Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Parking in Tenerife’s Towns – It Helps to be in the Know.

First of all I’d like to thank ‘scotrock’ whose comments in the last blog reminded me that trying to find parking in any big town or city can be a real nightmare. This applies pretty much anywhere of course and finding parking in Tenerife’s towns is no exception.

It’s something you tend to erase from your memory when you’ve lived here for a while (isn’t that the brain’s way of dealing with bad experiences), but initially for us Puerto de la Cruz, La Orotava, Santa Cruz, La Laguna and many, many other places on Tenerife all made cracking the Da Vinci Code seem like child’s play compared with finding a place to park.

Of course once you get to know places you discover that there are car parks all over, but this falls into that old Tenerife approach to imparting helpful information to others: ‘you have to already know where the car parks are to know where the car parks are.’ The same thinking applies to fiestas – ‘you have to know what times fiesta events take place to know what time they actually take place.’

If that doesn’t make any sense, spend some time here and it soon will.

Anyway, here’s a brief guide to the big 4 where parking doesn’t have to be a high blood pressure inducing nightmare…

Puerto de la Cruz
Puerto has one of the biggest free car parks on Tenerife and it’s right in the centre of town beside the harbour. The hard bit comes in trying to find it for the first time.

A lot of maps show the area that is actually the car park as the ‘Parque Maritimo’ and sometimes, a bit more accurately, as ‘futuro Parque Maritimo’.
The truth is that it’s been the ‘futuro parque maritimo’ for 30 years, but is, and will be for quite a while longer, the main town car park.

It’s just one of Tenerife’s quaint, or frustrating depending on your viewpoint, little foibles.  The main access is beside the town’s football pitch (accessed from the coastal road at Playa Jardín).

La Orotava
Apart from fiesta times, it’s usually easy to park on the residential streets below the Iglesia de la Concepción. However, you have to know your way around to get to them from the motorway. It’s easier for visitors to follow the TF21 (road to Mount Teide) and head right into the San Agustín car park (well signposted) in the centre of town. It’s right on the edge of the old town, so perfect for exploring Tenerife’s most noble town.

Santa Cruz
God bless the new bus station car park. This has to be the best car park in the world. It’s bright, cheap, modern and I can’t think of anything else on Tenerife which has been so well thought out. A lighting system makes finding spaces easy even on the busiest of days (green light means a free space). it’s a 10 minute walk to the centre of town – a fact which deters a lot of Tinerfeños from parking there, so it’s rarely too busy. It’s also easy to get to from the motorway – straight down Avenida Tres de Mayo. It makes driving into the city a joy.

La Laguna
Oh, well. What can you say about La Laguna? It’s a test of nerve for sure. The old town’s narrow streets are particularly testing with drivers unsure of who’s got right of way. Only this week I watched a small white van plough into the side of a car at a junction (nobody was hurt). Amusingly, even the mini version of La Laguna at Pueblo Chico has minor car accidents on its model streets. There are car parks, but negotiating the maze of streets to find them is the big problem.

I found the perfect solution – a free car park on the edge of the old town reached from the ring road which skirts La Laguna on the way to Tegueste. It was perfect. Even on fiesta days I managed to park there easily… until the authorities designated it as the space for a new health centre. However, it was right beside the market which does have a large underground car park, so it’s still a good spot for parking without having to drive through the city.

These are only a brief snapshot, but hopefully they might help some poor souls avoid parking hell on Tenerife.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Did You Hear the One About the Canario, the Swallow and the First Time Visitors to Tenerife?

I’m nosey, I confess it. I listen in to other people’s conversations all the time. I don’t do it deliberately, but clearly I’ve got one of those built in triggers which kicks in when it hears certain key words.

Last night the words which set it off were ‘giant moth’.

The conversation was taking place between a Canarian barman, a newly arrived pair of British swallows (people who spend the winter in Tenerife and fly back to their home country for summer) and a sweet young couple who were visiting the island for the first time. They'd found themselves staying way off the tourist trail in Isla Baja and had been travelling into Puerto de la Cruz in the evening for a bit of nightlife.

I’d already warmed to the young couple earlier as they had a lovely fresh enthusiasm for learning about Tenerife and had spent a lot of time asking the barman how to say certain things in Spanish. He duly obliged, only coming unstuck when they asked him to translate ‘cider and black’ into Spanish.

Anyway, I’d stopped listening until I heard the words ‘giant moth’. The young couple had moved on from asking the barman how to ask for a ‘roll’ or ‘sea bass’ in Spanish and had started telling a couple of swallows next to them about their exploits.

Seemingly they’d been out and about quite a lot, using only public transport, and that day had visited Icod de los Vinos to see the famous ‘Millenium Drago Tree’. The lad was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t actually shaped like a dragon, but what had impressed them both was a visit to the ‘Mariposario’ butterfly park next to the Drago Tree – especially a little or rather, more accurately, frighteningly mutant sized, fellow called ‘Atticus Atlas’.

The Mariposario is a fascinating place to visit and the young couple were clearly blown away by the experience, if a little freaked by encountering a ‘butterfly’ the size of a blackbird.  However, it was the conversation which followed which really interested me. As they enthused about the butterfly park, they asked the swallows if they’d been – they hadn’t. They asked them if they’d been to see the Drago tree – again they hadn’t. Despite having visited the island yearly since before the young couple they were talking to were born, they had never made the 20 minute journey down the coast to see one of Tenerife’s icons. As the young couple rattled off more places, the answers came back, ‘no, not been there’, ‘no, haven’t actually seen that.’

It’s not the first time I’ve heard this type of conversation between ‘interested’ new visitors and people who have visited year after year for the last couple of decades.

I sometimes wonder if some seasoned visitors can become complacent and forget that they haven’t actually seen all there is to see on Tenerife.

The young couple engaged the barmen in the conversation and asked him if he’d seen the ‘super moth.’

“Why would I pay to see a butterfly?” He shrugged his shoulders dismissing the world’s largest butterfly just like that.

It seems it’s not just veteran visitors who can become complacent about getting out and about to discover the best of this island.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

A Month Going Native in Tenerife – Fiestas, Cool Bars, Golden Beaches and Transvestites

Every so often, I like to have a look back at what went on and the things we saw, or did over the previous few weeks. We never manage to get to half of the places, concerts, events or fiestas that we would like to go to that take place on Tenerife on a continual basis – there are just too many. But without exception, there’s always something new to us, something quirky, or something just plain mind blowing in the pot and on too many occasions, the best of them take place outside of many visitors’ radar. Here’s a quick summary of the last few weeks.

The Virgen de Candelaria
The fiesta of the year in Candelaria attracted tens of thousands of pilgrims who walked from all over the island to honour the Canary Island’s patron saint. We cheated and drove. Candelaria looked as good as we’d ever seen it and the basilica looked magnificent as the people of the town re-enacted the Guanche discovering the virgin on the beach in Laurel and Hardy fashion.
Glad to be Gay
Puerto’s gay week was a lot of fun and the gay parade which rounded off the week was like watching a remake of Priscilla, Queen of the desert. The ‘Beauty Queens’ gave their female counterparts a run for the money in the glamour stakes and no doubt had some onlookers who didn’t know what was going on wondering ‘are they, or aren’t they?’
Tenerife’s Most Decadent Bar?
Incredibly our first night time visit to Abaco cocktail bar, what must be one of the island’s most unique bars. Live light jazz in a colonial mansion where the tasteful arrangements of exotic fruits litter the floor.
Getting to the Heart of the Matter in Tejina
It’s been a couple of years since we last saw the people of Tejina, in the garden of Tenerife in the north of the island, bare their hearts in one of the island’s sweetest fiestas. And what stunning hearts they were, made from elaborate designs of fruit and pastries.
Undiscovered Country – The Eastern Anagas
We tested out a potential new route for our Real Tenerife Walks series and found spectacular views, a quirky early warning station from the 2nd World War and also that trying to retrieve a hat blown off by the wind is a sure way to end up with a leg full of cactus spines.

Tenerife’s Best Beach
There’s a lot of work planned for what we think is Tenerife’s most stunning beach, Las Teresitas. Thankfully none of it has so far ruined its exotic appearance – of course we had to spend some time lying on it to check this out… it’s a hard job and all that.
The White Fiesta
Puerto’s last dance fiesta of the summer involved everyone wearing white. It turned out we were the oldest revellers there by decades… apart from the Bavarians who had wandered along from the Bavarian Beer Festival in their lederhosen to add a surreal element to the scene.
Some young Tinerfeño lads, one of whom insisted that he was Jim Carrey’s distant cousin through his mother’s side, told me confidently that Manchester United would win the Champion’s League this season, but Tenerife would win it next season, presumably after winning La Liga. Bless them.
Country Lanes and Fresh Trout
And the four weeks were rounded off by a gentle stroll through La Orotava’s pine forests and Aguamansa’s flower lined country lanes followed by a lunch of fresh trout (2 for €4.80) in the forestry worker’s favourite haunt at La Caldera.

One of the wonderful things about this island is that there is no such thing as a typical month in Tenerife… if you’re willing to make the effort that is.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The Weather in Tenerife… Again. The North of Tenerife in Summer

Last weekend I was having a conversation about different parts of Tenerife with a bloke who lives in the south of the island. He told me that he thought the north of Tenerife around Puerto de la Cruz was beautiful and lush, but he couldn’t live there because it was too cold and wet.

We’ve covered this topic many times in the past and will no doubt do so again, and again, but the weather is something that comes up over and over on forums, travel sites and just about every time I meet someone who doesn’t live in the north and I tell them where I stay. It is a topic that is especially dear to poor old weather weary Brits’ hearts, who every year are promised a burning hot summer and invariably end up with a washed out one.

The perception of the weather in the north of Tenerife is partly based on facts, partly based on a misleading interpretation of what cooler and wetter than the south of Tenerife actually means, partly based on a lack of understanding of weather readings and partly because of perceptions by people who don’t actually live there - like my friend who thought it was always too cold and wet.

Here are a few facts that will hopefully paint a more accurate picture of the weather in the north, especially over the summer months.
  • We’ve eaten breakfast, lunch and dinner outside on the terrace every day since the beginning of June.
  • The last time we saw any rain was a brief shower during the night in June (the fact that there was any rain in June was unusual). There is hardly any rain between June and October. Of course, I've probably jinxed it now.
  • We very rarely wear anything other than a T-shirt and shorts between June and October – anything else and we’d be sweating buckets.
  • Most of the time between July and September the temperature is touching the 30 degrees mark (remember that official readings are always taken in the shade, which is why it always feels hotter on holiday than the average temperatures suggest).
This is what the north of Tenerife is really like in the summer months.

So here’s a bit of advice. If you want to know what the weather is really like for any part of Tenerife whether it’s south, west, east or north only ever believe the advice from someone who actually lives in that area, or knows it very, very well.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Learning Spanish – the art of miscommunication.

Before moving to Tenerife, Jack and I spent an academic year doing night school courses in Spanish at the Cervantes Institute in Manchester.
We had an absolutely brilliant group with whom we bonded right from the start and together we stuttered and stumbled our way through Elementary Spanish levels 1 to 3.

Having mastered the rudimentary of such everyday situations as introducing ourselves, asking directions, going to the doctor and ordering food and drink, we set off for our new life.
We arrived in Puerto de la Cruz at 10pm on a Sunday night and had to go to a local bar to ask for the agent who held the keys to our house. We confidently asked the barman:
Do you know where Fredy is?” and then stood with our mouths open while he gave his response.
As the torrent of unintelligible sounds floated past our ears with not one single recognisable word in it, we looked at each other in horror and realised we’d spent £600 apiece and a year of our lives learning the wrong Spanish.

Studying Castellano and then arriving in the Canaries is the equivalent of a Spaniard learning English and then moving to Newcastle or Glasgow. Although technically it’s the same language, it might as well be Mandarin for all the understanding you’re going to have to begin with.

But the ear gradually becomes attuned and little by little you begin not only to understand more but to find yourself dropping the ‘s’ off everything and swallowing your vowels as if they were tasty morsels. And inevitably, there can be misunderstandings.

I was reading Julie’s very funny article on ‘Speaking in Tongues’ last week and it reminded me of a couple of our own early blunders.
When we first moved here we rented a house in the town and the first time I went next door I introduced myself and said I was their new window (neighbour = vecino, window = ventana). Well, I was close.
Then when we went to buy a car the salesman asked Jack for his telephone number to which Jack replied that he couldn’t give it to him because his husband had it! As wife (mujer) is nothing like husband (marido) I’m still not quite sure what happened there but Jack says it’s because he was used to introducing himself as my husband.
Then there was the time Jack told the hairdresser to trim his dog (pelo=hair, perro=dog) or the very near escape I had when ordering an ice cream known as Trufi Cono here (I’m afraid that one is strictly for the adult Spanish speakers!)

So if you’re coming to Tenerife on holiday or thinking of moving here, it’s worth knowing a couple of things about the language.

Like so much of the culture in Tenerife, the language has its roots firmly embedded in South America so you won’t hear the lisped ‘th’ sound of Castellano here. Most words ending in ‘s’ have the ending dropped so that ‘dos’ (two) is pronounced ‘do’ (like ‘dot’ but without the T) and when Canarios converse they run all their words together as if there were a tax on the use of single words. There are also some words which are uniquely Canario, like a bus which is guagua (pronounced wahwah) as if we were all still 5 years old, and ‘papas’ for potatoes.

But at the end of the day, it’s simply about making yourself understood or, as Michel Thomas says, getting it ‘over the net’ and any attempt to speak their language will always be appreciated by the Canarios, even if it’s only “por favor” and “gracias” (minus the ‘s’ of course).