Category Archives: Sports

Skiing in Spain

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Skiing isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Spain because of its southern latitude. When most people think about Spain, they think rather of lemons, bullfights, palmtrees, flamenco, sangria, beaches, sun and hot weather. But snow? Only people in the know think of snow when it comes to Spain.

In reality, Spain is a relatively mountainous country and “high” in elevation, only second in Europe to that of Switzerland. Let’s take that in for a moment. The average altitude of land in Spain is higher than that of France, Germany, Italy or even the Scandinavian countries. There are lots of mountains in those countries, but Spain? Yes, Spain has mountains to boot, and snow to go with the mountains, as a satellite photo, courtesy of NASA, illustrates quite clearly (the photo was taken in the Spring of 2006, I believe. And muchas gracias, NASA).

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There are 14 regions in Spain that cater to the skiing enthusiasts with a total of 39 ski stations. And, in my opinion, some of those regions compete easily with the best of any European ski resorts.

In effect, the number of options in Spain to go skiing is quite profuse. The two main and favourite options are the Pyrenees and the mountain range of the Sierra Nevada. The Pyrenees are in the Northeast of Spain and help delineate the Spanish borders with France. The Sierra Nevada is in Southern Spain, above the city of Granada.

Some claim that the Sierra Nevada range provides the best snow and longest skiing season in the country (5 months). Apparently it is possible to ski there in the morning and then travel a short distance to sunbathe on the beach in the afternoon, obviously depending on the season.

If you’re considering a skiing holiday in Spain, the main destinations to consider are probably the following:

In the Catalán Pyrenees: Baqueira Beret, Boí Taüll, Espot Esquí and La Molina.

In the Aragon Pyrenees: Astún, Candanchú, Cerler, Formigal, Javalambre and Panticosa.

In Andalucía: the Sierra Nevada, east of Granada.

You’ll also find some good skiing in the mountains to the north of Madrid in La Pinilla, Navacerrada, Valcotos and Valdesquí.

Further north there is skiing in La Rioja at Valdezcaray, at Alto Campo in Cantabria and at San Isidro in León though none of these stations are geared up to large scale tourism like one can find in the Pyrenees and, to a lesser extent, in the Sierra Nevada.

And there is Andorra, which of course is not Spain, but from abroad, you might consider the Andorran ski resorts just the same: Pas de la Casa, Grau Roig, Soldeu, El Tarter, Pal and La Massana.

All of the above resorts have had good skiing conditions during the six weeks since New Year, and most of them are ensured to have snow for good skiing until the end of March, under normal conditions. For up-to-date snow availability in Spain you might want to check on the internet, such as on j2ski.

And don’t forget to build your first Spanish snowman.

The Annual Sopelana Beach Race Near Bilbao

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Every year in September, the Spanish go crazy, at least since 1999. No bulls this time, nor tomatoes. Nudity, yes, nude bodies, and a race along the beach. Okay, not all Spanish, but some.

Last Saturday marked the 9th annual “Sopelana Nudist Race/Patxi Ros Trophy”, a 5,000 m run on Barinatxe Beach (also called La Salvaje), located between the villages of Sopelana and Getxo (Vizcaya), near Bilbao in northern Spain. 136 men, women and children took part in this year’s race. 

The idea for a nudists’ race was started in 1999 by a certain Patxi Ros, who wanted to combine his two favourite pastimes into one public event. The Basque Country Naturist Club (ENE) took over the race in 2003 and renamed it the “Patxi Ros Trophy”. According to the group’s website, the purpose of the race is “to promote the Naturist way of life and to develop a healthy life style along with Naturism and sports”.

The group also added that the race helps to teach that “the concept of nudity is more than and goes beyond sunbathing, swimming and beach.” The race involved running down the beach and back, which also allowed the participants to admire fellow racers on the home stretch.

According to the group’s website, Rule No. 1 is: “Participants by all means are to run in full nudity, and are only allowed to wear a cap or hat on the head, sun glasses, socks and footwear. Any participant not conforming to this rule will immediately be disqualified and asked to leave the race by the organisation members”.

And the winner was … last year’s champion, Fernando Suances, with a time of 18 mins. 21 seconds. That’s not a bad time considering the track surface.

At least, you don’t have to worry about what to wear next year, should you want to come to Sopelana in September 2008.

 

¡Olé! to Bullfights in Pamplona

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Yesterday saw the official opening ceremony of the fiesta of San Fermin in Pamplona, Navarra. That’s the world’s famous, annual bullfighting party, brought to fame in 1926 by the then lesser known author, Ernest Hemingway, in his novel The Sun Also Rises, who first experienced this Pamplona spectacle in 1925. He was honoured years later by having a street in the city named after him, the Avenida de Hemingway.

The author elaborated more on bullfights in Spain in his 1932 novel Death in the Afternoon. When Hems was first introduced to bullfights, he soon became fascinated with the ritual and, in due course, he craved it obsessively. I am not suggesting that Hemingway’s novels will endear you to Spanish bullfighting, but you may, through his writings, understand a little better what passion a bullfight sometimes brings about in some people.

The way Ernest Hemingway explains this archaic Spanish custom to us is like this: Bullfighting, as Ernesto says, is “a decadent art in every way … I was trying to learn to write, commencing with the simplest things, and one of the simplest things of all and the most fundamental is violent death. …. Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death.”

Bullfighting has long generated commentary and controversy. But Spain would not be Spain without its bullfights and Corridas. I do not claim to know a lot about Tauromania, but I do acknowledge that bullfights are important for the Iberian race. Let me state that I have been to a bullfight in Spain once, thus claiming a certain level of first hand experience. But let me also say, that I understand the polemic opposition that this subject brings about in a large audience, admittedly mostly non-Spanish.

 

As one should hopefully never attempt to teach the Eskimos, for instance, about their lifestyle regarding whales and polar bears, nor should one take a moral high ground over the British with regard to fox hunting, one should apply some tolerance when it comes to cultural dos and don’ts. I do not believe that it is my moral privilege or duty to teach the Spanish about bulls, religious beliefs, or any other cult topic. So, as long as the Spanish enjoy a Corrida in Pamplona, I let it be.

 

It is a fact that bullfights have been practised in Spain for well over 1,300 years. While the religious cult of the Minotaur goes back to the Iberians, the Greek and Roman influence converted it into a spectacle.

 

During the middle-ages it was a diversion for the Spanish aristocracy to torear on horse back. That was called Suerte de Cañas. This changed when the Spanish King Felipe V prohibited the nobles from practicing the sport as he felt it was a bad example for the public’s education. From then on the commoners took on the spectacle, facing the bulls unarmed, dodging and taunting the bull, to then eventually placing small spears into the bull, the origin of the banderillas of todays bullfights. Around 1724, the sport was transformed from horseback to foot.

 

The bullfight is literally a dance with death. The bullfighter has to carefully examine and study the movements and strengths of the bull. Mature fighting bulls can weigh as much as 600 or 700 kg. One wrong move and the torero will end up gored or seriously injured as happens again and again.

 

If you ever have watched Spanish TV and switched your set on during the month of May, you will have stumbled across San Isidro bullfights almost every day. Madrid celebrates its patron saint San Isidro every year with a fair, including cultural events and concerts, and three weeks of bullfights. Most bullfights, in Madrid and elsewhere, are won by the torero, but, there are exceptions to the rule. Which, I suppose, is only just.

 

And then there is Pamplona. This Navarran city is famous for the San Fermin festival, with its saint, San Fermin – the son of a Roman Senator who ruled Pamplona in the third century – giving the annual excuse to go wild and risk one’s life during the Corridas from 6th to 14th July, in which the ‘running of the bulls’ or encierro is one of the main attractions. Six bulls are released from a pen into a closed off street each morning starting on 7 July. They stampede some 800 m from the corral to the bullring where they will face matadors later in the day. In front of them run hundreds of people hoping to keep clear of the animals’ hooves and horns. 48 bulls end up going into the ring during the eight days.

 

14 spectators have lost their lives to the bulls in the streets of Pamplona over the last 60 years or so when they did not manage to escape the stampeding bulls in time. Alcohol or other toxins surely often have to be blamed for the unfortunate onlookers’ impaired reactions. 6 spectators were seriously hurt yesterday and ended up in hospital. No-one has died so far.

 

Within the bullring one finds life, death, ambition, despair, success, failure, faith, desperation, valour, cowardliness, generosity, and meanness – all condensed into the actions of a single afternoon, or even a single moment.

 

It surely must be one of the most exciting, sometimes dangerous, parties anywhere in the world. La fiesta más salvaje del mundo.

 

And for those of us with a conscience, you will be pleased to know that PETA yesterday staged a protest in front of Pamplona’s Plaza de Toros (bullring).

Happy Days for Rafael Nadal

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21 year old Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal, actually from Manacor in Mallorca, has not only had an astounding streak of 81 wins on clay court, but he is also a singularly talented tennis sports person, in having won the trophies for three years running in the championships of Rome as well as Monte-Carlo, Barcelona and, just a fortnight ago, Roland Garros in Paris. Nadal still ranks as number 2 in the ATP tennis world, behind the ubiquitous Herr Federer, who is the biggest hero on all the Grand Slam surfaces but clay.

For his accomplishments the prestigious Principe de Asturias Award for Sport in 2006 was bestowed upon Nadal last September. As it so happens, the award ceremony was held only yesterday at the Royal abode in Madrid. Unfortunately for him, this ‘Asturias Award’ is a trophy that Rafa will not be allowed to take home for three years running.

And perhaps it will be Roger Federer’s turn next year. I think Letizia likes Roger (Letizia Ortiz, Princesa de Asturias, the future Queen of Spain). Next week, Federer will try for his 5th successive win of the All England Club trophy at the Wimbledon Championships. The best of luck, Roger.

Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States of America and famous for being the US American President that wasn’t, also won the Príncipe de Asturias Award, but alas, not for tennis or any other sporting activity. Al Gore won in the category of International Cooperation in 2007.

 

And to make up a trio of ‘Goodfellows’, Robert Zimmermann also won the same Asturias award, in this case for the category of the Arts in 2007. In case you do not recognize the name, it is our good old Bob Dylan. 

Congratulations to the three of you. Well done. Enhorabuena

And sorry, Roger Federer. Don’t try to be King Midas.