Thursday, August 8: I didn’t get to many natural places during my trip to Spain and Portugal this summer, but in the few places I did go, I found some wild flowers that I thought were pretty crazy-looking. I also found a wild bird here and there, and some wild street art in Lisbon. So for Ailsa’s travel theme this week, just under the wire, here are some pictures. (Where’s my backpack? Travel Theme: Wild)
Friday, July 12: After my tour, I’ve been invited to spend two nights with Marianne, and her husband Michael, of East of Málaga …. and more!. They live in the countryside (el campo), in a beautiful area east of Málaga, known as La Axarquía. This will be the first time I’ve met her, even though I’ve been reading her blog for some time. Since she’s lived in Spain for about 8 years, her blog has great information about the area as well as beautiful photos. She is so generous to offer me her hospitality for a couple of nights while I’m here in Spain. I’m very excited to meet her because she obviously loves the country and the culture, and I’ve become quite fond of it myself. Who is better than a local to give you the true feel for a place?
I get my first glimpse of Marianne standing outside the door of Hotel Lario in Málaga. Wearing a gauzy coral top that’s very becoming on her, she’s looking in all directions for my arrival, as Barry has told her we’ll arrive at 1:00 and we’re a bit late.
We hug each other hello, and at the same time, I introduce her to Barry and Barry and Carole. I give hugs all around to my traveling companions and tell the two Barrys and Carole that I’ll miss them, it was great to meet them, and parting will be such sweet sorrow. 😦
As all this is happening in front of the hotel where parking is prohibited, it’s all a blur. Before I know it, Scottish Barry has driven off, Barry and Carole have disappeared into their hotel, and Marianne and I are hauling my suitcase and carry-on to a busy main street in Málaga. Marianne texts Michael and in short order he drives up, we quickly throw my suitcases in the trunk, Marianne takes over the driving, and we head down the highway East of Málaga, following the title of Marianne’s blog, to their beautiful home perched on the side of a mountain between Torrox and Competa.
The house is perfectly situated for a stunning view; Marianne and Michael tell me if it weren’t so cloudy this afternoon, we could see Málaga and the sea. They are baffled by the clouds as apparently they are a rare thing in the south of Spain. For some reason the clouds, along with a cool breeze, have come to hang out today, but it’s fine by me as I haven’t seen many clouds in the two years I’ve lived in Oman. Neither have I had any cloudy days since I arrived in Spain. I’m not bothered by them at all and actually find them a welcome relief from the heat I’ve experienced during our tour of Andalucia.
The whitewashed house is decorated beautifully but simply. A patio with a swimming pool beckons; Marianne says she often takes a dip right before bedtime; it helps her to cool down and she enjoys floating on her back and looking at the bright pinpoints of stars in the black sky. Flowers and gardens are all abloom around the house and on the hillside.
Marianne and Michael have been happily married a long time. It’s lovely to see how smitten Michael is with Marianne. He brings her a flower every day and he’s always complimenting her on how she looks, how well she cooks, on everything. I love how they keep their romance alive. They make me feel hopeful.
Marianne is warm and easy-going and makes me feel comfortable right away. She invites me to settle into the guest room while she prepares a lunch of melon and prosciutto. It’s the perfect lunch, light and cool and refreshing, a lovely counterpoint to all the large meals I’ve been eating lately. Perfect.
We eat our lunch on the patio with the mountains unfolding before us and make a toast to our meeting with tinto de verano, a mixture of red wine and gaseosa (or Fanta) or lemonade. We all have a great conversation about our love of travel.
Marianne and Michael have been spending about 4 months out of the year in Australia during the winter months and have come to love it. One of the things that took them there was their love of motorsport. They’re self-proclaimed “petrol-heads” and have been able to watch Formula 1 Grand Prix racing in Albert Park, Melbourne on a couple of occasions. They have developed a great love for Australia and New Zealand and tell me I should really try to travel there.
I wonder how they are able to travel for 4 months out of a year, as I know travel can be expensive, but they manage it quite frugally by doing house-sitting. Marianne tells me of a website, housecarers.com, where they are able to arrange some great house-sitting opportunities. Sometimes they have to take care of pets, pools or gardens, but it enables them to travel for long periods of time. I like the idea a lot and determine I must look into it myself.
Michael has brought Marianne some hibiscus today. Two blossoms brighten up the table.
After lunch, we take a stroll around the garden, which grows abundantly and wildly on the hillside. I fall in love with a delicate passion-flower. The “Passion” in the name refers to the passion of Jesus in Christian theology. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish Christian missionaries adopted the unique physical structures of this plant, particularly the numbers of its various flower parts, as symbols of the last days of Christ and especially his crucifixion.
There are fruit trees, cacti and aloe vera in abundance, among other things.
Some Spaniards own a house down the road from Marianne’s, but they only come to the house periodically to work on their gardens and relax. They leave their dog at the house, and he has taken to showing up at Marianne’s door. Since she feeds him, he has become her loyal companion. He’s not even her dog, but try telling him that. He wouldn’t believe it for an instant. He follows her faithfully everywhere and comes to greet her whenever she goes away and returns. She calls him Spud, even though that’s not his real name. Marianne’s a lucky lady, having a husband who obviously adores her, and someone else’s dog who loves her too. 🙂
After we take a walk around the garden, we walk to a neighbor’s house to meet them since we have plans to go out for dinner with them tomorrow night. Ross and Daniella are Brits, as are Marianne and Michael; they offer us a glass of wine when we stop by.
Since I haven’t planned the next step of my trip to Tavira in Portugal’s Algarve, I don’t have a clue yet how I will get there. I am thinking of taking the lazy man’s route and renting a car, but this will be very expensive. I spent $446 just to rent a car for three days from Barcelona to Toledo to Malaga; I don’t want to spend a fortune on another rental car, although I love the freedom a car offers. Luckily Marianne knows the ins and outs of the bus system and helps me to book bus tickets online. Together, we book a 7:20 a.m. ALSA bus from Torrox (e) to Sevilla (Plaza de Armas). I can’t book this leg of the trip online as the ALSA website won’t take my American credit card. Luckily Marianne is able to put it on her charge card and I pay her 25 euros for it. The second leg of the trip has to be booked through the EVA Transportes website. The EVA bus goes from Seville all through the Algarve. I am able to book that ticket online with my credit card for another $25. I’m so thankful that Marianne helps me book these tickets and figure this out, because it gives me a lot of confidence with the bus systems and saves me a lot of money. I end up taking buses and trains for most of the rest of my trip through Portugal.
After booking my bus tickets, I lie down and take a nap for a bit. When I wake up, Marianne is preparing a dinner of Moroccan chicken with dates and rice. I wish now I had written the recipe, as now I’ve forgotten all the ingredients. I hope she posts the recipe on her blog (soon!) because it is a most delightful meal.
We have more lively and interesting conversation about travel and cultures over dinner and wine. This is my first afternoon with this lovely couple and I go to sleep wondering what surprises tomorrow will bring. 🙂
Friday, July 12: It’s time to pack up and leave our little villa, Puesta de Sol, in Mollina because our tour is over. 😦 I for one am sad to have it come to an end. We have a leisurely breakfast, painstakingly prepared by Alan and Verna. Barry picks us up at 10:30; we load all our bags into the van, say our goodbyes to Alan and Verna, and head to Antequera, home of the impressive 3,000-5,000 year old Dolmens.
Antequera is a city in the province of Málaga. It is known as “the heart of Andalucía” because of its central location between Málaga, Granada, Cordoba and Seville. It is noted for two large Bronze Age dolmens.
In addition, the Vega de Antequera, watered by the river Guadalhorce, is a fertile agricultural area that provides cereals, olive oil and vegetables in abundance. There are also fields and fields of sunflowers.
On the northern outskirts of the city there are two Bronze Age burial mounds (barrows or dolmens), the Dólmen de Menga and the Dólmen de Viera, dating from the 3rd millennium BC. They are the largest such structures in Europe. The larger one, Dólmen de Menga, is twenty-five meters in diameter and four meters high, and was built with thirty-two megaliths, the largest weighing about 180 tons. After completion of the chamber (which probably served as a grave for the ruling families) and the path leading into the center, the stone structure was covered with earth and built up into the hill that can be seen today (Wikipedia: Antequera).
There is a great visitor’s center at the site where we sit and watch an animated film showing how the dolmens must have been constructed. It seems the people wanted a connection between the spiritual realm and the earthly realm, and they positioned the Dolmen de Menga so that its opening faced the Sleeping Giant, a giant rock in Antequera. It must have taken a long time and hundreds of strong people to build these dolmens. Australian Barry notes that the people must have had plenty of food and other resources at hand for day-to-day living, otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to devote so much time and energy to building these dolmens.
When the grave was opened and examined in the 19th century, archaeologists found the skeletons of several hundred people inside.
We visit the smaller dolmen, Dólmen de Viera. It’s not nearly as impressive as Dólmen de Menga.
The Dólmen del Romeral, which dates from the early 2nd millennium (about 1800 BC), is outside the city. A large number of smaller stones were used in its construction. We have to drive through a palette factory to get to this dolmen; the palette factory even has some apartments for rent. I think it might be cool to live there so I could tell people: “Drop by for a visit at my apartment between the palette factory and the Dolmen!” 🙂
After we finish exploring the dolmens, we head to Málaga. We’ve arranged to meet Marianne at the hotel where Barry and Carole are spending the night before they fly to Paris tomorrow: Hotel Molino Lario. Barry and Carole are so sweet; Barry says to Scottish Barry: “I’d prefer to make sure Cathy is situated with her friend before you drop us off.” They’ve become a little protective of me, I think, during this trip, especially as they seem to think I’m a little disorganized. I wonder why? Usually I’m a very organized person, but as I seem to be doing everything on the fly during this trip, I think they have a wrong impression of me. Or, maybe it’s a correct impression as far as this trip goes!
The whole time we’ve been on this tour, I’ve tried to be careful not to become the third wheel with Carole and Barry. Often, when we got to the historic sites, I would drift off on my own: 1) because I like to take my time and soak in the atmosphere and take pictures at my own pace, and 2) because I wanted to give them time to themselves. They never made me feel like an intruder, though, and I love them for that.
Our tour, Tour Andalucia, was operated by Gary Montagu from the UK. We met Gary the first night of our stay, and had dinner with him in Mollina, but the face of our tour was Barry Simpson, our guide, who also runs his own tour company: Your Andalucia. As we got to know Barry quite well, and found him laid-back and highly knowledgeable, and since he will tailor-make tours for his clients, I highly recommend him.
My first look at Barry’s website had him referring to his tours as “bespoke.” As an American English speaker, I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about and thought the word sounds rather medieval. So I bring this up to him as we are driving to Malaga today. Australian Barry knows the meaning of bespoke, but he says it isn’t used much in Australian English either. I learn that bespoke is a British English word that means a clothing item made to a buyer’s specification (personalized or tailored). While it can be applied to other items, including computer software or luxury cars, the term historically was applied to only men’s tailored clothing, footwear and other apparel, implying measurement and fitting. For most non-clothing items, the term build to order is usually used instead.
I notice much later, when I look at Barry’s website, he has changed the word bespoke to “a totally personalised tour holiday in Andalucia designed by YOU.” Ah, okay, now it’s perfectly clear. 🙂
Tuesday, July 9: The Alcazaba de Málaga is the palace-fortress of the Moslem rulers of the city, mostly dating from the 11th century. It’s built on a spur and mostly adapted to its contours.
I decide to stop in for a visit, and there is a guy sitting at the entrance but he is not selling tickets. He points me to a machine that I can’t decipher at all and he has to talk me through every step. So why bother with the machine? Why not just sell the ticket? It seems like a big waste of a nation’s resources to me. Anyway, I plod up and up and up, irritated at the weather for being so hot.
As I climb to greater and greater heights, I’m able to see the city of Málaga and its port. Can you tell how hot it is from the photos?
The Alcazaba has some beautiful flowers and gardens, but it’s not as impressive as Seville’s Alcazar. Sometimes I wonder why, on our vacations, we make so much effort and end up so miserable in the process? Of course, we have to see these things. Of course we do. But sometimes I just want to sit at a cafe and drink about twenty cold beers! And then jump in the nearest fountain after.
The Alcazaba was mostly built of limestone, which crumbles easily, and has required frequent rebuilding during its existence. The most extensive was carried out by Badis, the Ziri king of Granada in the Taifa era, from 1040 and 1065. He fortified and enlarged it so extensively that some chroniclers consider him the original builder. The greater part of the palace dates from the 14th century, and it was largely restored in 1930.
By the time I climb up the hill in my explorations of the Alcazaba, sweat has soaked my hair and my clothes, which makes me look like a dank dishrag. Thank goodness there is no one here to take pictures of me for posterity. After having recently escaped Oman’s relentless heat, I’m surprised to find southern Spain experiences temperatures almost equal to the country I just left!
As I soldier on, I find grottoes, magnificent arches, and pools that look so inviting I’m temped to jump in!
Sadly, I can’t jump in, but I dream of doing just that. By the time I finish, I’m due to meet Barry, Barry and Carole at the Roman baths, where Barry left us originally. I think I’m going to take a dip in the pool tonight in the villa. 🙂
Tuesday, July 9: After El Torcal, we head to the beach at Málaga for lunch at one of the seafood Chiringuitos by the sea. At Restaurante Hermanos Muñoz, I have fantastic espeto de sardines barbecued on an olive wood fire. We also share clams with garlic and lemon, potatoes with peppers, and fried aubergines drizzled with honey. Yum. There’s nothing I love more than sampling a country’s food, and I’m really trying on the food in Spain. One thing for sure, I’m getting a little fat on this trip! Ok, maybe more than a little. 🙂
After lunch we walk into the center of Málaga near the Cathedral. We are left on our own to explore the town near the Roman Theater.
I visit the Picasso Museum, since Picasso was born locally and his parents’ house is now the Picasso Foundation and open for visits. Sadly photos are not allowed inside the museum. I especially love the exhibit of paintings of his family.
Picasso’s relationship with his native city was distant but nostalgic. He was born in the centrally located Plaza de la Merced in Málaga on 25 October 1881, which just happens to be my birthday (except not in 1881!). 🙂 He left the city with his family 10 years later. For three years, he returned to Málaga for the summers. His last visit to the city was at Christmas 1900 with his friend, the painter Carlos Casagemas. He spent three weeks in the city enjoying cafe-concerts and visiting relatives and left Málaga in January 1901, never to return. He found success in Barcelona and later in France. Later, his family and the Andalucian authorities determined to create a museum dedicated to the artist’s work in his hometown.
I also walk around Málaga’s Cathedral, but I’m tired of paying to go into cathedrals and I forgo the hefty 8 euro fee to see this one. The outside is very nice though and there are some very interesting sculptures outside. Later, Barry and Carole tell me they went inside and liked this cathedral better than Seville’s. Oh dear.
With a population of 568,507 in 2010, Málaga is the second most populous city of Andalusia and the 6th largest in Spain. The southernmost large city in Europe, it lies on the Costa del Sol (Coast of the Sun) of the Mediterranean.
Málaga’s history spans about 2,800 years, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. It was founded by the Phoenicians as Malaka about 770 BC, and from the 6th century BC was under the hegemony of Ancient Carthage. Then from 218 BC it was ruled by the Roman Republic and later the Roman Empire as Malaca. After the fall of the empire it was under Islamic domination as Mālaqah (مالقة) for 800 years, but in 1487 it again came under Christian rule in the Reconquest of Spain. (Wikipedia: Malaga)
Málaga enjoys a subtropical-Mediterranean climate. The summer season lasts about eight months, from April through November, although in the remaining four months temperatures sometimes reach around 20 °C (68.0 °F). This is why it draws so many Brits who are tired of rain, cold and clouds.
I pass by this movie poster and enlist our guide Barry to try to decipher it. I’m trying to determine if it’s a movie poster for one of the old Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy movies, either Before Sunset or Before Sunrise; Barry thinks it translates to “before dusk.” Later I do a Google search and find the poster is for a new movie, Before Midnight, which I’ll have to see when I return home to the States. (Before Midnight). I loved the other two movies about Jesse and Celine, who met on a train bound for Vienna.
I then begin a long hot climb to Alcazaba de Málaga.
Tuesday, July 9: On the way to Málaga this morning, we visit the spectacular El Torcal Nature Reserve. On our way we see a crop being harvested and Australian Barry asks Scottish Barry what it is. Scottish Barry guesses it might be onions or garlic, but he keeps reminding Australian Barry that he really doesn’t know much about botany. That doesn’t stop Australian Barry from asking him a lot of questions about trees, flowers, plants and crops in the farmland of southern Spain.
We also pass fields and fields of happy sunflowers, turning their faces to the sun.
Located about 30 km north of Málaga, near Antequera and the village of Villanueva de la Concepción, within El Torcal Park’s 17 square km are some of the most beautiful and impressive limestone landscapes in Europe. The whole area was under the sea until one hundred million years ago.
Antequera is a town of 40,000 people and has more amenities, such as a hospital, than the sleepy town of Mollina where we’re staying.
Violent movements of the Earth’s crust forced it upward into hills and mountains up to 1.300 meters; at that time, the limestone still kept its layered horizontal formation. Over millions of years, the rain and wind have chiseled away at these layers to form incredible shapes. (El Torcal Nature Reserve)
The blocks of stone have been subjected to both dissolution by water (karstification) and freeze-thaw splitting action which, working on the limestone’s horizontal beds, resulted in the various shapes visible today, many of which resemble, and have been named after, everyday objects such as the Sphinx, the Jug, the Camel, the Screw, etc. Other flat surfaces have been karstified into rugged, rocky lands where travel on foot is difficult (Wikipedia: Torcal de Antequera).
We take a 45 minute walk through the amazing limestone formations. It’s a cool breezy respite from the heat we experienced yesterday in Seville. Before leaving, we walk to a viewpoint where we can see, through a hazy sky, Villanueva de la Concepción, Málaga and the Mediterranean Sea. Then we head on the road to visit Málaga.
Tuesday, June 11: I’ve planned my time in Spain, but, so far, I haven’t even begun to think of Portugal. I know I better start thinking about it soon because I have to fly out of Lisbon on July 25.
Here’s my itinerary so far.
June 28-July 3: Barcelona, Spain, including Montserrat. I’m staying at BCN Fashion House: (bcn fashion house)
I decided to skip Madrid altogether.
July 3-6: Toledo, Spain. I’ll be staying at La Posada de Manolo. Last summer when I was traveling in Greece, I met an inspiring South African lady, Marie-Claire. She had come to Greece after traveling all over Europe, but especially in Spain and Portugal. She highly recommended I stay more than one day in Toledo. Since I have a small group tour lined up in Andalucia from July 6-12, I booked 3 days/4 nights in Toledo.
July 6-12: I will head straight from Toledo to Malaga Airport, where I will meet Tour Andalucia: Tour Andalucia: Villa Tour
The small group tour includes the following:
- Meet at Malaga Airport and subject to arrival time, spend a few hours in Mijas, a lovely mountain village overlooking the Mediterranean, then travel and check in to the Villa.
- Breakfast and travel to Seville. Visit the Santa Maria Park to see the amazing Plaza Espana, the site of the American Exhibition of 1929. Walk from the park past some of Seville’s most historic buildings to the Barrio Santa Cruz. Wander through the narrow lanes of the Barrio and take a delicious tapas lunch ‘Seville style’ in one of the lovely small Plazas. In the afternoon visit the largest Cathedral in the world followed by the fabulous Alcazar, one of the oldest Royal Palaces in Europe. An elegant City, Seville was once one of the wealthiest in Europe.
- Breakfast and travel to Ronda. One the way, we stop at the historic site of Teba Castle, scene of a famous battle with the Moors. In Ronda we walk you into the town and leave you by the magnificent bridge over the gorge to explore and sightsee on your own. Maybe take a ride around the old town in horse-drawn carriages and wonder at the sheer magnificence of the town perched along the cliff top of the Tajo gorge. Wander through the elegant narrow streets of the old town and visit some of the magnificent houses and the museum of Ronda. Visit the famous Ronda bullring home of the Matador and the oldest in Spain, now a museum.
- Breakfast and travel to Malaga. On the way we visit the spectacular El Torcal National Park. Set high in the mountains there is a 45 minute walk through the amazing limestone formations. Arriving in Malaga at lunch hour we go to one of the great value seafood Chiringuitos by the sea. Sample fantastic sardines barbequed on an olive wood fire next to the Mediterranean. We take you into the centre of Malaga near the Cathedral and leave you to explore the town, maybe visiting the magnificent Cathedral, the large Moorish Alcazaba and Roman Theatre. And don’t forget the Picasso Museum since Picasso was born locally and his parents’ house is now the Picasso Foundation and open for visits.
- Breakfast and travel to Cordoba. We walk through the old City Walls and into the pretty Barrio San Basilio and see one of the typical patios that Cordoba is famous for. The Royal Stables shows us some of the famous Andalucian horses in a lovely set of buildings. Onto the Christian Alcazar, nowhere near as grand as Seville, but designed in the Mudajar style, a fusion of Moorish and Christian Gothic and the scene of famous historic events including the planning of the voyage of Columbus. The 1,000 year old Arab baths built for the Caliphs remind us of a society long gone and we wander through the Juderia visiting the old Jewish Market & the Synagogue. A great tapas lunch in the Bodega Mesquita followed by the highlight of the day, the spectacular Mesquita, the greatest Mosque in the Western World and the only one with a Cathedral right in the centre of it. The famous Puente Romano bridge awaits demonstrating why Cordoba was the capital of the Roman empire in the Iberian Peninsula.
- Breakfast and travel to Granada. Normally the highlight of our tour, we walk into the Bib Rambla, part of the old Silk Market and now the Flower Market of Granada. Here we suggest you sample some of the best Chocolate and Churros in Andalucia. Walking through the square we pass the Bishops Palace and walk into the Alcaiceria, the well-preserved old silk market. The Royal Chapel, commissioned as the burial site for the famous ‘Catholic Monarchs’ Ferdinand and Isabella, is now a museum and worth a visit. The beautiful Cathedral is one of the lightest inside that you will see. Have a light lunch and then we drive up to the Alhambra to spend a few hours wandering the gardens and buildings before entering the amazing Nasrid Palaces. After the visit we drive around the City and up to the top of the atmospheric Albaycin where we have dinner at Jardines de Zoraya who host an excellent Flamenco performance with local talented young musicians and dancers. A five-minute ‘after dinner’ walk takes us to the viewing point at San Nichols where we see the beauty of the Alhambra lit up at night set against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
- Breakfast and, subject to departure flight times, we visit the historic City of Antequera, home of the impressive 5,000 year old Dolmens and the first Alcazaba to fall in the reconquest of the kingdom of Granada. Return to Malaga Airport.
July 12-14: After my tour, I’ve been invited to spend two nights with Marianne, and her husband, of East of Málaga …. and more!. She lives in the countryside (el campo), in a beautiful area east of Málaga, known as La Axarquía. I’m really excited to meet a fellow blogger who now makes her home in the south of Spain.
July 14-25: Heading to Portugal. I think I will try to rent a car in Malaga and just take off toward Portugal, ending up my last four nights around Lisbon. While in Lisbon, I want to go to Obidos and Sintra, both highly recommended by my friend and fellow traveler, Marie-Claire. I also want to explore the Alfama in Lisbon. No specific plans for Portugal yet, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something before I leave Oman. 🙂