Friday, 1 April 2016

Badly Planned in Spain

I hope you had a good Easter.  Our idea was to take a few days in Spain, accompanying family members, just for fun.  We hoped to see the Holy Week (Semana Santa) processions too with their strange looking crowds of penitents in pointed hats.  (In case you don't know, there are several processions in mostly Andalusian towns and cities, each organised by different fraternities, each of which has penitents, a Crucifixion float and a Virgin float in the run up to Easter.  Go here for more information).

Since it wasn't  a working trip I didn't plan and assumed it would all be fine.  And it was fun, but still, I'm never going to skimp on the planning again! Haven't had so many disasters since a terrible trip to South Africa with a group of journalists and PR people who were literally knocking seven bells out of each other, the airline lost many suitcases and the hotel staff were stealing everything that wasn't nailed down - among several other problems. (But that's another story....)

It was the no-planning that caused most of the problems, not Spain itself.  And so despite many tears (not only mine) I'm really glad I went.     Semana Santa alone made it completely worth it, but there were many other wonderful things too. We were a couple of days in Seville, which was terrifyingly crowded (I'd broken the Planner's cardinal rule: never visit in high season. ) The crowds meant long queues, high prices, some spectacularly bad food and service and T's phone was lost or stolen in spooky circumstances. I also picked up a nasty bug,  which is still with me, and had to invoke my insurance because I was too ill to fly home.

Despite this, Seville did not disappoint.  I'm definitely going to return (off season).  Its Semena Santa processions are famous, although crowded, and I found this candle lit procession followed by an almost black Christ on the Cross rather thrilling. Although we were crammed shoulder to shoulder in the huge Plaza del Salvador, the vast crowd became quiet and attentive when the floats appeared..



A day or two later we stumbled, shellshocked, onto the Malaga train. Oh yes, RENFE, the Spanish rail network, seems to plan strikes at top holiday periods. Don't ask.  But we managed to get to Malaga, which is up there with Madrid as my favourite Spanish city.

 Malaga has a hinterland of high rise flats and hotels, but also a noble and fascinating history, some famous residents alive and dead (like Picasso and Antonio Banderas) wonderful architecture and a friendly atmosphere - not to mention good weather.

The walk to our lodgings from the station, normally about ten minutes, took us well over an hour as processions were in full swing.  We got much nearer to the floats than we had in Seville, and it seemed like a very different experience.  

Some of the men shroud or blindfold themselves when carrying the suffering Jesus (you can see one joining the back of the float in the video below). The float sways characteristically from side to side as the men march in a peculiar shuffling step. They have to lay it down every couple of hundred yards or less, for modern technology is not used- for Semana Santa, it's all human muscle power and candle light.




The suffering Jesus is a sad float, and of course the Virgin Mary is sad too. She's always a beautiful and innocent young woman weeping helplessly. But her float is an excuse to go right over the top, with dozens of huge flickering candles, (when dusk falls) hundreds of flowers and a long, long train beneath which she shelters her devotees.  As I noticed when I lived in Malta, the Virgin is a pin up of wondrous holiness.

She also tends to get brighter music, like this very Spanish sounding music below. Of all the floats I saw in Malaga, this particular Virgin probably had the most specular cloak . You can see that even getting round the corner is quite a business.  (It's filmed from the balcony where we stayed.    I got as close up as I could, but try and view full screen if you can.)  You can see the men lifting the float as the bell sounds.



 And no, we didn't get much sleep that night. I woke at 4.30 and I could still hear distant music. But it was worth it.

As for the penitents, they are very, very disconcerting for someone like me who is not brought up in the tradition. They just look so weird, striding around the city streets, like groups of wizards.





Many children marched in the parades, which must have been very demanding for them as they went on a long time and required perfect behaviour - and we never saw anything less.


From Malaga we took the local train to Fuengirola, where the in-laws have a holiday home. This time, we stayed by the church door, where the floats arrive, position themselves so that the holy ones can look down the entire length of the open church and pay their respects.  


After viewing the processions, it seemed the natural thing to do to go and have a coffee and a cake. 


If you haven't had enough of processions, this clip is perhaps my favourite. I love those Spanish looking faces. Some of them could be straight out of those 17th and 18th century paintings in the Prado.  It also gives me a feeling of how heavy and difficult it must be to carry those huge floats for hours and hours.



If I haven't yet got round to commenting and visiting your blog, I will do it very soon.

65 comments :

  1. Oh, I don't think I could handle the crowds, much less the religiosity. I'm glad, though, that Mary got a more cheerful presentation. She deserves it.

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    1. Not exactly cheerful but certainly more celebrity style!

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  2. Amazing! What a wonderful experience!

    Sending you well wishes you feel better soon.

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  3. I am really sorry that your trip was not all it could have been, but you did a really good of helping others avoid such headaches with this account.

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  4. Oh my what a tremendous adventure this was. Even with the down points, (as often can occur) even when you have perfect plans, you still saw and experienced quite a wonder. Your photos are incredible too!

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    1. I was surprised at how amazing it was, it completely takes everyone over.

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  5. Sorry you had such a troubled time in Spain! But it sounds like everything turned out OK in the end. These processions seem like a lot of work and probably a logistics nightmare to organize. But I imagine the people volunteer because it is part of their faith.

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    1. That is weird, I thought I replied to this. I said that they are definitely a logistical nightmare, but since they are so rooted in tradition I would guess that it has all been worked out long ago and they just have to make sure they do all the right things.

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  6. While i've heard of these processions, i've never seen them. They make our Holy Week traditions look paltry!

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    1. I think Mediterranean Catholic countries can do such festivals quite amazingly well, and because they are rooted in tradition they are more interesting (to me) than anything more modern.

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  7. I was once in Toledo during one of these festivals and they were bringing a statue out of the cathedral. There were tapestries draped on the walls everywhere and it seemed like I'd fallen through a time portal into the past. It was wonderful.

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    1. I once had that somewhat eerie experience, on regatta day in Senglea, in Malta. The event was photographed by a professional photographer and to my regret I didn't take photos myself. Wish I had. You can read about it here http://jennywoolftravel.blogspot.co.uk/p/blog-page.html

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  8. Outstanding. Looks to crowded for me but I would love to see it.
    All the photos were wonderful. Sounds like an interesting trip, minus the bad parts and your
    cold. Be well fast.

    cheers, parsnip

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  9. How very exotic and strange it all looks and sounds! Some of it reminds me of the "Festa della Madonna" processions I have witnessed during my time on Sicily. I always find such complete immersion into religious traditions a bit scary, to be honest.

    Sorry to hear many things went wrong due to lack of planning. But by your description, you still made the most of it, and I am sure your next visit to Spain will be very different.

    Also, I hope you'll soon be rid of the bug you've caught!

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    1. Yes, exotic was the word that came to my mind. I don't mind the immersion in tradition so long as the atmosphere is good, which it was in all these events.

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  10. Well, I hope you're feeling better by now and recovering from your Spanish excursion. It's risky and annoying to travel during any holiday season - but if you didn't, you would have missed those fantastic Easter processions. The videos are fascinating!

    I like those cakes - the pointed hat penitent ones are amusing (I'm assuming that's what they are).

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    1. I find the penitent hats quite creepy (at least, in the evening) but more than this they are bizarre. YOu can't believe people are walking through the streets dressed like that.

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  11. What an eventful time - in spite of the disasters. (I caught giardiasis in Spain - ironic when I'm so carefull everywhere else! Hope you're better now.)

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  12. Great videos. These days I would go there out of season because I can no longer stand crowds. Wondering now why I didn't go to Spain in my younger days.

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  13. The penitents in white and black look really creepy, don't they? Unfortunately they conjure up the Ku Klux Klan. Yes, going anywhere in high season is a bit of an ordeal. The crowds and congestion are ridiculous. But it looks like you had a good time anyway. That's quite a sight, all those float-carriers and the gently swaying float. It wouldn't be quite so impressive if the float was mechanised.

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    1. I felt that the fact everything was done as it had been done for hundreds of years, was one of the fascinating things about these processions. Yes, the penitents are incredibly striking.

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  14. you may have broken the cardinal rule, but that allowed you to see what otherwise you would not have....the trip sounds awesome despite the flaws

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  15. Spain is one of our favorite places to visit, but I don't think I would do it during Holy Week. My husband's father is (was) from Andalusia and is not one of Mac's favorite places, doesn't care for the people's attitudes, he had arguments with more than a few.
    We love Toledo and hope to return to it again.
    His Mother's family is from near Salamanca and his 85 year old cousin just got back from a trip to visit relatives.

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    1. We noticed in Seville that some of the people we met were argumentative and not that pleasant... but put it down to the fact that it was unbelievably busy and crowded since their processions are famous. We have always found people to be nice in Malaga, but I'm not really much of an expert.

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  16. Jenny, your videos are incredibly impressive. What a fascinating trip -- although becoming ill and the crowds would be not fun and a challenge. I can't imagine what it would be like to see all these in person. The faces, the sheer number of people required -- unbelievable!

    We've both been traveling. It's good to see you back!

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  17. Amazing scenes and very interesting. We were in that area in February and avoided both Seville and Malaga as we found the traffic intolerable -- obviously nothing to what you encountered. The older we get the less tolerant we are of crowds and crowded places...

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    1. I hate to drive in most European countries. They are just not set up for driving, as nearly everywhere originally dates from before the motor car. I was particularly glad I hadn't decided to drive in Tenerife! that really sticks in my mind.

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  18. I am not a fan or big crowds so I would pass. Rather watch it from somewhere up above the crowd, I think. Quite dramatic traditions. Sorry the trip didn't go so well. :)

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  19. That's interesting if not exactly something I'd go out of my way to experience. Oddly I was staying near Glasgow with a friend who has a sister and daughter in Spain all of whom are devout Roman Catholics but none of whom mentioned the processions. One was with us here in Scotland anyway. Having said all that I watched the videos mesmerised and bemused.

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    1. It might be that they are Andalucian so they wouldn't do them in other areas of Spain. No doubt they have other processions. But it is a specially Mediterranean approach, I think. Perhaps your friends' relatives attend a sedate Scottish catholic church in Spain!

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  20. Oh Jenny, you are so brave. I wouldn't have been able to stand all those crowds. Hats off, really! The Spaniards really know how to do processional stuff don't they? I was in Seville for the Feria and it was magnificent, but again... the crowds were horrendous. And then I found out they were heading for the bullring. Ah well, it looked beautiful! Get better soon Jenny!

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    1. So far I have not investigated the bullring. I just don't think I would like that kind of thing. As for all that stuff about being chased by a bull through the streets... I do want to visit Pamplona but not at that time of y year for sure

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  21. Hello Jenny,
    Sorry to hear your trip was a little disappointing at the beginning but it certainly picked up pace and it looks like fun was had by all. I love your images. You did a lot of travelling in a short time and during a busy season. Thanks for sharing. We are off to Spain in June and I am looking forward.

    Have a great week
    Helenx

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    1. I hope you have a lovely time Helen. It might be a bit early for fiestas but maybe you will catch one during your visit.

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  22. I have enjoyed reading this so much as I have not traveled much out of the US other than on a cruise ship. What an interesting trip this must have been. It seems as tho you are a very experienced traveler, so I'm sure you have learned lots from this trip as to what not to do. I guess not every trip can be perfect. Your videos were enjoyed so much. Thank you for sharing them with us.

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    1. I am so glad that you enjoyed them and thanks for commenting! Adding videos is something I have only started to do recently and it is fun.

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  23. I always enjoy your posts (even if I rarely comment), and am usually jealous of how close different countries are in Europe. I live in New Mexico, so of course I'm fairly close to Mexico, but never visit due to my husband's paranoia of the place (he grew up in El Paso, right on the border). Canada is tooooo far away for that lovely weekend getaway, so that pretty much leaves us on trips in NM or sometimes Colorado.
    Anyway, I just had to comment on how startling the conical hats are of the penitents, what with our lovely history of the KKK. Which must be where they concieved of the idea, because they look nearly same, only not quite so tall.
    Lovely photos, it's not as good as being there, but gives me some idea! Thank you!

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    1. Thanks for your comment. I am sure that the hats must have inspired the KKK in some way. I would like to find out the Spanish history of the hats, what they are supposed to mean in a religious sense. I think there must be scope for someone to write a book about the history of religious costume, taking a big look at all the religious outfits in the world, as they must be absolutely full of symbolism.
      |That is not a task I feel I could take on myself by the way :)
      I think they have processions in Mexico but completely different, I sppose (not that I have ever been) because of course the Mexican catholic tradition is grafted onto a completely different culture, they just happen to speak Spanish but their roots I suppose are like Aztecs and Mayas, not southern Europeans. I would like to go to Mexico myself although I've heard some scary things about it.

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  24. Very interesting post. We saw something similar in Granada a few years ago, while absolutely freezing cold - coldest winter in Spain for years. We recently returned from trip to Madrid and Toledo - cold again!

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    1. I was in Granada in Spring and nearly froze! I am told in summer you boil. Obviously an extreme climate!

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  25. Thank you for a great experience. The last video clip is especially remarkable - so many brown eyes all at the same time, and so much o.t.t. gilding. It's impossible to imagine a spectacle like this in U.K.
    I do hope you'll be fully recovered soon.

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    1. You are right - it is impossible. It just wouldn't happen here, would it? I often think how closed in and grey our life is here, although to us it doesn't somehow seem so bad :)

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  26. Crowds are not for me, I must admit. I definitely agree...I think your next visit should be during the "off-season". Interesting post, however, as always.

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  27. Thanks for sharing! Better for me than being in a crowd and getting all tired out! Your description makes me want to visit Malaga--but in the "off" season. Lucky you, having in-laws in Spain!!!!

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  28. You have the most spectacular adventures!!! I'm always so grateful when you share them!
    I am an overplanner when it comes to our trips. My dear family always complained until I left it up to them and then the fighting started. Yeah, that's right, you can't make it on your own, can you?!?! I was a bit angry with them the last Disney trip. It was 11:30pm and they weren't ready. I went to bed while Den was in charge. Ummmm, it wasn't the best way to end the day when we had to get up a few hours later.

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    1. Yes, its incredible how family will go along like sheep if you sort it out for them, yet still complain. These days I mostly just organise T and me and we can just put any disagreements down to the usual whatever it is that we do whine about.

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  29. I have always wanted to go to Spain, for the history, churches, culture and food. I've seen pictures from friends' vacations, and the countryside and cities look gorgeous. One for my bucket list. I will be sure to plan! I'm glad you had a lovely time despite what all went wrong.

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    1. I hope that you make it there, it is well worth going. The churches are more incredible .... well, I was going to say they are more incredible than churches anywhere else but really that can't be true when I start thinking about Austria, etc. and indeed Italy where some churches are like art galleries. I think the local tourist boards will have details of festivals and as long as you get yourself a well reviewed little hotel just off the main route, you will be fine :)

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  30. I always love reading about your adventures. I tend to not plan very much when I take trips because I've learned those plans don't seem to work out very well. Your videos are all interesting, thanks for sharing. I hope you're feeling better.

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  31. You really got to celebrate Easter and see different traditions surrounding the holiday. This was very interesting.

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  32. What an amazing spectacle! I hope that you are feeling better.

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  33. Jenny what an interesting experience you had in Santa Semana.The last video is awesome, looking at these faces I can imagine these men working in bank, driving a car, at the computer and here in the street - carrying such heavy float in their hands.

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  34. Even though I had been to Spain, after reading your post, I think I should see the Semena Santa procession.

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  35. We were in Seville in April 2014, but it was two weeks before Easter, which fell later that year. We loved it and it wasn’t too crowded then. There were Easter bunnies in the shops of course. The procession is quite an experience isn’t it? We have them here in Lanzarote, in the Summer, when all the Virgins of each area and church have a ceremony to commemorate their festival.

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  36. This is amazing! I love your description of the 'wizards'. I have a thing about pointy hates so this would make my day. It's been many years since I saw anything like this. x

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  37. Absolutely fascinating Jenny, and thank you for sharing your videos. I have never even heard about the Spanish processions of Holy Week. It is so different from our laid-back Christianity in Australia. The swaying of the floats is quite mesmerising, and to think all those people are carrying it on their shoulders. Love the little penitent cakes :)

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  38. Crowded streets are rarely things I wish to see these days.
    Colourful and intriguing but a wee bit weird in my eyes.
    I suspect such parades go back long before Christianity and have just been taken over.
    I think Italy and elsewhere do similar.
    Sounds like you had many troubles there, especially sorry to hear you fell sick.

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  39. Amazing! Those tall, pointy hats are quite otherworldly.

    Too ill to fly home? That sounds serious. I hope that you feel 100% well very soon.

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  40. I recorded a documentary last year...."The Secret Life of Lewis Carroll". I finally started watching it this evening...and who should I see...but you, Jenny! :)

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  41. I like that you can end your day by snacking on a penitent cake!

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  42. Sounds like an eventful trip in good and bad ways - being ill abroad is traumatic. Those costumes are oddly evocative of Ancient Egypt. And did the KKK get the idea for their costumes from this?

    I see from the comments above that someone else watched The Secret Life.

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  43. Dear Jenny - Semana Santa is awesome. When I saw those who wear distinctive cloaks and hoods which hide their faces for the first time, I felt scared. I like to see time-honored festival which includes procession of floats carried or pulled by people. The appearance is quite different, but the procession reminded me of Japanese Gion Festival in which many floats with sky-piercing sword on them proceeds the city street avoiding electric wires and poles and turn the corners without modern steering mechanism. Sorry to hear about the serious sickness, but all in all it’s nice to hear you could say you were glad you went.

    Yoko

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  44. Oh my goodness, what a peculiar contrivance! Thank you so much for this extraordinary post. Odd to see the massive pink cloak sort of waddle down the street. Intriguing and now I can check that off of my list of want- to -dos.

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  45. What an amazing, extraordinary event. I've read Laurie Lee's descriptions of Religious festivals in Spain, I've always been fascinated. My son Sam and I hope to se Seville together one day.. but out of season! I do hope you have recovered now from your lurgy.x

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  46. I enjoyed your visit to Spain – sorry it was not 100% perfect. Those processions are always fun to watch. The last I saw in Europe was years ago in Saint Tropez, France. The last one was in New York City for some Italian holiday – walking through Manhattan. These processions are more for history I think that religion. I was just reading that Europe is getting less and less religious; many churches now are what they call “tourist churches” where the attendants are tourists from that country or abroad (like in Notre Dame in Paris.) The Washington Post had an article showing that 55% of Spain was non-religious (see here https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/04/14/map-these-are-the-worlds-least-religious-countries/.) I think it is like in France and Italy, if you ask someone there if they are catholic, they will say yes, but they never attend church services – church attendance in France is about 7% and 14% in Spain, compared to the US, more than 40%, depending on the state, 51% in Utah. But all European countries still enjoy their religious processions, it’s good for business and tourism, and as you show, they are very colorful and good photo opportunities.

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