Different Sides of Tenerife

Since my husband’s brother and his wife with two children moved to Spain for half a year we decided to visit them in Tenerife.  We stayed with them for a week in Los Gigantes which is a small resort town in the south of the island populated with older couples and families with children. The impression, in general, was that half of Europe moved to the south of Tenerife to escape the winter on the continent. The hotels, restaurants and shops were mainly catered to tourists and were overpriced and often bad quality.  Nevertheless, if your goal is to sunbathe and to let children play in the sand then it may be better to choose the south since it is colder in the north. In Los Gigantes, the main attractions were a small marina and a tiny black sand beach with a view of Los Gigantes, majestic rocks. Unfortunately, the weather turned out to be worse than usual (around 16 degrees C) and my baby son and I got sick. This is what happens when you expect hot weather and end up wearing sandals and tank tops since this is all what you brought. Besides spending time in bed, I spent most of the time in a main town square in a café where there was an internet connection. There seemed to be a problem with internet all over Tenerife, as many rental properties are not connected.

One day we departed from Los Gigantes’ marina to take our little niece on a pirate ship to see dolphins and wales. We saw a big group of dolphins and wales but the sea had many waves which made our whole group loose our breakfast, except the baby who was content as long as sun was not shining in his face. There was no desire for paella served on a ship after this experience…      

Probably the best trip from Los Gigantes is to drive to a pleasant village Masca taking winding roads with hairpin bends and enjoying views of deep and green ravines. The village was unknown until recently and its small Bay of Masca is reputed to have been a pirate hideaway. To get there, you have to walk in a steep gorge through dramatic rock formations and lush green flora. The tourist information said that the walk will take three hours but our party with children made it in 2hours 10 minutes. It was a record, especially bearing in mind that my husband’s brother carried a 2.5 year-old daughter on his back and a 3 month old in the front and my husband carried our son. In the end of the picturesque walk, we had a picnic on the coast and waited for a boat to take as back to Los Gigantes. We didn’t dare to take the same way back, which would have required a lot of effort on our part and much more time. Only my husband ran up the mountains to get the car left in Masca (in 55minutes!) but he has a high level of fitness.     

During the second week, we explored the north of Tenerife where we discovered more culture, history and green nature than in the south. A real cultural experience was attending the Carnival of Santa Cruz, which is the second biggest after Rio Carnival. We stayed at the hotel Principe Paz located right in the central square of Santa Cruz where all the fun was taking place. The carnival festivities started with a selection of the Carnival queen in an extravagant gala. The nominees were judged by their beauty, grace and costumes.  2012 queen’s dress was called Imperio:

Tenerife Magazine

The carnival, as a non-stop party, lasted for a week.  2012 carnival’s theme was flower power so the streets were full of hippy dresses and costumes decorated with flowers. The Grand Parade on Tuesday was impressive as the queen, queen nominees, salsa and marching bands and other participants floated by. After the parade was over, buses decorated in flowers drove in the main avenue blasting popular DJ music from the 70s. The fireworks culminated the excitement the day was still not over. Discotheques in the street lasted into the wee hours of the morning, as popular DJs played current hit music.

On Ash Wednesday, we went shopping since Santa Cruz offers tax free merchandise. In the evening, we did not expect that the Burial of Sardine would be even more impressive than the Grand Parade.  As we were having dinner around 8pm the streets were empty and we were disappointed not to see any festivities. Nevertheless, around 11pm black creatures started emerging from the corners. Those were black widows, mostly men dressed as women, ready to mourn the death of the sardine. It was quite a show as the costumes rivaled each other and the “widows” shed tears and many had a story to tell. As the “widows” with elaborate costumes marched down the main streets the Sardine proceeded to her burial grounds. 


Amazingly, our son slept deeply as the huge noise blasted all around us. Around 2am the fire was lit and the Sardine expired in the flames with fireworks. It was interesting to find a similarity with a Lithuanian tradition practiced during the Shrove Tuesday when a rag doll is burned to symbolize the end of winter. Following the burial of Sardine, the dancing and drinking in the streets lasted until the morning again. We were wondering the whole time how the Canarians go to work the next day, especially if they party like this every night. The carnival ended with Piñata weekend and renowned entertainment and clouds of confetti in the streets of Santa Cruz.

The city of Puerto de la Cruz had its own carnival. We went there on Friday night to see the High Heels Marathon. Again, men were dressed as women and were wearing high heels and platform shoes. They were in teams dressed in costumes reflecting some kind of theme. For example, there was a group, which wore costumes covered in threads and buttons and had sewing machines planted on their heads. The marathon itself was more like a slow walk than a run since the participants were exhibiting their costumes and falling sometimes from their towering heels.  Finally, we escaped the crowds to have seafood at Cofradía de Pescadores, enticing with its contemporary and airy design.

After partying in the carnival, we were happy to rest and to visit less crowded places in the north of Tenerife. For a few days, we stayed in the apartment in a country house which had a nice garden with flowers, cactuses and orange and avocado trees, and even offered a sauna and jacuzzi. The owner was an interesting and helpful German lady who was born in Mexico and decorated the apartment in her handmade art with some Mexican touches.

The location of the house was convenient to see what the north of Tenerife has to offer. The town of Orotava charmed us with its Renaissance mansions, churches, squares and well manicured gardens.  It had an aristocratic atmosphere since it was home to many of the island’s wealthiest and noblest families who settled here after the Spanish conquest to grow sugar, vines and bananas in the surrounding valley. We drove through some of banana plantations to get to a restaurant El Calderito De La Abuela with a beautiful ocean view and delicious and authentic local cuisine.
The well-preserved old town of San Cristóbal de La Laguna is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This historic town served as Tenerife’s capital until 1821 and is a gateway to Anaga Mountains. These breathtaking mountains, covered in lush laurel trees and ferns and intersected by deep ravines, offer many splendid hiking trails. They were surprisingly not touristic and a nice change from the beach scene.

We took a winding and steep road through Anaga to get to Taganana, a fishing village, which offers a spectacular panorama of the ocean. We devoured fresh seafood dinner in one of the restaurants on the nearby point while watching the sun setting in the rocks in the ocean. 

A group of daring Canarians who swam in the cold ocean told us that this hidden spot is one of the best on the island and advised us to stay away from populated beach towns. If you look for another pleasant restaurant with a view of the ocean, just such called La Caseta it is located in a small village Punta de Hidalgo.

No visit to Tenerife would be complete without a visit to Teide National Park, another UNESCO World Heritage site, to see Teide volcano, the highest Spanish peak. The park provides evidence of the geological processes that support the evolution of oceanic islands and atmospheric conditions, which create a unique landscape. 

It also has many walking trails leading through pine trees. After a long walk we were happy to discover a local restaurant near the parking lot. It was crowded with sporty locals who came to ride bikes in the park and the elderly who chatted away and enjoyed the sun by the entrance. The best surprise was the menu of the day. Without an explanation, the waitress just took me into the kitchen and showed huge pots with five different kinds of homemade stews. 

Typical Canarian dishes include varied stews made with fresh fish, vegetables, meats, watercress, and beans. We also recommend to try Rabbit in Salmorejo Sauce with local spices. 

The food is usually accompanied with papas arrugadas, "wrinkled potatoes" which basically are potatoes with peel cooked in salted water and served with green and spicy orange sauce known as mojo

In addition to the islands' mojos, another fundamental product to Tenerife's food dishes is what's known as "gofio canario," which is a locally produced flour created by grinding roasted sweet corn and other toasted grains. 


Fairytale like Oberammergau

A lot of things have been happening in my life so unfortunately I abandoned my blog. I have been travelling too often for work and pleasure and this made it difficult to record all interesting experiences on time. I especially regret that I have not been able to write up my memorable trips to Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Ethiopia, Georgia, Columbia and India. Moving to Brussels and commuting to Paris for work and giving birth to my son are other reasons, which made blog posting a challenge. He however turned out to be a very calm baby and now we have no trouble fitting him into our busy lives. At 4 months, he had already traveled to Lithuania, Germany and the Canary Islands. Since I would like him to know the places his parents and he have been to and experiences he had himself, I decided to take on blog writing again. These blog postings might also inspire others to travel more with their children.

The first trip of my 2-month-old son was to introduce him to family and friends in Lithuania during the holiday season. We had a roller-coaster trip to five towns where we visited many restaurants and houses. The baby adjusted to our rhythm super well and smiled a lot at everyone, that is as long as he followed his regular cycles of sleeping and eating. Flying was also a piece of cake since he slept most of the time and take offs and landings did not bother him. So in the end of January, we felt safe about taking him onto a week long trip to Oberammergau in Germany where my husband was sent for work.

Oberammergau is a picturesque village in the German Alps. It is famous for the Passion Play, which was first performed in 1634. The inhabitants of the village swore that if God spared them from the plague then sweeping the region they would perform a passion play every 10 years. The villagers kept their promise and devote a lot of time and resources to the staging of the play and participating in it. Besides Passion Play, Oberammergau has other tourist attractions. It has a long tradition of woodcarving. In its winding streets, one can find many shops selling religious figures and toys. A number of shops displaying Christmas decorations add to the charm of the village. In winter, the village covered in snow looks like a fairy-tale picture. Oberammergau hosts some ski slopes, including the steepest ski slopes in Germany. After skiing, it is pleasant to go Wellenberg, an aqua park which has swimming pools for all ages and even a warm pool outside where we could swim despite the cold.

There are many hotels in Oberammergau but we decided to stay in a nicely decorated apartment in a traditional Bavarian house in the outskirts of the village. Because of the baby we were happy to have lots of space, two bedrooms, a large living room and a washing machine. The owner of the apartment arranged a delivery of fresh Brötchen each morning which was a nice touch. A proximity to the mountains with hiking paths and cross-country skiing trails were useful for walks with a baby. It took about 10 minutes to reach a center of the village so every evening we went to a different restaurant. We tried a few Bavarian food restaurants and found Zur Tini Weinstube to be the best. When we got tired of schnitzels and spätzle (egg noodles), we went to a Mexican restaurant El Puente which did not have authentic Mexican food but nevertheless greeted us with a fun atmosphere and La Montanara which offered a large choice of hearty Italian dishes. S'Wirtshaus Restaurant was our favorite since it had friendly staff and a diverse choice of good quality international dishes.

We did some sightseeing in Bavaria. With a rental car we went to the Neuschwanstein Castle which was an inspiration for the Disneyland's castle. Unfortunately for us, renovation works are going on a half of the facade which completely ruined the beauty of the castle. Nevertheless, we still saw crowds of tourists heading to the castle and figured that the wait would be too long to see the inside of the castle which has never been finished. So on the spur of the moment we turned around and drove instead to see the Linderhof castle. King Ludwig II, who built the Neuschwanstein Castle, commissioned also the construction of Linderhof, but it was only in this castle that he spent a significant amount of time. His goal was to turn the castle into a new Versailles. He succeeded since Linderhof is quite impressive with its spectacular furniture and decorations.


Back to Thailand

A mission to the UNESCO Regional Bureau in Bangkok with three other young professionals enabled me to travel to Thailand for the third time. This was a great opportunity to meet various colleagues working in different units of the UNESCO Bangkok, the UN Economic and Social Commission for East Asia and Pacific and UNDP; learn about diverse programs at the country level; and reflect on how to harmonize work at the Headquarters with activities taking place in the region. Thailand has a lot of great things to offer: gourmet food, nice people, unique culture, beautiful beaches, great shopping as well as inexpensive beauty/health procedures. If I could I would travel there each year just to get a Thai massage which completely relieves stress accumulated throughout years. There many wonderful Thai dishes but the one I craved the most was mango sticky rice. Unfortunately, it was not a mango season but it was still possible to get it in many places, including on the street.

When in the past I visited Thailand to study culture with a college class and attended the International AIDS Conference, I had a lot of time on my hands to see the main sights in Bangkok thus this time I did not have to run around doing that. The only sightseeing was visiting the UNESCO World Heritage site, an ancient city of Ayutthaya. It was founded in 1350 and was a Thai capital for 417 years until the city was sacked by the Burmese army which destroyed many of its finest temples. Its architecture is a fascinating mix of Khmer (ancient Cambodian style) and early Sukhothai style. Thus, Ayuthaya has many sections that seem to replicate the grandness and opulence of Angkor Wat. For example, prangs, towering corn-cob like structures, representing Mount Meru denote Khmer influence and look something like the famous towers of Angkor Wat. Buddha relics were often housed in a vault in these structures, which resulted in many robberies in recent years following their first archeological discovery. One of the main differences between Thai prangs and Khmer prangs is that Khmer structures often used sandstone and laterite and Ayutthaya prangs were mostly built with bricks and then covered with stucco.

During the weekend, I went to the beautiful island of Koh Samet which was the inspiration for the literary masterpiece of Thailand's most famous romantic poet, Sunthorn Phu. The island, located about three hours away from Bangkok by car, is still not completely spoiled by the tourism and offers some secluded areas. However, a Swiss lady who has been coming to the place for 30 years indicated that it has made quite a transformation from a quiet fishing island it used to be. I ended up staying in a simple bungalow on the Vongduen Beach which was too crowded for my taste so I escaped to the nearby beach. It was easy to walk from there to other beaches and I really enjoyed exploring the island. If you are not looking for the peace and quiet, the Vongduen Beach is a great place to spend time socially since in the evening there is a good choice of seafood restaurants with music and there are fire shows on the weekend. Given that it is popular, the bungalows are overpriced for that reason. From what I observed, the best price/quality is Vongduern Villa and this is where I plan to stay next time.

Back in Paris, four of us went to a Thai restaurant to revive memories of our trip. Some reviews say that Le Banyan restaurant is supposedly the best Thai restaurant in Paris. The food display was beautiful (see below), the meal tasted great and lunch menu had a favorable price. However, Thai dishes were transformed in a way into "haute cuisine" which makes one miss more simple, spicy and home-cooked Thai food.