Colombia: Medellín lights up for Christmas

The celebration of Christmas is a curious mix of Christian and pagan traditions in Europe, and indeed has absorbed many influences from other cultures in its unparalleled spread across the globe. As such, its festivities exhibit some parallels, but equally manifest themselves in manners completely unique to a particular region. Latin America is particularly rich in this variety, given its waves of immigration and history of Catholic colonisation. Medellín, the second city of Colombia has become renowned internationally for its particularly vibrant take on Christmas, with the city centre plastered in millions of brightly coloured fairy lights every festive season, known locally as ‘The Lighting’ or El Alumbrado in Spanish.

The illuminations of Medellín were initially borne out of a distinctly Colombian Christmas custom: El Día de las Velitas (‘Little Candles Day’). It is traditional on 7th December, considered the eve of the Immaculate Conception, for Colombians to adorn windows and doorways with candles in honour of the Virgin Mary. With the advent of electric lighting, this celebration became an altogether more public affair, with the public utilities company EPM starting to decorate the city with modest displays of coloured lights.

Alumbrados - Avenida la Playa

Alumbrados on Avenida la Playa, Medellín. Source: Laloking97 on commons.wikimedia.org

Fast forward to 2014, and the Alumbrado is celebrating its 50th birthday. Over its lifetime it has mushroomed into a spectacle that attracts up to 4 million spectators, along the course of the Medellín River, Avenida la Playa and some 100 other locations across the city. With the advent of technology, the colours are ever more vivid and the styling more ambitious. This year’s display has been lauded as especially spectacular, with more than 30 million light bulbs depicting scenes relating to peace, reconciliation and the humanity associated with the festive period. To yield such awe inspiring results is truly a mammoth task, with the first lights needing to be hung in late summer in order to ensure everything is ready for the big reveal at the end of November.

Lights at Rio Medellin

Visitors enjoying the lights along the Río Medellín. Source: SajoR on commons.wikimedia.org

If you are lucky enough to travel in Colombia in December, Medellín by night is sure to even ignite something of a Christmas spirit in its hardiest opponents thanks to the uniqueness of the celebration. These are the best Christmas traditions – those that demonstrate a personal and local touch, quite at odds with the bland commercialism that we often witness elsewhere. Before you part ways to indulge in your own Christmas festivities, perhaps share some of your own traditions with your classmates to make their own celebrations that little bit more memorable. Feliz Navidad!

Your Friendly Spanish team

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London: The Argentine Film Festival 2014

Weary of the same old multiplex blockbusters? Stuck for weekend ideas yet cannot quite face the tumultuous task of Christmas shopping? London residents take note – the Argentine Film Festival is back for its third outing from 27th to 30th November. Both sides of the river will be represented, with both the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton and the Hackney Picturehouse showcasing the best contemporary filmmaking of Argentina. These two locations, already known for their pied cinematic offerings in stylishly offbeat surroundings are playing host to a jam-packed schedule over four short days. To help you decide how to manage your precious time, here is a brief run-down of some highlights.

Scene from Metegol

Scene from Metegol. Source: argentinefilmfestival.co.uk

Relatos Salvajes (‘Wild Tales’) is one of the highest grossing films in its native Argentina of recent years. The blackest of black comedies, this film reflects the darkness of co-producer Pedro Almodóvar’s Spanish triumphs. Wild Tales is composed of six shorts that explore people’s drastic responses to dramatic circumstances. Expect a great degree of spontaneity and a healthy dose of violence. Metegol (billed in English as ‘The Unbeatables’ or ‘Underdogs’) represents director Juan J. Campanella’s first foray into animated film after celebrating Oscar-winning success with El Secreto de sus Ojos in 2009. This is a comic tale centred on Argentina’s foremost religion – football. Inspired by the designs of table football, the animated characters are comically distinctive, whilst remaining exceptionally detailed and visually stunning.

The festival also honours the documentary genre, exploring current issues within Argentine society. The observational Años de Calle follows four homeless children over a period of twelve years. This is a humbling and poignant portrait of individuals for whom the typical challenges of growing up in modern-day Argentina are hugely intensified, given their precarious circumstances. A more light-hearted yet equally revealing study of Argentine society is found in Living Stars, with a selection of residents of Buenos Aires filmed for the duration of one music track dancing themselves silly in and around their own homes. This hilarious and heart-warming project bears something of a resemblance to the Where the Hell is Matt? Youtube phenomenon, in which the protagonist is filmed exhibiting awkward dance moves across some of the world’s most iconic places.

Brixton's Ritzy Cinema

Brixton’s Ritzy Cinema. Source: Malc McDonald at geograph.co.uk

Friendly Spanish students remember – there are still places available to join us this Thursday 24th on the festival’s opening night for Relatos Salvajes – an opportunity not to miss! See the website and/or check your email inbox for details. Meanwhile over in Hackney, the event is sponsored by Bodega Argento’s wines, so arrive for your film in good time to enjoy a feisty Malbec from the renowned Mendoza region, with a backdrop of tango dance demonstrations, naturally!

Ritzy is conveniently located in central Brixton a few steps away from the tube station. Hackney Picturehouse can be found at 270 Mare Street, just 5 minutes walk from Hackney Central Overground. For more information on the festival, visit:

www.argentinefilmfestival.co.uk

Your Friendly Spanish team

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José Mujica: Uruguay’s exceptionally humble president

Away from the glitzy seaside resort of Punta del Este and other areas across the water from the Argentine capital Buenos Aires, Uruguay is a small and unassuming country, little explored by international tourists and overshadowed in many senses by its larger and more powerful neighbours. It is perhaps fitting, then, that the Uruguayan president José Mujica has hit the headlines around the world for his extreme degree of modesty. Pepe as he is known to his legions of admirers lives a life so frugal that it barely resembles the glamorous political circles in which many other national leaders reside.

Mujica with his wife Lucía Topolansky

Mujica pictured with his wife Lucía Topolansky. Source: US Embassy in Uruguay, at Wikimedia Commons

In a world where presidential residences are often extremely lavish and iconic buildings at the centre of our cities, Mujica opted to remain in his rustic farmhouse an hour or so outside the capital, Montevideo. Whilst politicians elsewhere have lately become embroiled in deplorable salary and expenses scandals, Mujica openly pledges 90% of his salary to varied social projects and housing associations. To both his admirers and detractors, Pepe is an utterly unique leader, and is driven as much by his first-hand experience of a turbulent political history as his progressive agenda for contemporary Uruguay.

In common with much of Latin America, Uruguay had entered a period of political crisis in the second half of the 20th Century with a military dictatorship on the horizon. In the 1970s, the then dissident Mujica became the leader of the Tupamaros guerrillas who tasked themselves with fairer distribution of the national wealth, often forcibly by way of violence and robbery. The military government placed him and many contemporaries in prison, frequently in barbaric conditions. After 14 years of incarceration, Mujica was released in 1985 as Uruguay too was released from the clutches of dictatorship, and he became steadily more involved in a more measured and democratic school of politics. Driven by a desire to see the country developing in a more equal and sustainable manner for its people, Mujica paved his way to presidency in 2010. Accused by some as seeking to hamper international economic development for Uruguay, Mujica frequently warns of the damage and exploitation of big business on the smaller and more fragile economies of the world, with rampant capitalism creating as much relative poverty as it does new wealth. In a way, his own lifestyle is the most powerful symbol of this belief. A particularly poignant moment was when a wealthy Middle Eastern sheikh offered $1 million for Mujica’s famous VW Beetle. Needless to say, he declined the offer.

Portrait of Mujica in Montevideo

Portrait of Mujica in Montevideo. Source: Ehrmann on flickr.com

The Uruguayan president has also become well-known (and indeed often criticised) for his liberal policy making, such as a bill authorising same-sex marriage and a relaxation of abortion laws. Perhaps most famously, he approved the regulated sale of marijuana to the people of Uruguay in December 2013. Rather than an expression of civil liberties, Mujica was keen to point out that this pioneering step was a message to the wealthy industrial economies of the world, urging them to take similar measures in order to protect both their own citizens from crime and those affected elsewhere by the violence and oppression of drug trafficking.

Mujica is due to step down after five years in office next March as stated by the national constitution, though it is likely he will retain a political presence. Whatever your political stance on his leadership, the pace of change has been significant over the last few years, but Uruguay still faces many challenges as a developing country based on the occasionally conflicting demands of social stability and economic openness. Latin America has not been short of maverick leaders in the last few decades, offering their own agendas for tackling challenging times. Drastically different leadership approaches give an insight on the extremes present in many Latin American countries and the inherent challenge of responding to such a varied society. What do you think are the attributes that make a good leader? A challenging topic for your Spanish class perhaps…and definitely a revealing one!

Your Friendly Spanish team

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Argentina: Madres de Plaza de Mayo

Buenos Aires, a political and cultural megacity, is a place that wears its diverse history very much on the surface. Whether in the form of grandiose European-inspired architecture, the sultry sound of tango, or imagery relating to Eva Perón, the Argentine capital has a strong connection to its roots and identifies with the past. However, this is a past that has been punctuated with turbulent times, and even relatively recently Argentina suffered under the oppression of a brutal dictatorship. This may seem surprising for what is one of the more developed and stable countries of Latin America, but scratch the surface and the memory very much lives on for local people, most famously for the Madres de Plaza de Mayo (‘The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo’).

Argentina - Madres protesting 1982

The Madres protesting in 1982. Source: Archivo Hasenberg Quaretti in wikimedia.commons.org

In the 1970s, Argentina was descending into political turmoil, as extreme factions prevented any sense of political stability or moderation. In 1976, the military junta seized control, marking the beginning of what would be eight years of dictatorship. The constitution was suspended, and in its place the Process of National Reorganisation or more commonly The Dirty War was implemented. Members of the public displaying political dissidence or leftist guerrilla tendencies were tracked down and abducted, and made to ‘disappear’ from society. The desaparecidos as they are known, were mostly taken to detention camps to be tortured and executed, their bodies then hidden. The purpose of this was both to eliminate the presence of violent political clashes, but also to invoke fear amongst the population so that they obeyed the dictatorship’s rule. Amidst this environment of terror, a group of women began to form, united in the search for their lost sons and daughters and angry for answers.

The modest collection of madres began to congregate weekly in the Plaza de Mayo at the heart of Buenos Aires, facing the Casa Rosada – the Argentine governmental headquarters. As the number of cases of desaparecidos spiralled, so too did the crowds of mothers, and their defiance. Their association served as a support network, as the women carried out near-impossible detective work at a time of such secrecy and oppression. However, equally it served to visually shame the military government. The distinctive white headscarves worn by the women served as an easily recognisable symbol of their public struggle. As Argentina hosted the world cup in 1978, the image of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo drew international media attention.

The white headscarf that symbolises the movement

The white headscarf that symbolises the movement, painted in the Plaza de Mayo. Source: Banfield in wikimedia.commons.org

Once democracy was restored in the 1980s, a handful of women received answers, but for the most part the struggle continued. The mothers were still angry as legislation such as the ‘Full Stop Law’ set out to give those involved in the dictatorship indemnity once those in the top positions had been punished. It was argued that full responsibility could not be attributed to those acting under the control of the military leaders, but many were angered by this seeming reluctance to truly get to the bottom of the fate of so many Argentineans. Eventually in 2006, the government of Néstor Kirchner overturned these laws as unconstitutional, and the madres brought their protests to a close. However, even today you will find the mothers of the disappeared in regular attendance in the plaza, championing various other social causes.

In terms of your Spanish classes, discussion of politics is often a sensitive subject that should be approached with caution. Even so, understanding the political history of the Spanish-speaking world is a key to understanding its people and cultures today. Whether events from the past invoke celebration or regret, it is our ability to discuss and learn from them that matters.

Your Friendly Spanish team

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Valparaíso – Chile’s edgiest city

As you are probably aware, Santiago is the capital of Chile, and overwhelmingly dominates the nation in population and economic terms. However, there is another city that is increasingly proving a worthy rival in the tourism and cultural stakes – Valparaíso. Located only some 75 miles from the capital, the mountainous scenery between the two serves to highlight that the character of Valparaíso is markedly different, and seemingly worlds apart from the rest of Chile.

Valparaíso

Ascensor scaling the slopes of Valparaíso. Source: Robin Nystrom on flickr.com

Valpo, as it is known to locals, is hardly brimming with conventional tourist attractions, but rather it is the overall character and landscape of the city that gives it irresistible appeal. With its origins as a colonial port city, the seafront is the focus of the city, and is framed by sharply rising mountains, crammed with a chaotic maze of brightly coloured houses that scale the dizzying hillsides. Unlike the regimented grid system typical of most South American cities, the hill neighbourhoods (known as cerros) are reached by twisting alleys, staircases and a system of lifts and funiculars collectively known as ascensores. These elevators may delight tourists for their sweeping views and ability to ascend what appear to be impossible inclines, but equally are a crucial means of commuter transport, saving residents from arduous climbs home from the city centre. Valparaíso has also become famous in the cycling world, whereby daredevil downhillers race at breakneck speed through the precipitous streets.

The port of Valparaíso went from strength to strength as Chile became independent in the 19th century, and the city developed as a prosperous commercial hub, with the grand civic architecture to match. Fortunes were built on revenue from the copper and silver trades, as well as the city’s function as a stopping off point on the long and treacherous route from Europe around the southern tip of South America to the Pacific. The next century was not so kind to the city, with a catastrophic earthquake in 1906, and the opening of the Panama Canal shortly after which secured its economic stagnation. Over several decades of decline, the grand stock exchanges and suburban mansions became vacant and run down.

Valparaíso mural

Valparaíso mural, of Valparaíso. Source: elrentaplats on flickr.com

Today, Valparaíso retains its slightly decadent and faded air, with a healthy dose of port-city grit. This, coupled with the innate attractiveness of the urban landscape has attracted buzzing arts and cultural scenes. Attracted initially by low rents, artists have created many cutting-edge venues hidden within the labyrinthine streets. In particular, the Cerro Bellavista neighbourhood is known for its creative ambience and striking murals, known collectively as the Museo a Cielo Abierto, or ‘open air museum’. A stroll around Valparaíso is extremely rewarding, as the city shows off the scars of its past and the energy of its present with equal and unmistakeable pride.

As students at Friendly Spanish, try to think about where your Spanish skills could take you. Do you have a dream destination in Spain or Latin America? If you are searching for inspiration, the travel sections of online newspapers like El País or Clarín may give you some tips on exciting destinations.

Your Friendly Spanish team

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The best of Spanish cinema: Mar Adentro

Since its release in 2004, Mar Adentro (translated as ‘The Sea Inside’) remains highly regarded as one of the jewels of contemporary Spanish cinema, thanks to its extremely perceptive yet unflinching take on a social issue more polemic than almost any other: euthanasia, or the right to die. Directed by Alejandro Amenábar, this film’s powerful storyline and believable characters are made all the more poignant by the fact that the plot revolves around real life events. The storyline in question is that of a Galician man named Ramón Sampredro (played by a wonderfully prosthetically-aged Javier Bardem) who was tragically left completely paralysed below the head after breaking his neck in a diving accident.

Ramón and Julia

Ramón and Julia (left) and his family (right) Source: screamyell.com.br

Confined to his bed for thirty years gives Ramón ample time to reflect on his predicament, and we meet him at the time he has decided he wishes to end his own life. At the time of release, and indeed to this day, the topic of euthanasia is extremely divisive, as it remains illegal across much of Europe. Despite this, Ramón insists on his right to die with dignity, thereby bringing two very different but equally vivacious women into his life. Julia (Belén Rueda) is the lawyer who arrives from Madrid to stay in the family house and help prepare his defence case, and Rosa (Lola Dueñas), a local neighbour who devotes herself to the task of convincing Ramón that life is worth living. The two tenacious female characters enrich Ramón’s surroundings with their opposing beliefs, yet it is ultimately Ramón himself who has a particularly profound impact on them, by way of his strength of character, humility and darkly humorous take on his plight.

Rosa introducing Ramón to her son

Rosa introducing Ramón to her son. Source: taringa.net

The setting, on the wild north-western coast of Galicia is suitably mournful and reflective, exposing a landscape that is at once beautifully uplifting and bleak. The characteristics of the local population also contribute to the ideological contradictions in the story. Typical of such a close-knit and isolated fishing community, they exhibit great warmth whilst exhibiting reservedness to outsiders, and a distinct allegiance to traditional customs and beliefs. Ramón’s simple story causes immense upheaval within the family and wider community. As events unfold, the two female lead characters begin to see aspects of themselves in Ramón, leading them (and us too, the audience) to call into question assumptions and inherited attitudes towards life and death. This is a challenging and extremely personal tale that is guaranteed to both enchant and move you deeply. The fact that the film is based on a true story only adds to its emotional impact and realism of the characters.

Films are one of the best ways to improve your Spanish linguistic and cultural knowledge. Ask your teacher at Friendly Spanish for some of their favourites, and don’t be afraid of suggesting a film you’ve recently seen as a class discussion topic.

Your Friendly Spanish team

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Mexico – El Día de los Muertos

As people have migrated over the centuries, so too have their cultures and religions with them. This has led to similar festivals and observations occurring in different countries, albeit with distinct variations from place to place, reflecting the unique cultural makeup of its people. The Mexican events calendar is a classic example of this, projecting both the nation’s overwhelmingly Catholic faith, as well as its long and complex pre-Hispanic history. This exotic amalgamation of religious fervour and indigenous mysticism is at its most iconic and vividly Mexican on the annual celebration of El Día de los Muertos (‘Day of the Dead’).

Families decorating the graves of their loved ones

Families decorating the graves of their loved ones. Source: allpostersimages.com

Coinciding with the traditionally European and Catholic celebrations of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day at the beginning of November, El Día de los Muertos is a festival for families to pay respects to and rejoice in the memory of those that are no longer with them. Infants and children that have passed away are typically honoured on the 1st November, whilst the 2nd constitutes the principal feast day, and is a public holiday across Mexico. Whilst now integrated into the Christian calendar and rich with catholic symbolism in post-colonial Mexico, the essence of Day of the Dead is centred on the Aztec belief of the afterlife. People believed in a cycle of life and death, with the passing of a loved one a journey into the next life. A celebration to honour Mictecacihuatl, goddess of death and the underworld, revolved around the idea that those who had passed on to the next life could rejoin their families in spirit once a year, therefore giving cause for celebration and the foundation of El Día de los Muertos.

The festival is both a private and a public one. Within the home, people traditionally construct altars for the dead and adorn them with offerings of sugar skulls or calaveras, and pan de muerto (‘bread of the dead’) in the shape of bones and skeletons. Later, processions and exuberant music fill the streets, as people congregate in cemeteries to spruce up family graves and shower them in flowers and papel picado – ­­the distinctly Mexican strings of brightly coloured paper cuttings. The normally quiet graveyards are injected with life, as people gather not to mourn but to cheerfully reminisce over happy times spent together, and maintain the inclusion of the dead within the community. Far from being a macabre spectacle, there is a feeling of respect but also pragmatism towards death. It is accepted as something inevitable, and therefore an opportunity to celebrate together with those that have passed is seen as something natural, and to be enjoyed.

Decorated calaveras

Decorated calaveras on display. Source: vivelohoy.com

El Día de los Muertos also exists in some form across much of Latin America, though the Mexican festival is the grandest and most significant. It has also gained a stronghold in the southern states of the USA, following immigrant communities across the border. To some extent it has also captured the world, perhaps due to its highly decorative and distinctive imagery, or maybe a slightly morbid fascination in celebrating something that remains taboo across western society. In today’s world where logical explanation is sought for everything, death remains one of the great unknowns. Therefore the manner in which it is honoured is a particularly revealing window on a culture and the beliefs, superstitions and character of its people.

For those Friendly Spanish students who are in our Advanced and Proficiency Spanish classes we will be discussing this fascinating event next week.

Your Friendly Spanish team

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Españoles en el Mundo

Big Brother, Take Me Out, Come Dine With Me… The list goes on. There are those reality TV programme formats that go from unknown to national obsessions almost overnight. As we are bombarded with ever greater choice in television, viewing habits have become very fickle, with preferred styles going out of fashion as quickly as they emerged. Reality TV seems to epitomise our viewing habits over the last decade, despite its relatively low budget and preparation. In Spain, Españoles en el Mundo (roughly translated as ‘Spaniards around the world’) is one of those programmes that has enjoyed near unrivalled success in the ratings over many years, yet maintains a deceptively basic format.

Españoles en el Mundo

Españoles en el Mundo. Source: tvoh.es

Españoles en el Mundo was first broadcast in 2009 on the national Spanish television network RTVE, and has now run to over 200 episodes, which can typically draw in as many as three million viewers on a Tuesday night. The premise is simple: each episode focuses on a particular city or region somewhere in the world besides Spain, and follows a handful of Spanish expats who are living there. From Istanbul in episode one, to Missouri at the end of series 12 this year, a varying cast of presenters have jetted to all four corners of the globe, tracking down Spanish natives who have settled there. Destinations range from tranquil Caribbean backwaters, to frozen Polar Regions, and thriving Asian metropolises.

The Españoles themselves are equally varied; finding themselves overseas for reasons of work, study, love, or pure accident. The cameras follow these diverse lives – entering places of work and homes, and exploring local attractions through foreign yet accustomed eyes. Perhaps this is why the format is so appealing, as Spanish people see others just like them, and how they respond to, and ultimately thrive in, completely different surroundings. Whether planning their next holiday or perhaps a move abroad, it gives the viewer a distinctly personal insight. However the programme has not been without criticism, with some suggesting that it paints the destinations in an overwhelmingly positive light, avoiding the hardships of living abroad. Indeed, it is sadly the case that many of the stories in recent series have been those of economic migration, with those featured representing the many thousands that have left an economically distressed Spain in search of work elsewhere.

Spanish resident abroad

Typical image from the show, introducing a Spanish resident abroad. Source: rtve.es

From our perspectives as language learners, keen to practice our Spanish, Españoles en el Mundo is a good option for many reasons, besides from the obvious immersion in Spanish it provides. Firstly, the subject matter tends to be relatively simple, and often supported by textual information points on screen. For the same reasons of its appeal for a Spanish audience, the programme is particularly strong in its exposure of Spanish cultural traits and behaviours. For more advanced learners, it can be an interesting means of attempting to distinguish between distinct accents and dialects of different parts of Spain, exhibited by those featured in an episode. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the episodes are all freely available online here in the UK. So why not have a look and see which destination takes your fancy… http://www.rtve.es/television/espanoles-en-el-mundo/

Your Friendly Spanish team

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Ronda: Spain’s most spectacularly sited settlement?

All towns are physically shaped and constrained by their surrounding environment, and Ronda, nestled in the rocky sierras of Andalucía, is a particularly striking example. The old centre is not only perched on a precarious mountain ridge, but is isolated from the rest of the town across the gaping chasm of the Tajo Gorge, that plunges some 130 metres from the town to the valley floor below. Connecting the two settlements is the almost improbable 18th Century Puente Nuevo (‘New Bridge’, though not really very new at all), with its lofty arch construction a true feat of early engineering.

Ronda and the Tajo Gorge

Ronda and the Tajo Gorge. Source: hickerphoto.com

The labyrinthine cliff-top alleyways of the old Moorish settlement are now known collectively as La Ciudad. One of Spain’s oldest towns, Ronda was founded in the 9th Century BC, and grew to become a key trading post during the period of Islamic rule, when southern Spain was governed as the Moorish kingdom of Al Andalus. Ronda prospered at this time, also becoming an important cultural centre brimming with mosques and palaces. After the Reconquista at the close of the 15th Century, most of the buildings were converted for Christian functions, though much of the elaborate urban fabric remains today.

Over time, the romanticism of the townscape drew in many artists and international writers such as Ernest Hemingway and George Eliot. Today, the tourists still come in search of the same dramatic vistas and essentially Andalucían cultural attractions. Ronda is now an unashamed tourist honeypot, for good reasons given its scenic credentials and easy access from the teeming resorts of the Costa Del Sol. However, the town retains its own character and historical Spanish flavour, and attracts international and domestic tourists in equal measure which gives plenty of opportunity to eat Spanish, hear Spanish and of course practice your Spanish!

Vibrant streetlife in Ronda

Vibrant streetlife in Ronda. Source: costadelparadise.com

Aside from the colossal Puente Nuevo itself, Ronda’s attractions are abundant and fascinating. The Casa del Rey Moro serves as a reminder of the challenge of inhabiting such a defensive site, with its Moorish foundations concealing a staircase of over 300 steps built by Christian slaves to access the river below at times of siege. Today, those undertaking the precarious descent are rewarded with dramatic views up the towering canyon walls. The beautiful Baños Arabes (‘Arab Baths’) are surprisingly intact in spite of being built in the 13th Century, and their sophistication reflects the highly civilised nature of the Moorish society in Spain. The Plaza de Toros (bullring) was built in 1781, and is one of the oldest and most culturally significant in Spain. Even if you are not a fan of this controversial sport, it is hard not to be moved by the atmosphere when setting foot in the arena…though not during the season of course!

The old ciudad remains vibrant and lived-in, with the central Plaza Duquesa de Parcent making an absorbing spot for observing Ronda at its most lively and picturesque. As the evening draws on, tapas at Almocabar just around the corner are not to be missed.

Your Friendly Spanish team

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A taste of Spain in London

Not so very long ago, you might remember we picked out a few of the hottest eating spots in the UK capital where you can sample the best of Latin American’s various cuisines. Not wishing to do a disservice to their Hispanic brethren across the Atlantic, it is now time to take a look at London’s thriving Spanish restaurant scene. Aside from some dismal chain offerings and token paella on pub menus, there are some truly cracking options for enjoying Spanish food across the city’s neighbourhoods, ranging from the innovative and cutting-edge to the homely and rustic.

Within the current movement for social, casual dining and ‘small plates’ offerings, the tapas tradition is bang on trend. Couple this with the fact that Spain remains our favourite holiday destination abroad, and you can see why Londoners have developed a discerning taste for quality Spanish meals. So, whether you are new to the city and need some guidance, or rather a jaded local in need of some refreshing new options, we hope to excite you with a Spanish eatery near you. Spaniards in London frequent these places, nostalgic for the tastes of home, giving you yet another opportunity to expand your Spanish language skills!

Trangallán restaurant - London

Inviting surroundings at Trangallán. Source: timeout.com

NORTH: Trangallán

61 Newington Green / Newington Green / Overground: Canonbury or Dalston Kingsland

This homely spot, with its bric-a-brac-chic interior seems to reflect its location between the hipster hangouts of Dalston and refined terraces of Islington. The food has a Galician slant, with a focus on hearty stews and delicate fish dishes rather than conventional tapas. The menu is brief and changes regularly, and the standard offerings are complemented by regular supper club and wine tasting events.

http://www.trangallan.com

SOUTH: José

104 Bermondsey Street / Bermondsey / Tube: London Bridge or Borough Street

The little, less polished brother of Pizarro a few doors down, José is persistently rammed despite the myriad of attractive dining and drinking options to have sprung up on Bermondsey street over the last decade. The surroundings are stylish but spartan, with seating at the bar and around reclaimed barrels. Try the classics like gambas al ajillo (garlic prawns) and velvety jamón accompanied by fine sherries.

http://www.josetapasbar.com

EAST: Tramontana Brindisa

152 Curtain Road / Shoreditch / Old Street Tube or Shoreditch High Street Overground

The Brindisa brand has become something of a Spanish food empire in London, after its humble beginnings as a wholesale importer of Iberian foodstuffs to the adventurous chefs of 25 years ago. Establishing themselves serving food to the public at the cornerstone of Borough Market, Brindisa became famous for their sizzling chorizo rolls. Tramontana is the third and newest tapas bar in the family, representing their first foray into East London and party central Shoreditch. On offer is a robust set menu of tapas favourites, as well as some more leftfield options such as Iberico pork loin with orange and raisings, and mini-burgers of Spanish butifarra sausage and black pudding.

http://www.brindisatapaskitchens.com/tramontana-brindisa-shoreditch/

Brindisa

Brindisa culinary creations. Source: brindisa.com

WEST: La Gitana

16 Garway Road / Bayswater / Tube: Bayswater

La Gitana is a relatively recent and very welcome addition to an area that is rich with ethnic eating options, but poorly served by Spanish restaurants. Despite its youth, the restaurant dishes out an impressive range of traditional tapas plates that people seem to love. The food here does not set out to push any boundaries as such, but focuses on the best of Spanish, especially Andalucían, flavour combinations. Colossal sharing paellas cooked to order are a must.

http://www.lagitana.co.uk

Your Friendly Spanish team

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