Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. Battleaxe seeks winter sun....and fails

Just back from 5 days in Las Palmas, Gran  Canaria. In my last post I mentioned urgent need for sun. This was our attempt to get some. It was not successful.


Before Battleaxe starts slagging everything off, l’ll say that Philosopher and I do enjoy our holidays. It is always good to explore somewhere new, and I thought Las Palmas would suit us as it is a proper city. As readers will know, I do love old hotels. Anything described as ‘faded grandeur’ or a ‘grand old lady’ on Tripadviser, I’ll go for it.
      So I spotted the Hotel Santa Catalina in Las Palmas. Opened in 1889, Victorian Colonial style, the oldest in the islands, stayed in by the usual globetrotting suspects - Winston Churchill, Maria Callas, Ernest Hemingway and of course the King of Spain. Despite being undeniably faded, it still rates as 5* and was unfeasibly expensive, but hey, we were only there a few nights....

Front of the hotel

View from our room
      Why do we so often have bad weather luck on holiday? We’ve shivered in Paris, frozen in Granada, waded through snow in Greece, been caught in the first rain storms they’d had in Egypt for a decade and struggled through floods at Petra. Well, needless to say, this was the coldest, wettest week they’d had in Gran Canaria for years.... it  even snowed on the mountains in the centre of the island.  I read that a group of tourists went up to look at the snow and had to be rescued suffering from hypothermia.
      We had brought sun cream, swimming things, short sleeve tee shirts... well, it had been over 20 degrees the week before.... We were freezing. Just freezing. It rained, too, including a couple of torrential thunder storms. The hotels and restaurants are not set up for bad weather. No heating, draughty, open to the elements....
     Our hotel had both the bar and the main restaurant opening onto wide covered verandahs. Very attractive but hopeless in cold weather. They put patio heaters outside but unless you could bag a seat right by one, no way.  We like early evening drinks in hotel bars. Think Campari soda with a few nibbles. We only braved the bar once and huddled shivering on bar stools, eyed disdainfully by the haughty barman as he reluctantly slapped a dish of crisps in front of us. LIke most of these old grand hotels, the restaurant was ridiculously expensive, so we didn't go near it.  There was a nice restaurant just down the road from the hotel which we went to once,  but that was freezing as well. 

     The cosiest place we could find in the evenings was - wait for it - an Irish pub. We've never been in one before, but really appreciated the upholstered, enclosed comfort, well away from the chilly night air. The food in there was fine, too - and the staff were friendly!
McCarthy's Oirish pub - a life saver!
      I discovered that the hotel is due to close for refurbishment in May.  I hope they keep the original features - the carved wood, the brass, the spotted mirrors and heavy chandeliers in the vast painted salon where we ate our breakfast.

Breakfast room
      But it needs work. Despite the fact that our room was huge, with an entrance lobby, vast wooden wardrobes, a truly enormous bed and a nice balcony - which I sat out on for precisely ten minutes, the bathroom was like a B and B in Blackpool. Cramped, with cracked basins and a leaky shower....

      The breakfast was good. Battleaxe loves hotel breakfasts. There was a great machine which squeezed oranges into juice, a big fresh honeycomb in a frame, plenty of cooked stuff and even fizzy wine. I ate far too much.

      I think even if the weather had been fine, we would have found the city of  Las Palmas - how can I put this, a bit of a dump. It is mostly traffic-choked concrete, and Battleaxe would struggle to recommend it. Our hotel was in the middle of a little park with lots of palm trees, pools, swans etc. which would have been pleasant to sit in had it been warmer - had we not been reclining by the pool, sipping an ice-cold beer. It was near the marina, which sounds fine, but access to the waterfront was under an eight-lane motorway through a windy tunnel which would not have been out of place in down-town Birmingham. To reach the old town district you had to walk for nearly 30 minutes through featureless streets lined with shabby offices and grim apartment blocks. Fortunately taxis were plentiful and cheap. 
     There was a pretty pedestrianised street called Triana, with lots of shops. We scoured them thoroughly - all those 'rebajas' (sales). There were a few nice old squares, attractive art nouveau buildings, a little cathedral and Christopher Colombus's house - which was very interesting. I never knew until we visited it that he never actually went anywhere near North America when he sailed the ocean blue in 1492. He only got as far as the West Indies. 
     But the old town was small - not enough to occupy us.


Views of the old town
 
Casa Colom

     
We encountered these random musicians and dancers

      We headed up through yet more featureless streets to the other end of the city. There is a long beach front, the Playa de Canteras, which is described as one of the 'best ever urban beaches'. Well, heaven knows what the others are like. It was windier than Hastings, with Atlantic rollers surging across the deserted sands, and a bleaker, more unattractively overdeveloped strip it would be hard to find...

     We found the El Corte Ingles department store, which, I don't exaggerate, was absolutely vast. Easily as big as one of the biggest London stores. Who on earth shops there enough to keep it going?  Granted, it'll be the only place like that on the whole of the Canary Islands, but who is buying the 2000 euro watches and couture clothing? Plenty of inside wandering space, though.
El Corte Ingles in Las Palmas - vast
     Up in the top-floor cafe we encountered one of the rudest waiters ever. I know this is probably racist, and we did encounter plenty of pleasant locals, but you do find some spectacularly surly staff in Spanish places.  They fall into two groups. Firstly, you have 'I'll look right through you as if you don't exist' category.  Then, the 'don't expect me to try to understand your pathetic attempts at Spanish and of course I don't speak any English' mob.
     This particular character fell into group two. Our attempts to ask him for decaff coffee in both Spanish and English were met with (surely assumed) shrugging incomprehension. A woman sitting at the counter had to help us out.
      On our last full day we dodged the thunder showers to visit the Science Museum, which is very new and actually very good, and then found one of those converted indoor markets that now is full of tapas and wine stalls - we visited a similar place in Madrid.
 
Las Palmas Science Museum - very good

      All in all, we were glad to return to our nice warm house - sitting by the fire, electric blanket. But I ate far too much, so miseries of diet beckon.....

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