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Hogueras de San Juan

The week-long festival, Hogueras, has begun in Alicante, Spain.  It is a week of parades, parties, ninots (artful statues), firecracker/fireworks and to end it all – huge bonfires of the ninots. The first parade I saw was one with the folkloric dress.

Then there was a parade with fanciful costumes. The neighborhood groups compete and they dress alike for the parades and festivities.

There are small local parades through the neighborhood streets, with bands and costumes.  They are remarkably loud.

At 2pm each day during the week there is a performance of fireworks and firecrackers (bombas – VERY loud) in the main square of Luceros. It lasts about 5 minutes and has rhythm, not just noise.  I can hear it from my apartment which is a bit less than half a mile away, but I went to see it yesterday. There are fireworks but they don’t show up in the photos. It does get very smoky!

And it gets very dirty as there are thousands of people every day waiting and watching the performance, called the mascletá. It is a lot of work for the Alicante city cleaners with all the parades, parties and performances to keep the city as clean as possible and they do a great job.

The real highlight is the ¨planting¨ of the ninots – the statues that will be burned on June 24th. Each neighborhood spends the entire year raising money, planing a theme and creating these elaborate statues. Most of them depict social commentary.  Here are some of the first ones I have seen as they are being put up. The creators are still painting them as they go. They are placed in the streets and then the barracas, or party areas, are created next to them. Many of the city streets are closed for the week resulting in some traffic jams.

There are many more ninots to show and the very interesting people aspect of a traditional celebration – to come in the next post.


Pilgrimage to Santa Faz

Last week, Thursday, I made the Santa Faz pilgrimage with my intercambio (language exchange) person, Jaime, and his wife Silvia.  We met at the Cathedral St. Nicholas in Alicante at 7:45am.

To read about the pilgrimage you can go to:  SANTA FA.  Here is a brief summary: Santa Faz,  a pilgrimage that is unique to this part of the country, one of the most important in the Alicante when over two hundred thousand people walk on the second Thursday after Easter from Alicante to San Juan. Thousands of pilgrims will visit the 15th century monastery where the holy Santa Faz relic is kept, a linen sheet on which Christ’s face is depicted, with a single tear falling from the right eye.

The relic that was brought over from The Vatican in the 15th century by a Franciscan priest, padre Villafranca , and according to popular tradition, is the fabric with which Veronica dried the bleeding face of Jesus on the Way of the Cross. The Santa Faz relic is kept in a special room behind the main altarpiece in the Santa Faz Monastery, the Monastery of the Holy Face, and 300,000 thousand residents of the Alicante region will make the Peregrina de la Santa Faz pilgrimage, the second most popular pilgrimage in Spain. Starting out at 8 o’clock in the morning from the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, the route to the Monastery is walked in about two and a half hours.

We had visited the church on the previous Sunday to see where the relic was kept.

It was very pretty inside and the relic is kept in a small chapel behind the altar area. The chapel has to be entered from another door and has a replica of the relic that people can touch as they pray. The symbol of the relic is on the shawl that the priest is wearing and in other areas of the church. I found it interesting that the nuns were selling books and other religious items behind a counter.

It is not all religious by any means.  There were lots of families and lots of young people (jovenes) enjoying the usual festive atmosphere of a “fiesta” including alcoholic beverages and joking. It appears the new fad is writing on your skin with marker, we saw many girls with various sayings or names written on their body.

It is tradition to wear a black shirt and a neck scarf with Alicante’s colors. We saw this combination and also groups or families wearing the same colors and styles of clothing.

It was a long walk along one side of what is usually a busy highway. Most people carried cañas – the canes with rosemary (romero) at the top, as kind of a walking stick -a tradition. There were police stations to help those who were sick or injured and stands that offered wine and cookies. The lines were so long that we did not stop!

Once at the destination in San Juan, there were many, many outdoor stalls selling local items such as pottery, household items, clothing and all kinds of food. It was really colorful and interesting. There were little packages of stick like things are a sweet root that you chew on – eat (below next to the red licorice), lots of candy, different types of olives, sausages, dates, and cooked food.


We ate a bocadillo (like a sub-sandwich) and drank some water and then made the long trek back to Alicante.  It was a great day, but I was tired (walked 19km). Luckily we made it home just before a cloud-burst or we would have been tired and soaked.  I am so grateful that Jaime and his wife invited me to participate in a local tradition!

Alicante, Spain – new eyes #1

Living in Alicante, Spain (midway, east coast of Spain on the Mediterranean Sea) from April through July last year allowed me to become familiar with the city and with some of the surrounding towns.  Now that I have returned, I am not as surprised at things as I was when I first arrived –  even though I live in a different area of the city.  Here are some photos from last year of aspects of the city that surprised me when I saw it through “new eyes”.

First the beach (Mediterranean Sea) which is right in the city, it was a 7 minute walk from my apartment last year. Just to the left of the harbor.

Then there is the beautiful harbor, also right in town and with many, many yachts. I loved walking along the boardwalk that went by both the harbor and the beach.

A view from above of the harbor and the beach. Most of these are from Santa Barbara Castle.

There are the many fountains in the city and the beautiful esplanade.

And then there are the many and varied trees and plants here.

I love this city, there are so many beautiful places to walk and the weather is nice almost all year.  It is cool in the winter (40-60F) and warms up mid-April (70F +).  More to come on this interesting city.

First Few Weeks

mapI am living in Alicante, Spain which is a medium size city about half way down the eastern coast of Spain. This area is called the Costa Blanca. It is a port city of around 400,00 and is the capital of the province of Alicante in the Valencian community.  Most people speak Castellano (the Spanish we in the US know) but most everyone speaks Valenciano as well (it sounds to me to be a variation of Catalan (spoken in Barcelona and further north). Signs are in both Castilian and Valencian which are similar but different. To my ear, Valenciano sounds somewhat like a mix of French and Spanish.


The weather is fairly mild and can be hot in summer. When I arrived the end of January it was cold – 40s and 50s (Fahrenheit) and I had to buy some warmer tops as I was always cold. Many of the apartments do not have heat so you use a space heater. It is just not the same as central heating! I know that by June or July it will be warm (maybe too warm) but I am having a hard time visualizing my apartment as ever getting really warm. I am in an older building on the 2nd floor (to the US it would be the 3rd floor) with no elevator (good exercise). The floors are tile and while I do get sun it is mostly on my balcony and does not reach far into the building. Here are some friends and me in the “winter”.

There are many fabulous markets with fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, and meats. This means that there must be plenty of eating and drinking to take advantage of all that.

A favorite pastime is to have some tapas and beer or the fabulous (and inexpensive) vino tinto, or many variations of coffee. What you see here is a carajillo – coffee with brandy or other liquor. I often have coffee with my Intercambio people (not carajillo). More on my Intercambios to come, but at home I make my own coffee in a cafetera. It is delicious.

El Capuchino 2015

El Capuchino – the person wearing the hood or cap. 2015-04-02 21.07.51

It is Semana Santa this week – culminating today with Pascua or Easter. Here in Alicante there have been numerous processions (not called parades) each day/evening celebrating Easter Week.  The penitents/sinners (aren’t we all) follow a route from individual churches to the local cathedral, along with another group who carry the paso – a type of float – on their shoulders.  These depict religious scenes. The ones I saw had the Virgin and Jesus on the cross. There are also bands, children dressed in the costume of the brotherhood but without the hood as they are not penitents, and often women in black wearing mantillas. It is very solemn and quiet except for the bands playing somber music.

The people carrying these pasos/floats on their shoulders must practice for weeks ahead of time. The pasos can weigh up to 7000 pounds. They do rest during the procession which runs from 8pm to 2am more or less. They have to be lined up according to height and they don’t just walk down the street, they dance.  They go forward for a while, then sideways, then backwards, then forward again. From the distance this gives the float/paso an appearance of swaying down the street.  When it is time to rest, there is a signal and big poles are placed underneath the paso/float to hold it so that the people can take a short break.  They are all wearing the same costume, depending on the brotherhood/group to which they belong.

The robes are known as a nazareno, which the penitents wore and the pointed caps are capirote. They cover the face of the sinner. The people participating are showing their piety.  Perhaps not so much these days but ,they are showing respect for family (many belong to the same brotherhood/confradias for generations) and tradition. The processions usually start with a huge wooden cross, and the participants often carry candles.  Some of them give caramelos (candy) to the children along the route.

It is very moving to see and the streets are lined several rows deep with onlookers. They often applaud as the float goes by as it is such a challenging feat for the participants. The country is on holiday Thursday afternoon, all day Friday and Sunday. Practically every store, no matter the size is closed and people are with their families – often out-of-town. The tradition is to not eat meat on Friday and there is a bread/cake treat called a mona that is traditionally eaten. It is baked with a hard-boiled egg in the center. When eaten, each person has their own and they try to crack the egg on someone’s head when they are not looking. Lots of fun for the children! Easter and spring in Alicante.

The Last Year

I don’t remember why I stopped posting almost a year ago. I lived in Alicante, Spain until August 2014.  I then flew to Panama City, Panama for a couple of weeks and then on to Atlanta where I visited with my family.

In late August I drove to Boston and was fortunate to find a house to rent in West Newton/Waltham – a very convenient area I realized.  I delivered training all fall for Dale Carnegie and was fortunate to be able to attend their annual convention in Atlanta.

Autumn is such a beautiful time to be in New England and I was fortunate to enjoy some time with my friends.

In January 2015 I flew to Panama for a couple of weeks and then on to Alicante, Spain where I will be until mid summer.

My goal is to publish update more frequently so you can see what life is like in Alicante. More to come…

Boat to Tabarca

I recently took the boat to Tabarca, an island off the coast of Spain near Alicante. We left the dock at 11am and arrived about an hour and a half later in Tabarca. It was a very windy day and the captain kept fairly close to the shore so it was not so rough – this made for a longer ride.

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When my niece and I arrived we found only a few people on the island which is quite small. The permanent population is around 60 people making it the smallest inhabited island in Spain. There was a large group of school children though, who were gathered with their teachers listening to some kind of lecture.

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I walked around the island and Katie lay on the beach to read.  The beach is pebbly right at the water line but sandy further up. On the walk I saw an old tower and a working lighthouse at the tip of the island. The land is sandy, dry and full of what seemed to be “sagebrush” and cactus and multi colored rocks.  This does not really show up well in the photos.

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When I returned to the beach, Katie and I walked through the town and then had lunch at a restaurant full of other travelers and a group of men who had arrived on their own boat.  They were having a great time!

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At 4pm we had to run to get to the boat to leave as it took a long time to get our bill and pay (typical). Actually it was no problem as we had to wait for the men to get their boat out of the way.  Our return trip was faster and rougher as we cut directly across to Alicante. With the help of two Bonine, I made it without incident!

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