Christmas In Spain

A brief look at some of the Christmas customs in Spain …

In Spain, Christmas begins on 22 December, the day of the fat lottery known as ‘el gordo’. It is a day of great hope, because most Spaniards play for a number or share thereof, and then wait with impatience for the outcome of ‘el gordo’ which can yield an enormous cash prize.

On Christmas Eve family members gather around the table to dine on seafood, meat, sweets … the most typical Christmas sweets being nougat, marzipan and shortbreads, which are placed in containers for offering to visitors. After dinner they sing Christmas carols and chat, the latter being something Spaniards are very good at! The most religious families usually attend the ‘Misa del Gallo’ or midnight mass.

Christmas Day on 25 December is celebrated with a special meal, as on Christmas Eve. After the meal, there is a toast with traditional Cava and the rest of the day is spent with family. Boxing Day or St Stephen’s Day is not an official holiday in most of Spain. However, 28 December is the day of Innocent Saints, a day of jokes, false news reporting and general fun. Think of April Fools’ Day but with more gusto!

Dinner on New Year’s Eve is a popular event but not as family-orientated as on Christmas Eve, being a time to spend with friends. A superstition followed by many people is the wearing of red underwear, because they believe it will bring them luck throughout the following year. People usually watch television, since at a quarter to midnight, broadcasts connect with the Puerta del Sol in Madrid where a clock strikes the twelve bells announcing the new year. With each stroke, a grape is eaten and when finished, revellers celebrate with Cava.  Afterwards, friends usually hold parties or gatherings that last all night, only ending as the first dawn of the new year breaks, at which point they eat chocolate and churros (a deep-fried choux pastry).

Onc again, New Year’s Day is a time for family gatherings and more food but so many suffer from hangovers from the night before that the occasion is often subdued. On the night of 5 January, the Three Wise Men arrive  It’s the day for children’s parties, who on the preceding days, have written letters saying what gifts they would like to receive. When the children wake up on the morning of 6 January, the Three Kings have already left all their gifts. Breakfast that morning is traditionally Roscón de Reyes, a ring-shaped sweet pastry cake with a small gift inside.

Although the tradition is for children to receive their presents on the feast of the Epiphany, more families are now giving their offspring some gifts at Christmas in line with the more common practice around the world.

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The SUV Explosion

It’s hard to realise that the first SUV as we now know it was the Nissan Qashqai, launched way back in 2006 …

Almost certainly, Nissan took something of a gamble when they launched their first SUV on to the market. The model effectively replaced their Primera and Almera models, sitting somewhere in between the two in terms of size. At the time, the car market was primarily still dominated by the traditional hatchback, saloon and estate although the so-called people carrier, more correctly known as a Multi Purpose Vehicle (MPV), was making inroads. Eleven years later, and the SUV is now accounting for about 25% of total new car sales throughout most of Europe, with the Qashqai still very much in demand.

In the last two to three years, there has been a plethora of new SUV models launched by mainstream manufacturers. Things have now started to become silly with prestige marques such as Bentley offering an extremely ungainly Bentayga SUV with rumours of a smaller model to follow. Rolls Royce will be launching a competitor to the Bentley and Jaguar has launched two SUV models recently with a range-topper planned before 2020. Believe it or not Lamborghini are also rumoured to be entering the fray! Seeing as the basic purpose of a Sport Utility Vehicle is some off-road capability, it is highly unlikely that owners of such prestige models would ever take them off the main highway for fear of causing damage.

Manufacturers such as Audi and BMW already offer a full SUV model range catering for all segments of the market. Other mainstream manufacturers have more limited ranges but are quickly catching up as they all want a slice of the action. One such new model which will appear on roads in early 2018 is the newly-launched Volkswagen T-Roc and something of a variant from the design normally offered by this company. In appearance, it does have similarities to the Q2 from its sister company Audi, so in keeping with my penchant for models from the VW Group, this blog is going to compare the two vehicles.

For those in the know, Volkswagen already offer two SUVs in their model line-up, namely the Tiguan and the upmarket Touareg. Depending upon which motoring press you read, the Tiguan is described as both a medium and small model when compared with SUVs from other manufacturers. The same can be said of other makes too so the marketplace becomes rather confusing to the buyer of such models. Personally, I think it’s fair to describe the Tiguan as a medium-sized model, especially in light of the new T-Roc but doubts may well arise in the foreseeable future if a rumoured SUV based on the VW Polo sees the light of day. However one chooses to look at things, there is no doubt whatsoever that most vehicle manufacturers now want to cover every segment of the market with SUV derivatives of their model ranges. When I was growing up, most car makers offered four or five different models at most so it was relatively easy to make a choice. Today, selecting the right vehicle at the right price is bamboozling to say the least!

Looking at the T-Roc, it’s obvious that VW are deviating from their generic style. The car is somewhat avant-garde in appearance although nothing like the questionable styling cues of the Nissan Juke or Toyota C-HR, both of which are direct competitors. The T-Roc embraces new design emotion for the brand sporting a more aggressive stance, offering many personalisation options and shares its wheelbase and VW Group modular MQB platform with the Audi Q2. As its appearance suggests, the T-Roc is a fun car to drive with responsive, reactionary steering and precision road holding. It will be offered with a popular range of engines in due course although the precise selection of units will depend upon the country in which the car is sourced. Trim levels will also vary but there should be sufficient options to meet the demands of most buyers. Subject to availability, it is envisaged that the new 1.5 150PS petrol engine will be pick of the bunch especially as diesel engines are fast losing popularity but the proven 1.6 115PS and 2.0 150PS diesels will be offered.

The sporty-looking body will be offered in eleven colours and four contrasting roof colours as part of the personalisation options. Some of the exterior colours can be carried across to the interior dashboard and seat trimmings adding a little pizzazz to proceedings. The infotainment system is dominated by an 8 inch touch sensitive display featuring Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, DAB radio and USB connectivity. Satellite navigation will be included in higher spec models. As is to be expected from VW Group cars, everything is extremely well put together and overall exudes an element of quality. However, a surprising factor is the hard plastic used across the top of the dashboard which also resonates when tapped. This is one negative aspect of the vehicle and it seems strange that VW should try and cut costs in what is hardly a budget level model.

The T-Roc is of a similar size to the VW Golf, albeit slightly wider and higher, but offers more interior space. The raised seating position offers excellent all round visibility plus there is increased headroom for driver and up to four passengers. With 445 litres of luggage space, this far exceeds the Golf and the square shape of the boot with its level lip makes loading easy. Rear seats are configured 60:40 for practicality and convenience. Overall, it’s another vehicle that will serve a typical family well but with premium prices above the Golf and other competitors, it remains to be seen whether it will lose to its sister cars or gain from competitors.

Cue the Audi Q2 if you’ll pardon the pun. In my eyes, the Audi, which has been on the market for over a year, is the car on which the T-Roc has been modelled as there are numerous design similarities. This is currently the smallest SUV from the Audi stable but offered at a premium price for its size, and for the same money, one could buy a larger SEAT Ateca, Skoda Karoq or Nissan Qashqai. The Q2 shares the same MQB platform on which the A3, Golf, Leon and Octavia are built. This gives the car good roadholding characteristics although the suspension settings mean the ride is somewhat firmer than the A3 hatchback. Engine wise, expect to find the 1.0 115PS petrol and other engines that feature in the T-Roc, subject to individual country specifications.

The dashboard will be familiar to A3 aficionados but that is no bad thing as Audi has a reputation for first class build quality giving an air of opulence. Colour customisation strips to the dashboard are also available. Infotainment is by means of a smaller 7 inch display with Bluetooth, USB, DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. Higher spec models also come equipped with sat nav. Unlike the T-Roc, the upper dashboard is finished in soft material which adds to the premium feel. Front head and legroom are perfectly adequate but the sloping roofline and rear seat layout mean conditions are cramped for taller passengers. The rear seats have a 60:40 split and the boot is relatively square and lacking a load lip as in the T-Roc. The model is being offered in twelve exterior colours plus

Prices for the base Q2 start at around €22250 (£20230) to €33670 (£30610) for the S-line model. Strangely, the T-Roc has a slightly higher starting price of circa €22470 (£20425), no doubt representing better basic spec, rising to €34630 (£31480) for a sport derivative. If a small SUV is your cup of tea, there is now an array of options available, but between these two very similar products, I would opt for the T-Roc as it has the edge on design and looks more SUV-like than the Audi..

Let Battle Commence

After several years with only cosmetic changes, both SEAT and Volkswagen are updating their small segment models …

In recent weeks, Ford have revealed their new Fiesta model which is a welcome modification of the outgoing car. There is certainly much to admire about this updated model even if the styling continues to be a little on the quirky side. Road handling is excellent and there have been vast improvements to the interior trim but despite British motoring journalists lauding this car in contrast to much of Europe, it still suffers from the use of cheap plastics inside and will depreciate more than many of its direct competitors. Queue the all-new SEAT Ibiza and the soon to be launched Volkswagen Polo, the latter of which will set the benchmark yet again for the small hatchback.

There is little doubt that a replacement for the Ibiza was long overdue. In line with many manufacturers nowadays, the model is effectively a scaled down version of the bigger Leon but that is no bad thing given the sales success of the latter car. The new Ibiza is a handsome car with a grown-up attitude, and is sufficiently light and agile to engage with the driver. The car is built on the MQB-A0 platform which means that it offers considerably more space than its predecessor being 87mm wider and having a 95mm longer wheelbase. Boot space has increased from 292 to 355 litres.

The car clearly identifies as a member of the SEAT family with its triangular headlamp units and is generally pleasing to the eye, exuding poise and precision. For the first time, the Ibiza will come with the new 1.0 litre TSi turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine in either 94PS or 113PS guise. This is ideal for city driving and general cruising coupled with a six-speed manual gearbox but if regularly fully loaded, then the new 1.5 litre EVO 148PS engine may be a better bet. Compared with the outgoing model, this new Ibiza offers a refined, satisfying driver experience.

In line with competitors, technology abounds, albeit subtly hidden behind a sharp 8 inch touchscreen which is available on most models. This controls most functions including navigation, Apple, Android and Mirror Link, as well as media and vehicle data. There are numerous convenience and safety options available including adaptive cruise control, a seven-speed automatic DSG gearbox with some engines and cameras mounted around the car to assist with parking. Not everything is perfect though … the interior still boasts some cheaper, hard finishes especially on the doors and at the top of the dashboard. However, overall the new SEAT Ibiza is an impressive car with a willing chassis, excellent technology and decent refinement.

The Ibiza will need to impress as waiting in the wings is the all-new Polo from sister company Volkswagen. The Polo, which will officially go on sale in the UK in October 2017, shares the same platform as the SEAT and comes with a considerable growth in size and a more mature design. The car is 81mm longer than the old model, has an increased wheelbase of 94mm, is 69mm wider and boot capacity rises from 280 to 351 litres. This makes the Polo larger than the Mark IV Golf from the late nineties, bar its length!

The design of the Polo certainly mimics that of the very successful VW Golf, following what is now a trend amongst many manufacturers. Where it differs is the increased options of customisation, another development in this model segment. Buyers will be able to choose from 13 different dashboard colour inserts to either match body colour or provide a complete contrast. Additionally, there will be 14 exterior paint finishes, 12 wheel designs, 11 seat fabrics and two styles of interior trim. Other options will include digital dial clusters to replace the conventional instruments, blindspot monitors, adaptive cruise control and rear traffic alert. Touchscreen infotainment will be standard on all models with screen size varying from 6.5 to 8 inches depending upon model specification.

At launch, it is believed the car will come with a choice of five petrol and two diesel units, with diesel losing popularity due to emissions data. The two non-turbo 1.0 litre petrol MPi engines come in 64PS or 74PS guise and are really only best suited for city driving and local journeys. The other three petrol options are the same as those offered in the Ibiza, and the 1.6 litre diesel will come in either 79PS or 94PS form. In addition to these engines, a 197PS turbocharged petrol engine will be exclusively available in the Polo GTi which will launched at the same time as the ordinary model. From information to hand, it certainly looks as though the Polo has again set the benchmark for this model segment as the new model is basically a scaled-down Golf offering all the attributes of that car in a more youthful package.

Prices for a mid specification Ibiza with a 1.0 TSi engine will set you back about €16400 (£14600) at the time of writing. Prices for the new Polo have not yet been published but expect to pay about €1120 (£1000) more for a similarly specified vehicle given its premium quality and image. The forthcoming replacement Audi A1 will share this new MQB-A0 modular platform as will the new Škoda Fabia in due course.

Škoda Wins Once Again

There can be little doubt that SUV’s are becoming increasingly popular on European roads with a host of new models coming on to the market.

Last year, Škoda launched the first of a new generation of SUV called the Kodiaq. This has been admired by motoring journalists for its space, practicality, value and no-nonsense approach to motoring. It is the second SUV in the Škoda model line-up, as the manufacturer has been producing the Yeti for over eight years. The Yeti has stood out from competitors for its rather quirky, rugged, Tonka-toy looks, but offering more space and perceived value than rivals. However, after a facelift four years ago, the model is being replaced in late 2017 and will no longer bear the Yeti name. Queue the Karoq …

This new model aligns itself with its larger sibling, the Kodiaq, and signals the latest design approach by Škoda. The SUV will be both longer and wider than the vehicle it replaces, and also have a more conventional appearance that may disappoint some diehard Yeti fans. Its length is increased by 160mm to 4382mm and its width by 48mm. To give the vehicle a rugged look, lower bumpers and side panels are clad in black plastic. This will, of course, help protect body panels should one decide to take the vehicle off-road! Mechanically, the vehicle will feature current TSi petrol and TDi diesel engines from the current VW Group stable and some models will offer the option of 4-wheel drive. According to the motoring press, the Karoq appears to suffer from less body roll than the Yeti and is surefooted with responsive steering, and benefits from a 58mm longer wheelbase.

Interior accommodation is first class as has come to be expected from the latest range of Škoda models. There will be the usual ‘Simply Clever’ features including practical door bins and other useful storage places. Rear head and legroom are not compromised despite the sloping roof line, and as an option, buyers can specify a VarioFlex rear seating arrangement whereby all three rear seats are separate. These can be configured individually and the middle seat removed completely to enable the outer seats to slide inwards by 150mm to increase shoulder room. Boot capacity with a standard rear seat configuration is an impressive 521 litres, increasing to 1630 litres with the 60:40 seats folded. With the VarioFlex system, basic space ranges from 479 to 588 litres, with a total 1810 litres with all the rear seats removed.

A 9.2 inch high resolution touchscreen infotainment system dominates the dashboard and comes with gesture control meaning that one can navigate menus with a wave of the hand. A 12.3 inch full digital instrument display will be offered which is similar to those available on some VW and Audi models, but will be customised for the Škoda brand. Of course, this display won’t be a standard offering, but one of many fairly costly options. Besides the current 1.6 and 2.0 TDi diesel engines in different power outputs, the Karoq will be offered with the relatively new 113PS 1.0-litre three-cylinder or a completely new 148PS 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, which has just launched in the facelifted VW Golf. This 1.5-litre petrol engine is equipped with Active Cylinder Technology that shuts down two of the four cylinders at low speed and aids overall fuel consumption.

The Karoq will offer excellent passenger and luggage space with a simple, clean interior layout that will appeal to many buyers. Whilst it has to exceed the expectations of the Yeti within a more mainstream package, it has the pedigree to do so given advances in technology, design and practicality. Prices are still to be confirmed but it’s unlikely that Škoda will want to deviate far from the Yeti’s current starting price of £17700 (€20200). This model has every chance of becoming a best-seller at the expense of competitors’ offerings.

Finally, some readers may be asking the question: where have I seen the Karoq before? Technically, you haven’t although it does share the same platform and many body panels with its sister car, the highly-acclaimed SEAT Ateca, as shown above. In a time of rising development costs and the necessity to adopt economies of scale, it was to be expected that certain models would bear close resemblance to each other. However, each model has sufficient design and styling tweaks to differentiate them as well as completely different interiors meaning there is still real choice for the consumer. Just as Škoda is sharing the SEAT Ateca body, the same will apply when SEAT introduces a larger SUV akin to the Kodiaq!

What A Mess

The recent General Election in the UK has created an even bigger political mess …

The unadulterated arrogance and pigheadedness of Prime Minister Theresa May was the sole reason for her calling an election as she wanted to increase her parliamentary majority in order to achieve her ambitions regarding the UK withdrawal from the European Union.

Unfortunately for Mrs May, things did not go according to plan. There was a major upsurge in the younger vote, the vast majority supporting the opposition Labour Party, with the end result being a hung parliament. Rather than increase her majority, Mrs May lost seats and is now clinging on to power by her fingertips. Whilst her party holds the greatest number of parliamentary seats, the number is critically low meaning that key policies could be voted down if members of her own party rebel. In order to try and alleviate this, the Prime Minister is trying to negotiate a pact with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland, but even if this debatable unconstitutional alliance goes ahead, her government could still face defeat on key measures.

Many aspects of the Conservative Party election manifesto have been abandoned. Whilst most of these were highly controversial, it illustrates that the government has already made major U-turns on policy and, therefore, cannot be trusted. The main focus of the government will now be on Brexit, the name given to the country’s withdrawal from the EU. Even within her own ranks, Mrs May is facing opposition to her dictatorial policies and rumours abound that there could be another leadership contest before too long. Sadly, most potential candidates would likely be even worse than the current incumbent, but inevitably any change will rock the party and almost certainly lead to yet another general election way prior to the projected end of this government in 2022.

It is extremely ironic that throughout the election campaign, Mrs May promised the electorate a ‘strong and stable’ government. In fact, she quoted the phrase so many times that she appeared more like an automaton than a human being. Needless to say, the government is anything but strong or stable, and more closely resembles a weak and wobbly administration drifting in an ocean without rudders. Whilst Brexit talks have only just begun with the EU Parliament, it’s too early to project what the final outcome will be, although it’s difficult to imagine that Mrs May will get all her own way.

There are interesting, albeit worrying, times ahead, both for people living within the United Kingdom and its citizens living in other EU member staes.

D-Day Approaches

In just one week’s time, the people of the United Kingdom will be voting for a new government for the second time in two years.

Despite Prime Minister Theresa May repeatedly stating that there would be no snap general election prior to 2020, she made one of many dramatic U-turns by announcing such an event in late April 2017. The apparent reasoning behind this decision is that she wants a clear mandate to negotiate Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. As most people have long realised, the voting decision to leave the EU was based on countless lies and ongoing deceit, and following the disastrous referendum result, many people now realise that they were duped into voting against continued membership.

Sadly, in the year since the referendum, lies have continued to manifest themselves at an alarming rate. Whilst it is almost unanimously regarded that politicians, by definition, are liars, the country has been governed by a dictator in the making who is simply on a power trip. The Prime Minister’s reactions to questions put to her are bouts of inane laughter, grimaces or platitudinous responses and her constant message of a ‘strong and stable’ government has become farcical. Her overall demeanour suggests she lacks any self awareness or in-depth knowledge of what being a PM demands. Just look at her recent political track record.

Despite May’s claim that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ she was a committed supporter of staying in the EU but quickly jumped ships in favour of Brexit in order to curry favour in her fight to become leader of the Conservative party and, therefore, Prime Minister. She determinedly refuses to listen to the advice of experts and on a one-person crusade, has decided that Britain will exit both the single trading market and customs union. Financial experts have continually highlighted the catastrophic consequences of such action and the possible long-term effects on the union of the United Kingdom. She has total inadequates holding ministerial positions in the areas that will basically determine the effects of Brexit and anyone doubting her beliefs is cast aside and relegated to the back benches. 

Civil servants are living in fear of their jobs should they dare to point out the error of her decisions and the democracy of Parliament has been brought into doubt, especially when the House of Lords overturned a key proposal relating to Brexit. Nearly a year after the referendum, the electorate are no nearer understanding the implications of the decision but she doesn’t see this is a problem. Most people have little understanding of the main issues, no clarity on what the UK is aiming to achieve in the negotiations, and no reassurance for beleaguered businesses. The announcement of what is a totally unnecessary election simply demonstrates her complete insecurity and, if recent polls are to be believed, could be her undoing. Her campaign has been all about her and what she wants for the country, with few other party members making even scant appearances. She has vetoed a party leaders’ debate on television, sending the equally obnoxious Amber Rudd in her place, on the grounds that she wants to meet the electorate at grass roots level. This has turned out to be farcical as most media events have been attended by a mere handful of carefully selected people, and on occasions, press have been excluded from attending.

As with all the political parties, the launch of their election manifesto only happens about two weeks prior to voting day. Inevitably, this means that most suggested policies will go unnoticed until it’s far too late to question them. However, May has already announced her desire to reinstate the hunting of foxes by hounds which is generally against the wishes of her supporters and has had to climb down on a so-called dementia tax. The woman is simply on an ego trip, lacking personality, charisma, diplomacy and knowledge, and has reached a nadir whereby she is launching personal attacks on her main opponent based upon hearsay from decades ago.

At the start of the electoral campaign, the extremely arrogant May was riding high with expectations of a greatly increased majority. Her relationship with our European partners and neighbours is at an all-time low with leaders embarrassed and annoyed by her stance, attitude and ignorance. Recent polls are suggesting that her popularity is now on the wane and that projected increased majority may dwindle to a few seats, or even better, become extinct. In just over a week’s time, the UK could be facing political turmoil once again, but in my opinion, anything is better than another 5 years under a dictator. Given her total ineptitude to answer questions without cackling first, and her strength and stability now resembling weakness and wobbly, it’s hardly surprising that May has become one of the most ridiculed PMs in many decades. It will be interesting to see how her constituents vote seeing as they were very much in favour of remaining in Europe, and May has always said that she listens to her electorate!

El Pimpi

During a recent visit to the city of Málaga on the Costa del Sol, I discovered this unusual and very popular bodega …

El Pimpi is a bar situated in the heart of the old town in close proximity to the Roman Amphitheatre. Literally translated as ‘the pimp’, the bodega was established in 1971 but is housed in buildings dating back to the 18th century. The ‘Pimpi’ was a local Málaga character who used to help the crews and passengers from ships that docked in the city’s port. Collectively, the “Pimpi’ soon became the first Málaga tour guides, becoming known for their service and good humour. The bar has one of the longest pedigrees of any wine bar in Málaga and became best known for its range of tapas due to regular poetry recitals by Gloria Fuerte.

The bar occupies several small rooms, each with its own theme. Décor is inspired by images of flamenco dancing and bullfighting, two symbols of Spain. The Barrel Hall is one of the most notable rooms in which famous names from flamenco, film, music, politics and other backgrounds have signed their names on wine barrels. Apparently, the actor and director, Antonio Banderas, whose home is in Málaga, filmed part of Summer Rain in the El Pimpi bar, and Juan Antonio Bardem used the bar as the setting for The Young Picasso. The bar continues to be a popular rendezvous for famous faces, locals and visitors alike where they can enjoy food, local wines, the traditions and culture of southern Spain, all set in a friendly, authentic atmosphere.

The evening I was in Málaga was Noche en Blanco (white night) or Nuit Blanche in French. It is an annual all-night or night time arts festival which will usually have museums, art galleries, monuments and other cultural institutions open free of charge. In addition, there will be open air performances of music, dance and art to captivate the attention of the public. The concept originated in St Petersburg with Paris following soon after, and since then the idea has spread globally across several continents. As one can imagine, the city was crowded with people and in order to get both food and drink in El Pimpi, one had to join a very lengthy queue! Sadly, owing to time constraints, the visit to the bar could only comprise a view of the rooms and soaking up the atmosphere before reluctantly moving to another, much quieter, drinking establishment.

This post celebrates eight years of my WordPress blog!