Westgate Oxford, White Rabbit Or White Elephant

Half yearly trips back to my Oxford roots have for the last three years featured curiously peering into the 440 million pound Westgate shopping centre rebuild. The old building was decidedly shabby and run down so this trip I got to see the opened and nearly finished article. Standing on the roof terrace looking down into the three layers of 100 shops and 25 cafes and restaurants I was getting mixed messages.

Wind tunnel is the biggest criticism I had read and heard about and on this arctic chilled January day I could feel their point. Ok I know I have been spoiled by all my years in Tenerife but I thought comfort was the big consideration for modern shoppers. The building layout reminded me of prison wing landings but this chocolate box collection had some nice thoughtful touches. Little scattered seating areas around coffee and snack stalls were nice and informal, and I liked the references and quotes from Lewis Carroll, alias Oxford scholar Charles Dodgson, who wrote Alice In Wonderland. As a true Oxonian I would have liked a few nods to “town” heritage such as William Morris, rather than just “gown” references.

The five screen Curzon cinema was a work in progress but promises to offer more relaxed viewing habits than the many other screens in and around Oxford. Social, is a collection of taste experiences from around the world, such as noodles, nachos, and designer burgers, all in a self contained dome. The Junkyard Crazy Golf looked tempting with dance music and pulsating lights as players pick their way around wrecked cars and other obstacles. Maybe at this point I should drop some store names, Hugo Boss, Mint Velvet, Moss Bros, Primark, and Ted Baker, There are also health and beauty shops. The two bus companies have stops just outside the centre and frequent Park and Ride links but the roads into the city centre are still a nightmare.

The crowning glory is the Roof Terrace with views of the spires and hills of Oxford, the tourists will love it in the summer as they can sit a little bit worryingly near the edge of the roof. The restaurants and cafes are all very up market and expensive, even the churros and chocolate by the plastic grass. I met a friend for afternoon coffee at The Alchemist, a nice relaxed setting although the multi coloured vapours coming off the cocktail mixing at the bar made me yearn for a real ale. Drinks are on the house in the Roof Terrace but only in an altitude way. The posh watering holes are open to 1 am Friday and Saturday and 12.30 other days.

 

I was told the opening days entertainment in the main square was spectacular, if they can have regular promotions and events, that will draw people back. The centre has no doors, I walked through a couple of nights, security have their work cut out, and I wondered how the ghosts are coping with the changes. I will have another look on my next trip over, but as I fancied a proper beer I adjourned to The Castle opposite, newly refurbished by Hook Norton and brimming with real ale.

 

 

Saddle Up Here Come The Three Kings

It´s not every day that you see three kings riding camels, magical characters that have stepped out of the pages of story books, and dancers with more moves than any Saturday night reality show. But 5th January is not just every day, it´s 5th January, Reyes Eve, the day before Spanish christmas celebrations and towns and villages across Tenerife were pulling out all the stops.

After a sunny but blustery day, Los Cristianos was a little chilled down by the sea front, some camels were even thinking of wearing human skin coats. Crowds were bigger than ever this year as the anticipation built, I caught up with the floats at their gathering point at Las Vistas beach as final touches were added and costumes were slipped into. The 8pm arrival of the three kings from a boat around by the old quayside was as always optomistic, so it was nearly an hour later that the kings joined the long procession as it began it´s journey up the port road.

Ancient and modern entwined as Carnaval influenced exotic dancers overlapped with cartoon favourites from classic stories and recent Disney movies. A giant book of fairy tales proceeded rows of bunk beds on wheels, full of children ready to dip into the realms of dreamy make believe. The kings were quite far back but were the must see attraction, their arrival was heralded with showers of sweets that were clutched at by a forest of eager young, and not so young hands. Back in the UK the sweets would prpbably be banned as dangerous missiles but thankfully they fly freely for Reyes.

The reason for this celebration is to mark the arrival of the three kings, Gaspar, Melchor, and Baltasar, at the Bethlehem stable armed with gifts for the baby Jesus. The procession ended up at the cultural centre where the outside was transformed into a stable scene looked over by the kings on their thrones. Pre wrapped presents were then pulled from large containers for those lucky children whose parents had handed theirs over earlier, the 6th January is the main day to receive gifts.

As the camels dispersed to return to their luxury hotels, well they can dream, a burst of fireworks lit up the skies to signal the start for the present hungry children about to approach the thrones. It was a glorious evening with magic in the air, bars and restaurants were enjoying the huge boost to their trade and I hope the organisers and participants in the procession will have rewarded themselves with suitable drinks. Creative juices will soon be flowing again as Carnaval season looms in February and March, the party never stops!

 

Future Stars Shine In La Liga Promises

Footballers come in all shapes and sizes, so write off the short, skinny, or clumsy at your peril. The under 12 players in the La Liga Promises tournament in Playa de Las Americas showed that a passion for football mixed with dedication and belief can create the next generation of star players. Over three days the 15 teams served up a glorious showcase of international starlets at the Antonio Dominguez stadium.

A half size pitch surrounded by extra seating, television gantries, and giant video screen was beamed out to TV audiences as seven a side teams battled it out, begining with 12 minutes each way games in the group stages. Big clubs like Real Madrid, Juventus, Inter Milan, Borussia Dortmund, and Paris St German were expected to do well but there are always surprise teams and players. Jef Utd from Japan exploded onto the scene with their tiny captain hitting a goal of skill and control against Inter Milan. They couldn´t sustain that form and lost that match 2-1 and didn´t make the knock out stage but won lots of admirers. Roma player Cristian Totti, son of Italian legend Francisco, caught the eye, and Valencia twins Vicent (goalie) and Marc Abril (midfield) were looking to create their own family joy.

The quarter finals produced some tight games, Barcelona beat Juventus 1-0, Valencia beat Dortmund and Espanyol beat Real Madrid both by a solitary goal. The drama came after a 0-0 draw between Villarreal and Atletico Madrid, it took a penalty shoot out to send Atletico through. At the semi final stage games increased to 20 minutes each way, Valencia saw off Espanyol by 1-0 and a thrilling 2-2 draw was settled on penalties as high scoring Barcelona put out Atletico Madrid.

The stage was set for the decider and thousands packed the stadium, CD Tenerife were first up to play Inter Milan in the Consolation Final, a combination of the Bloko Del Valle drum troop, a large contingent of noisy CD Tenerife fans, and their mascot Elio Doro the elephant, created a real party mood. Two quick goals caught Tenerife cold but they fought hard to reduce the arrears to 2-1 before Milan netted a third before half time. The second half was shaded by Tenerife but they couldn´t finish off the many chances they made against their more physical opposition and they lost 3-1. As a CD Tenerife fan it gladdened my heart to see so the future of my club in such good hands.

Barcelona and Valencia had been full of goals during the tournament but it was a cagey, technical main final with plenty of neat passing but few clear chances. Andres squandered two first half openings for Valencia as he skied his shots high over the bar. That was to come back to haunt them at the start of the second half, Amadou broke on the left and crossed to Hernandez who claimed the goal for Barcelona. There was no way back for Valencia, Barcelona were stroking the ball around and Cristo was unlucky not to add to his five goals in previous games, he still got the top scorer and MVP awards for the tournament.

The Barcelona players almost skipped up the steps to collect their medals and the trophy, and then spilled back onto the pitch to celebrate with coach David Sanchez. Valencia´s Tony Lopez got the coach of the tournament award, it was little consolation but his staff and players were quick to  congratulate the winners.

No Comfort Or Joy In CD Tenerife´s Bleak Midwinter

Maybe the jugernaut seven game winning streak of Cadiz was stopped but CD Tenerife were drab and ordinary in their 1-1 home draw against Cadiz. Coach Pep Marti owes a big present to Camille, Casadesus, and Juan Villar for saving his job with a last minute leveller in Santa Cruz.

Ideas were thin on the ground and players looked like they would rather be anywhere other than on the Heliodoro pitch. Changes were again forced on the coach, suspended Acosta and injured Carlos Ruiz meant recalls for Vitolo in midfield and Alberto in the centre of defence. Cadiz oozed confidence, Barral was running free up front and Olivan threatened with a cross into the box that Alberto had to blast clear. Casadesus tested Cifuentes from the edge of the box with a dipping shot that the keeper turned aside.

Carlos Abad had held his place in goal but looked shakey as he missed two chances to cut out the visitors 9th minute opening goal, Alberto dived ahead of him to head the ball partly clear but it fell to Garrido who lobbed it over the back peddaling Carlos. Salvi nearly doubled the lead after shrugging off Camille but he put his shot in the side netting. Cadiz were solid at the back, passed well, and had willing runners to spread the play. Tenerife were nervous and couldn´t string passes together, Suso, Aitor, and Vitolo were a midfield mess and Longo was left looking for service.

The second half opened with Tenerife still looking second best, Malbasic came on for Tayron and was slow and clumsy. Cadiz were happy to just pick off stray passes and pin down the home full backs Camille and Camara to cut out any wide creative play. Longo beat two markers and tried to squeeze a shot in at the post but the angle was too tight. Casadesus took the ball wide but ran out of pitch before popping a shot over the bar from a Malbasic pass. These were brief respites, home players were not moving or calling for each other and too often a back pass was prefered to a more adventurous forward invite.

Juan Carlos Real replaced Vitolo and Juan Villar was a welcome addition for Suso, the injury prone striker has a more direct approach and likes to take players on. Malbasic on the left was a waste of space, he beat two defenders and then tripped over his own feet, and with clear space he ran into defender Carpio. Carlos showed better form with a diving save from Cruz after Garcia had cut the ball back from the byline. It was frustrating to watch for the 10,864 crowd, unforced schoolboy errors littered the home play and inspiration was badly needed.

Camille was the unlikely spark, pushing forward he won the ball and picked out a great cross into the goal mouth, Csadesus flicked it on, and Juan Villar headed it in by the far post. With three minutes of added time there was suddenly some urgency but Cadiz held firm. Former Tenerife coach Alvaro Cervera was clearky annoyed to let the win slip away and Pep Marti looked like a freshly liberated turkey. 2018 begins with two away games, a transfer window, and hopefully a fully fit squad so anything is possible, but big changes are needed.

Walk For Life Offers Hope And Friendship

Approaching the Siam Mall starting point, a mother and young daughter skipped along dressed in pink, I thought wouldn´t it be wonderful if the next generation didn´t have the spectre of breast cancer to worry about. That´s what drives Tenerife´s Walk For Life (carrera por la vida) now in its 13th year it has provided so much support and continues to grow.

Little annual tweaks to the route and presentation keep it fresh, the forecourt of Siam Mall was packed with people slipping into pink costumes and make up as rousing music and speeches from the stage pumped up the walkers. The skies looked a little threatening but they wouldn´t and didn´t dare to spoil the sunshine spilling out from 4, 500 eager entrants. With founder Brigitte Gypen leading from the front, the pink wave surged across the motorway bridge and down past the Magma Centre.

For many the walk was personal, breast cancer touches so many families and the will to prevent, treat, and defeat this disease grows stronger by the year. There were noticeably more men that ever on the walk, and as always the spread of nationalities and communities was as wide as the smiles of reunited friends from previous walks. It´s become a major event for Adeje and Arona, holiday makers streamed off the beaches to applaud and cheer as the walkers spread out into Avenida Las Americas. The drum bands were loud and strident and there was plenty of dancing as the clouds parted and the sun poured through.

You never know who you will find yourself next to on the walk, pink angels, decorated dogs, and towers of balloons all jostled for space. At times it was difficult to see where the procession started and ended, the distance was 4 kms but noone was counting their steps, the sheer enthusiasm swept everyone along. Walkers had loaded up with sponsors in the lead up to the day and spectators were generous in coming forward with change for the bucket collectors. As always I felt great pride as my fellow CD Tenerife fans in the Armada Sur added to their raffle and pink shirt funds with heavily laden buckets for a total of 1,673.07 euros.

There was a nice refreshing breeze as the finishing straight at Compostela Beach came closer, more music wafted out from the stage and balloons raced up to the sky as they were released from their netting. The organisation was spot on, bananas, biscuits, and energy drinks greeted the finishers and a whirl of dancing filled the street. Frantic counting and totting up revealed a new record of just over 20,000 euros raised, a magnificent effort by all. The good work goes on, The Pink Room in Adeje is one of the tangible results of the Walk For Life, somewhere to offer support, advice, and hope. Once again the Walk For Life was an uplifting, inspiring, and a pleasure to be involved in, Massive thanks to all involved – roll on next year.

Carry On Camping At Montaña Roja

Compact, cosy, and a nice place for campers to rest their weary heads. Two years after Camping Montaña Roja in El Medano closed, it´s back with a new eco friendly look, plenty of extras, and best of all close up views of the red mountain that rises above the sea just behind Tenerife South airport.

I popped in on the official open day, Granadilla Ayuntamiento (council) have invested a million euros and installed a management team to offer much needed camping space near La Tejita beach and the wind and kite surf magnets of El Medano. My initial impression was how neat and well laid out the site is, the wooden cabins are the stars and they are blended in among the trees with a neautral colour scheme. The full menu of the site offers tent pitching spaces, and parking for auto caravans, cars, and motor bikes.

An admin office, mini market, and the Tejita bar restaurant cater for all the basic needs, there´s also bike hire, and a kite school next door. The new La Tejita Street Market shopping centre is five minutes walk away and has a large Dialprix supermarket plus several enticing tapas bars. My curiosity couldn´t wait any longer, I had to get a look inside a cabin, two were open for viewing, They are all the same size, 46 currently with plans to increse to 90, and are split into two rooms, one with a settee that folds out to a double bed, and another room with two snug fitting beds. The main room has a small fridge (electric and water are extra) and there are plug points but for Wi Fi you need to go to the bar area.

That may sound quite restrictive but these are just intended as a base for visitors, not a home, each cabin does have a small wooden decking porch, and at the end of each row there are larger communal sun bathing areas. I spoke to an American lady who was reading in a hammock outisde her small individual tent and she was quite happy to have found such a nice site so near to the airport. The pitch in a shaded spot was costing 9.90 euros a night but unlike taking a chance in the great wide yonder, it was legal, the camp site is fenced in, visitors get a key for the gates onto the beach, and there is security on site. The toilet and shower block had 3 shower cubicles in the gents and ladies sides, or there´s also a large outdoor shower wall outside the block.

Planes using Tenerife South airport might disturb the tranquility a little, plane spotters would be in heaven. The little touches impressed me, wide paths with low set lights link the cabins and it´s well marked with a letter and number grid, there´s plenty of bins and recycling points, fire extinguishers are at key points, and there´s even a massage and therapy tent. The setting is a real plus point, much of the land nearby is protected and the walk up to the top of Montaña Roja is always a pleasure. Many species of birds pass through El Medano, it was good to see plenty of small finches flitting around the site – they seem to have made themselves comfortable. There´s more lowdown on the website.

 

 

Big Masts Big History Big Voyage

Sorlandet stood head, shoulders, and three tall masts above the luxurious cruise liners, and economy boosting oil platforms that were calling Santa Cruz port their temporary home. Even the clear blue skies tinged with the dust of a calima were merely extras in this big picture. Majestic and stately tussled for star billing to describe the Norwegian training ship preparing for its next epic voyage.

I can always rely on the busy port to deliver a pleasant floating surprise or two, but more was to come as Norwegian Stine Elisabeth Bryh invited me aboard. One of the senior full time crew, Stine has plenty of experience of sailing but the international students who will make up most of the 60 strong crew have a steep learning curve to climb, as well as those imposing 35 metre masts. I could feel a gentle rocking motion beneath my feet, and the sea around looked calm but the previous weeks high winds and hints of a big storm had shown how quickly the weather cam change.

Stine told me a bit about the student crew. “They are mainly Norwegian and Danish but we also have some from Mexico, Colombia, and Hong Kong. On our voyage to Cape Verde, Barbados, Bermuda, and Miami they will learn how to set the 240 rope lines, and learn how to set the 25 sails as well as general duties.” Like the many other training ships that pass through Tenerife, the trainees have to pay for their passage as well as work.

The Sorlandet was originally built in 1927 but was refurbished in the early 1980´s after damage in the Second World War and later neglect. It´s one of several ships run by World Academy, all with a remit to teach life skills and team work. There was a pleasant smell wafting from the galley, no ships biscuits then? The wooden wheel up on deck looked daunting but Stine tweaked it with ease, it has the help of a sturdy hydraulic system. At 64 metres long and with a top speed of 14 knots, Sorlandet can cut gracefully through the water.

There was clearly plenty of pride in the mighty vessel, The Viking inspired painting on display translated to “our ears and our strength have given us a white plot” that sounds pretty rousing to me. Hopefully they will have kind seas and plenty of adventures, I look forward to seeing them in port next winter if not before.

 

Christmas Lights Up Santa Cruz

Tradition always draws me to Santa Cruz and La Laguna just before christmas to savour the grand designs of the belens (nativity scenes) and to ooh and aah at the festive lights. Apparently it took seven days to create the world, I suspect it took a lot longer to put together these variations on an annual theme.

First stop was the Caja Canarias bank HQ in Plaza del Patriotismo, Santa Cruz, they always have a large walk around display set on a big rural scale with a cast of hundreds of busy figures. This year it included a bit of a River Nile influence to compliment an Egyptian history exhibit in another hall. The clever thing about this show is the dimming and pulsing light in the room so you get that night time feel too. The meandering stream adds a living feel, and there´s always a few humourous characters if you peek inside of various courtyards. Opening times are Monday to Saturday10am to 1.30pm, and 5.30 to 8pm, Sundays are only on 24 and 31 December plus 5 January, from 10am to 1.30pm.

I don´t need much excuse to get the tram up to La Laguna, so I popped up to see their offering in the Casa del Capitanes, just around the corner from the tram terminus. Not only did they have a selection of model cattle and kings grazing in the outdoor plaza, but also a large room full of a long extended village christmas scene with grand buildings and those small touches that reflected their devotion. Flocks of sheep roamed, and small birds grouped together in flight above the roof tops. This one is open 10am to 2 pm and 4~pm to 7pm weekdays, and 11am to 2pm on Saturdays and Sundays. This is probably a good time to say that all the nativities are free, some have had charity collections in the past but that was not the case this year. I did like the knitted nativity in a shop window as well.

Back down to Santa Cruz and there was a strange mix going on at El Rinconito in Plaza Candelaria at the port end of the main shopping drag, Calle Castillo. The Bethlehem stable had a windmill attached to it, and a pink Milka chocolate cow grazed nearby. At least the Cabildo (Tenerife government) building looked more seasonal with it´s facade sending out a cheery greeting. Inside their belen featured rural life with all the christmas story trimmings and some impresive fishing boats. Opening times here are 9am to 3pm, 4pm to 9.30pm everyday, apart from morning only times on 24 and 31 December, and afternnon only on 25 December, 1 & 6 January.

Just one more call, the Canarian Parliament building in Calle Castillo. This is another elaborate walk around giant montage of rural scenes. The feeling is joyful, with big jolly characters, hard at work, and revelling in the joys of the festive season. You may well recognise landmarks of the seven islands that have been incorporated into the design. Ok here come those opening times, 10am to 3pm, and 4.30pm to 10pm, the exceptions are 24 December and 31 December 10am to 4pm, and 25 December and 1 January 4.30pm to 10pm. That should keep you out of the bars for a while, it nearly worked for me.

 

Walk Like An Egyptian March Like A Roman

So there I am stood on Santa Cruz quay side looking at a space ship housing a Roman exhibition, after earlier visitng an Egyptian mummy show. At my side a Canarian ice crean van for a company called Califonia (why?) is relentlessly chiming the German song Lili Marlena (again why?). It´s no wonder my brain is confused.

It was all part of a very rewarding pre christmas visit to the Tenerife capital. Egipto En Busca De La Eternidad (Egypt in search of the eternity) was the latest in a long line of wonderful art exhibitions staged by the Caja Canarias Fundacion and housed at the two floor cultural space of the Caja Canarias bank HQ in Plaza del Patriotismo. Mournful mummies were what I expected and they were lurking but the first floor was more about the cultural life of ancient Egypt, featuring art, music, ceramics and a look at some of the leading dynasty´s. The faint waft of Egyptian music, secluded alcoves, and moody lighting helped to put me in the mood. It was a national holiday and I was glad to see many families enjoying the free exhibition.

Upstairs it all turned a bit more macabre, yep the mummies were revealing their secrets. British archaeologist Howard Carter uncovered the tomb of Tutankhamun, there were 65 revealing black and white photographs of the cursed expedition, a rare insight into the sheer scale of the endeavour. The boy king was just one of several sovereigns being shown in a new light. It wasn´t just wood, bronze, and ivory coffins on display, a cut away tomb showed the full inner workings of the last rites, and there was even a video alcove with more grainy and gruesome images. It´s well worth a visit before the works go back to Madrid´s Egypt Museum after 27 January 2018. It´s open Monday to Friday 10 am to 1.30pm, and 5.30 to 8pm. Saturday is just 10.30 to 1 .30pm, and even mummies get a day off on Sundays.

 

Honest I´m not after a free overdraft but the touring exhibition, Roma Norum Vita (Roman Life) is another free show from the Caja Canarias Fundacion. The space ship like touring venue turned out to be more of a Tardis, it had a Roman city and 2,000 years of excellence packed inside. A scene setting video room gave way to a paved and very solid feeling street lined with forum steps. Rooms feeding off showed their home comforts like the communal toilets, tapped drinking water, and lavish sleeping quarters. A backdrop became another video wall showing more of their political, social, and commercial life. I almost felt like a ghostly intruder, or an extra in Up Pompei. The show lasted about 25 minutes and a lot of families brought young children who looked genuinely fascinated.

To catch a glimpse of this glorious past, head for the ferry port, Monday to Friday it´s open 12.30 to 2pm, and 5 to 9pm, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays it´s 11 to 2pm, and 5 to 9pm. They take 25 people at a time, and can do groups if you pre call 902906666, and these Romans remain until 25 January 2018.

 

A Feast Of Blue And White

 

What a stirring tune the CD Tenerife anthem is, and Tenerife Adelante was blaring out as we entered the blue and white wonderland of a dining hall for the clubs pre christmas meal for the peñas (fan clubs) including the Armada Sur.

Our small but select band of ambassadors for the Armada Sur arrived at the Parque Maritimo pool complex in Santa Cruz for 8pm, only to find out it was a 9.30pm start. The solution was easy, we adjourned to a nearby bar, Voque Bar, rather posh but we soon lowered the tone. Suitably refreshed we headed back to the venue, I had been to the pools before to do a review, that time it was a hot afternoon and the pools were splashing. We were guided to the outside terrace of one of the big function halls, waiters circulated with drinks and aperatifs of ham and cheese croquettes, sweet nibbles of lemon and honey, and other tempting treats.

TV cameras were in attendance so naturally we burst into a rousing chorus of the Armada Sur song to the Hawaii Five O theme. The players were away on the mainland having played Espanyol with Almeria to come in two days, but captain Suso was in attendance as he was injured. Entering the hall was a visual feast, all the tables had been set out with peña name plates, a Mahou beer hat, and a CD Tenerife scarf. Side tables groaned with Tete themed cakes and there was a buzz of anticipation. Any thoughts of it being a slightly stuffy, formal night were soon blown away as terrace songs started breaking out across the tables. We were sharing with the Cesar Gomez peña, mature ladies but they were party animals.

Club President Miguel Concepcion was in relaxed mood and very much the genial host, I was quite taken with the waitresses black outfits, they made me think of the Robert Palmer video Addicted To Love. The background music was a strange mix of 80´s pop songs like Careless Whisper but there was no whispering as the noise level rose as the beer and wine flowed from the free bar. Then the food started to arrive, an intro of carrot soup would hopefully help my aged eyesight, and I had pre ordered the hake in the hope that fish might improve my befuddled brain. It was love at first bite and the service was very impressive with a full hall to cater for.

No sooner had we finished the caramel and chocolate sweet when the stage was taken over by a magic act, maybe the next coach in waiting? I was hoping he could make Las Palmas dissapear but settled for balloons and fire. All our tickets were numbered and a long, prize packed raffle followed, interspersed with more singing and chanting. It was a fabulous night, big thanks and respect to the club for arranging it, and the staff for carrying it out with such efficiency and good humour. It was all far removed from the rock hard rolls and alcohol free beer that are sold at the Heliodoro stadium.