for us, with the highlight being one of the whales breaching and slamming his tail noisily on the surface, several times in a row. Even the on board camera man said it was the best displays he'd seen for a long time.

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Dolphins galore!

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Breaching whale

Tired and happy, we swapped the cool ocean breeze and air conditioned coach for the hot and oppressive 38C on the balcony, When our new neighbours started a slanging match, breaking china on the hard floors and their kids screeching at full volume, we decided to retire to our own A/C lounge. Time to put a pizza in the oven. I am really quite enjoying this self-catering lark, rustling up egg and bacon for breakfast and something equally easy for dinner. What I don't like is having to buy things like salt – although not expensive, I shall only be using a very small percentage of the container. It seems such a waste, we should start a kitty system where you hand over your leftover supplies to newcomers when you leave. Although this can backfire badly – when we inherited a box full of leftover groceries from a Venezuelan couple on our one and only other self catering holiday in Barbados in 1980, we were a little perplexed to find a small deodorant in amongst the like of butter, salad cream and sugar. Our confusion turned to horror when we discovered that the deodorant was in fact not suitable for preventing BO, it was full of drugs! Oh, what to do? Should we hand it in to the police station next door? Not wanting to cause an international incident, and having seen the inside of the said police station when we called in to get our local driving licence, we decided against that course of action. Just putting it in the bin could have been easily traceable to our apartment, so that was out of the question too. Eventually, after much deliberation and cursing of the nightmare situation we found ourselves in, we flushed the stuff down the loo, leaving us in a constant state of paranoia for days afterwards!

Posted by Grete Howard 11:03 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Orotavo,, La Casa de los Balcones, Dragon Tree, Butterflies

Today we went over the top..... of the island that is.

sunny 41 °C
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35 years ago today, David and I said “I do” in the Town Hall in Oslo (or “I will” even, but that's another story...), but today he was driving me round the bend. In fact I have never seen so many hairpin bends in one day. Taking the same route as we did a couple of days ago (that's the problem with being based in one place for a week, you do tend to have to repeat certain journeys), we thought the journey to the top of the island was winding, but that was nothing compared with the road down the other side.

Today we made our way from the south of the island where we are staying, to the north west, across the middle and the highest road in Tenerife at over 2000 metres. Once we'd passed the base of the teleferico (cable car) to the top of Mount Teide, this was all new ground to us. I loved the different micro climates as we ascended to the higher ground – the tropical vegetation at sea level with swaying palms, then the cacti along the side of the road, many now sporting bright yellow and orange flowers. Higher up the pine trees look almost fluffy when backlit by the morning sun. Ascending above the tree line, the vegetation changes, and huge craggy boulders change place with the pine trees, the scenery becoming more like you would see in the Sahara (apart from the sand, the ground here was more like small shingles, which managed to penetrate every inch of my shoes) – but I suppose we are nearer Africa than Europe here, so that would make sense. At 2100 metres above sea level the temperatures are much cooler, at a comfortable 24C.

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Descending through the layers of vegetation, the desert flora changes yet again to pine forests, which again make way for enormous banana plantations as we get nearer to sea level, with the odd Jacaranda – my favourite tree! On the way we stopped at the lovely old village of Orotava to see the La Casa de los Balcones, a beautiful 17th century sprawling town house with romantic courtyards and quaint balconies (hence the name) but completely taken over (and ruined) by tourist shops. Although the 'carpet' made from different coloured volcanic sands was quite impressive.

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'Carpet' made from sand.

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Quaint but touristy courtyard

So why did we make this epic journey along literally dozens and dozens of dozens of jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, breath-taking, mind-blowing bends? To see a tree of course, why else? Not just any old tree, but a really old tree. 1500 years old (or so, what's a few hundred years between friends...?) in fact. The tree is known as the 'Dragon Tree' because its sap turns red on contact with air – dragon's blood. It was worth the climb of 49 steps in the midday heat, followed by a steep slope to see this amazing tree. It wasn't until we got back home we realised that we had in fact been looking at the wrong tree! Oh well, it was the same species.....

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The alternative dragon tree.

From the Dragon Tree it was a short walk to the Butterfly Museum – a lovely enclosed area full of – yes, you guessed it – butterflies (and a resident four foot long iguana). It was a beautiful little 'museum', and I now know how to ask for pensioner's discount in Spanish! I know we are not technically 'pensioners' yet, but in fact we are worse off than retired folk – we have given up work and earnings but are not yet receiving a pension; so I never feel guilty asking for the concession! Despite David predicting that the butterfly place would be crowded as it's a Sunday, we were in fact alone in the place. (as we were by the 'false' dragon tree, but that is perhaps not surprising...)

The wonderful thing about the butterfly house, was that all the inhabitants are bred here, none are caught in the wild, and they are helping to conserve many endangered species. It was, however, hot, hot, hot inside, as well as extremely humid – every few minutes huge fans would spew out a fine mist, and there was a hosepipe on the go at all times spraying the exotic plants. I did find I got used to the heat and humidity fairly quickly though, and once back outside again, the air felt positively cold. According to the thermometer in the car, it was 41C!

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The journey back was no less spectacular than the trip there, until we got to Las Americas, that is: my idea of holiday hell! Rows upon rows of almost identical tourist apartments line every spare inch of the ground from the sea to way up the hillside. Give me the quaint old mountain side villages with their rustic colourings, steep cobbled streets and Moorish architecture any day.

Being our wedding anniversary, I was given a break from cooking tonight, and we walked down to a restaurant we'd seen a few nights ago, where the menu looked inviting. I had some lovely octopus 'Gallician style' and the Chateaubriand was to die for, cooked just how we like it (hardly at all!) A very fitting end to a beautiful day.

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Posted by Grete Howard 13:51 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

Pilgrimage cave and Jungle Park

Saint and zoo

sunny -34 °C
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Another hot day, reaching 34C this afternoon. Maybe the ex-pat we met on the flight over was right in his forecast of a heatwave with temperatures reaching 39C by Sunday.

There once was a poor and lonely shepherd, whose name was Pedro. Devoting his life to Christ, he lived in a cave near El Medano in the 1700s, before deciding that he was needed in the Americas to spread his faith. Catching a ship across the Atlantic, his funds ran out in Cuba, but somehow he managed to work his way along to Honduras, where he disembarked and walked to Guatemala City. Despite his extreme poverty, he managed to beg and gain sponsorship to found a convalescence home for the poor. His good deeds were finally officially recognised when he was canonised by the Pope in 2002, as the Canaries' only saint. His cave is now a place of pilgrimage in a rather out of place setting right at the edge of the airport underneath the runway lights. A small wooden sign in the middle of nowhere directs you to the cave, where a lot of money seems to have been spent on the approach leading to his very modest underground abode. No more than just a small enclosure in the side of the cliff, the cave is now full of flowers and candles as befits a place of pilgrimage.

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Using a next-to-useless guide book and rather hit and miss signage, we headed for Las Aguilas Jungle Park – a zoo by any other name. I love a good zoo, and this really was a good zoo. The hefty entrance price turned out to be quite good value for money, at just a Euro less than the cable car to the top of Mount Teide yesterday. Despite generally favourable prices, the touristy stuff isn't really that cheap here.

Beautifully laid out in a verdant jungle setting, the park features peaceful shady walkways, exciting rope bridges as well as large enclosures full of what appears to be well looked after and contented exotic animals. We did succumb to the tourist trap of having our pictures taken with the birds as we arrived, but avoided the flying displays, favouring a gently and relaxing five hour walk in amongst the flora and fauna. Save for a few Russian families and and the odd topless British chav (why do past-middle-age portly men think it is suitable to walk around shirt-less?), the place was almost deserted. Bathing tigers, swinging gibbons, lazy crocodiles, pacing leopards, roaring lions, fat old orangutans, my first sighting of a black panther, free flying macaws, the best cactus garden I have ever seen all added to the enjoyment of the day. And there were penguins.

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A very odd but very refreshing drink....

Back on the balcony testing out the local rum. The first four glasses seem to be OK, but I have to make sure it's not a fluke...

I thoroughly enjoyed practising my (extremely limited) Spanish in the supermarket this afternoon, buying some pre-marinated chicken pieces on the butcher's counter: “Piquante?” (“No”) “Quesiera.... para dos...” Grateful for having packed my sambal oelek, the chicken was thoroughly enjoyable with some 'tortilla papas' and salad left over from yesterday. More than enough food for two, we now have some left over for a picnic tomorrow'.
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Posted by Grete Howard 13:27 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Mount Teide National Park

Getting high in Tenerife


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Apparently parts of the Planet of the Apes films were shot here, and I can see why – the landscape in the Teide National Park is certainly outer worldly. With miradors (viewpoints) all along the narrow, winding road leading to the base of the teleferico (cable car), the journey through the national park takes a while. The views are surreal, with an almost lunar landscape of volcanic rocks and barren lava flows. Although bleak and inhospitable, the desert-like setting with its bizarre rock formations and unique flora possess a stark a austere beauty.

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An eight minute cable car ride takes you to the UNESCO Heritage site of Mount Teide. At 3,718 metres above sea level, it is not only the highest mountain in Tenerife, but in Spain too. Growing up in Norway, a country I always think of as extremely mountainous, I find it incredible to think that Mount Teide is over 50% higher than the highest peak in Norway! Although we did not climb to the actual peak (permit required, usually only issued to scientists) even at 3,555 metres breathing feels laboured and the going is tough on the rough paths over and around the volcanic rocks, but the views are worth any discomfort. The sulphur-laden air is much cooler than at sea level, and I am really glad I packed my fleece and jacket. I am not good in strong winds as my eyes water badly – not only is my vision impaired because of my eyes constantly welling up, but of course the tears then drop on to my glasses to blur things further. All fun and games when you have a rocky, uneven, steep path with sheer drops on one of both sides. Add crowds of camera-touting tourists wanting their picture taken with the mountain as backdrop, impaired lung capacity as a result of the altitude and strong winds – not exactly what I would call 'a walk in the park.' I have to say it was an absolutely amazing experience though.

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Posted by Grete Howard 11:54 Comments (0)

Golf del Sur, Tenerife

Goodbye rain, hello sunshine

Thursday 10th May

The old adage of 'you get what you pay for, is certainly true of Ryanair; it also seems to dictate the type of clientèle you get. I'm not sure whether it was Hannah's hen party of Steve's stag night who won the decibel competition (although the kid testing his lung capacity came a very close third). Hannah and her friends did a very good farmyard impression, cackling like chickens and squealing like pigs, but Steve won the Most Ridiculous Travel Outfit Ever competition: lemon yellow baby grow with lime green spots finished with a large red bow on the top of his head. The cabin crew were less than impressed and threatened to fly us to Iceland rather than Tenerife if the hens didn't shut up and listen to the safety announcements. Every third announcement over the tannoy seemed to be directed at the gaggle of girls - “please sit down”, “please don't scream”, “please consider passengers around you”, “please fasten your set belt”, “please listen to the safety briefing”, “please don't ring for attention, we WILL get to you with the drinks trolley...”

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We landed (very heavily it has to be said) in Tenerife to much cheering and screeching from the farm animals (and much annoyance to the cabin crew as the girls refused to remain seated); and other than having to carefully step over a large pile of vomit in the corridor to the terminal building, it was all very civilised.

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First impressions are that Tenerife is almost deserted. 30 spare seats on the aircraft meant we had a row of three seats to ourselves; and the man from the car hire firm lamented we were his only customers today. There wasn't another soul in the enormous lobby area of the hotel when we arrived, not even any staff behind reception. Only a single one of the hundred or so sunbeds around the pool was taken. To be fair, it was 18:00 by this time and maybe all the guests were back in their rooms getting ready for a wild night on town. Or maybe not.

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After a quick visit to the supermarket next door, we settled on the balcony with some cheese and wine. Not overly impressed with the wine, nor the cheese for that matter, but the balcony is lovely, as is the apartment in general. Simply furnished but very clean and spacious.

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As the wifi doesn't quite reach to the room (despite the receptionist's attempt at giving us the (vacant) room nearest the lobby for that reason), I was forced to go to the bar later in the evening in order to upload this blog, Oh, the lengths I go to for my readers!

Posted by Grete Howard 14:15 Comments (2)

Introducing Tenerife

It's time for another trip...

At my dad's request we are having shorter breaks and staying closer to home this year, so we have been looking at European destinations that are new to us. The fact that the climate in Tenerife is more African than European certainly helps, and once I started researching the island, I discovered that Tenerife does in fact have quite a lot to offer the curious visitor.

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Basing ourselves in a (supposedly) four star aparthotel in Golf del Sur, we are hiring a car to explore the island. We just have to survive four hours squashed into what Ryanair call an airline seat first. Wish us luck.

Wifi, time, and alcohol-infused brain allowing, I shall make my usual daily updates.

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Posted by Grete Howard 09:05 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

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