Saturday, January 8, 2011

Lanzarote, Canary Islands

We booked our trip to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands a few months ago. Originally we had thought of Austria or Switzerland as a Christmastime destination but given that the Christmas markets close BEFORE Christmas and we really wanted to be at home in Barcelona for the actual holiday and since we couldn't be "home home" either, we decided to head south.  And this was our big vacation (rather than all of our long weekends we've had) of the year so it had to be special.  So Lanzarote, Canary Islands for 11 days it was!!!

The Canaries are actually more off the coast of Morocco than they are of Spain but they are actually a part of Spain and Spanish is the primary language here. However, given that it is a European holiday destination, most people also speak English. A nice relief for us!  The fact that it was 75 and sunny wasn't a bad thing either!

The flight took us slightly longer than I had anticipated – by an hour. For some reason we didn’t give a thought to the fact that there might be a time change since we were heading west. I guess we were thinking, when in Spain… but when my phone read out 12:30 and then 12:50 and we weren’t yet descending the realization hit, we still had an hour to go. So bummer there… but now we know!  The bonus though was that somehow we were upgraded to first class on both legs of the flight (and the return flight to Barcelona which was a bonus since we had a 2 hr delay!) which was unexpected and fabulous!  The landing was a bit on the bumpy side – a lot of wind and mountains = turbulence. Liam and Aidan equated it to “Mommy it’s like we’re on a rollercoaster!” – ahhhh if only I could have shared their enthusiasm as I clenched the arm of the seat with all my strength. In hindsight, have had much bumpier landings, but for me, if it’s not completely smooth then it wasn’t a great landing!!! How’s that for picky?

Excitedly waiting for the luggage at Lanzarote's airport

You could tell immediately that we were on a small island. While the airport was bigger than the one in Marsh Harbor, Abaco Bahamas, it wasn’t by much of a stretch… The great thing about that though is we were in and out of the airport pretty quickly and secured our rental car right at the airport. The only bad thing about the rental car “you have a GPS for the car right?” we asked? “No,” they replied but you won’t need it. After all the island is only 60 km x 20 km (37 miles x 12 miles). Let me ask you, when was the last time you had to read from an actual map instead of paying attention to the beautiful landscape while the GPS gives you a heads up of your next turn a mile ahead of time? Exactly…wow, it’s amazing how much we’ve come to rely on that technology in just a short few years!

Not quite the BMW 5-Series we had for our last trip but it got us where we needed to go!

Armed with our map we were off!! The views from the air when we were landing were breathtaking for sure! However what did surprise me as we were driving was how little greenery there was, essentially the land, at least this time of year, is pretty barren. It is most definitely very much desert looking although there is a lot of farmland here as well, definitely not in its growing season right now. As we drove we saw many fields that had been tilled and planted and just waiting for new growth – and the most interesting part about those was that they were all black dirt. Yes, black… as in dirt that comes from lava. From what I understand, it’s supposed to be full of nutrients and great for farming.

Lanzarote is considered to be a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve because of its extremely well maintained environment. They are very environmentally conscious and it shows. A lot of this is due to the influence of Cesar Manrique, the Gaudi of Lanzarote. Like Gaudi in Barcelona, you see Manrique's influence everyone on this island. All of the houses, which are ALL painted white and are very low to the ground, are clustered close together because of his suggestions. Also like Gaudi, his designs utilize the ebbs and flows of nature - pulling as much of nature into his masterpieces as possible Many of the tourist attractions were also designed by Manrique. And similar to Gaudi, he died because of a traffic accident... hmmm coincidence???

There are times when you can see for miles (and it’s not a very big island) and there is not a house in sight. The land is king here and they have gone above and beyond to preserve nature’s wonders here. The views, while less green than I anticipated, are nonetheless impressive. Mountains/volcanos that stretch right up to the edge of the Atlantic. These are not rocky mountains but look like huge bumps of sand in the earth. Various colors of sand – red, brown, black… all make up these magnificent behemoths. And like the Road to Hana in Hawaii, there are some treacherous roads to drive along with no guardrails and nothing really between you and the landscape below you so drive carefully!!

As we drove I couldn’t help but notice how desolate things were. There were stark contrasts in the landscape everywhee. Barren one moment and then breathtakingly stunning the next. Volcanic rock everywhere and these beautiful whitewashed houses. If you think that you have certain guidelines in your neighborhood, imagine a whole island that has to follow the same rules as far as the color of the house (white with green trim in certain areas, brown trim in other areas) and the style (flat roof, boxy look). However, this does give the island a certain feel of almost cleanliness – the white houses against the dark volcanoes certainly stand out! There were moments I couldn't decide if it looked dumpy or if it was just the lack of trees and grass that made me feel that way. I've never been to a true desert before and this is probably as close to one as I've been and so perhaps this is just the beauty of a different kind of landscape than what is the norm for me.

One of many views you will see in the upcoming blog entries of the magnificent landscape on Lanzarote

Volcanoes from Montanas del Fuego where they touch the Atlantic!

A village at the foot of one of the volcanoes

I'm sure this happens a lot here since the terrain is more sand/mud than rock

A village on the northern side of the island - notice a bit more greenery

OMG - plant life!

Cool looking volcano - pretty sure this is where the Cuevas de los Verdes and Jameos del Agua lava tunnels came from...
Some of the farmland in the mid point of the island

Heading back north again - amazing views! 

Higher and higher!

You can see some of the vineyards (off season now) from here

More farmland

Palm trees in Haria - palms are the only native tree here

Haria as we drive away

Many of the volcanos have what we think is farmland almost etched into the side of the mountain.  Low brick walls with ground flattened in between each layer.

Another view of Haria as we travel back south but first we must travel up to the top of a volcano!

More farmland - pretty cool how it goes all the way up the mountain!

The hotel itself was fine - we figured we wouldn't be spending a ton of time there (how wrong we were) anyways. Middle of the road, nothing super special. We chose it because they had an outdoor pool, minigolf, tennis and a variety of other child friendly activities. There was a Daisy Club for the kids (of which they went to twice... great) and every night there was a kids mini disco that Aidan and I went to (but that he refused to participate in) and a show after.

Regardless, the hotel, the H10 Princess Lanzarote, was clean, very close to the beach and restaurants and it works perfectly for our needs for this trip. If you are single or have no children, don't go there - it was all families and old people. I do think we were the ONLY Americans here - I've heard British, French, Irish, Dutch and Scottish accents, but not one single American one. Interesting to be the ONLY people here from the US in this hotel - everyone speaks English but not "our" English. The hotel didn't have a lot of information about places to go and see so it was good that we had an idea of the things we wanted to do - however, it was a bit frustrating to ask them if there were particular tours we should go on, looking for their expertise and to have their response be "I don't know, I've never been there". Hmmmm... they need to work on that A LOT!

Cool cactus trees at our hotel

Despite the 75 degree weather, it's still Christmas time, even in Lazarote!

Pool time!  I personally found the water a bit chilly but the boys had a great time!

Aidan practicing his swimming skills from this past summer

We spent a lot of time walking around Playa Blanca, the area we were staying in and by far the most populated area we saw on the way here. It was almost as if it just popped up out of no where… driving driving driving…then all of a sudden there it was! It reminded me of a larger scale Sitges (a beautiful beach town 30 mins from us in Spain). A boardwalk with tons of shops and restaurants (many of which claim to have different food but in fact have all of the same food - my favorite being bananas foster that I had several times - yum!) and a few hotels which also have to follow the guidelines of being low to the ground and whitewashed. Our hotel is one of the bigger ones and it’s spread out quite a bit but only 3 stories tall.

View of Playa Blanca

Aidan on the bungee on our first day

Liam on the bungee


What my brother climbs, I must climb

Looking out over the Atlantic

This one made me nervous by the water!

Josh and Aidan get close to the waves - and no, there was no way Liam was going down there!

He hung out with me while they were on the steps!

The waves were crashing really high up - probably at least 15 feet in the air!

On our way to dinner one night

View of Fuerteventura - the next island in the Canary Island archipeligo

The boys on the boardwalk in Playa Blanca - I ran this area a few times and it was sooo beautiful!

Sunset in Playa Blanca

Pretty much every night we had dinner in Playa Blanca due to it's proximity (walking distance) from our hotel.  The restaurants were all pretty good though most had the same choices with slight varieties.  That's ok, they all spoke English which was a plus for us!  And the food was good too!  Every night there was a short (maybe 1 minute long) display of fireworks which was super exciting for the kids as well and probably part of the reason that every night Aidan insisted that we eat down by the water as well. 

The boys checking out the parrots in front of one of the restaurants in Playa Blanca

Loved this shot of the boat with Fuerteventura in the background

Different view of Playa Blanca

Sailboat heading to Fuerteventura

Getting a shoulder ride from Daddy!

On New Years the town did a big display of fireworks and we weren't really expecting them when they happened. We were on our way back to the hotel after dinner when all of a sudden they started to go off.  I'm sure it would have been beautiful down by the water which we had just walked away from but the kids were in awe just the same! 

We really enjoyed seeing lots of the amazing natural sights while we were on Lanzarote... stay tuned for more updates with all the places we went!!!


No comments:

Post a Comment